Fortune Street and Commitment

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Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
2 For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.

Psalm 37

So I’m going to play lots of Fortune Street over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Seriously, if you listened to Kotaku on this game, you COMPLETELY missed out on one of the best board game video games (that sounds weird) that exists. Right now. Better than Mario Party, that’s for sure; at some point, Nintendo decided that those games should consist of lucky dice rolls and wasted time. Like Mario Kart’s Blue Shell, we can think of it as the epitome of a “socialist” game design. Apparently, the Dragon Quest denizens want to become capitalist pigs, if Fortune Street looks to be any indication.

Fortune Street, better known as Itadaki Street in Japan (translated as something equivalent to “thank you, I’ll be taking all that money now”), Dragon Quest’s Yuji Horii originally placed the idea of a property-swapping, stock trading minigame into Dragon Quest III. Yes, the NES one; Japanese people had far different tastes than use Westerners, and still do. This small portion of the overall experience became so popular that in 1991 Enix turned it into its own series, and it has continued to evolve to this day.

The first American release (!) of the series arrived on the Wii in late 2011 to a tepid, and mixed, reception. This should surprise no one; personal moral agency, rather than fun, tends to rule the roost nowadays and a game about…making money and destroying your opponents through the power of stock trading isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. Still, if you can get past the fact that it’s an abstract game about money which co-opts Mario and co. for a round of cutthroat jerk real estate investment, hedging, and leveraging, then this might work for you.

And three other people. Any reviews which state ANYTHING about the AI players did not actually play this game. Yes, the AI will ease you into the experience in the first few levels, but they will absolutely CRUSH you if you’re not paying attention to all the different deals happening. Let me tell you, there’s plenty of times when it looked like I was down and out. By understanding the mechanics, you can grasp victory from the jaws of defeat even when it looks hopeless. This especially rings true when dealing with human opponents, which should remain the focus of a multiplayer game.

Allow me to describe how this works. At its simplest, Fortune Street looks, sounds, and feels like a peppy and bright game of Parker Brothers’ Monopoly. There’s properties, you buy them, build them up, and if people land on them they pay you cash by force. You still pass Go in the form of card suits and the Bank, which gets you a bonus and a raise for further investment. You still roll a die, and something Chance and Community Chest (here in the form of uncontrolled mini-games and picking random cards) help you out. Sounds simple enough, right?

However, unlike Monopoly, the goal isn’t to, well, get a monopoly on the real estate game. Rather, it’s a race to reach a certain cash amount before your opponent. However, Fortune Street’s version of an investment goes further than Monopoly in the form of stocks. Each game board separates into a variety of colored districts. Investing in properties there will raise the price of all other properties in the district. As well, owning properties side by side will also increase their value. All of these actions also increase the price of stocks in that district, and here is where the strategy emerges. A player can buy stock in any district, even those in which he/she has no property whatsoever. This completely changes the dynamic of the game.

Suppose I buy stocks in a district, say, 99 right at the start of the game (I believe this is the maximum, correct me if I’m wrong). I don’t happen to pick up many properties as my opponents, but the district to which I invested ends up raising its stock price tenfold. If I started at 10g (it’s in gold here) per stock, then I just made a heck of a lot of money. That investment also means, relative to the number of stocks you own, that you obtain a dividend based on every transaction that happens within that district (say, a person lands on a space and you get 20%, depends on the stock price). Since the game considers you net worth (the combined total of all your assets, stocks included) into the “money total”, then you can see how this gets complicated.

Players can buy lots of property and invest, certainly, but they also find other people making money off of their investments too. Probably one of the optimal strategies consists in selling all the stock you currently own in an opponent’s district, thus drastically decreasing their network and increasing yours. This works especially well once you’ve pumped the stock price high enough to make a huge profit, then cementing your lead and destroying your friends. Thus, everyone’s financial well-being ties together into a grand and messy cacophony of numbers going up whenever just about anything happens. It justifies its existence as a board game just due to this complexity; nobody would want to make all these calculations.

So it is that I recommend Fortune Street to you, if not via way of review. However, you need to show some commitment to this. Even at the highest speed settings, the game slowly churns along and turns into a strategic game as the hours move. 2-3 hour games aren’t uncommon, but you may even hit a higher number depending on how long your turn takes, the size of the board, and numerous other factors (at least bathroom breaks remain a possibility). It’s a distinct, genuine commitment, and you cannot waver from it. A quick save option will help pause the game, but you still need to finish it.

Even then, I’ve made this sound hilariously complicated. Still, you can certainly wander right into the game and enjoy it immediately; the wonderful things about it take commitment to learn, though, and a sound mind. You cannot expect the fun to magically drop into your lap here; it may feel intuitively good and fine, but the deeper levels reward with their own little brain-tingling pleasures of the logical mind.

I can see this game not appealing to many people due to the time and effort it requires to get the most out of its strange systems. Christianity requires a similar commitment. It takes time to understand, time to learn, time to see its innermost depths. Not everything is always as it seems at face value. In Fortune Street’s case, a cutesy, brightly colored demeanor turns into a game of ripping off your friends and family of digital money. In Christianity, it holds infinite mysteries if not precise logical answers, but it is true.

But commitment never requires full understanding of anything. Otherwise, would you ever make a decision about anything? Part of the whole deal comes with risk – wonderful, brilliant risk. By choosing something, you reject everything else as a matter of course. You make the decisions and evaluate the risks; nobody questions it once they’ve already made the leap. Don’t fret over commitment; trust Him, and He will do it. You will learn more than you think you will. I’m having too much fun thinking of theology, so why can’t you? Enjoy the process, and stopping being anxious about it (even if you’re a capitalist pig). Make the commitment, stop being wishy-washy, and ride with it.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.