Theme and What is it?
In Fortuna, all roads lead to Rome! Players march their way through the Roman countryside, seeking to be the first to reach Caesar’s palace in the center of ancient Rome. On their way, players curry favor with the Emperor through harvest and trade; contributing to military campaigns, festivities and religious services; and even marrying into the right family. The first to make it to the city center triggers the end game and any players who are inside of the city walls by the end of the round may participate in scoring to determine the winner of the game. All others automatically lose, raising Caesar’s ire and his insistence for players to play Fortuna once again.
Gameplay in Fortuna centers around a board representing the outskirts of Rome and the city itself. Players take actions that move them closer and closer to Caesar’s palace, gaining victory points for each road segment they progress along.
Fortuna makes use of a clever action selection mechanic, where twelve possible actions are laid around the four sides of main board, three to each side. Going in turn order, players choose an action card on their side of the board and may execute its respective action.
After doing so, the player takes their chosen action card and swaps it with another card on any other side of the board. The new card the player takes is placed face down on their side of the board, indicating it cannot be taken by another player.
From there, a player may choose to exercise military power by giving up a Centurion figure which grants the choice of another face-up action card in front of them to play.
The last major step in a player’s turn is to improve the favor of the Emperor: the player rolls a die (or dice, if the player increased their die pool size) and chooses to pay for one of the six favor cards that surround the city of Rome, based on the result of the die roll. Favor cards must be paid for to reap their benefits, though can be ignored (likely because of lack of resources), in which case Caesar become angry and charges that player extra taxes, paid in gold.
The heart of the game really lies around the tension created by the action selection process and the roll of the dice for the Emperor’s favor. Actions allow a player to gain wine, wheat, and water resources and build structures or improve their military and religious might, giving up some some portion of their wealth in order to gain Caesar’s favor. Players are rewarded with privilege tokens, allowing them to complete favor cards they have gathered over the course of the game for more points.
The game end is triggered by the first player to reach the palace of the Emperor. Only players who make into the city by the end of the round are allowed to score to determine the winner.
A friend of mine had brought this to an impromptu game night; she had never played it. As we set the game up, I really enjoyed the look of the board and was intrigued by how the action cards might work as we saw how they encircled the well-illustrated board.
Learning the game from scratch was a bit bothersome as the rules are a bit jumbled and seem incomplete, but after a few rounds of checking for the rare videos on how to play, the first game went along very smoothly and I found the “blocking” aspect of the action exchange process to be a very interesting tactic that could influence not only my own choices in later rounds, but players immediately after me as well.
Game Build Quality
The components of the game are of standard Euro-game quality. The tokens and pawns are simple wooden pieces one would expect to see in a game of this type. The dice are wooden as well, with painted-on pips. They roll fine, feel fine, but aren’t stunning.
Card quality is excellent; a smooth finish on them makes the smaller than standard card size easy to shuffle. With a few minor exceptions the iconography is very clear and easy to see, even across the table.
I like the look of the board itself, with a slightly isometric angle depicting the Roman countryside.
Cubes representing wine, grain and water all have appropriate spots — vineyards, fields, and a lake, respectively — to be placed in. We didn’t even get to that part in the rules before putting the cubes in those spots; it was obvious where they should go.
The instructions are really the main pain point of this game. It comes with a two sided setup sheet and a four page instruction manual printed on flimsy, thin, slick paper. While the text is large enough to read, the images are a bit on the small side and I found myself flipping between both the main manual and the setup sheet to fully understand the game, as concepts hinted at in one were better explained on the other.
The board art is great. It’s detailed and filled with little nuances that really add flavor to the overall game, such as a sailboat on the lake or the aqueduct running into the city. There are “buildings” shaped like six sided dice and the shadow of a card outline next to them to indicate where the various favor cards should go when they are reset at the end of a round.
The art on the cards are perhaps a little over-simplified; faces on figures are a bit hazy, though it is clear what each piece of imagery represents, especially when associated with the icons that relate to actions and privileges. I am not particularly impressed, but the card artwork does the job. Player boards are similar in their simplicity.
After the initial hurdle of getting the game setup and the first round completed, I found this game to be a lot of fun. Any game that demonstrates that thought was put into both tactical and strategic choices is almost always a big with with me. There are few things in the game as satisfying as exchanging the action card I just used with one in front of another player and hearing them exclaim in disappointment that was the card they wanted next turn!
The dice rolling for the favor cards is also fun; since players can increase their effective choice of die by rolling more than one on their turn, it increases the odds of triggering better favors. However, a lot of that what choice a player has on their turn depends on what the turn order is. Many favors may be gone by the time it gets to someone who needed that five or six privilege space. The game takes care of this by allowing players to take an action to go first next round, a feature I enjoy in any game that implements such a mechanic. I find it allows player to take control of their destiny more readily, making for more fun for all players.
Age Range & Weight
This game is easy enough to learn for a teenager, 14+, but there are a couple of themes in here (virgins and an orgy/festival favor) which should be considered by parents of younger gamers (remember, this is a game about ancient Rome).
It’s a moderate to heavy game, mostly because of the number of choices and interactions between actions and the possible impact of rolls on other player’s turn.
After a few plays of this game, I’ve found the main problem is that the choices invoke mild analysis paralysis in some folks. It’s not the worst game I’ve seen like this but if someone in your gaming group is prone to AP, then this 60-90 minute game could potentially turn into two hours.
I really enjoy this game, so much so that I couldn’t keep it off my mind for many months after the initial play; enough so that I bought a copy of my own. The theme stands out every well and the action exchange process is unique without being quirky or convoluted. It plays best with four players, then two, because of the perceived balance of the actions around the board, but it works just fine as a three player game as well. It has decent replayability, as there are enough dynamics and variability just in the action card placement and die roles to keep strategies fresh from game to game.
Personally, I wonder why this game hadn’t gotten more attention on its release. I feel that despite its age (being released in 2011) it still holds up very well. It may lack the artistic luster of newer games, but it’s relatively easy to teach (once someone knows the rules properly), plays smoothly and generates plenty of twists and turns as players vie for position as the Emperor’s favored one!