Fortune Builder, ColecoVision

Fortune Builder is a business simulation game that was developed by Circuits and Systems, Inc. and published by Coleco Industries in 1984. Alongside Utopia on the Intellivision, from 1981, it is one of the earliest examples of a resource management video game. Fortune Builder pre-dates SimCity by five years, and is more complex – at least in some respects.

The packaging describes Fortune Builder as “a high-risk real estate strategy game“, and challenges the player to see “how quickly can you create a multi-million dollar empire?

Fortune Builder can be played by one or two players, and uses a horizontal, scrolling split screen display to allow two players to work cooperatively to build a resort, but compete to make money. If played by one player you only get to use the top half of the screen and the bottom half is blacked-out, which is unfortunate as it would’ve been so much better if single-player games were given the entire screen.

Like in SimCity, you can build roads and residential buildings, but you can also build much more too. Like power stations, factories, cinemas, casinos, cottages, condominiums, gas stations, hotels and motels, toll booths, malls, fast food restaurants, coal mines, fishing boats, stores, stadiums, ski lifts, ski lodges, marinas, and even off-shore oil rigs. These are selected from a menu that you can scroll through, and are displayed in three different categories (Highway, Commerce, and Resort).

Where you place these buildings is of key importance. Placing certain structures near to each other will result in their decline, so it takes some experimentation to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Scrolling messages crawl along the middle of the screen and give alerts about events that are happening, like problems or successes that your development is having. At the end of each year a tune plays and your development is shown full-screen, then a fiscal summary is displayed that shows your current income, debts, and net worth.

Each player has a limited amount of time to reach a net worth goal, and the length of time you have – and the net worth goal – is directly related to the four available difficulty levels.

While Fortune Builder is an innovative game, and is a surprising release for an early console like the ColecoVision, it doesn’t seem to be as complete as it could’ve been. For example: there is only one map that you can play on, which is a big problem as this seriously hampers re-playability. The game could really do with some sort of a random map generator (as there is in SimCity), or at least a choice of maps, and maps of differing sizes, but that doesn’t seem to be possible. You have to play on the same map over and over again, which is disappointing.

The original game came complete with overlays for the controllers, which you could slide in and use to indicate the button layout. If you’re playing in an emulator you of course won’t have these, so it does take a while to figure out the controls. I did look online for a scanned Fortune Builder manual, but couldn’t find one. I did find some links claiming to have one, that went through to malware sites, so be careful if you’re searching for one online. It doesn’t look to me like there are any that are readily available. At least: not at the time of writing this.

Fortune Builder is fun to play for a while and is a good indicator of the potential of the resource management genre. With a few more features it could have been a classic, but as it stands it’s just an interesting game that points to better things to come in the genre, in future.

More: Fortune Builder on Moby Games

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