Arcane Fortune

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How to play Arcane Fortune

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.

Table of contents


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.

Navigating the world view and playing the game is done entirely by the keyboard. You can use the arrow keys or any of the following: a, s, d, w (for left, down, right, and up, respectively), to move the cursor. Pressing shift and using the a, s, etc. keys 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 crosshair 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.

Building a city

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 cursor on to it, if it's not already selected. At the bottom of the screen a series of actions should be visible. The game denotes keyboard shortcuts by underlined blue letters. You should see the action 'Create bldg.' at the bottom of the screen. Press h 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. Now the game will ask you to choose where you will place the city hall -- you can change the location by again using the arrow keys (or the directional keys a, s, d, w, x, as described above).

City hall placement

Once you've decided where to place the city hall, press <Enter> and the worker will build the city hall over the next few game days.

City hall construction

Completed city halls can produce new workers and explorers. To do so, move your cursor onto the city hall and you should see the keyboard shortcut to change its production at the bottom of your screen.

Exploring the map

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 and then move your cursor to where you would like the explorer to move to.

Moving a unit to explore

Once you've selected the destination, press <Enter> and the explorer will move. 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 units

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):

Unconnected from the city hall

After a road has been built for them:

Connecting to the city hall

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 avaiability 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, make sure to leave an opening for your units to leave -- otherwise you will have constructed an inverted fortress and your empire's only chance of escape will be through invaders breaking through the 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.


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):

Technology tree

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:

Late-stage world

And some of its world history:

Game history

Population of the world

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

Intel on the Osyna

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:

Example resources    Example resources    Example resources

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:

Many government-funded improvement buildings

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. 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.

Game display

Arcane Fortune uses your operating system's native terminal interface. One advantage of this approach is that you can easily change the display size of everything in the game by changing your terminal's display settings. Additionally, you can also change the color preferences of your console and, for example, make red display as blue or any other combination of variation.

Another advantage of using the native terminal interface is that you can play the game remotely via ssh. This works well on Linux at least, but results will vary based on the quality and settings of your terminal emulator -- I have seen mixed results with PuTTY on Windows.

Linux: With the Konsole or Gnome terminal emulators, you can change the text size by pressing <Ctrl> + <Shift> + <plus> and <Ctrl> + <Shift> + <minus> (on Konsole, at least, you can also configure it to do this with <Ctrl> + <mouse wheel> -- Konsole is my preferred terminal emulator and what the game is most tested on). Changing the text size can be done while the game is playing.

Windows: I bundle Arcane Fortune with the ConEmu terminal emulator. The native Windows console programs (like cmd.exe) often have severe limitations that makes the game not playable or enjoyable (such as limited colors or screen size). Font size, coloring, and other preferences can be altered in ConEmu by pressing <Ctrl> + <Alt> + <p>. Note that changing the font size, and possibly other settings, may require you to restart the game. This is a limitation of either ConEmu or Windows (on other platforms the game does not need to be restarted). In general, the frame drawing on ConEmu/Windows is not as smooth/quick as it is on Linux and OS X. I again don't know if this is a limitation of the Windows console overall or just of ConEmu. I may come up with a better solution for Windows in the future. Regardless of these issues, the game is still playable as-is, I would say.

Mac OS X: You can use the <Cmd> + <plus> and <Cmd> + <minus> keys to change the text size while the game is running. Other font and color settings can also be changed in your terminal preference settings.

In future versions, I may also add the ability to play the game with a graphical tileset.

Modified Jul-26-2020

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