Matt: Fear, Fortress and Flee are the latest alliterative titles from Friedemann Friese, and all use the fascinating “Fast Forward” system. Extending the work he did with Fabled Fruit, these Fast Forward titles are similarly built around a single deck of cards that you work through sequentially over the course of several games, later cards introducing new rules to change the game with every play. This was always a cool idea, and it has been extended here so that now every rule is explained to you on the cards you draw, so that you simply need to follow the instructions to learn the game. No reading rule books, no teaching, just stick the deck on the table with a bunch of new players and start playing! It’s great and (with one annoying exception) works exceedingly well.
Chris: I was genuinely excited by the fabled system in Fabled Fruit, but it was on the expensive side for the experience you got, and too long to play in one sitting. A cheaper, shorter experience that learns from Fabled Fruit’s ideas? It seemed to me like a must try.
Matt: I’ve kind of just realised how hard it’s going to be to review these games without spoilers.
Chris: Maybe we should just summarise our findings here?
Matt: Yes! And then in the dedicated sections below we will just discuss the overarching mechanics introduced in the first few cards of the deck, leaving everything else, the many twists and turns, as enticing mysteries to discover.
Chris: Choose your spoiler level!
Matt: Right! So! What did you think of them?
Chris: I’ve played Fear and Fortress as 2 player and 4 player games and both of them worked well at both player counts.
Matt: I really enjoyed Fortress 2 player –
Chris: Even though you suck at it.
Matt: BUT WAS CURIOUS to hear how it played with more.
Chris: It was a genuine surprise how well it held up, when playing it 2 player with you, it felt like head to head was how it was designed to play. Yet in my three and four player games of it, I didn’t feel like anything had been lost. On the other hand Fear lost a little with two player, as one mechanic stops mattering, but the core of the game remained engaging without it. What about Flee?
Matt: Flee is completely different to the other two. It’s a cooperative puzzle game, with an emphasis on the puzzle, since the whole game state is open each turn. Don’t play with an alpha gamer! It is an excellent puzzle though. Especially if you enjoy a solo game now and again. But once you’ve played through it and won (which will probably take a while) I doubt you’d care to play it again.
Chris: Whereas I’ve played Fear and Fortress happily with multiple groups. Both to end a games night with board games, and with more casual groups. Whilst the surprises in the deck add extra intrigue to your first game of it, both games have a solid enough core afterwards in my opinion. Also I suspect that if they sit on the shelf for a few months and are then picked up again, some of the surprises will regain their power.
Matt: I think for that reason, we’d recommend Fear and Fortress first, over Flee, but so long as you are happy with a value proposition similar to TIME Stories expansions or Unlock cases, then Flee is still a good experience while it lasts.
Chris: There’s always a chance that you’d disagree with me on the replayability of the others, but they’d make great gifts when you are done with them!
Overall comment on the series
Chris: Innovative design, simple rules, clever and fun twists. These games fix the problems with Fabled Fruit and have packed a punch greater than the sum of their parts. The ability of these simple card games to create a shifting meta over rounds and bigger twists near the end, mean that a full playthrough feels very different to any other short card games I can think off. I’m hopeful that other designers see this and manage to work similar ideas into more complex games.
Time: 15 min, but then you play multiple games in a row. The entire deck takes about 2 hours.
Matt: Don’t be afraid, Chris.
Chris: I’m not…
Matt: It’s all going to be FINE!
Chris: I know…?
Matt: Aaagghhh! A g-g-ghost!?
Chris: It’s alright, I’ll handle this. On a turn of Fear, you either draw a card, or play a card to the central tableau. Then you say out loud the sum of all the central cards. If the number is over 15, you lose. The winner is the player with the highest total in their hand when someone else loses. This introduces a tension between wanting low cards, as they will remain legal to play for longer, and wanting high cards to win the round. The loser’s cards are removed from the game, and everything else is shuffled and placed on the deck. This slowly leads to more cards being included in later rounds, that add changes to the game.
Fear is the most beginner friendly of the Fast Forward games and uses a very simple card game as its framework, however I feel like it might have utilized the mechanic of new cards dramatically changing play the best. Playing through the whole deck can be done in under 20 rounds, but these can feel dramatically different. The relative strengths of the same cards can vary as the game changes, and your playstyle has to shift to match.
So despite the title, there really is nothing to be afraid of.
Matt: I see… but that’s almost a shame, isn’t it? Those first few draws off the deck, when you don’t have any idea about how the game works, were actually almost… scary. I mean, you’re primed with the title and the ghostly artwork, but after your first game it’s like, oh this is just a simple card game. Which is fine but it makes me wish a designer who cares about theme had done this game. Though I guess the unknown, where this feeling actually comes from, could only last until the core rules are established? True fear is challenging to create in a card game where everyone has to have a comprehensive understanding of the game.
Chris: so is there a criticism in there?
Matt: only maybe don’t call your game Fear if you’re not going to try and make something of that title.
Rating: Frightful Fun
Time: 15 min (and again, you play multiple games in a row)
Matt: Oh thank goodness. Just a big, old, crumbling Fortress, nothing to be scared of here. Not the ominous way it looms over the countryside. Not the strange noises coming from inside. Certainly not the coincidentally timed lightning strike. No. Nothing at all. Eeeeeep!
Chris: it’s just me, Matt, calm down.
Matt: Oh! Good! Just saying… eeeeeeello Chris?
Chris: The Fortress not being something to be scared about is a good thing. As whoever owns the fortress at the end of the round wins. However the end of the round is determined by drawing the third hourglass from the deck, and you never know when it will appear. You should be scared of the hourglass not the fortress.
Matt: Why is that tree moving!?
Chris: that’s probably just one of the defenders.
Chris: Hmm… maybe you should also be scared of the defenders
Chris: In a turn of Fortress you either draw a new card or you attack a fortress. To attack you select some of your cards to attack it, and compare their value to any cards defending it. If you win, you get the fortress, steal one of the defenders, and your attacking cards become the new defence. But if you lose, you have to give a card to the current owner. Meaning that you don’t want to start fights you don’t think you’ll win.
This process is made more complex by the fact that the defenders and attackers have to be played in sets of the same number. You can always try and draw you way into having sets, but the stealing and gifting of cards also affect this process heavily. That useless card your opponent gets from you, might be just what they need to make their attacking army unbeatable.
The speed of the game is regulated by having additional cards from the deck added to the cards shuffled for play each round, ensuring the new defender types and additional rules enter play over time, just like Fear. It’s always exciting to see new card types, but these change play less dramatically than in Fear. They mainly keep the game fresh between rounds and keep an element of mystery and bluff in play, although there are still some surprises towards the bottom of the deck that will wow first time players.
Time: 75-90 mins
Matt: Oh God just run!
Chris: You haven’t bothered to tidy up Fortress yet…!
Matt: There’s no time! We still have to describe Flee!
Chris: That’s your job! I haven’t played it.
Matt: Well hopefully you can keep up! Flee is all about trying to avoid a terrifying monster with googly eyes and a big grin. It’s a cooperative game, closer to a puzzle than anything else, especially in the opening sequence. Alice, Lewis, the Mad Hatter and Tweedledum (what happened to Tweedledee? Well there is a monster after you…!) are placed in a circle, each with an available card. They take a turn by playing one of their cards, however one player has the monster card, and if the turn passes to that character, everyone immediately loses. So you have to use the cards to manipulate turn order, to skip the monster and move the monster around so that you can continue drawing cards from the deck.
Chris: So this one doesn’t have lots of little games that slowly change?
Matt: No. The opposite! The aim is to survive until the end of the deck, but failure means you must start over. In fact, the game is split into chapters, to give you something to aim for. In the first, you must reset the cards in order until you finally win through to the second chapter, at which point you’ve kind of completed a right of passage and the deck order is mixed up. This first chapter is tough. Strangely harder than the second, as it happens. But then you get into the third and final chapter and, well, I won’t spoil anything but the game really pulls the rug out from under your feet which, after over an hour of play (if you didn’t have to reset) is something you’ll either find hilarious like I did, or will make you throw the game out the window.
It’s good. It’s very challenging. But I wonder if it’s going to see much play after you’ve finally won. To make matters worse, the set up is always the same regardless of player count and all information is open. You don’t have individual characters as such. Everyone just discusses the options and resolves that turn. Which is going to cause problems with 3-4 players or a dominant personality in the group. It works well with 1 or 2. But now I’ve played it, I don’t know how I can play with new players. Either I’d just be watching, or playing the game for them. And neither of those are appealing options. I really enjoyed playing it! But now I’m probably going to pass it along, whereas the other sets remain fully playable once you’ve seen it all.
Have you had a chance to play any of the Fast Forward games? What did you think? Which was your favourite? If you’ve enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! Just click the icons below!