Iowa City already had excellent stores for gamers, but unlike a lot of other college towns, it didn’t have a board game cafe near campus. The changed on Saturday, as Fortuna Board Game Café officially opened its doors on the Ped Mall.
Fortuna’s owner, Justin Ford, is originally from Michigan and has moved to Iowa City twice. His “second tour” started six years ago, after he moved back from California.
“I love going downtown. I live reasonably close, going down with my family,” he said. “And when the Raygun location closed and moved to a new location, that [space in the Ped Mall] was open. And when I walked by, I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’d be a great board game cafe.’”
The business takes its name from the Roman goddess of fate and luck. Fortuna is often depicted with a blindfold like Lady Justice, bestowing good or bad luck without prejudice. Sometimes she holds a cornucopia to symbolize abundance, or stands on a ball to show the instability of luck. It can go in any direction.
Ford said he was initially skeptical about starting a board game café in Iowa City. If one didn’t exist already, there must be a reason why. But as he started making plans, he became more convinced the idea was viable.
“It made sense and seemed like it worked,” he said. “I never found a reason not to do it. So here I am.”
Ford said he hopes Fortuna will be a welcome addition to downtown as a space that serves everyone from families and kids to college students.
“We need to start to build things there that are for everybody,” Ford said. “We’re building that downtown to be the kind of downtown that will get the next person to move from California back to this area.”
Ford works in environmental analysis and industrial hygiene, and doesn’t plan to make money from this business — strange for an entrepreneur, he acknowledges. After making back his initial investment, he plans to invest any profits from his café in the local business community.
Fortuna is starting in a “Beta” version, according to its website. This will allow its employees, called “Game Gurus,” to get on-the-job training. For now, they’re opening with limited hours. Its menu is also limited to pre-packaged chips and cookies, like Oreos and Pringles, and canned drinks, while they finish work on the kitchen.
There is a cover charge of $6 per person, but you can play as long as you want. Fortuna features classic board games like Monopoly, Clue and Battleship, as well as newer games like Settlers of Catan, Disney Villainous and The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth.
Fortuna is located at 105 E College St near the Clinton Street side of the Ped Mall. During its Beta phase, the café is open Monday-Thursday, 7 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 7 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.