Combine witchcraft with office work in oddball RPG Fortune-499

Turns out that even witches and wizards suffer from corporate malaise. That's the core conceit of Fortune-499, a new RPG/card battler from developer AP Thomson, starring Cassandra (Cassie for short), a young oracle working for the magical resources department of a large corporation. As Cassie, not only are you fighting your own creeping irrelevance, you're battling actual monsters who've invaded your office.

Over the course of four hours or so, Cassie explores the floors of the office complex, from security, to accounting, to legal, fighting off invading monsters who are after the company's nebulous "public offerings." Rather than casting elemental spells or performing other feats of magical prowess, Cassie draws cards to defeat her foes. 

This game of cards is simultaneously a round of rock paper scissors where you draw cards to predict what the enemy will do next. Drawing a +4 Scissors card, for instance, indicates that your opponent has a high probability of throwing scissors, so you should use the "rock" attack to chip away at your opponents health. You can draw up to four cards total, but the more you draw, the harder it might be to scry your enemy's next move. You could very well pull +2 Rock, +2 Scissors, and +2 Paper, meaning you'll have to blindly guess, which is risky business indeed. But it can be worth drawing more, because there are other cards in your deck that give MP, boost your HP, or even guarantee your opponent’s next card rather than just increasing the possibility of it. You also have three spells equipped at a time, which do damage or cast buffs or debuffs. 

You'll have power over what goes into your deck too, increasing your ability to see the future. Copiers sprinkled throughout the building let you print cards, while shredders will eliminate cards from your deck. The filing cabinet, meanwhile, lets you move cards to the top of your deck. All of these elements allow you to build strategies to suit each battle, and monsters will often hint at the best approach for your success. One monster, for example, blocks all damage with a shield until it plays a paper card so you can tinker with your deck before the fight to increase the odds of the enemy drawing paper. 

...at the next turn you're inquiring at the reception desk of the Hellmouth that's sprouted up on the newly materialized 666th floor.

Fortune-499 gives you plenty of tools to help ensure the cards are in your favor, and it's a delight to create your own approach to each challenge the game throws at you. However,  when it comes down to it, this is still a game that's largely based on chance. Training at the company gym to buff up your HP and MP offers some insurance against misfortune, as does the ability to warm your cards in the staff room microwave to increase their power, but it's still easy to fall prey to bad luck. 

You may draw spectacularly poorly early on, which leaves you set up for failure, forced to face off against a department's remaining enemies with 2 HP and no way to heal up, collect items, or save mid-floor. On top of all of that, if you lose and have to go back to the start of a floor there's no option to skip through dialogue you've already seen. 

When she's not wrangling monsters, Cassie's dealing with a passive boss who refuses to stand up for her when the big-wigs look to make cuts to the corporate roster, cut-throat colleagues ready to take credit for her hard work, and over-eager parents who just want to know when she's going to settle down and marry a nice wizard. It's full of little jokes poking fun at corporate culture, but it can also get to the heart of issues with the daily grind. A phone call with the parents has you running through your own personal disappointments, while at the next turn you're inquiring at the reception desk of the Hellmouth that's sprouted up on the newly materialized 666th floor. 

Thomson teamed up with Jenny Jiao Hsia, who also created the art for Beglitched, to give Fortune-499 its minimalist but distinct style of pink, blue, and yellow pastel hues and simple lines. It’s about as retro as it gets, but paired with sharp writing and clever sound design, your brain easily fills in the gaps.

The sound effects and music do an excellent job fleshing out the world—your co-workers mumble among themselves in their cubicles, while in battle the cards shuffle with satisfying thwicks. The soundtrack too, is quite a feat. You might go into Fortune-499 expecting chiptunes, but instead you'll find guitars strummed through an odd, retro filter that gives the game a distinct melancholy as you stroll among empty desks, while battle themes are hyper, urgent affairs. 

Minor quality-of-life issues aside, Fortune-499 is quite a pleasant surprise. A card-based battle system that relies on rock paper scissors sounds risky, but it works. Each battle becomes a puzzle, asking you to plan ahead and approach them with creativity and strategy, making victory so very sweet. We've seen a lot of card games, but Fortune-499 is anything but derivative. It packs a lot of personality into its short playtime, weaving an effective story of capitalist hum-drum and is filled with charming characters and laugh-out-loud humor. Fortune-499 doesn't shy away from trying new things, and it pays off.  

Fortune-499 was originally released as part of the Humble Monthly Bundle earlier this year, and is now available on Steam.