Pros: Expands on the Monopoly formula, has online play.
Cons: Is yet another harbinger of the end of conventional board games.
When I was a kid, I loved playing Monopoly. I loved counting out the money, I loved getting my favorite game piece (although it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten which one that was), I loved the surprise of the community chest cards, I loved getting all four railroads. I could play for hours, which is exactly what you have to do when you play Monopoly; driving someone into bankruptcy seems to take at as long in the game as it would in real life. I never won or lost the game; the rest of my family always got bored and gave up before it was over.
If only Fortune Street, a Wii virtual board game that is essentially a somewhat more complicated version of Monopoly, had existed when I was young. Not only does the game’s goal of reaching a certain net worth keep it from going on for hours, but if your family deserts you, you can always play on line against others whose families have deserted them as well.
The Basics: Monopoly-Style Gameplay With Extras
As with Monopoly, players travel around a board buying and improving properties and charging rent to opponents who land on these properties. Players might also land on special squares that deliver random rewards or punishments.
But because it’s a computer game, Fortune Street allows for calculations too complex for board game players. You can, for example, buy shares in certain sections of the board whose worth will change as players improve properties or buy and sell shares in that area. (For those put off by the seeming – but largely illusory – complexity of investing, the game includes a simple mode that leaves this part out.)
There are other additions you wouldn’t see in an old-school board game. While Fortune Street has its own version of passing GO and collecting $200, you have to collect items around the board before you can do that, and the amount you collect varies each time. There are also some little games of chance you will stumble on, such as a race in which creatures run along a booby-trapped track.
Options: Play With Friends or Strangers at Home or Online
For those, like me, who find their friends and family less enamored of the game than would be hoped, Fortune Street can be played against computer opponents or against players online. Computer avatars are characters from the Mario and Dragon Quest universes. By default they will comment with each movie, expressing excitement when purchasing a new property and distress when forced to pay rent. This gets old very quickly, but fortunately the game allows you to turn off comments. You can also speed up the action, forcing your virtual opponents to move very quickly.
Online, Fortune Street will find you at least one human opponent and then, unless your settings are otherwise, round out the board with virtual players. I played one game online, and honestly could only tell which opponent was human because their response time was much slower. As with any party game, you ideally want to play against other people in the room with you, where you can have the satisfaction of seeing their aggravation when they have to sell shares to pay you a big rent.
Verdict: A Solid Virtual Board Game, and the Beginning of the End
I have always had a certain prejudice against video game board games. For me they have always felt lacking. The tactile nature of board games – the roll of the dice, the choosing of the game piece, the shuffling of the cards, the counting of the money - is hard to emulate in a video game. While Fortune Street does attempt to emulate the rolling of the dice, which can be done with a flick of the remote, for the most part it is still all about pushing buttons. And yet, I feel the game works about as well as most old-school board games.
In a way, this is hard to face up to. Growing older often seems to be comprised entirely of watching everything you like being replaced by something newfangled, and it is hard to think that old-fashioned board games may go the way of vinyl records and Saturday morning cartoons, two things from my youth that have been made irrelevant by new technology. Board games aren’t gone quite yet, but with games like Fortune Street doing such a good job of both emulating and expanding on the board game formula, I’m afraid the days of cardboard game boards, metal game pieces and plastic dice are numbered.