A Game Of Resources: A Game Of Dwarves

By Craig Pearson on May 1st, 2012 at 1:30 pm.


Apart from singing the ‘gold’ song, pondering each other’s gender, and quaffing, digging is what dwarves do. (Do you mean Gold? Because that is definitely what dwarves should sing – Ed) A Game Of Dwarves focuses on the digging. You dig your digs, starting from the throne of the head Dwarf and spreading out in all directions, expanding your underground empire, adding rooms in the increasingly unwelcoming nethers. It’s a slick little strategy management game, welcoming to those who look at such things and wonder where the crosshair is. Me, basically. The man from Paradox wiped away my tears and showed me the easy way it works, and after pointing and clapping I got to it.

A randomly generated world awaited. My little underground dwarf haven is full of wandering dwarves: warriors, craftsmen, workers, diggers, and the blank slate dwarflings. They’re here to dig and find the resources: food, wood, gold and stone, that’ll help produce for the Craftsmen and Workers material to make it prettier and productive. I set my diggers to their task: All it takes is selecting an area for them to chunk out and they’ll do the rest, there’s not a lot of micro-management in this aspect, just broad strokes of the brush, out and up or down, to them in motion. They do need somewhere to sleep, somewhere to feed, and niceties to keep them happy, but I never manage to get to that point in my brief playthough. That’s because in my initial excavations I found little of anything: a tiny amount of gold and stone, but not enough to get my home truly thrumming with activity.


Not like those playing the game next to me next to me. A glance left and right showed other members of the press pack dungeon’s coming together: I can see diggers uncovering reams of rock, I see crafters working from build menus, making tables, building ladders, workers tending crops. Their worlds look alive and orderly. My diggers are dutifully excavating my bounding box and finding nothing at all, and my world is expanding in desperate room sized jolts as I hope to find something. I’m getting dwarf envy! I want to start placing feeding tables, as my little crew are now thinking about food; I don’t have the wood to make it. Wood, incidentally, is grown and then harvested underground: this is a game of resources as well as dwarves.

I only have a short amount of time to explore, so I decide that if building out is yielding nothing I’ll instead aim down. The deeper you go in the huge map (75 tiles across, 50 down) the more resources. But also the more obstacles. I set one dwarf on an exploratory dig: checking the map I can see my empire spreading out nicely from the opening chambers, then there’s this ugly shaft straight down. It’s the least stylish part of my build, making it look like a mushroom: it’s a desperate dig down in the hope of coming across something to write about.


Because he’s autonomous, and because sadly there’s no chance of a cave-in, or watery death while digging, I leave my digger to get to it. I return to the main chamber: I finally have a few elements, so I start flicking through the build menu to see if can get the Crafter dwarves to make something, or a cultivation stone to let the Worker dwarves feed the population. I decide to cultivate, because I have a beard and therefore hippyish pretentions. This is why I fail at these games, btw. I’m just not militaryish enough. That becomes clear when I’m pondering the placement of the stone and suddenly the nearest dwarf is killed by an Orc.

I’d forgotten about the military caste: you need to tell them to patrol, and it’s best to keep them near excavations because building out is building into enemy territory. The shaft down had plunged into an Orc cave and they were now coming up and out, like a meaty water spout. I send as many of the Warriors as I can find to the hole where they’re coming out and watch the little fight. It’s flaily and undynamic, and like the digging and crafting I only control where the dwaves need to be: a few dwarves are sacrificed until the Orcs are taken out, but at least I uncovered something.


It’s the luck of a dice roll that’s left me like this: on the monitor to the left (damn you Dan Gril) there’s a neat world laid out, an efficient little dwarf operation is thrumming. If I cross my eyes, I can pretend it’s my world, and all those gold seams are mine, but it hurts doing that, and it’s frankly weird.

So I didn’t have the best world, but I was aware, surrounded frankly, by what it has to offer. It’s an easy to play but hard to master little strategy game with cute charm. It probably has a few more hidden depths, and the nature of it means you’ll end up with sprawling, multi-level dwarf operations that the very thought of terrifies me: expansion and ability to consider the ecognomic (that’s the best pun I’ll ever write, btw) and gastronomic needs of the little people is the key. It’s got a nice, welcoming smile but I’ll bet when your kingdom grows, and it has a vast amount of space to fill, it’s more than a challenge.

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77 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    The deeper we dig into knowledge of this game, the more I wonder where its depth will come from.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      No! Just, No.

    • GT3000 says:

      I am going to play Spandau Ballet’s Gold when playing this…

      YOU’RE INDESTRUCTIBLE, ALWAYS BELIEVE IT!

      • gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

        I have a soft spot for that sort of blue-eyed-soul tinged new wave, so it warmed my little coal heart when I clicked the Youtube link and saw it was the old Spandau Ballet song. In fact, to cut a long story short, I lost my mind.

    • Yglorba says:

      No, don’t! You know what will happen if we dig too deep into this game, don’t you?

  2. Zeno says:

    So it’s baby-mode Dwarf Fortress…?

    • Timothy says:

      Seems to me like Paradox listened to the thousands of people saying “I really wanted to get in to Dwarf Fortress, but I couldn’t get past the interface.”
      So yes, but in a good way. Other comparisons available include Dungeon Keeper.

      • MasterDex says:

        Beat me to it! Baby-mode Dwarf Fortress is a very condescending title to give it, especially considering that a good amount of Dwarf Fortress’ difficulty comes from it’s terrible interface. I’m all for this, personally. With continuous updates, this could capture the audience that Dwarf Fortress could have if it was more game and less “personal project”.

        • Belsameth says:

          I agree. DF isn’t really that hard once you get the basics. There’s just a lot and it’s hidden away behind an incredibly complex interface and almost purposefully vague descriptions over what most of the things do (No iron ore, just Limonite, Magnetite and another one. You figure out that those areactually iron ore…)

          • Timothy says:

            I actually really liked the Limonite, Magnetite, Hematite aspect of DF. It feels right that Dwarves should need a good understanding of Geology.
            Then again, it would have been nice if there was some tutorial or something, rather than needing to resort to the wiki.

          • Belsameth says:

            Oh, I like it, I very much do, so I’m not trying to slag of DF. It’s just not very user friendly and indeed needs a wiki next to it….

          • Consumatopia says:

            I find it ironic (not necessarily incoherent or incorrect, just ironic) to talk about anything in Dwarf Fortress “feeling right”. It’s just such a “I don’t even see the code” sort of game. I guess the names make one feel more like a dwarf. But 3d-rendered cave in first-person view with a pickaxe in your hand would make it “feel” even more dwarf-y. Instead of a keyboard, take this motion controller so you can swing the pickaxe yourself.

          • Johnny99.1 says:

            My fear with dwarf fortress is that it is actually Tropico with:
            a) no graphics
            b) the aforementioned awful user interface
            c) an occasional citizen who either goes homicidally insane or builds something pointless
            d) some awfully complex resource-build-output processes
            e) combat about as clunky as tropico 3′s, just with a near irrelevant backstory about who stabbed who in the cervix if you choose to look it up
            f) but set underground not on a tropical island

            I do fear that a lot of DF’s depth is to do with the near inability of the player to tell what is actually going on.

            None of this is to say it isn’t a good game – given a lot of my life to Tropico in its various incarnations, just that I get no street cred in hard core PC gaming circles for that, but DF is legendary. DF is good and fun, just not sure its legend isn’t a good part due to the difficulty in just playing the damn thing.

            Am therefore quite excited about Game of Dwarves.

          • Johnny99.1 says:

            Where did my comment go? Grumble.

            What I tried to say (apologies if the comment finally turns up) is that having played both DF and Tropico (1,2,3) is that I can’t escape the fear that DF may actually be Tropico with:
            a) no user interface
            b) no graphics
            c) the odd inhabitant that loses it and goes on a killing spree [and the possibility of this leading to it all snowballing badly wrong]
            d) a bunch of complexity you only see if you dig through some menus that could be approximated anyway (I appreciate he died from a blow to the spleen, but really, he is dead the other guy won, the rest is detail)
            e) some crazily complex resource-construction trees

            None of this is to say that DF is a bad game. I love Tropico, just that DF has a hard-core status that I fear may owe as much to the interface as the actual game beneath.

          • Salt says:

            Johnny, I think you’re right.
            I’ve played a whole lot of DF and honestly it’s not a hard game. There are lots of entertaining mistakes one can make as a beginner that destroy fortresses. But after not that long you learn to knock up an infinite source of food in the first season and if ever you feel in danger from hostiles you pull a lever and seal yourself safely off from everything.
            I’ve had a great deal of fun with the game, but mostly from building absurd water-based systems, glorious multi-level dining halls and other “make your own fun” things.

            Once you’re past the interface the game’s inherent goal of keeping a bunch of dwarves safe and expanding your population is almost always trivially easy (with the possible exception of living in a haunted glacier).

          • Belsameth says:

            That was exactly my point.
            DF makes choices which merely make it *seem* complex from the outside. It really isn’t all that much.
            And again, while saying this, I must say I absolutely *love* Dwarf Fortress…

        • sinister agent says:

          No, you’re clearly wrong. Games are only good and clever if their controls are obnoxiously terrible. Improving how a game is controlled means you’re a big dumb baby. You should know that by now.

          • methodology says:

            Please attack the obnoxious poster, not the amazing game/simulation….

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      No, it’s Dungeon Keeper/Theme Hospital.

      The strongest link to Dwarf Fortress is the presence of dwarves.

      • Zanchito says:

        Yup, this seems to be the case, the “FUN” from DF seems to be WAY tamed down.

      • pakoito says:

        Agreed with…that guy. DF is a full simulation environment where you can put your godly paw and try to make the river flow upwards, AGOD is more of a game with goals, tasks and other kind of fun. Not that it is bad, of course, I myself cannot play DF not because of the interface but because of the open-endness.

        • Consumatopia says:

          I see three difficulties in playing Dwarf Fortress. 1. the interface, 2. the “open-endedness” you talk about, and 3. the “Limonite, Magnetite” issue above (making the game complicated just for the sake of being complicated, e.g. “hey, why not have bees?”)

          What kind of frustrates me is that there’s no reason these three things have to go together–you could have an “open-ended” game with a decent interface and uncluttered gameplay. Just add (decent) fluid simulation to Minecraft. Now, you can build fountains and canals that flow uphill.

          I would love to see a game that is to Dwarf Fortress as Brogue is to more complicated roguelikes–simplify the game down to its essence, to produce something that’s much easier to get into but just about as deep.

          Consider a game that has you build a fortress from mined materials by commanding agents who must be fed and otherwise kept loyal while fending off ever larger sieges. Those sieges can be resisted either by arming and commanding dwarves, or by using a mechanical simulation (including fluids) to build traps involving water, lava, spikes, falling, and crushing. One could make a very compelling version of such a game that would be much, much simpler than Dwarf Fortress. (Perhaps not much more complicated than Minecraft.) Such a game would be difficult to program (fluids) but not difficult to play.

          • pakoito says:

            >I would love to see a game that is to Dwarf Fortress as Brogue is to more complicated roguelikes–simplify the game down to its essence, to produce something that’s much easier to get into but just about as deep.

            Sidenote Civilization: Revolution did a good job at that. But sometimes complexity is the meat of the game, look at LoL and Dota 2. I don’t know anymore lol

          • Solomon Grundy says:

            Woah, didn’t know about Brogue! Awesome. I just got killed on level 3 in a flood trap by a bunch of eels. Good times! And yes, this is EXACTLY what i keep hoping will happen with Dwarf Fortress. Mouse control FTW!

        • noodlecake says:

          I want to like Dwarf Fortress. I’ve sunk a good many hours into it but when the second lot of immigrants come in and I suddenly go from having 15 dwarves to 50+ to assign tasks to and find work for I just give up because it’s too much to deal with at once. Which is a shame because I was really enjoying it up until that point.

          I find the same thing happens with Crusader Kings 2. I’m enjoying gradually acquiring things and then suddenly I’m the King of Hungary, Wales and Ireland at the same time and I just turn it off because it’s too stressful to be enjoyable any more. I don’t want to have to put as much effort into a game as I would a big project like a complicated painting or animation. I want gaming to be there to chill me out, not stress me out.

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            beekay says:

            Get Dwarf Therapist – it renders all dwarves, skills and assigned tasks down to a massive grid, and while it’s still not simple, it’s basically impossible to play without it.

      • Warskull says:

        Dungeon Keeper + Theme Hospital sounds pretty awesome to me. Dungeon Keeper has been in need of a proper sequel for a long time. We had Evil Genius in 2004 which was good with some flaws.

      • b0rsuk says:

        Isn’t that the definition of the game ‘Dungeons’ ? The one no one remembers anymore ?

    • Eddy9000 says:

      I would love a dwarf fortress with good graphics and an accessible UI. Never seen why such a popular game is still using ascii graphics, unless it gives people some sort of feeling of elite group membership as someone who has got to grips with an obscure interface.

      • frightlever says:

        Toady isn’t interested in graphics, he wants to make a fantasy world simulator that automatically generates epic tales. The fact he makes enough in donations every month to continue to do that is at once marvellous and inexplicable.

        Also, don’t forget Towns had their hero update, which I still haven’t tried.

        • Dark Malady says:

          TOWNS!
          glad somebody mentioned it. sadly it’s not as darkly witty as Dungeon Keeper… but I can laugh at the french names. I’m glad people have woken up to the fact that this style of gameplay is really good,
          .45a is a decent play. the heroes don’t do much, but soldiers work now and the Vanity items and decorative hedges and gardnes and stuff really spruce the place up a bit. I Like where it’s going, and how it’s doing it. it’s easier to get into what witht he tutorial levels, and the wiki is still mostly a version behind… with working soldiers and townies who know how to farm better… the game is slightly more Autonomous. it’s someing i can pla, leave a task while go cook dinner comeback to find that the blessed little things have either done it or i forgot to set a crucial task in motion and every stareved to death… (remember to set wheat auto gather.)

          • Eddy9000 says:

            Towns eh? might go and give it a looksie

          • Mr Chug says:

            I’ve enjoyed Towns’ builds so far, but it ultimately was the last straw in making give dwarf fortress a go and having broken the interface barrier on that I’ve found it hard to go back to the lack of features Towns can provide so far. I’m still pumped for the concept, but I’m giving it a bit more time to develop before sinking a decent chunk of time in (looking at you too, Starfarer).

          • BurningPet says:

            Mr chug, i am very very pleased to hear that actually!

            The “towns” team have grown and was organised from the bay12 forums, where we are still very much active regardless of towns, so our love for dwarf fortress is only matched by the love for our own game.

            so when i hear people that have played towns come to the point where they say, damn, this style of game is too good to let an interface break me, ill go and dig deep into the much more mature dwarf fortress, it makes us really happy inside knowing we could somehow give back to DF.

            Our aim is not to make a dumbed down version of dwarf fortress, but rather to make a much more sophisticated version of something more akin to Majesty.

      • InternetBatman says:

        I think it’s really just the nature of the beast. Dwarf Fortress is developed by one (Two? I don’t know the role his brother plays) person, so he can only focus on one thing at a time. He has always chosen to make that thing extra content or refining the rules, which is why it is the sprawling beast it is now.

        It’s popular to a select group of people because it does things that other games can’t and haven’t done before, and some people just don’t care about the interface and graphics. In essence, it’s popular among the niche it serves because it serves a niche.

      • ancienttoaster says:

        I don’t think it’s ASCII that makes Dwarf Fortress unapproachable; plenty of very accessible games like Brogue use ASCII without being a pain in the ass. The problem is that the game is saddled with quite possibly the worst UI in the history of gaming.

        • Eddy9000 says:

          That and the ascii. I like to think of myself as an imaginative guy, but weaving epic tales from a bunch of alphanumeric characters is too much of a stretch for me :(

          • arccos says:

            Well, the issues with ascii are pretty much solved, since you can install an image pack that turns the ascii into graphical tiles. It’s still not generally pretty, but it gets the job done.

            The interface is still a mess, though.

          • Nyst says:

            I find that the ascii and control issues tend to solve each other in parallel. By the time you get used to the graphics, you’ll have the muscle memory that the controls are no longer an issue.

            There are of course plenty of tilesets to make the game prettier (may I recommend Mayday’s), and even isometric and 3d renders available (although the latter two are unfortunately not yet real time). We’d even have mods that would fix the controls too if Toady One (the creator) gave people access to it.
            He’s a little paranoid about that which is unfortunate, but ultimately understandable as it’s his creation.

          • Koozer says:

            Your imagination is the best graphics engine imaginable (har). Dwarf Fortress would be completely ruined for me if Toady ever introduced, say, a 3D rendering engine to it. Whatever it produces will never live up to what your mind conjures from a line of text.

  3. Daniel Klein says:

    I believe Craig meant this gem of dwarven musicianship: http://www.lspace.org/fandom/afp/timelines/gold-gold-gold.html (do read the full thread. Dwarves can be so creative. On the internet.)

  4. Heliocentric says:

    There seems to have been a mistake, the link says this game comes out in Q4 but I need this game right now!

    • Belsameth says:

      I tried throwing my credit card at the screen but sadly, no download link for the alpha…

      *sulks off, softly weeping*

      • methodology says:

        The magnetic strip must have been on the wrong side when you threw it at the screen cause it took mine just fine.

  5. westyfield says:

    ALWAYS BELIIIIEEEEEVE!

  6. antoniodamala says:

    Finally I can get into a interesting managing game with dwarves without wasting 2 hours just to finally understand what is going on.

  7. John Connor says:

    I wish someone, somewhere, would just do a blatant ripoff of Dungeon Keeper. Call it Kungeon Deeper, give it good graphics, and I will give you my firstborn son in exchange.

    In the meantime, though, this game may just suffice.

    PS. Kickstarter needs to allow the offering of firstborn children as payment.

    • abremms says:

      There was one last year, called Dungeons or some such. not terrible, but also not particularly good. i think there is a demo, might be worth checking out. It would be nice if someone managed to actualy capture what made Dungeon Keeper brilliant, I would kickstart that.

      • Ridnarhtim says:

        Unfortunately, Dungeons really didn’t have much in common with Dungeon Keeper. I guess they wanted to do their own thing rather than a blatant rip-off, but personally I would have much preferred a blatant rip-off.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        Yes it was very odd, they took Dungeon Keeper’s tone and aesthetic, and were clearly inspired by it, but then threw away that gameplay mode for one that was IMHO drastically less fun. I was so pumped up for Dungeons and then I maybe only played a half dozen missions before tiring of it.

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      Surlywombat says:

      Theres War For The Overworld, using the unreal engine. Looks to be a good long way from completion though. I think there is another one out there some too, but can’t for the life of me remember it’s name.

    • simoroth says:

      I was going to do something like this. Although when it comes down to it, unless it was exactly dungeon keeper no one would be happy with it, and if it was exactly the same then it would be a painful slog to make. Making a clone would kill the creativity of a team.

      Instead I’m making a game inspired by the Bullfrog mentality, filling it with beautiful art and dark humour, but crafting my own world and ideas. I’d rather see 100 interesting games inspired by Bullfrog than one perfect Theme hospital or DK clone.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        And I would rather have 100 oranges than 1 apple? What has that got to do with it?

        Honestly if I had to choose between one game “inspired by dungeon keeper” and one “that is a ripoff of dungeon keeper with a modern interface and game design” I would take the latter.

        • simoroth says:

          Game design? Well then if your changing the design its not a clone any more and your making a game influenced by DK.

  8. hemmingjay says:

    But when do we get to play it?

  9. Cooper says:

    I just managed an ad hoc office sing along. Thankyou.

    Also, how autonomous do the dwarves seem? I’ve always enjoyed the kind of ‘herding and hoping for the best’ mechanism of management that Dungeon Keeper is the granddaddy of. Even if it seems to be way out of fashion now because it can be frustarting (bloody flies going for wanders and alerting heroes…)

  10. Cinnamon says:

    Cinnamon sits down and starts singing about gold.

  11. pakoito says:

    Glod Glodson.

  12. magnus says:

    Spandau bleedin’ Ballet? This is what the dwaves would be singing, this is far more epic; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0jCl5EvBx4

  13. utharda says:

    Frederick Wester CEO of Paradox Interactive, Please take my money, I’ll buy your unfinished game!

    (Please)

    • Phantoon says:

      Right.

    • Belsameth says:

      Don’t worry. It’s paradox. In Q4, when it goes on sale, it’ll still be unfinished and require a couple of months of frentic patching thus allowing you to buy it unfinished… :p

      Note, I’ll buy this game on day 1. No matter how many game stopp[ing bugs/crashes/annoyances/virgin sacrificing rituals I have to endure/partake in to enjoy it…

  14. wodin says:

    Shame no one makes a DF type gamme with all it’s depth and complexity but with some nice graphics and decent UI. Though I do love DF (I have to use ironhands graphics though), I find if I’ve not played for awhile I find it difficult to get motivated again as I have to relearn the UI.

    • pakoito says:

      The complexity of DF is unmatchable. Toady is not a programmer, he’s a NASA math nutty obsessed over simulation; and DF has a lot of equation-based systems and subsystems that cannot be copied.

      A new game could be done from scratch with new NASA/Mensa dropoffs, but I can’t see no producer budgeting and greenlighting that kind of game. Not even with self-funding and 4-5 years target.

    • Reefpirate says:

      “with all its depth and complexity”

      There’s your problem right there. The game has been years and years in the making to get that depth and complexity… Not very easy to recreate.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Smashbox says:

    Wot’s with the overworld map? Mission picker (probably, ugh) or something more?

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Yeah t looked interesting and I really wanted more info about it.

    • Nyst says:

      I looks to be like a semi-linear overworld map a la Dungeon Keeper. Not quite DF levels, but I think this’ll suit the game better (so long as they remember to include a sandbox and/or challenge mode like DK did).
      Also, remember that alpha is alpha and things can still change.

  16. Josh W says:

    Craig, this is against my normal preferences, because I normally like personal reflections rather than reviews, but pretty much everyone commenting here is wondering about something you completely avoided in your post:

    How does this compare to dwarf fortress?

    Although I suppose in the time you were given it would be hard to really tell.

  17. Fumarole says:

    that’s the best pun I’ll ever write, btw

    +10 points for a clever pun
    -100 points for feeling it necessary to point it out to us

  18. wodin says:

    All sad but true.

  19. psyk says:

    Prob wrong. but I thought a lack of easy to use ui in DF was due to the game being nowhere near finished and because of this more time would of been spent messing with the UI than the rest of the game.

  20. Vox Inaudita says:

    AFAIK, the lack of an easy to use UI in DF is because ToadyOne has admitted he just doesn’t like programming UIs.

    As for the default ASCII interface, I’ve found it to be incredibly efficient at conveying information in a way that graphics might struggle to do. The colors and characters used are very consistent throughout the game – for example, a red character, animal or dwarf, usually means it’s a young version of the animal or dwarf. A graphical representation can be ambiguous, and icons generally take up more space, for legibility purposes, than the ASCII characters do. Of course the problem is being interested in the game enough to spend time learning it..

    • Premium User Badge

      Malibu Stacey says:

      I guess you don’t get that the so called “ASCII” interface is actually just OpenGL text which is easily replaced with icon tiles which make the game roughly a billion times easier to understand.

      It’s still a god awful mess of a game though with a horribly stubborn developer (played it for years, never going back unless I become immortal as there’s far better games to occupy my time).