by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Judge a game by its title
A well chosen title can make a newly launched book sell like hot cakes. If the same is true for games, playing on George R.R. Martin’s hit series “A song of Ice and Fire” should cause A Game of Dwarves to smash every sales record in the book. But, like beauty, a title is only skin-deep and the real substance is to be found underneath. Digging deeper (pun intended), I found a charming game that may not turn heads, but it is guaranteed to churn some brains.
As you would expect from a game that so prominently features diminutive cave dwellers, A Game of Dwarves is all about digging. Well, almost.
You see, carving rooms and hallways into rock and soil is a tough job. As the ‘dungeon keeper’ in A Game of Dwarves, your primary task is not to dig but to keep your diggers both happy and healthy. Fortunately, you don’t have to do that all by yourself. You can recruit workers that will tend to the crops that you plant to keep your guys fed, hire craftsmen to build beds where they can rest and soldiers to deal with any nasties that your diggers will encounter on their way down.
No matter their specialization, all dwarves prefer comfortably furnished surroundings over barren rock. Craftsmen can build a wide variety of furniture ranging from 'only functional' to 'way too garish for IKEA'. Your dwarves will be appreciative of anything functional that you provide them with but will love you for the garish stuff. The same is true for food. Your dwarves can live with the simple stuff but will go wild when eating nuts or berries and work harder as a result.
Playing A Game of Dwarves for the first time, I was more than a little surprised to see it borrow some of its core gameplay mechanics from The Sims but it is difficult not to see the connection. Better food provides happiness, sleeping in more comfortable beds enables them to get back to work quicker and more beautiful surroundings will make them joyfully clap their hairy hands. Oh, wait, that’s not actually true, but I’m sure that had there been a female dwarf, I’d have seen some “Woohoo!” moments.
That said, happiness, food and rest are easy enough to manage and won’t detract from the actual digging too much. What does detract from it – in a good way – is the fighting. Digging ever deeper into the ground, you are bound to find trouble. It usually comes in the shape of something green, like Goblins or Ogres, but there are spiders, leprechauns and mages as well. When you run into something that requires slaying, your military dwarves – which are made up of ranged and melee units – automatically come into action. If you have kept them close to where you are digging, the diggers should be able to get away unscathed.
I got trashed something fierce during my first fight. My three military dwarves lost to two Goblins so fast that it made my head spin. It made me realize which part of the game does require a little more attention than I had expected: making sure my dwarves are at fighting strength at any time. You can level up military dwarves by providing training dummies and use Scholar dwarves to research new military technologies that improve their armor and damage ability.
Logistics play an important role in A Game of Dwarves. In need of a break, the dwarves will find the nearest bed to sleep in or table to eat from. If the digging is taking place at level 20 and your home base is way up at level 5, your diggers will spend more time running back and forth than they will be digging. Setting up forward bases shortens the travel time considerably and, coincidentally, provide a great training location for your soldiers. These underground... fight clubs have the added benefit that when you do breach a wall and something angry comes bursting out, the ‘damage control’ people are close at hand.
Move over George
A Game of Dwarves eats away at your time as quickly as your dwarves chip away at the stone that stands in the way of creating their dungeons. It is not a fast paced game – unless you’re hell bent on playing the game with the ‘double speed’ button pushed – but that doesn’t mean it is boring. There is always something to do, like carving new living areas out of rock and soil, researching traps, planting new crops or working out a new digging strategy that takes you even deeper into the ground. And just when you wonder what you should do next, the game will throw some fun little surprise your way that upsets your chosen strategy. Once you have dealt with that surprise, you are still tasked with sorting out the holes in your carefully planned dungeon.
George, if you are reading this, I didn’t have time to read about your lions, wolves and roses as I was a little too busy playing with my dwarves.