The Average Gamer

A Game of Dwarves Preview

Of all the games that I’ve seen recently, my favourite is an unassuming little management game called A Game of Dwarves. Inspired by Dungeon Keeper and the like, this game puts you in charge of a dwarf tribe digging out their halls of stone. The best part is, it’s a fully 3D map.

You’ll start with a dwarf king and some basic workers – diggers for mining out the lands, crafters for making specialist equipment, guards for… well… guarding, and workers who tend the gardens and provide food. Given that your garden plants are growing underground by the grace of a “Cultivation stone”, they’ll need a fair bit of tending.

The world map really is quite large at a whopping 75 by 75 squares across and 50 squares deep. If you’ve ever dreamed of building your own Mines of Moria, this is it.

You’ll start out with basic resources like gold, wood and food. Dig about a bit and you’ll uncover more useful deposits like stone, silver and rare materials. Stone is one of the most versatile materials in the game. Your crafters can fashion it into useful esoteric items like the cultivation stone, or use it to pretty up the hallways with stone flooring and stone wall cladding.

Rather like The Sims, dwarves will have a happiness rating that depends on their surroundings and other factors. It’s still very much in flux so there were few details on this but we were told that the more cosmetic options in the crafting system may not be entirely cosmetic. Unhappy dwarves will eventually desert the settlement and look for new tribes.

As the game has only been in development for 6 months, things are still a little rough around the edges. I played a little of it and quickly found myself getting lost between levels or digging out a nice lower level and forgetting that I was actually gouging holes in the stone flooring of the level above. There’s no limit to how big your rooms can be so you if want to and you plan it out properly, you can dig out a single giant cave or create a complex ants’ nest of branching rooms.

One essential thing to remember is to build ladders after you ask your diggers to carve out a vertical shaft. It’s very easy to set them going and come back much later to find that the poor bugger has passed out on the floor from exhaustion and is slowly starving to death.

Yup, dwarves need to sleep and eat. The basic hall comes with a couple of beds. Living underground, it seems that dwarves are not governed by our pesky diurnal cycles and are quite happy to sleep in shifts. Two beds is plenty between ten dwarves. Food is harvested and left on the shared dining table for hungry workers to grab as and when they need it. As long as they have a path to both dining room and bed, dwarves will quite happily set themselves to whatever tasks you assign. If they don’t get enough of one or the other, down goes the happiness rating.

Based on what I saw in my short playthrough – though I could be wrong – if you assign all your guards and leave none free for substitutions, guard dwarves will actually remain in position even though they’re starving to death and haven’t slept in days. Look after your guys. The longer they live, the more experienced they become.

As you dig you’ll occasionally come across nests of orcs and will need a good strong military to destroy their homes and claim them for your own. More ominously, the farther down you dig, the bigger the monsters become. No word on whether you’ll eventually reach the balrog.

You may have noticed that I’ve referred to the dwarves as guys. New dwarves spring fully-formed from a birthing pool, so there’s no need to be shy in this cave. While the dwarfs of Discworld may be female under all that beard and armour, these seem much more like Tolkien dwarves. No one knows from whence they came and they live to hunt and gather treasure.

A Game of Dwarves looks like the kind of game I could lose myself in for hours. The dwarves can look a little samey and anonymous, so it lacks the charm and fascination of watching Dungeon Keeper’s mistresses at work. Still, between the campaign levels, the sandbox mode and the humongous map, there should be plenty to keep a dwarf overlord busy.

Here’s the original announce trailer showing a bit of gameplay and voiced over by a man who has been gargling gravel.

A Game of Dwarves is currently being developed by Zeal Game Studio and will be published by Paradox Interactive.