We’re living in a resurgence time for simulation games. With games such as Tropico flourishing and a new Sim-City on the verge of being released to the masses, it’s great to see the genre return to prior levels of success. However, even with this renewed vigor and excitement, not every game can come out a winner. In theory, A Game of Dwarves is a beautiful return to force, bringing micromanagement simulators back into the public eye, yet in practice it’s a muddy mess that stumbles over itself in its attempt to be something wonderful.
A Game of Dwarves is a strategy-management simulator. You take on the role of the Dwarf Prince, as he’s cast into the world by his father in order to prove himself worthy of inheriting the crown. In order to prove your worth, you’ll have to reclaim the old kingdom that was ripped from your people during the great mage war. To complete this lofty goal, you’ll have to complete numerous scenarios across the map, slowly taking back the world piece by piece as you set up successful colonies.
While you’ll have different goals in each scenario, don’t expect a whole lot of variety. There’s no real change of scenery (which I suppose is to be expected when you’re tunneling below the crust of the earth) and the missions are a fairly standard affair. Each mission will have a few optional side missions you can tackle to earn reputation points and then spend on upgrades, giving you a starting advantage for down the road, but the vast majority of the game comes down to finding secret rooms and beating up what you happen to find in them.
The real challenge is the actual management of the colony. Your dwarves will come in a few different classes, each with their special skill paramount to the survivability of the whole. Builders will set up dining tables and other necessary materials for other dwarves, workers will manage the underground farms making sure there’s enough food and wood to go around, while researchers will slave over their table in order to come up with new skills everyone can use.
The bulk of your work is done by the diggers and the military dwarves, and unfortunately this is where the game starts to fall flat. Outside of actual battle, the only way for your fragile military dwarves to develop skills is to destroy costly practice dummies that never seem to last long enough. An underpowered dwarf will be utterly decimated by the first enemy they encounter, leaving them to completely destroy your base for the most part. An hour’s worth of work can be undone if you have to restart a map simply because you didn’t count on three level 9 goblins to be in the first area you uncover.
Digging can be a bit arduous in and of itself thanks to a clunky visual layout. As you start digging out your civilization, you’ll be spanning multiple depth levels as well as a fairly massive lateral field. You’ll be able to see a few levels below the current one you’re focused on, while anything above you is blocked from view. In theory, this sounds fine, but the Z-axis is more than a bit finicky in practice.
It’s almost impossible to keep adequate track of your spatial relations, and more often than not I found myself digging in almost the exact wrong spot. I may have thought I had pieced together a beautiful downward spiral, but I would have missed connecting a few pieces, leaving my dwarfs unable to do anything. I want to take a quick moment to state that I was an air traffic controller until my injury, so if I’m unable to keep my spatial awareness in line, there is a very serious design flaw in play.
Another issue I ran into was with the path finding AI. While it was in no means bad, I lost my fair share of dwarves as they were unable to get back to the food or beds due to poor tunneling or me teleporting military dwarves in to handle a situation. From my perspective, they had a perfectly clear path to get back to their resources, but something minor would be in the way preventing them. I kept reminiscing back to The Sims and the solution Maxis had to this issue. While your Sim may not have been able to navigate around a plate on the ground, they would walk up to it and grumble about it showing the user “Hey, there’s a plate in the way.” While this may not be the most realistic mechanic, we’re talking about a game where I’m tasked with training dwarves to hunt down mages in underground caverns, so I think it can be forgiven.
There’s not a whole lot going on in the visual department. The dwarves are colorful and carry a cartoon-esque vibe about them, and you can spend a significant amount of time decorating your cavern with massive stone monuments and other decorative touches, but most of what you’ll see in the game is either brown dirt or the inky blackness of undiscovered territory. You’ll find purple question marks spotting the void indicating that there’s a hidden room which is almost surely guarded by some sort of baddie, so take heed before charging right into them.
The problem with A Game of Dwarves is that it really offers little incentive to keep playing outside of the obsessive OCD I naturally have with strategy games. The story attempts to take a back seat to the game play, and the gameplay isn’t strong enough to carry the title on its own merits. There’s nothing wrong with the presentation, but there’s nothing here that’s going to wow you. I spent a majority of the time waiting for something to happen in A Game of Dwarves, and very rarely did something interesting pop up.
Watching my little guys tucker themselves out and need to leave their post for a nap and a snack was cute at first, but by the time I was ready to get heavily invested in the game, I simply didn’t have any time for it. There’s nothing I found “bad” about the game, but there were few things I found that were really enjoyable. Instead, I was left with a bland title seemed like a good way to pass time until I was ready to play something else. Somehow, I don’t think that’s reason enough to pick this up.
This review is based on a PC version of the game given to us for review purposes.