Full disclosure: A review copy of Fort: Cats & Dogs was provided by Leder Games.
I think we’re doing Pet Week on What’s Eric Playing?, or games all about cats, dogs, or in this case both! I’ve been a big fan of Fort since it wasn’t even Fort, so I’m excited to see how an expansion changes things. Plus, I’m a big fan of Kyle Ferrin’s art, so, more of that is always a fun time. I could talk more about it, or we could dive right in, so let’s get to it.
In Fort: Cats & Dogs, your whining has finally paid off and your parents have consented to you getting some cats, some dogs, or both (lucky kid). As usual, though, you want to play with your friends and have your pets around, so things might get a little hairy in the literal sense. Your pets are prone to wandering off, but thankfully they might end up coming right back, so let them get the lay of the land for a little bit. Can you come out ahead in the latest round of neighborhood shenanigans?
Two modules means two different forms of setup! Let’s cover both!
Very easy. Start by giving each player a doghouse in their player color:
Before dealing out the initial cards, shuffle the dogs:
Deal three to each player. Players draw five additional cards to add to their three dogs and two Best Friends to form their starting deck.
If you’re playing with the advanced Drafting rules, draft the 5 kids and 3 dogs together.
This one’s even easier than Dogs Setup! Shuffle the cats:
Deal one per player face-up near the score board. I generally place them above. If you’re playing with the advanced Drafting rules, deal out the Cat Cards before drafting.
Same deal as setup! Dogs and Cats interact with the game differently, so I’ll talk about them separately. They can be played either as unique expansions or as a combined expansion. Up to you!
Dogs are essentially extra cards that you can play under specific conditions. To play a dog, you must first meet its Need. Its need may be anything from your Fort level to having a certain number of cards in your Lookout to discarding cards of a certain suit (“adding” them). Regardless, you can play that dog as your full turn action, and it cannot be followed. These effects are pretty powerful, so they may be worth it?
After playing a dog, generally, it moves into your doghouse and awaits the end of the game. Any dogs that are not played go into your Yard, where they may be recruited by other players as normal. However, there is one change. At the start of your turn, rather than adding all dogs in your yard to your discard pile, you place them in the discard pile of the player to your left!
While you can use dogs to follow actions (since they, too, have suits), you cannot add dogs to your Lookout or trash dogs. This is considered animal cruelty by the rulebook, which, fair.
At the end of the game, the player with the most dogs in their doghouse scores an additional 7 points. If there’s a tie, all tied players score 7 points. Dogs also count as cards in your deck for certain Made-Up Rules.
Unlike dogs, cats have zero loyalty and will wander off without a moment’s hesitation. Any cat owners should be unsurprised by this, and I applaud Fort for its authentic portrayal of cats.
In another moment of art imitating life, cats cannot be played or told what to do. Instead, at the end of your turn they will show up in your play area if you meet certain criteria on their card. This usually is having cards of some type and number present in your Yard at the end of your turn (coins count as a unique suit, not a suit of your choice, for this purpose). If that happens, on your turn, you may use their ability. If multiple cat abilities would activate on your turn, you may choose the order.
While you don’t lose a cat if you no longer fulfill their criteria, other players can attract the cat to their play area as long as they meet the requirement at the end of your turn, even if you have more of the indicated card. You only check at the end of your turn if you attract any cats.
At the end of the game, you do score bonus points for the number of cats in your play area:
- 1 cat: 1 point
- 2 cats: 3 points
- 3 cats: 6 points
- 4 cats: 10 points
Player Count Differences
For Dogs, the player count shouldn’t technically matter, as the dogs should be cycling between various yards without a ton of input from you, the player. You might notice it if, somehow, multiple players manage to get their dogs into your discard pile before you reshuffle, but I doubt that it’s altogether that likely. There are always three dogs per player added to decks at the start of the game, so the ratio remains pretty constant. If you have one player hoarding the dogs, there’s also a bit of joy as they’re wasting their turns in order to get 7 points at the end of the game, so you do see some diminishing returns on adding dogs to your doghouse over the course of the game. Cats, on the other hand, is a bit more interesting as you add more players. As you add more players, there will be more cats in play, but there are also more players to swipe the cats between your turns. You may, as a result, actually see less of the cats between rounds if there’s a lot of contention between players (including hopefully seeing less of Dumpling, though we love them). The cats can provide some pretty useful abilities, so they may swing some aspects of the game towards them, but I wouldn’t say that they super negatively impact the game as presented. I’d lean towards introducing Cats at higher player counts, and I might suggest Dogs for slightly lower counts. The two modules can synergize nicely, at times (playing a dog to make sure you drop a few cards of one type to your yard so that you can get a cat), but they add a fair bit of additional complexity and occasionally some slowdown to an otherwise speedy game.
- A lot of this is going to come down to what cat you specifically want to come to you. If you are looking for certain cats, it might be worth recruiting cards that will allow that cat to come to you. Jitters or Scavenger is fun! Particularly, try getting cats who don’t match certain player colors or who want symbols you don’t see as often. If you can get them in the early game, it might be harder for players to take them away from you without having to get cards that may not come up in the same hand. It’s the purr-fect crime.
- It may be worth risking some of your cards to get certain cats. Or, at the very least, worth it to keep them from your opponents. It’s not ideal to have strong abilities available to your opponents, but you also don’t necessarily want to put your best cards in your Yard where they can be taken or trashed. See which cats are available and, if you think it prudent, go after them.
- Keep an eye on how many cards end up in your Yard; otherwise, you may attract Dumpling, who makes fort construction more challenging. This is the incentive to not just take every card that comes your way. The more you have, the harder it can be to play them all. With three or more cards in your yard, Dumpling shows up, and once someone has Dumpling, I’m generally inclined to just leave Dumpling there. Cute cat. I don’t want it.
- Some of the dogs are best activated in the early-game. If you can get the dogs in your Doghouse early, you will be able to focus on your chaining strategies later in the game without having to worry about trying to get the dogs to work for you.
- Similarly, large decks can make certain dogs tougher to activate. A few dogs want two cards of the same suit, which can be hard to get if you have a huge deck with different types of cards. If your strategy relies on getting a variety of different cards, these dogs might be ones you want to pass off to another player.
- Watch out for the dogs-Dumpling anti-synergy: if you play a dog, you’re more likely to dump 3+ cards to your Yard, which will attract Dumpling if they’re in play. Dogs don’t always allow you to play additional cards, so playing the wrong dog will put you in a weird spot. You’ll end up with a ton of cards, take Dumpling, and now, building up your Fort takes additional resources. You hate to see it. It’s an oddly-specific anti-synergy, but try to avoid it if it comes up.
- If Bandit is in play, it may be worth keeping your Pack lean. Bandit can pull from an opponent’s Pack every turn, which is aggressive. As a result, you may not want to keep a ton of resources in your Pack, if Bandit is in the game.
- Some of the dogs’ effects are powerful enough that they’re worth blowing a whole turn for. It depends on where you’re at and what’s in your hand, but don’t dismiss a dog entirely because of the cost of playing it. Some of their abilities are super useful! Some are also a bit take-that, which, alas.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is incredible, as usual. I really like what Kyle has done here! I think there’s a few pets in here for basically everyone, ranging from extremely cute to extremely large to just … fluffy. And a couple that look like someone put too much water on them. It’s a good set that also has a nice range of color options, so there’s just a lot to like, here.
- I like that there are enough pets in here that almost every player will have at least one (maybe more than one) favorite. Currently, mine is Kingsly, but I’m open to other options. I would normally say Dumpling, but I do hate being the victim of Dumpling’s effect, even if I do love the art and the idea of having an extremely large cat.
- Every time an expansion fits in the base game box, an angel gets its wings or something. I was lightly unimpressed by the tuck box (just out of an initial lack of understanding as to what was in the expansion), but the cards still fit nicely in the core game box. Actually, even the tuckbox fits nicely, which I appreciate. Not much room for anything else, though.
- The doghouses are a cute extra addition. It still has the kind-of-awkward problem that I don’t know exactly how to tuck cards such that they’re not sliding all the time, but it is a nice aesthetic add-on for the game. I kind of wish there were a similar place to put the cats, but I guess any cardboard box will do.
- I appreciate that the cats are essentially seamless integrations that just watch for a condition to be true. There aren’t really any additional rules to the cats; there are just conditions for them to move around and powers they give you. It’s not quite the same as variable player powers, but the abilities aren’t too far beyond the pale, either.
- I also like that even if you just got a cat, they can wander off to another player who meets their criteria. It seems fitting. It’s on-brand. They’re incredibly fickle. My house’s cat only likes me maybe 10 – 20% of the time. I’m kind of pushing to bump that to 25% by 2025.
- I appreciate that the modules can be played together. They are relatively compatible, which is nice, though they can be a lot together, as cats and dogs can tend to be.
- Starting with three dogs in your deck is a lot. It means that you hopefully will be able to play one of them, but you likely won’t be able to play all of them if you have a rough draw. If Dumpling is in play, you might end up with that fat cat dropping by.
- Having a list of the Dogs and Cats in the rulebook would have been nice. It’s mostly for reference, though I kind of assume they opted not to do that given that the rulebook is already pretty short. Might have expanded the size of the tuckbox, I guess? It’s just helpful when you have a small number of cards to have a potential reference.
- Scratch can be brutal, especially if you’re playing against the water gun player. Scratch allows you to basically burn cards straight out of the yard, but if you’re playing against the player holding the water gun cards, you may have a tough time if they can consistently dump a couple cards to keep a hold of Scratch. It makes it super dangerous to let any card into the yard if you can get them, which can be gently frustrating.
- More generally, the take-that effects of the Cats may limit exactly which ones you use (but there are enough that you can avoid them!). I just shuffle the cats that lack any take-that abilities and play with those, when I play, and that’s generally fine. I just like peaceful and pleasant games, I guess. I think Loki has a take-that effect, as well, which is gently frustrating. I don’t feel like the take-that elements of Fort are that strong, to start, and so adding additional ones feels unnecessary, to me.
- The dogs can often just be junk in your hand. I mean, there are plenty of them that might just not be playable when you draw them. Your Fort isn’t the right level, you’re missing some cards, etc. It adds a few speed bumps to an otherwise clean game where almost every card can be usefully played to at least some effect. It’s an odd state for the game to be in.
- Additionally, for a nontrivial number of dogs, their abilities can only be activated once you’re at Fort Level 2. By then, you’ve usually already started building out synergies and don’t want to waste an entire turn on playing just one card. This has largely been my experience, but I usually am trying to set up better combo flow by that point, rather than just getting one card played. That said, the abilities are occasionally powerful enough to be particularly useful. I just find the requirements to be a bit heavy for their benefit.
- I think, more generally, the “Need” idea can be a bit clunky. It doesn’t flow as well as some of the core ideas from Fort. That may be because I came up on SPQF, but I think there’s also a bit of a labeling issue. The needs are fairly text-heavy for an otherwise icon-heavy card game, right? They also use both “two” and “2” (but are consistent about it, I suppose). It’s just weird. “Need” suggests, to me, that there’s a game state that needs to be achieved before the card can be played, like “Fort Level 2” or “1+ card in your Lookout”. And that’s the case for some of these cards. For others, their “Need” is more of a cost that you have to play or spend in order to activate the card’s powerful effect. It’s not a particularly egregious difference, but it doesn’t feel nearly as smooth as the iconography of the rest of the game, and so it comes off as a bit clunky, to me. I don’t get this as much from the Cats because their “Attracted to” is fairly consistent across the board.
- Why are there more dogs than cats? This is cat slander. Can’t believe it. Though, I can understand that having dogs in the deck means that you need more dogs. I’m also not entirely serious about this being a con, as “This is cat slander.” might suggest.
Overall: 6.5 / 10
Overall, I’m a bit conflicted about the Fort: Cats & Dogs Expansion. On one hand, I actually quite like the Cats module; the cats are fun bonus effects that blend in seamlessly with the game and encourage smart card play while reminding players to be mindful of what ends up in their yard. The Dogs module, however, is a sometimes-clunky add-on that ends up slowing down the early game at times and doesn’t exactly keep pace with the otherwise-fast rate of play. By the time you can use some of the dogs, the game has really moved past the point where they’re useful. And as a result, they end up being passed around by players and just adding some extra deck junk to a deckbuilder that can often specifically be about keeping your deck tight. If your goal is to keep your deck small so that you can quickly play the dogs, well, you may not have the cards necessary to actually activate them, as they sometimes require two cards of a specific suit to also be in your hand. That said, if you do have those cards and want to play them, then yes, the dog can be quite convenient. I don’t actively dislike the dogs; I just often find that they’re not particularly advantageous, and even drafting them might not help. When they come through, they can be very useful (getting three resources of your choice, for instance, can be very helpful, and with the right cards, they can be a great way to get rid of cards that you would otherwise have to put in your yard). I just find that they end up being a bit too situational for the realities that I experienced during my plays, and having three in every player‘s deck is a lot. Their movement is interesting, though. With the cats, I really enjoy the tension that emerges with risking one or more good cards to try and get a cat that works with your strategy. You can never guarantee that you’ll keep the cat, and the points swing from having a couple isn’t too bad, and I like that. I also think that the Cats module was a bit easier to teach; the Dogs’ need wasn’t immediately clear to players, and that caused some confusion. Maybe I’m just more of a cat person. If you’re a die-hard fan of Fort, you might enjoy the entire expansion, but of the two halves of the Fort: Cats & Dogs Expansion, I’d recommend the Cats module.
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