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Board Game Review: Island Fortress

2015 April 3

If I was a prisoner on the Island Fortress, I’d go mad; the taskmaster really annoys me off. Read our review of Island Fortress by Frost Forge Games and Game Salute.

Island Fortress

Island Fortress



Designer:Bryan Johnson

Number of players: 2-4

Age: 13+

Time: 90 minutes

What’s the game about?

A description from the publisher…

In Island Fortress, you play a master builder chosen by Governor Cortland Hansen to help construct the mighty Fort Aldenford using the penal colony on Alcott Island. Your goal is to become the most distinguished architect with the help of your Taskmaster, Workers, and the Governor himself!

In the game, all players use identical decks of five Role Cards to plot their actions such as purchasing workers, building the wall, collecting money from the treasury, and more. In addition to scoring points for having built the majority of blocks on each row of the fortress wall, players can also gain various bonuses for completing favors for the Governor by building the walls in specific ways, following the Governor’s preferred patterns.

Island Fortress, formerly known as Huang Di and sporting a Great Wall of China theme, won the first ever ProtoSlam competition held by Cambridge Games Factory in August 2006 and is the first published game by designer Bryan Johnson.

Basic idea in my own words…

In island Fortress, you are playing out actions through the use of different role cards, which enable you to ultimately build up your sections of the wall of the Island Fortress. At game end, players score points based on a number of varying factors, such as how much of the wall you built with your wall pieces. There is a mid game scoring and an end game scoring. When a player builds their 5th  and final block in one of the first 3 rows, this triggers mid game scoring.

Setup (summarized):

  1. Each player takes their own color/builder’s mark.
  2. If 2-3 players are playing, take two region boards and place them in the center of the playing area for everyone to reach. If there are 4 players, place 3 region boards all adjacent to each other in a row. There are two tall and thin scoring towers; place one to the left of the leftmost board and one to the right of the rightmost board.
  3. Place the score track on the playing area.
  4. Each player selects a color and the respective 18 wall tiles and places them in a central pile away from the players; each player places their color scoring marker on the 0 space on the score track. Each player also places their taskmaster in the left most regions camp.
  5. Each player takes their set of role cards. Each player also receives a player board that matches their player’s mark.
  6. Give each player 12 jade; place the rest of the jade in a pile
  7. Place all the governor wall blocks together in a pile, either 12 or 11 blocks, depending on the number of players
  8. Form resource piles of convicts, laborers, reinforcements and buyback chips
  9. Place either the governor marker or the purple governor pawn next to the resource piles – players decide which marker to use.
  10. Shuffle the favor cards to form a deck and deal 5 to each player. Each player looks at their cards, keeps 3 and returns 2. you are ready to start.
Island Fortress

Island Fortress

Playing the game:

Throughout the game, you are playing role cards to initiate different actions. These actions allow you to get resources, favor cards, move your taskmaster and ultimately build up pieces of your wall. Each round of the game is in 3 phases

  • Income – player’s collect their income
    • Each player takes 3 jade from the treasury; favor cards may affect this
  • Petition – players bid for the petition of the governor
    • Each player takes all of their jade in their hand and chooses a hand and secretly places the jade they wish to bid in that hand; as well as adding any value that may be added by favor cards. The highest bidder gets to petition the governor. The winning player places all bid jade in the treasury pile and gets the governor marker; all other players take back their jade. The player who petitions the governor takes a governor’s wall tile and places it in their playing area; they also receive one jade and and take one convict from the general supply and place it on a region where their taskmaster is.
  • Action – Players perform their actions with the role cards
    • Starting with the player with the governor – each player has an opportunity to play 1 action, then play proceeds to the next player, then this happens two more times so that all players get 3 actions each. On each turn…
      • a.)select an action
      • b.) perform an action
      • c.) optionally use buyback to repeat a and b
    • A and B is self explanatory but c means, if the player played the taskmaster on any of their turns, he may buy the taskmaster back for 3 jade and takes the taskmaster back in their hand. Or, if a player has a buyback chip, they may discard it and buy back any role they just played, back into their hand, including the taskmaster.
Builder Role Card

Builder Role Card



  • A.) Recruit Laborers – 
    • Recruit Laborers – Take one convict from the general supply and place on the camp where their taskmaster is, then take 1 to 5 laborers from the general supply to your player board, there is a cost of jade however, depending on the number of laborers taken
  • B.) Collect 6 convicts – discard 2 laborers from your supply and take 6 convicts from the general supply onto your player board
  • C.) Collect from Prison – the active player takes all the jade and convicts from the prison where their taskmaster currently is, and places them all in their general supply


  • A.) Buy wall blocks – Take one convict from the supply and place it in the region of the prison where their taskmaster is. You may then take between 1 and 5 wall blocks depending on how many you desire and how much you can afford in jade. These go on your player board.
  • B.) Draw favor cards – you may draw 3 favor cards and keep 2 or draw 5 cards and choose one
  • C.) Remove a reinforcement – The player can choose a reinforcement wall token that’s up on the wall and place it back in the general supply, but you’re taskmaster has to be in the that region’s camp.


  • A.) Build Wall – take one convict from the supply and place it in the prison in the region where their taskmaster currently is located. Now you may build 1 or two blocks of the wall. If you choose two, then you have to pay 1 jade to the treasury. You must have the available blocks on your board to build. The rules for building a wall token is as follows:

    • The location must be in the same Region as the active player’s Taskmaster.
    • There must not already be a block in the location.
    • If it is a level 2 block, then there must be a level 1 block directly below it.

    • If it is a level 3 block, then there must be a level 2 block directly below it.
    • If it is a level 4 block, then there must be a level 3 block directly below it.

    • If it is a level 4 block, then it must be in one of the end columns of the Region.

    The active player may build two blocks, if one goes on top of the other. Depending on the level of the wall that the blocks are built on, the player must devote a certain number of workers to build, and are appropriately discarded after built.

    A favor card

    A favor card

    B.) Play a completed favor card – If a pattern on a player’s favor card has been completed, the player may lay down their card. The rules are as follows:

    • They must all be of the active player’s color/builder’s mark.
    • They must not contain a reinforcement.
    • When the card is orientated such that the bottom of the card is aligned with the bottom of the wall, the pattern must be in the same orientation on the wall as on the Favor Card.

    The active player takes a reinforcement token from the general supply and places on any one wall piece that is theirs and makes up the pattern on the favor card. This does not have to be where the player’s taskmaster is.

    C.) Replace a built block – The active player may replace a wall token already on the board of another player and replace their opponents with one of their own.

    • The location must be in the same Region as the active player’s Taskmaster.
    • It must not be a Governor’s Wall Block.
    • It must not belong to the active player.

    • It must not contain a reinforcement.


    A.) Collect Jade – Take 3 jade from the treasury and place on their board

    B.) Collect a treasure – Take 2 convicts from their supply and sends them to 2 different prisons. Then take one treasure from the treasury and place on your player board and move your scoring marker up one space.

    Taskmaster –

    A.) Move the taskmaster – Move your taskmaster to a camp in any other region

    B.) Repeat a previous role – The player takes back a role previously played and plays it again, but must pay a particular cost associated with that role, in jade.

    After playing the taskmaster, a player may immediately buy back that role card with 3 jade.

    Governor Wall Block – At the beginning of each round a player won the petition of the governor. Anytime during this player’s turn, they may place the governor wall tile.

    The following rules apply:

    • There must not already be a block in the location.
    • If it is a level 2 block, then there must be a level 1 block directly below it.
    • If it is a level 3 block, then there must be a level 2 block directly below it.

    • If it is a level 4 block, then there must be a level 3 block directly below it.
    • If it is a level 4 block, then it must be in one of the end columns of the Region.

    Score Board

    Score Board

Mid Game Scoring: 

When the active player builds his fifth and final blocks in one of the first three rows, the row is completed. As soon as the row is completed, the player who has the most blocks in a row receives certain points depending on the row. The person moves his scoring marker up that number.

When a player builds one of his blocks on level 4, he immediately gets 5 points. Also, when an a level of the wall has been completed on all rows, the player that has the most of their blocks in that row receives a treasure token.

End of game:

The end of game occurs when a player builds the last block. When the player that completes the wall, he receives all the jade and convicts and places them in his personal supply. Or, the game can end when there are no given blocks remaining in the pile. Mid game scoring occurs, then players are awarded points for the number of buyback chips they have. In addition players are awarded the points for the number of blocks, jade, treasure tokens and total number of workers.



Components: 6/10

The components are standard faire. However, I would have preferred yardstick region sections compared to the thin paper. I absolutely don’t like the rulebook. It’s full of words with no flair. The rules are simply too long, but then again, this isn’t a short game. I’m not big on the art either. The image of the guy on the one card is really ugly.

Theme: 6/10

The theme is OK. I don’t care for it too much, but it’s not really offensive or bloody. It’s middle of the road as far as theme goes. I think it had more promise and potential than the execution.

Luck Factor: 5/10

There’s not a tremendous amount of luck in this game; a lot of the game is actual strategy.

Strategy: 7/10

There is more strategy than luck in this game, which is good. But there’s certainly some luck with the random drawing of favor cards.

Overall Feelings: 5/10

I give Island Fortress a 5. I’m sorry, I didn’t care for the game much at all. The idea of the taskmaster absolutely pissed me off. All too often, I tried to do an action in a region and was reminded that I couldn’t because I didn’t move the taskmaster. I think this was unnecessary, but then it maybe would have been too easy. Again, I can’t stress enough on how much I hated the taskmaster. The overall execution of the game didn’t do it for me. The components were fair and the game play was not difficult but felt quite clumsy. Another thing I found bad was the fact that the action cards have too many player actions. I think the game should have been much more streamlined.

Overall the game was ok. My friends seemed to enjoy it more than I did. I’d certainly give it another try though.

Review copy kindly provided by Game Salute. Also thank you to the BGG members that have posted pictures that I’m using.

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