Getting started

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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.

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.


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:



Military defense and conquest



Keeping your citizens happy

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!