Radio Review #22 – Island Fortress


(2013  Game Salute, Frost Forge Games)


“All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall…”


Years in the making, designer Bryan Johnson’s Island Fortress was finally given the opportunity for publication through a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter in early 2012. Originally designed as a game revolved around the construction of the Great Wall of China (and titled “Huang Di”), Island Fortress combines an action selection mechanic with auctioning, tile placement, and area control.

In Island Fortress, players take the role of Architects, chosen and hired by the Governor of Alcott Island to construct the impressive, Fort Aldenford. By the completion of its construction, the architect that has personally succeeded the most and impressed the Governor claims victory. Players will use Role Cards to select different actions each Round, ranging from building sections of the fortress, hiring convicts and laborers as workers, and collecting resources along with many other actions. Players can also complete particular Favors for the Governor when building the fortress which will score them additional resources and Victory Points as well as using an auction mechanic to petition to the Governor to allow them to go first each Round.





– Region Game Boards with side Scoring Towers




– Scoring Track Board




– Player Board for each player




– Player Wall Tiles (1 color/type per player)




– Governor Wall Tiles




– Governor Favor Cards




– Governor Marker (Kickstarter backers received a special wooden marker; both have the same use)




– A Set of Role Cards for each player (Recruiter, Planner, Builder, Treasurer, and Taskmaster)




– Jade (monetary resource)




– Laborers and Convicts




– Scoring Markers




– Architect tokens




– Treasure tokens




– Buyback Chips




– Reinforcement tokens





The initial board layout is first determined by the amount of players in the game. In a 2-3 player game, 2 Region Boards are placed side by side to complete a game board, with Scoring Towers are placed on each end. However, in a 4 player game, 3 Region Boards are placed together with Scoring Towers on both ends.


The square areas on the newly created board will be where players place tiles in constructing the Fortress, while the Scoring Towers reference the rewards in completing a particular Row or Level of the Fortress (which I’ll explain later). Players will place the Architect of their color on the designated Camp space on the left-most Region of the game board (each Region includes a Prison space and a Camp space directly below the tile-laying area).


Each player then receives their own personal Player Board which includes areas to house their Laborers, Convicts, Jade, Treasure Tiles, Buyback Chips, and Wall Tiles. These boards also reference the various phases in the game as well as end-game scoring. Players will start the game with 12 Jade (with the larger cubes worth 3 Jade and the smaller, 1 Jade).


An area to the side of the game board will house the 18 Wall Tiles that match in color for each Architect player in the game. A stack of Governor Tiles are also placed here, with the number placed depending on the number of players in the game (12 Governor Tiles for a 2-3 player game and 11 Governor Tiles for 4 player game). 1 Governor Tile is rewarded to a player each Round. And while these tiles are used during gameplay, the number of Governor Tiles also determines a maximum number of Rounds that can be taken, as the game will end when all of these tiles have been removed.


Each player then receives the 5 Role Cards that match their Architect color. These Roles provide various Actions that can be taken during the game (which I’ll go through in a bit) and include the Recruiter, the Planner, the Builder, the Treasurer, and the Taskmaster. Players also receive 5 Governor Favor cards, which will provide certain bonuses if a player can complete the particular design listed on the card during the game, using their Architect’s matching Wall Tiles. Players will look at these 5 cards, and discard 2 of them before initial play begins.


Finally, players will set their Architect’s Scoring marker on the Scoring Track Board to reference overall scores throughout the game, as well as space out areas for the different resources, including Jade, Laborers (larger wooden cubes), Convicts (smaller wooden cubes), Treasure tokens, Buyback Chips, Reinforcement tokens, and the Governor Marker.


After initial setup, the play area should look something like this:





Before I get into the actual gameplay of Island Fortress, I first wanted to show how scoring works in the game, as I think going over this information before explaining the various Actions that can be chosen during a turn will provide some added context. In Island Fortress, Victory Points can be obtained both during the game as well as at the very end of the game.


Mid-Game Scoring

Completing Rows and Levels

Remember that the game board is made up of 2-3 Regions depending on the amount of players in the game. Each Regions is made up of horizontal Rows. After a Row is completed in 1 of the Regions, the player who has a majority of his particular Wall tiles in the Row scores Victory Points according to the Scoring Tower adjacent to the Row.


– A completed Row on the 1st Level of the Fortress is worth 3 Victory Points to the player with majority.

– A completed Row on the 2nd Level of the Fortress is worth 6 Victory Points to the player with majority.

– A completed Row on the 3rd Level of the Fortress is worth 10 Victory Points to the player with majority.

– The 4th Level areas are considered singular Towers and have special rules. The player who places their Wall Tile here immediately scores 5 Victory Points.

– The player that places the last Wall Tile that completes a Row is also rewarded, and receives a Buyback Chip. A Buyback Chip can be used to take an additional Action during a player’s turn or can be saved for Victory Points at the end of the game.


For instance, Player A places his Wall Tile in the last empty space on the 1st Level in the leftmost Region of the game board. Player A then takes a Buyback Chip and adds it to the Buyback space on his personal player board since he was the player that completed the Row. The Row is then examined. Player A has 3 Tiles in the Row, Player B has 2 Tiles in the Row. Therefore, Player A also scores 3 Victory Points.


When all Rows of a particular Level across all Regions have been completed on the Fortress , that Level is considered complete. The player who has majority amongst the entire Level receives a Treasure token. Each Treasure token is worth 1 Victory Point, therefore the player will score that point immediately (Treasure tokens can also be used when taking an Action with the Treasurer role, which I’ll explain later).


Continuing with the scenario above, Player B places his Wall Tile in the last empty space on the 1st Level in the rightmost Region of the game board. Even though this also completes the entire Level, the individual Row is scored first. Player B receives the Buyback Chip for placing the last Wall Tile in this Region’s Row. The Row is then examined.


Player A has 2 Tiles in the Row, Player B has 2 Tiles in the Row, and there is also a Governor Tile. Since there is a tie amongst the two players, both players score 3 Victory Points. The entire Level is then examined. Player A has a total of 5 Tiles, Player B has a total of 4 Tiles, and the last tile is a Governor Tile. Since Player A holds majority, he receives a Treasure token.




Favor Cards:

One of the Actions that a player can take during his turn is to complete a Favor card. When these Favor cards are completed, the player is rewarded with different bonuses (listed on the card), one of which can include Victory Points.


During his turn, Player A uses an Action to complete one of his Favor Cards and places it in front on his player board. According to this card, he is rewarded with an additional Tile, 2 Jade, and 2 Victory Points.



End-Game Scoring:

There are 5 different ways in which players can score points at the end of the game, as follows:

1.) During the game players need to balance between the Regions they are building and adding Wall sections to the Fortress. At the end of the game, players will count how many active Wall Tiles they have in each Region. In the Regions in which they have the smallest amount of Tiles, they will score 3 Victory Points for each of these Wall Tiles. This means that if a player has neglected an entire Region and has no Wall Tiles in that particular Region, he would score 0 Victory Points here.

2.) Players will total up any number of Buyback Chips in which they did not use during the game. A player scores:

– 1 Victory Point for 1 Buyback Chip
– 3 Victory Points for 2 Buyback Chips
– 6 Victory Points for 3 Buyback Chips
– 10 Victory Points for 4 or more Buyback Chips


3.) Players will total up unused amounts of Jade still left on their player boards. The player with the largest amount of remaining Jade will score 3 Victory Points.


4.) Players will total up the Treasure tokens on the Coffer space of their player boards. The player with the largest amount of Treasure will score 3 Victory Points. The player with the least amount scores -3 Victory Points.


5.) Finally, players will total their number of unused Laborers and Convicts. By adding both of these up together, the player with the largest amount receives 3 Victory Points.





A Round in Island Fortress is made up of 3 different phases; the Income Phase, the Petition Phase, and the Action Phase. Players will simultaneously play through the Income and Petition Phases, while players will take turns, back and forth during the Action Phase.


Income Phase:

During the Income Phase, all players will collect 3 Jade from the general supply. Jade will be used during the Petition Phase as well as involved with some Roles during the Action Phase. There are some Favor cards, that when completed will reward the player with an ongoing Income Phase bonus. Any ongoing bonuses (as opposed to instant bonuses) are listed on the top row of the reward section of the Favor card.


For instance, in the following Favor card it shows that during the Income Phase, the player that has completed this Favor card will receive +1 Jade. This means that during the Income Phase every Round, instead of gaining 3 Jade, this player would receive 4.



Petition Phase:

The 2nd Phase of a Round uses a bidding mechanic in order to petition for the Governor which rewards the winning player with the ability to go 1st during the Action Phase as well as rewards the player with a Governor Tile that can be placed on the Fortress during the Round.


Player’s will secretly bid Jade to take the Governor Marker by placing their bid amount into their hand and simultaneously revealing it amongst the other players. The player with the largest amount pays their winning bid of Jade to the general supply and takes the Governor Marker and 1 Governor Tile from the supply. They will also take 1 Jade and 1 Convict from the general supply and set them on the prison space in the Region where their Architect is currently located.


All other players return the Jade they bid to their personal player boards. If there is a tie amongst bidding players, the player who had the most Jade without using a Favor card bonus wins. If still tied, the Governor Marker moves clockwise from the player who previously had it, to one of the players that was part of the tie.



Action Phase:

Once a player has obtained the Governor Marker and the Petition Phase is complete, the Action Phase (the majority of gameplay) begins. Players will choose Actions from their 5 Roles Cards and complete these Actions in clockwise, turn order. Each Role Card provides a variety of optional Actions, and only 1 of these Actions can be resolved off of a particular Role Card when played. Once the card is played out in front of the player and the Action is selected from the card, a player may not choose another Action from that card on future turns in the current Round.


For instance, Player B decides to play the Planner Role card on his turn and chooses the Action that allows him to buy Wall Tiles. Since he has played this Role card and used this action already, he could not choose to take the actions on the Planner Role card this Round that would allow him to draw favor cards or remove reinforcement tokens.


Each turn of a Round, a player will resolve the following steps:

1.) Choose 1 Actions from a Role Card to perform and lay that Role Card in front of himself.

2.) Resolve the chosen Action

3.) A player may use the Buyback option to perform steps 1 and 2 again.


In clockwise order starting with the player that owns the Governor Marker, each player will take a turn until all players have completed 3 turns with the steps shown above. When the last player has performed his final Action, the Round ends and players begin a new Round starting with the Income Phase. To better understand what the Role Cards entail and the actions they provide, let’s take a look at each, individually.





In order to build sections of the famed Fortress, Architects need workers to complete the tough labor. In Island Fortress, workers are comprised of Laborers (large wooden cubes) and Convicts (small wooden cubes). By taking the Role of a Recruiter, players will be able to add these different types of workers to their camps.

A.) Recruit Laborers – By selecting this action, players can pay a certain amount of Jade in order to add Laborers into their camp.

– 0 spent Jade will recruit 1 Laborer
– 1 spent Jade will recruit 2 Laborers
– 2 spent Jade will recruit 3 Laborers
– 4 spent Jade will recruit 4 Laborers
– 6 spent Jade will recruit 5 Laborers
After the Laborer(s) are purchased and placed on his player board, the player will place 1 Convict from the general supply on the Prison space that is located on the same Region board as his Architect.


B.) Collect 6 Convicts – By selecting this action, the player can choose to replace 2 of his Laborers with 6 Convicts from the general supply. The strategy behind this action will make more since once we take a look at the Builder Role.

C.) Collect from the Prison – By selecting this action, the player may take all Jade and Convicts on the Prison space that is located on the same Region board as their Architect. Convicts and Jade are added to these areas throughout the game, and this action can be helpful in gaining some quick resources.


For example, Player B decides to use the Planner Role in order to Collect from the Prison. His Architect marker is currently in the Camp on the leftmost Region board. Therefore, he collects all Convicts and Jade currently in the Prison space on the leftmost Region board.





Even with an abundant amount of workers at your disposal, Architects also require the materials to build the Fortress with, as well as the preferred blueprints laid out by Governor to go by. By taking the Planner Role, players can take actions that will provide these items required for building later on.

A.) Buy Wall Tiles – By selecting this action, the player can pay a certain amount of Jade in order to add Wall Tiles for the Fortress to his player board.

– 0 Jade spent will provide enough materials for 1 Wall Tile.
– 1 Jade spent will provide enough materials for 2 Wall Tiles.
– 2 Jade spent will provide enough materials for 3 Wall Tiles.
– 4 Jade spent will provide enough materials for 4 Wall Tiles.
– 6 Jade spent will provide enough materials for 5 Wall Tiles.

After the Wall Tile(s) have been purchased and placed on his player board, the player will place 1 Convict from the general supply on the Prison space that is located on the same Region board as his Architect.

B.) Draw Favor Cards – By selecting this action, the player can add more Favor Cards to his hand in order to complete particular designs for the Governor and earn bonus resources and Victory Points. The actual completing of these cards will be provided by actions from the Builder Role. When taking this Action, players can either choose to Draw 3 Favor cards and keep 2 of them, or instead can Draw 5 Favor cards and only keep 1. The cards that are to be discarded are then placed face down on the bottom of the Favor Card Draw deck.

C.) Remove a Reinforcement – Throughout the game, Reinforcement tokens will be played on previously played Wall Tiles. These tokens can be helpful in that they keep another player from replacing that Wall Tile with one of their own (explained as an action provided by the Builder Role).


By selecting this particular Planner Role action, the player can choose to remove a Reinforcement token from any Wall Tile that is located in the same Region board as their Architect. This can be a Reinforcement token on their own Wall Tiles or any of their opponents.





As an esteemed Architect hired by the Governor to help build his Fortress, taking on the role of the Builder provides the cornerstone by which all other Roles revolve and interact. Once you have the materials and workers needed, it’s now time to perform the job for which you were given.

A.) Build a Section of the Wall – By selecting this action, the player can choose to place 1 or 2 Wall Tiles from his player board onto a Region board where his Architect is located. The higher the Level in which you are adding a section of the Wall, the larger amount of workers must be used to complete that section. The Wall Tile must be placed on a previously vacant space on the board and any Wall Tile being placed on the 2nd Level and above, must have a Wall Tile present in the space directly beneath it (otherwise how in the world would it stay in place?).

Each worker, whether a Laborer or Convict, counts as 1 individual worker. The amount of workers required for a Wall Tile to be placed on a particular Level are as follows:

– A Level 1 Wall Tile requires 2 workers
– A Level 2 Wall Tile requires 4 workers
– A Level 3 Wall Tile requires 6 workers
– A Level 4 Wall Tile requires 8 workers

These Wall Tiles can be built using any combination of Laborers and Convicts. However, the work conditions for Laborers are much better than those for Convicts. Any Convict used in the building of a Wall Tile immediately dies (is discarded to the general supply) after use. Only half of the Laborers die when building a Wall Tile, with an odd amount of Laborers used being rounded up (ex. if 3 Laborers are used, 2 of them die). If the player chooses to build 2 Wall Tiles with this action instead of 1, all workers must be paid simultaneously, and the player must also pay 1 Jade to the general supply. After this action is complete, the player will take 1 Convict from the general supply and add it to the Prison space of the Region board in which his Architect is currently present.


For instance, Player A decides to play his Builder Role card in front of himself and chooses to take the Build Wall action. He decides to build 2 Wall Tiles on the 2nd Level of the leftmost Region board (the side in which his Architect is currently located). Since he is placing 2 tiles, both on the 2nd Level of the Fortress, he must provide 8 total workers (4 for each 2nd Level Wall Tile).

He decides to use 4 Laborers and 4 Convicts from his player board. All 4 Convicts are discarded, but he gets to keep 2 of the Laborers since he only loses half of them when they are included (the other 2 Laborers are discarded along with the Convicts). He then pays 1 Jade to the general supply since he is building 2 Wall Tiles, and then places these 2 Tiles on the 2nd Level of the leftmost Region board. After he completes the placement, he takes 1 Convict from the general supply and places him onto the Prison space located on the leftmost Region board (where his Architect is located). This ends his action.

B.) Play a Governor Favor Card – By selecting this action, the player can choose to place 1 completed Favor Card from their hand into their play area. A completed Favor Card is one that reveals a pattern on the card that aligns with that individual player’s Wall Tiles on the game board. This pattern is allowed to cross from one Region into another. Once the Favor Card has been completed and played, the player will earn certain resources and Victory Points according to the icons on the particular Favor Card. Some of these are instant rewards, while some are ongoing effects that can be earned throughout the remainder of the game.


For instance, Player B chooses to use the Builder role for this turn and chooses to Play a Governor Favor Card. The pattern he has completed is shown above. The card shows that by completing this Favor, he instantly earns 2 Laborers, 1 Treasure token, and 2 Victory Points (all shown on the bottom row of the card). He also earns +1 extra Jade to his overall total when bidding during the Petition Phase (shown above the bottom row on the card).

When a Favor Card is completed, a Reinforcement token must be placed on one of the Wall Tiles that was used in completing the pattern aligned with the card. This does two things. It keeps players from using the same tiles for multiple patterns over and over, as well as blocks other players from replacing that player’s Wall Tiles with their own.


C.) Replace a Built Block – By selecting this action, the player can choose to replace another player’s Wall Tile, with one of their own. This works similarly as the Build a Wall Tile action, with a few exceptions. A player can neither replace a Governor Tile using this action, nor replace a Wall Tile with a Reinforcement token on it. Laborers and Convicts are treated the same with replacing a Wall Tile as they are building one (all Convicts are discarded, while only half of the Laborers are), but the amount of Laborers and Convicts are doubled when replacing a Wall Tile as opposed to building one:

– A Level 1 Wall Tile requires 4 workers
– A Level 2 Wall Tile requires 8 workers
– A Level 3 Wall Tile requires 12 workers
– A Level 4 Wall Tile requires 16 workers

Replacing Wall Tiles can help you in gaining a majority in a row (though it will not help in this regard once a Row has already been scored), will also help when trying to complete patterns from Favor Cards, as well as balance the number of Wall Tiles between the different Regions on a game board. You can also hinder your opponent in these ways by intentionally removing their Tiles in specific areas.





Every successful Architect needs a skilled Treasurer, who can make sure that the finances needed to hire new workers, purchase the needed building materials, and gaining the Governor’s favor (used with bidding) are in order. The Treasurer Role revolves around gaining Jade and Treasure tokens needed for these various uses.

A.) Collect Jade – By selecting this action, the player can collect 3 Jade from the general supply and add it onto his player board. You’ll notice that on a player’s board, there is a Coffer area where Treasure token are placed when collected. For every 3 Treasure tokens that a player has on the Coffer space of their player board, they may take 1 additional Jade when using the Collect Jade action.


For instance, Player A decides to play the Treasurer Role card and use the Collect Jade action. He currently has 5 Treasure tokens on the Coffer space of his player board. Therefore, instead of collecting the normal 3 Jade when using this action, he would collect a total of 4 Jade and place them on his player board (he would only be 1 Treasure token shy of being able to collect 5 total Jade).

B.) Collect a Treasure – By selecting this action, the player can choose to send 2 Convicts to 2 separate prisons, thus collecting 1 Treasure token from the general supply. Remember that gaining a Treasure token immediately scores a player 1 Victory Point, and Treasure tokens can also be accumulated for purposes of the Collect Jade action (above). Also note that Treasure tokens are used for comparison purposes as one of the endgame scoring types.





The Taskmaster Role can easily be summed up as one of logistics. The Taskmaster (or Architect) needs to visit the different Region sites in order to give orders to workers and build sections of the Fortress. The role can also be used strategically in order to repeat previously used roles in the turn.

A.) Move the Architect – By selecting this action, the player can move his Architect token from its current Camp space in a Region to any Camp space in another Region. Since many of the actions in Island Fortress are required to take place in the particular Region in which the Architect is currently placed, it is important to be able to move him amongst the different Regions when needed.

B.) Repeat a Previous Role – By selecting this action, the player can choose to pick up a previously played Role Card and play an action off of that Role card. Each Role card has a Repeat Cost. This is the cost of Jade that a player must pay when choosing which role he wants to repeat.


For instance, it is Player B’s 3rd turn of the current Round. He has previously used the Planner Role to purchase 3 Wall Tiles and used the Builder Role to build a section of the Wall with 1 of those tiles. During his 3rd turn, he chooses to use the Taskmaster Role and uses the Repeat action. He then pays 2 Jade (the Builder Role’s repeat cost) and chooses to use the Builder Role card again, and chooses to build another section of the Wall.


Optional – With the Taskmaster Role card, each of the 2 actions have an optional “buyback” action, as seen on the Role card. After using 1 of the 2 actions, the player may immediately choose to buy back the Taskmaster Role card by paying 3 Jade to the general supply. When doing so, the player will take back the Taskmaster Role card in hand and may then play another Role card in his hand (including this one), and choose to take another action. One limitation to this is that a player can only ever take a maximum of 2 actions per turn. Meaning that a player could not keep playing the Taskmaster card and optionally buying it back over and over.




Buyback Chips:

Players can collect Buyback Chips during the game and these can be turned in during a player’s turn after taking an action, in order to pickup the Role Card that was just used and then play another Role Card (or the same if the player chooses) and then selecting another action to perform.


As valuable as these Buyback Chips are in gaining extra actions during a turn, remember that they can be just as valuable at the end of the game buy giving bonus Victory Points depending on the amount that a player still has on their player board. If the Buyback Chips are used during the game, they are discarded off the of the player board, and back into the general supply.




5-6 Player Expansion Set


The base Island Fortress game supports up to 4 players, however Bryan Johnson has made an optional 5-6 player expansion for those that want to play with a larger crowd. Most of the game remains the same as far as how it is setup and played, with a few exceptions of which I’ll highlight quickly:


– New Architect colors are Red & Black and come with corresponding Wall Tiles, Role cards, player boards, Architect tokens, and scoring markers.


– In a 5 & 6 player game, 4 Region boards are used instead of the normal 2-3 with the base game.


– In a 5 player game, only 10 Governor Tiles are used, while in a 6 player game, only 9 Governor Tiles are used.




– There are a new set of Favor Cards that are used in 5-6 player game. Some of these Favor card include a new reward not seen in the base game. These cards reward the player that plays the particular Favor Card with a number of new Favor Cards. As seen above, this Favor Card rewards the player with 1 new Favor Card which they will draw off of the Favor Card Draw Pile and add it to their hand.








Island Fortress blends a lot of different mechanics and requires players to constantly balance their strategy and keep track of scoring opportunities. That said, the rules are fairly intuitive as all description of actions are printed on Role Cards, Row as well as Level scoring printed on the Scoring Towers, and end-game scoring printed on the player boards. Players who enjoy reactionary strategy in their games will find a lot to enjoy about Island Fortress. There are many paths to accumulating Victory Points, both during the game and by its finale, but most of the strategy will revolve around how a player can adapt and react to the opposing players actions. Players may choose an offensive strategy by building quickly and focusing on Favor Cards, or can go the defensive route by timing their tile placement to complete Rows and replace opponents Wall sections. Or a mixture in between.Thematically, Island Fortress provides some clever designs. One of these being the use of the Laborers and Convicts. Convicts in theory, are completely dispensable and are worked to death, literally, thus an Architect will lose all of them at the end of their use. Laborers however, are treated a bit better, thus keeping half of them alive during their use. The Role Cards also help to add a sense of theme. Collecting money in order to hire workers, purchase building materials, prioritize your workforce, and build sections of the wall are all brought out through the various Roles.

Island Fortress was almost a decade in the making, but that decade was spent refining and play testing a game that now runs smoothly and intuitively. In essence, Island Fortress can be described as a creatively disguised Euro, using an interwoven theme to merge the various game mechanics into one, complete unit.



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