Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Invading America (the boardgame edition)

Over at Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck is preparing for the 4th of July by discussing the rerelease (by Fantasy Flight Games) of that classic let’s-invade-America board game, Fortress America.

Fortress America is a spawn of the Cold War. The game was first published by Milton Bradley in 1986, just two years after the memorably over-the-top movie Red Dawn, where the late Patrick Swayze led the Wolverines, a band of Colorado high school kids who shot, blew up, and all around terrorized Cuban and Soviet occupation troops. The plot holes could have swallowed a B-52 (crack Soviet paratroopers who couldn’t defeat the 12th-grade remedial math class?), but the timing was exquisite.Red Dawn arrived at the height of Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist crusade, as defense spending swelled, arms flowed to Nicaraguan Contras, and films such as The Day After warned us that the unthinkable — nuclear war — was not just thinkable, but imminent. For all its clichés, the film succeeded because it appealed to classic American individualism: rugged, rural, and armed to the teeth. Not to mention that Red Dawn was the wet dream of post-Vietnam adolescent boys who could dream of ditching school and running around in the woods, dodging Soviet gunships and blowing up tanks with rocket launchers.

That Cold War spirit lives on in the 2012 remake of Fortress America, by Minnesota-based publisher Fantasy Flight Games. In fact, the game is so 1980s that it should come with a Rubik’s Cube and a Devo cassette. The rules booklet offers a brief, nano-thin prologue: In the 21st century, America has developed a laser-based missile defense system (not unlike Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative) and then refuses a demand by the rest of the world to dismantle it. So, naturally, the world decides that the best way to disarm a nuclear superpower is to invade it with conventional armies.

The invaders are straight out of a Chuck Norris movie. They include the Asian People’s Alliance (whose pieces are an un-politically correct yellow) and the Central American Federation (in blue, just like the Nicaraguan flag), while the Soviets — I mean the Euro-Socialist Pact — have red pieces and an emblem with a white star on a red background (I half-expected to see Obama’s portrait)…

My local gaming group has been known to play this too.

In the same spirit, we thought we would offer a list of a few other military boardgames set in the modern U-S-of-A:

Invasion America (SPI, 1976). This is the game that inspired the original 1986 (Milton Bradley) version of Fortress America, upon which the recent Fortress America rerelease is based. Once again, a triple invasion of the US, this time by European Socialist coalition, the South American Union, and the Pan Asiatic League—but with a classic hex and unit counter approach, as opposed to the much simpler RISK-type play in Fortress America.


Minuteman: The Second American Revolution (SPI, 1976). Anti-establishment rebels take on the US government in the mid-1980s.

After the Holocaust (SPI, 1977). Variously competing or cooperating regional governments attempt to rebuild America after a nuclear war. This is a game very heavy on the economics, with some  deadly unproductive-guns-versus-radioactive-butter trade-offs.

Mason-Dixon: The Second American Civil War (XTR Corp, 1995). As you might have guessed from the title, the US civil war erupts once more (in 1917, 1940, or 1985, spending on the scenario).

Battle for Seattle. (2000). Game designer Brian Train turns anti-globalization protester, and trashes Seattle. Or he turns cop, and trashes protestors—take your pick.

pic361592_mdTwilight Struggle (GMT Games, 2005). Refight the entire Cold War in this hugely influential card-driven strategy game.

War on Terror (Terrorbull Games, 2006). Not just the US, but the entire world is ravaged by competing oil-hungry empires and shadowy terrorists in this tongue-in-cheek game. It even comes with an “evil” balaclava. Now available as an iPhone app!

Crisis 2020 (Victory Point Games, 2007). Ten different scenarios are featured in this game, all of which involve rebellions against the government: military coups, angry young high-techers, terrorists, jihadists, civil war, and an authoritarian federal government are all possibilities. Units include elite strike forces, black helicopters, cybernauts, and more, and warfare is both armed and virtual (“data conflict.”)

Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? (GMT Games, 2010). Previously reviewed (twice) on PAXsims. Jihadists who detonate a WMD in the United States win instantly!

I’m not including, of course, the entire Creature that Ate Sheboygan (SPI, 1979) genre of monsters-eating-America boardgames, nor All Things Zombie -type zombie apocalypse board and miniature games. My own local gaming group has certainly has been known to imagine a future in which America is overrun with slavering undead hordes and dubious megacorporations.

Did we miss a game? Add it in the comments section below. And, in the meantime–happy 4th of July to our American readers!

8 responses to “Invading America (the boardgame edition)

  1. homepage 26/01/2018 at 6:35 pm

    Para isso, algumas dicas podem fazer a diferença.

  2. brtrain 02/08/2012 at 6:44 pm

    Gary, there’s a potential “fall of Canada” game in my War Plan Crimson game, in which a Fascist United States invades Canada, with Halifax and Montreal being the main objectives.

    I’ve also done Land of the Free, a three-player game on violent politics in the 1930s ( which is not really a military game but counts in the way Cults across America ( could.

    Bryan may be thinking of Dixie, an SPI game on a second American Civil War in the 1930s:

    Karsten Engelmann also did Shattered States, a modern Civil war

  3. Bryan Alexander 09/07/2012 at 6:13 pm

    Objective Moscow, that’s it, Michael. Agreed about the killer size, and possible motive.

  4. Michael Peck 08/07/2012 at 2:26 pm

    I used to have Objective Moscow. Really gave you a sense of how big the Soviet Union was, and how thinly spread the Red Army would be if they had to defend it. Always had the sense that SPI did the game out of guilt over Invasion America.

  5. Gary Milante 07/07/2012 at 1:32 pm

    Not sure what I think of the Canadian contemplating the demise of the US on our birthday, but I can’t really retaliate with “fall of Canada” games, there not really being any (though it is always fun when Quebec is captured by the Americans in Washington’s War:

    You did miss one post-apocalypse rebuild the fallen USA game, 51st State:

    I haven’t played, but I am given to understand that you can play a Mutant, Trader, New Yorker *or* Appalachian, strangely you can’t be a mutant, trader, New Yorker, like you could before the apocalypse….

  6. Rex Brynen 04/07/2012 at 9:35 am

    Well spotted, Brant!

  7. Brant 04/07/2012 at 8:33 am

    Lock’n’Load Publishing has one on P500 called “America Conquered” that is set in the World At War universe.

  8. Bryan Alexander 04/07/2012 at 8:23 am

    Besides WTR, did SPI or another company do an armor-based US civil war game? I dimly recall this.

    Great post. Now I remember the opposite type of game, SPI’s invasion of the USSR game. That was strange and fun. Huge, sprawling map. Very slow Chinese armies. Nice randomness for collapse of Warsaw Pact armies when invading the west.

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