It's time to open the eleventh door of the RPS Advent Calendar, but what's this? There's a little hexagonal tile missing? Well, have I got just the thing for you.
Katharine: Dorfromantik has been one of the most pleasant surprises of 2021 for me. I've sunk more hours into this relaxing pastoral puzzle game than anything else I've played this year - and that includes a compilation of two great big whopping Ace Attorney games. It released into early access at the perfect time of year, too. It was the end of March, the UK was still grumbling through another grim lockdown, and giving life and shape to tiny towns, forests and golden yellow fields through a random assortment of hexagonal tiles just seemed like the perfect antidote to the ensuing chaos outside.
As I told RPS supporters earlier in the year, the core concept of Dorfromantik is wonderfully simple. Each round starts off with a single tile, and you're then given complete freedom to decide how to use your remaining stack of them to build out your little rural townscape. The more sides of a tile you match to those around it, the more points you get. There's no time limit, either, and the game just keeps on going until you run out of tiles.
The secret to prolonging your Dorf sessions is to complete its various quests - tiles that occasionally say things like, "Hey! I'd like you to build a town with at least 34 houses in it please," or, "I'm a field that's only comfortable with 6 other fields next to me and NO MORE, thank you very much." Combined with your pursuit of ever higher point scores, these quests give Dorfromantik a welcome sense of structure and purpose compared to other freeform puzzle builders (Townscaper, I'm looking at you), and this gentle loop of rotating and slotting cute, colourful tiles into place (not to mention its equally gentle musical score) is precisely what keeps me coming back again and again.
I just love the look and feel of the thing, too. Aside from its bright and sunny colour palette, it's the little details that make Dorfromantik sing. The way smoke puffs out of the little chimneys of certain houses. The lackadaisical lilt of its wooden windmills. The chugging toybox boats that amble through its lakes and rivers. Even the sound of the trains steaming along its completely nonsensical railroads makes me break out in a big old grin, and that's before we get to the ambient wildlife sounds and the animals that gradually populate its forests and woods. Speaking of animals, it's also the perfect game for the times when my cat decides to plonk herself on my tummy and stare deeply into my eyes demanding a chin scratch, as everything can be controlled with a swish and scroll of your mouse wheel. Add a steaming hot mug of tea to the mix to sip while mulling over where to put my next tile and ahhh, bliss.
Dorfromantik has only got better with age, too, despite still being a few months off its full and final release. While the 'classic' high score mode it launched with has lost a little bit of its quirky mystery due to various quality of life updates and more obvious tutorialising, it remains as compelling as ever, especially now developers Toukana Interactive have added even more unlockable tiles and an extra biome to the mix. Plus, the creative mode that arrived in the summer finally lets me indulge in creating picturesque little idylls instead of always chasing after those perfect tile placement points. It's an impressive debut for four game design students, and I can't wait to see what they get up to with it in 2022 with its mysterious new game mode, custom seeds and rulesets, and community challenges. If you haven't yet taken the plunge on Dorf, I can think of no better Christmas game to while away the hours with.