Developer: Legendo Entertainment
We meet again, Ancient Trader. I first encountered Legendo Entertainment's virtual board game in the long summer of 2010, when it languished, unloved, in the cesspool beneath the Xbox Live Indie Games best-seller lists. Newly improved and rebranded, Fortune Winds: Ancient Trader is back for another shot at the title, this time setting sail for the PC and Mac.
As a privateer on the high seas, players are thrown into a turn-based battle for naval supremacy and vast riches. Upon choosing one of nine levels, players take turns moving their galleons around the map grid; discovering new ports, dangerous sea monsters and opportunities to make serious money. To survive in the wild blue yonder, you'll need to upgrade your vessel's movement speed and combat prowess, meaning that you'll have to buy low and sell high in the commodities markets, loot treasure from rival freebooters and undertake delivery quests from the various harbours. Depending on the victory conditions, you'll either have to collect artefacts and defeat a legendary sea monster to win, or acquire a certain amount of treasure; battling fellow players all the while.
This might all sound a bit Sid Meier-esque, but Fortune Winds is a board game, not a turn-based strategy game. As such, it's streamlined and simple - with combat distilled down to a rock-paper-scissors affair featuring upgradeable playing cards, only three major resources to sell and a relatively small map area to explore. Rather than limiting the scope, this smaller scale helps to keep each game short and punchy (typically 15-25 minutes), long enough to satisfy but brief enough to avoid outstaying its welcome.
So, what's new? The graphics have certainly been polished up nicely for the PC, allowing the gorgeous art direction to really shine. Legendo meticulously crafted a sumptuous and detailed visual experience based on the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (the first-ever world atlas created by Abraham Ortelius), and Fortune Winds includes some extra character avatars to make the most of this eyecatching aesthetic.
The AI has been kicked up a notch, too. Enemies will now pounce on poor decisions in the combat card game and exhibit a degree of forward planning, while the local sea monsters will attack with increased ferocity. And that's your lot, basically, apart from a newfound ability to save a game in progress.
Fortune Winds is fun as far as it goes, and you'll likely enjoy a few games on the nine maps. With its simple structure and complete lack of randomisation beyond the Kraken's position and commodity prices, however, the experience soon becomes incredibly predictable and repetitive when played solo. Continually humping the same goods between the same trade routes, fighting the same battles and docking into the same ports is an exercise in repetition, especially if you foolishly decide to play the thoroughly tedious wealth acquisition gametype. Tile-based games like Carcassonne are typically fairly easy to randomise, while the basic framework would have been a perfect fit for a bigger, exploration-centric affair in the vein of Strange Adventures In Infinite Space. Small doses are therefore the key... but since Fortune Winds is based on a board game, you'd expect its longevity to be found in multiplayer.
Which is problematic, for want of a better word.
The provided 'hotseat' multiplayer mode doesn't work particularly well on PC or Mac, mainly due to the need for secrecy. Other players will be able to see exactly where the artefacts are, how strong your ship is, the current exchange rates etc, giving everyone an unrealistic advantage that cheapens the whole endeavour. I'd actually recommend the £1.99 Ancient Trader iPad version over Fortune Winds if you're a fan of local multiplayer, as passing a tablet around the group helps to keep your decisions and acquisitions under wraps. I can't exactly endorse passing an M17X around in the same way, though I suppose a netbook might suffice.
It gets worse. For reasons I can't entirely fathom, online multiplayer has been completely removed. I appreciate that the slower turn-based style isn't a perfect fit for synchronous multiplayer, but it's always nice to have options, especially when the PC and Mac would have been the perfect platforms for play-by-mail. Considering that even the Xbox Live Indie original featured a stab at online multiplayer, it's more than galling to note its absence here.
Fortune Winds is a strange beast, then, worth the money for genre fans and yet not providing the quantum leap forward that the original game arguably deserved. We hope that a more fully-featured sequel will help Ancient Trader to fulfil its potential.
- Sumptuous visuals and unique art style
- Fun and accessible
- A few new tweaks
- Lack of randomisation
- Repetitive core gameplay
- Flawed local multiplayer and zero online functionality
The Short Version: Fortune Winds: Ancient Trader is an accessible, effortlessly attractive and enjoyable board game that's great fun while it lasts. Sadly, due to surprisingly weak multiplayer (never ideal for a board game) and repetitive core gameplay, it won't necessarily last all that long. Best approached in short play sessions or on the iPad.