#012 Fortune City (2018)
Designer: Chih-Fan Chen
Publisher: Big Fun Games
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 30-45 minutes
Indiana Jones marched into the dreaded Pankot Palace looking for his fortune and glory, and almost got himself killed while doing it. Today we delve into the analog world of Fortune City, discuss its origins, examine its contents, explore its strategies, and see if we can find what Indiana Jones was looking for in Pankot Palace--glory.
Wait... there's a digital version of this game?
Let's just get this straight right now. This game is nothing like its digital sibling. The app is a gamified personal financial tracker. You're playing a city builder; however, your finances help power your city. If you want to track your personal finances, why not play a game at the same time? Enter Fortune City. The analog version of this game is completely different. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm sure some people would actually be quite terrified to play an analog gamified personal financial tracker. Balancing that check book way back in the day was never my idea of fun.
What's in the box?!
Several publishers use the same manufacturer in Taiwan. That's why its common to find the iconic white cardboard present in many Taiwanese board games. It was a great disappointment that none of it was found in this game. The quality of the cardboard was adequate, but I was left wanting more. The main board was fairly thin and even began to warp. The tokens and city tiles were all made of the same super thin cardboard and had little to no weight. They were adequate, but I would be lying if I didn't mention I was disappointed. That out of the way, everything is super bright and colorful. Those of you thirsty for table presence should take note.
We just wanna build a city. Forget about the...
When terms like city builder get tossed around people often think of games like Suburbia, Carson City, Quadropolis, Flip City, or Warsaw. Keep in mind that according to BGG, the most widely owned city building game is Carcassonne. Yeah, you read that right. Carcassonne.
Fortune City has a few tricky mechanics, but it's quite light overall. Really light. If you're a heavy gamer, this won't be replacing Lisboa, Suburbia, or Warsaw for you anytime soon. While those games are great (Warsaw being my favorite of the three), they can't really be played with the family. (Gamer parents raising gamer child prodigies excluded of course.) Although the box suggests 12 year olds and up, I have played with some of my elementary school students and they were able to follow along. Why? Well, it's 100% because of...
That First Turn!
This was the most brilliant part of the game for me. Much like best-selling authors of novels, game designers often have trouble deciding how to begin and end their game. A common rule is that if players all do the exact same thing on their first turn, it's probably best to give include those steps during game setup and start the game at a later point. Fortune City doesn't do this. Instead, it forces payers to all have virtually identical opening turns; however, in doing this players are taught most of the rules. The first turn becomes a harmless indirect way to teach the core game mechanics to all the players, so they'll be ready for the rest of the game. And it works. Every game I played, players understood how to play the game after the first turn, and were ready to adapt to every new minor rule they encountered throughout the game. Brilliant.
The game plays over several rounds. Each round consists of four phases: construction, populate, collection, and income.
Construction. Each player will take one of four actions or pass. After one action is taken, the next player will take their turn. Play continues clockwise around the table until every player passes and no one is able to (or chooses not to) take anymore actions. Players may (1) purchase an available building blueprint and worker, (2) buy the blueprints for a bank, (3) construct a building in a personal construction site, or (4) hire a specialized worker.
Populate. This phase is done simultaneously among the players. If there is an unemployed worker in the park, they may populate or work in a building matching their color. Blue workers work in blue buildings. Green workers work in green buildings. (Fortune City is a highly casted and segregated society.) White specialized workers may work anywhere. As soon as a building is employed, the city stats increase. Restaurants and shops (red and orange) help generate more income. Housing (green) help generate points for the end of the game. Public transportation (blue) increase your truck's movement (more on this later).
Collection. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom! This phase is also done simultaneously among the players. Each player orthogonally moves their truck around their city. At the start of the game, each truck moves only one space; however, with more blue buildings built and employed, your blue truck could move up to 7 spaces. Each time a building is constructed, it generates one of three things: diamonds, money, or trash. These items can only be obtained by your truck. It must move on to the location to collect the items. Diamonds are worth bonus points at the end of the game, while trash is worth negative points.
Income. At this point in the game, players simultaneously check their city stats and receive the city's stated income. If a player built a bank this round, then they receive an actual credit card, three coins, and one gold coin. The gold coin is incredibly useful as it can be used by itself to purchase any building blueprint or construct any building without any added cost!
Play continues until all the building blueprints have been purchased. At that point, the round is played like normal. At the end of that round, scores are calculated. Players receive points for each constructed building, their city stats, and collected diamonds. Players also receive negative points for each uncollected trash can. The player with the highest score wins.
And now the real trouble begins. The art is fantastic! The graphic design isn't. The wooden worker tokens look great and very similar to the people in the app; however, they are way too big. Purchasing was problematic as players had trouble seeing the blueprint costs. The tiny cost icon was covered but the massive wooden worker token. Each tile was excellently detailed and the buildings looked great! I never saw them. I never had a chance to really appreciate them as they were completely covered up by the workers. I played one game with plastic cubes instead of the wooden workers. Wow. It made a big difference. The city stats on the main board were tiny and difficult to see. Why not make those icons big and clear for everyone to see clearly? The Koko credit card was rather weird. Imagine opening a board game to discover a Visa card inside? KoKo is a cash card available from Cathay United Bank. The game even included a credit card application. Weird, right? The gimmick wasn't that bad; however, it felt thrown into the game instead of actually being fully utilized.
Hard to see. Frustrating to play?
Let's get right to it. I was disappointed with Fortune City. I love city builders. I really like some of Chih-Fan Chen's earlier games--Harvest Island and Flip City. I really enjoyed the app of Fortune City. I should really have liked Fortune City. But I didn't. There were three big problems that prevented me from giving this game the love I desperately wanted to give it: component quality, scoring, and zero player interaction. Mola Ram ripped the heart of glory out of Indiana's chest.
The component quality was a real let down, and some of the graphic design choices just seemed odd. The wooden meeples looked great, but they were too big and covered up the fantastic art of the city tiles. The credit card was a great idea, but wasn't executed well enough and was confusing for players. I loved that they included a bag for all the workers; however, there really needed to be a bag for the tiles as well.
Although scoring only takes place at the end of the game, it determines the core strategies players use throughout the course of the game. The scoring wasn't fully developed. Collecting diamonds and trash seemed like a great strategy; however, the points weren't enough to really make a difference. Each diamond adds one point. Each trash can deducts one point. Building tons of buildings (especially green ones) and letting the trash pile up won every time. It got to the point that collecting diamonds and trash almost seemed pointless.
It wasn't until my fifth game of Fortune City that I realized why this game felt so familiar. It reminded me of the 2003 Spiel des Jahres winner, Alhambra. Alhambra was a tile laying city builder where players drafted the city tiles. Sound familiar? Now Alhambra didn't have city stats, diamonds, coins, credit cards, garbage trucks, or workers like Fortune City does; however, it did have simplicity. And it worked. It worked because it was simple. I eventually sold my copy of Alhambra as it also didn't have something else I was looking for--player interaction. Fortune City falls into the same pit of trouble here. There is virtually zero player interaction. You do curse your opponents when they take your building, but that's about it.
The art though is fantastic! The characters look great. The truck token looks great. Driving your truck around your city and collecting money, diamonds, and trash is fun. Increasing the stats of your city while expanding your city limits is a hoot. Grabbing the right combination of buildings and workers is great. There is a lot to love in this game! The mechanics themselves work fine. You may be a care bear, hate player interaction, and therefore love this game. The design of the first turn as a way to teach you the game was brilliant--really, really, brilliant. I felt the components, scoring, and virtual zero player interaction took away too much from a game I wanted to love, but you may disagree with me. I have seen people playing this game and having a great time. It's certainly colorful enough to grab kids' attentions and may be a great addition to your family game night. It just didn't go over well with at least a third of the gamer gamers I played with. I wanted it to be more heavier than it was designed to be, but is that my fault or a fault in the game? You'll have to decide that one on your own.
CardboardEast can't recommend Fortune City for gamers as it is a divisive game, but I do recommend Fortune City as a lighter family game. With some house rules, it worked decently for us (we adjusted the scoring), but it may be the perfect light city builder you and your game group have been looking for. Try it before you buy it.
*REVIEW COPY PROVIDED BY PUBLISHER*
Gamer: Divisive. Try it before you buy it.
Family: CardboardEast recommends Fortune City, but players may have issues with component quality, scoring, & player interaction.
Party: CardboardEast does not recommend this game with adult beverages.