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Arcane Fortune is a game of empire building, diplomacy, conquest, construction, and deconstruction. Whether or not you build some form of paradise, or a hell on earth is entirely up to you.
Arcane Fortune is a game of empire building, diplomacy, conquest, construction, and deconstruction. Whether or not you build some form of paradise, or a hell on earth is entirely up to you.
This page is meant to describe how to play the game, or, if you've already played prior versions, to update you on newer features you may not be familiar with.
This page is meant to describe how to play the game, or, if you've already played prior versions, to update you on newer features you may not be familiar with. Once you finish reading this page, you can also read about going [[beyond the basics]]

Revision as of 10:58, 23 September 2020

Arcane Fortune is a game of empire building, diplomacy, conquest, construction, and deconstruction. Whether or not you build some form of paradise, or a hell on earth is entirely up to you.

This page is meant to describe how to play the game, or, if you've already played prior versions, to update you on newer features you may not be familiar with. Once you finish reading this page, you can also read about going beyond the basics


Each game you are given two workers, represented by the W symbol in the game, and one explorer, represented by E. Aside from the location where you've been placed, the world will be entirely unexplored and undiscovered (hidden by the blackness of the unknown). Your units will reveal more of the map as they move around in the world.

Initial game screen.

Each day in the game, your units perform the actions you've instructed them to perform (described more in the sections below). The actions you can assign to a unit are dependent on its type. Workers are the units responsible for building your city, zoning its land, and building any other improvement buildings you choose. Explorers are only useful for exploring the map--you can set them and other units to automatically explore the map.

Moving the text mode cursor (the bright ▒ block generally shown at the center of the screen) onto an item, such as unit or building, is how you can assign actions in the game. This is described more below.

The text mode cursor can be controlled either with your keyboard or mouse. The game can be played entirely by the keyboard, but, as of v0.2.0 most of the game is accessible via the mouse too.

For the rest of this page, `cursor` is used to refer to the text mode cursor ▒, not your mouse cursor.

Keyboard controls

Text cursor movement:

  • a, s, d, w: for moving the cursor left, down, right, and up, respectively.
  • Hold <Shift> then press a, s, d, w: moves the cursor more quickly.

There are two modes for moving your cursor:

  • The default mode keeps your cursor at the center of the screen and moves the portion of the map your screen shows (like moving the view of a telescope with a cross-hair at the center)
  • The second mode moves your cursor (both on the map and on the screen) and only moves the portion of the map shown if your cursor moves outside of the visible map.

You can toggle between these modes by pressing ` (see the bottom of the right-most column on the screenshot above).

Pressing o zooms out your view, while i zooms in the view -- this will be more useful once you've discovered more of the game world.

Aside from knowing how to move your cursor, there are no other keyboard shortcuts or commands that you need to memorize. Every keyboard shortcut you could use at any state of the game is shown somewhere on the screen. Letters on your game screen that look like this: v (i.e., blue and underlined) indicate a literal key you could press to do something.

Mouse controls

Most of the shortcut keys in the game (shown as blue and underlined) are also buttons you can click with your mouse. Additionally, you can:

  • Click anywhere on the map: moves your text mode cursor ▒ to wherever you clicked.
  • Click & drag the map: moves your view of the map.
  • Click & drag a unit: moves the unit to wherever you drag it to.
  • Hold <Shift> then click & drag over the map: selects multiple units for you to move all at once.
  • Scroll the mouse wheel: zooms in and out of the map.
  • Hold <Ctrl> and scroll the mouse wheel: changes the font size.

Other mouse actions are also available, but are not described here because they are already described in the game when relevant (check the bottom section of your screen, ex. when zoning land).

The terminal version of the game (using ncurses) only has limited mouse support and dragging doesn't work as well as it does in the SDL version.

Building a city

Selecting where to place a City Hall.

One of the first things you should do in a new game is to build your first city hall with one of your workers. You will only be given a few months to build your first city hall, so do not delay for too long. City halls are the core of every city and the means by which you levy taxes on the residents and industries of your empire.

Let's build your first city hall. First, select a worker by moving your text cursor on to it, if it's not already selected. At the bottom of the screen a series of actions should be visible. You should see the action Create bldg. at the bottom of the screen. Press h or click it with your mouse to do so. You will then be asked which building you would like the worker to produce. Use the arrow keys to select the City Hall entry and press <Enter> to confirm (or use your mouse to click the City Hall entry). Now the game will ask you to choose where you will place the building -- you can change the location by:

  • using the arrow keys (or the directional keys a, s, d, w, x, as described above). Press <Enter> to confirm the location.
  • using your mouse to click & drag the X cross-hair to the location you'd like to build at. Stop dragging to confirm the location.

The instructions above are also shown at the bottom of your screen once you've selected the building you want to be built.

Once you've selected the location and confirmed, as described above, the City Hall will disappear from your map. Don't worry. It will re-appear once again when you progress game time and the worker starts constructing it. We'll describe time in a section further below.

A worker constructing a City Hall.

Completed city halls can produce new workers and explorers. To have a City Hall produce a new worker, you can move the text cursor ▒ onto it and the keyboard shortcut/button to change its production will be shown at the bottom of your screen. Note that you should also see options to change the tax rates for the city as well at the bottom of your screen.

Exploring the map

Moving an explorer.

Now that your first city hall is under construction, let's move your explorer to some undiscovered land. At the bottom of the screen, you can see the move action is available for this unit. Press v, or click it with your mouse, and then move your text cursor ▒ to where you would like the explorer to move to (either click & drag, or use a, s, d, or w). Again, check the bottom of your screen in the game for these directions when you're in move or any other mode.

Another convenient mode is to use the Move with cursor action -- you can see the keyboard shortcut/button to activate this mode also at the bottom of your screen once you've selected a unit. This will have the unit instantly follow the text cursor around.

While you can manually explore the map with your explorer, or any of your units, it can be more convenient to set your explorer to automatically explore. As is shown at the bottom of your screen when you've selected a unit, you can press l to automate exploration.

A note on selecting units

The game generally prevents more than two units from occupying the same plot land at the same time. When you do have two units on the same plot of land, you can toggle between the two by pressing <Tab>.

Selecting a unit when more than one are on the same land tile.

Zoning and city planning

Your empire is funded by taxing your tax-averse residents. They will look for every opportunity they can to not pay taxes or to pay as little as they possibly can. Generally, if there's no road connecting their land to a reasonably close city hall, they will not pay anything into your empire's coffers. Additionally, the further away they are from the nearest city hall, they will pay less and less. The arms of your influence only go so far.

Here's an example of some residents not having a route to the city hall (roads are black):

Some buildings have no route to the City Hall.

After a road has been built for them:


Your cities are organized by four zones: residential, agricultural, business, and industrial. An ideal city will have some balance of all of these zones. The desirability for anyone to build on your zoned regions depends on many factors -- job availability and proximity, product availability (produced by agricultural, business, and industrial zones), and proximity to other zones.

People can be fickle and do not like living too far from their jobs, but also do not want to live too close to things like industrial warehouses. The same for the businesses that will occupy your empire -- any business owner loves the availability of cheap labor, but doesn't like the surplus of other businesses. Business owners can also be scared away by too many other abandoned businesses -- if many others have failed, why would they think they have a better chance?

Workers are what you will use to zone each of these four zones. For example, let's start out by zoning some residential space. When you've selected a worker, press r (again, this keyboard shortcut is shown at the bottom of your screen once you've selected a worker). The game will then prompt you for the location to start drawing a rectangularly shaped residential zone. Select the location by moving your cursor and then press <Enter> to confirm. Next you will select the other corner of the rectangular region (also with your cursor). Once selected, press <Enter> to confirm. Note that you cannot zone over existent buildings.



Each game day your units perform their actions, such as building or moving in the world. Once you've selected actions for all of your units, you will have the option to progress time until any one of your units finishes their action (by pressing @ as shown in the upper right side of your screen). You can also progress the game one day (the smallest game time increment) only by pressing n, also shown in the upper right of your screen. If you do press @ and progress until all units complete their actions, the game will generally pause if anything important happens before your units finish their actions -- such as if you are attacked.


Your empire only survives as long as it has the funds to. Bankruptcy, that is having no gold and only expenses, will cause your empire to collapse. Your empire's finances are shown on the right side of the screen. The only source of income you have is from your residents, so make sure they are happy and numerous. Buildings and units will both cost money and should be built as needed.

Military defense and conquest

Regardless of the type of empire you are running, you will need some form of a military. One of the first threats you may face is from barbarians. Keep an eye on these traitors, they may attack you at any time, unprovoked. Your city hall should never be left unprotected. Any barbarian, or any other civilization, that manages to attack it will immediately obtain control of your city and its surrounding land. A wise planning approach would be to build walls around your city with your workers. While walls can eventually be destroyed, they serve as a good slow-down for enemies and allow you to attack them before they can get through. If you do construct a wall around your city and leave no room for an exit, this is ok. You can insert a gate into any part of a wall:


Your military is trained and produced using boot camps. These buildings can be created by your workers, not unlike how you constructed a city hall. Once created, you can move your cursor onto the boot camp. As is shown at the bottom of your game screen, you can then press p to set the boot camp to begin producing a military unit. It may take months or years to produce a unit, so be prudent in preparing for threats before it is too late. Later in the game, other buildings, such as factories, may produce more sophisticated units.

Automated city planning and warfare

Depending on your playing style, you may not want to design every city by hand or to defend it by manually moving military units to every threat that ever arrives to your city walls. As of v0.2.0, here's what you can do to automate these tasks or in some cases make them easier.

City planning

Selecting a worker and selecting the automate action at the bottom of the screen will cause it to start zoning land and building a wall around the city hall the worker is closest to. If you automate more than one worker near a city hall, they will share and work on different regions of the same city plan. However, workers will largely ignore zones, roads, and walls you've built. So for each city, choose one or the other. Either automate the workers and let them build the city for you, or instruct them all the way through.

Note that automated workers will only build zones and walls. They won't build (or remove) government funded buildings like academies or theaters. You are the one in charge of the budget.


To automate a unit, select it and then click automate at the bottom of your screen. Automated military units perform their actions in the map sector that you define or choose. A map sector is simply an area of the map. It doesn't indicate ownership of the land. For example, defining a sector over enemy territory can be useful to direct units to attack everyone in it. Similarly, having a map sector contain your city in its entirety can be useful for defense.

Once you choose what sector to automate the unit in, you will be asked what action you want the unit to perform in it:


And what you'd like for it to do when its idle:


Note that, when you automate workers, they will automatically create a sector which will be large enough to contain the city that they are building. They don't use or need this sector definition and you can delete it or disable workers from creating it in your preferences if you don't find it useful. It is only for your convenience -- it can often be useful to set military units to patrol this sector.

Brigades (groupings of units)

A brigade in AF is any grouping of units you choose. It can contain workers, military units, or both -- although it's normally more useful to not mix the two in the same brigade.


There are two ways brigades are useful:

  • They allow you to assign an action to all members in the brigade. For example telling all units to fortify (remain still and receive a defensive bonus), move to a location, or attack a location.
  • They allow you to assign actions to a build list. Idle workers in the brigade will execute the actions in the build list. If you want to plan your city zoning and layout on your own (and not automate the workers), using a build list can be useful because you won't have to assign actions to individual workers and wait for them to finish before assigning the next action.


Technology is essential to maintaining a competitive empire. New technologies can allow the training of a better military, building better city improvements, and discovering new resources. At first, your primitive empire performs no research. To progress scientifically, you need to construct buildings which produce scientific output. The first building available to you that does this is the academy, which you can build with your worker. Once built, you will be prompted to select what you would like to research (you can also access this technology tree from the game menu to later change your selection):


Many technologies require the discovery of prior technologies. Some technologies may be more conductive to building your military, while others more conductive to improving your residence's lives.

A cautionary tale about falling behind in technology

Other civilizations can be unstable in many ways -- especially when ICMB-loving civilizations technologically advance and acquire uranium. Here's a zoomed out view of what a late-stage world can look like:


And some of its world history:


The Osyna were apparently not well liked. Here's what's known about them:


Maybe the Cluyn Sheau civilization was doing us a favor, as my civilization hid away in another corner of the world away from the war. Hopefully it stays that way.


While you can build a competitive ancient-era empire with no resources, resources will eventually be required if you want to maintain a military that isn't straight out of the stone age. Some military units will require resources like horses or iron to produce. Resources will also increase the desirability of living in your empire and will indirectly cause its population to grow. Resources look something like:


To use a resource, you need for your citizens to build near it. For example to use horses, your citizens need to build some form of farm or agricultural building near it. For other resources, such as logs, you need to have your citizens build some form of industrial building near it. Zoning over the resource with the appropriate zone is the first step to having this happen. The second step requires you to actually entice someone to develop and use the land -- this can be harder, depending on where the resource is, and ideas for doing it are described in the section below.

If you do not know the type of zoned buildings required to use a resource, simply move your cursor over it and information will be shown at the bottom of your screen.

In any case, once you do have access to a resource, you can start producing the units, if any, which require it.

Keeping your citizens happy

The desirability of living or moving to any city depends on where it is. Places like meadows are ideal, while places like tundra, not so much. But sometimes you have to play the hand you're dealt, and there are ways to entice people to even move to a remote (hopefully resource rich) tundra wasteland.

The most direct way that you have to entice residents is by building government funded buildings that they like, such as monuments, houses of worship, or theaters. These all cost money, but sometimes the best strategy is to build several of these even if at first it drains your empire's finances. The following is an example of going a bit over-board -- you can often get by with fewer or none of these buildings and building as many as below can bankrupt your finances in short-order:

A number of city improvement buildings. Also note the far right of the screen -- these buildings can be expensive.

The second way to entice residents is lowering the tax rates -- and perhaps raising it in other already more enticing cities to balance the budget. Select a city hall with your cursor, and the keyboard shortcuts to change its taxes will be shown at the bottom of your screen.

Using the menu and useful shortcuts

Several of the game features are accessed by the game menu shown at the top of the screen. I suggest exploring some of what it has. To enter the menu mode, press m (hitting <Escape> exits it). One useful feature in city planning is to look at the resources you, or one of your explorers, have found. You can see these in the Accounting > Resources > Discovered sub-menu.

It can often be useful to jump to the next idle unit which has no actions assigned. This can be navigated via the menu -- or the pressing m g n in sequence (which enters the menu mode, opens the Go sub-menu and selects the Next unmoved unit entry). Other menu items can be similarly accessed quickly using a similar process -- each menu entry's keyboard shortcut is shown by the blue underlined letter, similar to all other keyboard shortcuts in the game.

In-game help and info

You can look up any unit, resource, building, and technology in the game by going to the Help > Encyclopedia sub-menu. Here you can check what technologies or resources are required to build a particular military unit, for example.

Going beyond the basics

Additional topics to learn about are doctrines and preventing your empire from spiraling into uncontrollable rioting.

Notes about playing the game in a terminal

Mouse support works best in the SDL version of the game. Chances are if you don't know which version of the game you're playing it's the SDL version (arcane_fortune.bat, arcane_fortune_linux, or arcane_fortune_osx, depending on platform). However, if you do wish to run the game in a terminal emulator directly, you can use the *_ncurses versions of the game also provided. On Linux, mouse support works best in Konsole. If you don't care about the mouse then the choice of terminal emulators doesn't seem to matter much.

Game configuration

Most keyboard shortcuts can be changed by altering: game/config/keyboard.txt

All the colors used in the game can be changed by altering: game/config/colors.txt


Everything in game/config/ can be altered. You can, for example, add or edit buildings, units, doctrines, technologies, or resources.

It is recommend that you not remove the entries for the following units: Worker, Wood Clubber, Archer, ICBM, Explorer, Rioter. And the following buildings: City Hall, Boot Camp, Dock, Academy, Camp.

Removing those entirely may cause unstable game behavior. However, you shouldn't have any problem altering the costs or other parameters, for those or other items.

In the more distant future I'd like to add Lua scripting support, so if there's something in particular you want to mod with the game but can't, please let me know and I can try to design the Lua interface with it in mind.

Additional help

Visit us on the forums if you need help with anything!