Now that I’m enjoying the unending freedom of summer vacation, I’ve finally taken some time to play video games. I splurged a bit last week and picked up a casual little indie game called Dorfromantik, from the four-man German development team Toukana Interactive. I caught the game on a 20% off sale, but full freight is $10, so it’s an easy lift. The game is still in early access, meaning that it’s technically not finished, but from my time playing it, it seems very solid, stable, and complete.
It’s also incredibly fun.
Dorfromantik is a casual village-building game (“Dorfromantik” translates to “village romanticism”; the name is apt). The Toukana team makes it very clear that there is no combat, no resource management, and no multiplayer, so the stakes are low. The player receives a stack of hexagonal tiles with different terrain—wheat fields, forests, open grasslands, villages, rivers, oceans, and railroads, along with a few unlockable special tiles—and places them on the open game board, slowly building out and connecting the hexes together into a beautiful patchwork world.
Occasionally, tiles will feature a number, indicating how many of which terrain type the player needs to interconnect to get the bonus. The bonus comes in two forms: extra points, and extra tiles.
Indeed, gaining those extra tiles is key to keeping the game going, as the player starts with a limited stack. Once the stack is depleted, the game is over, and the player starts a fresh game—and a fresh world.
Completing bonuses is fairly easy early in the game, but grows harder as the game progresses, demanding more tiles. To keep it challenging, the game occasionally gives tiles with numbers that are lower than some of the massive towns or gigantic fields that have built up over many turns, so the player cannot simply rely on adding onto existing sprawl.
There are also bonus points for “perfect”-ly placed tiles. I still have not figured out what constitutes a “perfect” placement, but it has something to do with compatible sides touching and filling in gaps in the board. The game rewards filling in blank hexes that are surrounded by others, which also grants the player the aesthetic reward of a beautifully complete landmass.
The game is easy to play while watching a movie or working on side tasks, as it’s turn-based, and there is no time limit. The game allows you take as much or as little as time as you wish in placing tiles (very necessary when going for the “Puzzler” perks, which require placing an increasing number of consecutive tiles with no incompatible sides, which is very difficult to do). During an extended session, I managed to watch a flick, respond to summer camp e-mails, and take care of some other tasks at my desk between turns.
Aesthetically, the game is beautiful, very much living up to its name: it calls to mind the rural romanticism that so captivated nationalist composers of the nineteenth century. It’s incredibly satisfying watching hexes coming together to create a thriving quilt. Deer prance in clearings in the forest. Little tugboats steam along the rivers. Tiny choo-choo trains puff their way hither and yon.
Even with that soothing atmosphere, the game can be quite challenging, especially as the draw pile of tiles runs low. I’ve found myself scrambling to complete combos to get another five tiles so I can eke out a few more turns, hoping to inch my score higher. The game rewards repeated playing, as reaching certain milestones unlocks more special tiles, each of which change the gameboard in some way.
In short, I would highly recommend Dorfromantik. It’s a fun little game that can require as much or as little attention as you choose to give it. Each time I play, I learn something new about the game, and watching villages, forests, and fields come together and come alive is very satisfying.
Put another way: if you’ve ever played Settlers of Catan, and your favorite part of the game is setting up the board, then Dorfromantik is for you.