Review by Sol Joye, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2014

Hold The Fort

War of 1812 fort defense game feels dated

Subjects & skills
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Gives students unique perspective on the Battle of Baltimore and Fort McHenry.

Cons: Players aren't challenged with interesting, inventive tasks.

Bottom Line: It's a tough sell for teachers not focusing specifically on this battle since it lacks engagement and there's not much learning payoff.

Check out the resources offered on the Fort McHenry site and rely on those materials to provide a deeper dive into the historical events, significance, and detail. Paired with this extra information, Hold the Fort could offer a nice change of pace.

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Set on the eve of a British invasion during the War of 1812, Hold the Fort puts students into the boots of Fort Henry's commanding officer. It's an instantly compelling premise that isn't quite realized. While there are bits and pieces of historical information woven throughout the game's events, the activities -- while well intentioned -- don't merge mechanics and learning objectives well. Most of players' time is spent requisitioning resources from a static point-and-click menu and bolstering troops' morale by just walking around the fort. When it comes to the battle, players similarly do things connected to the historical events -- gathering and distributing rations and choosing tactics -- but this learning isn't wrapped in compelling game design, just basic menu navigation, or, in the case of the song and dance mini-game, Dance Dance Revolution style play that feels out of place.

Hold the Fort isn't a great option unless the lesson is about Fort McHenry and this battle specifically. Beyond that, it's just too dated and doesn't meet the expectations of solid learning game design. There's some decent background on the war and the battle, but the activities focus on the mundane logistics of troop and fort management, when and how to fire, rationing of food and drink, and are performed through simplistic menus that foreclose creativity, problem solving, and the intricacies of resource management to which players are accustomed.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

It feels dated both in visual design and in clunky, one-dimensional play.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

For learning about the Battle of Baltimore, it might be fine, but otherwise there's not much of value.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

It's clear enough what to do at any given stage. Closed captions help kids with learning difficulties. There's a variety of resources on the Fort McHenry site about the war, but not the game directly.

Common Sense Reviewer
Sol Joye Classroom teacher

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