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.