Inspired by board games and boasting an incredibly chill style, Dorfromantik is an excellent entry in the puzzle strategy genre.
Dorfromantik, meaning Village Romanticisation, is an apt name for a game that’s as dreamlike as this one. Though unfortunately we’re now doomed to go elsewhere for a name for a visual novel about dating anthropomorphized rural settlements.
I have a lot of time for strategy games which eschew hyper complex economic modelling in favour of something more esoteric. So a city builder built on placement of sporadic villages, rolling hills and forests or placid lakes is right up my alley. Dorfromantik has a precision engineered feel. A chill, calm experience. Learning all the right lessons from good board games.
On the right side of your screen, your upcoming tiles wait in a stacked column.
You can see the next few tiles coming, and make inferences based on the visible edges of those below. Blue probably means some water. Yellow means a wheat field. Each tile is placed with a satisfyingly pleasant plink sound that vibrates every connected tile. All of these are rendered in a pleasant central european aesthetic, with a shifting biome system that means the colours of the map constantly change as it expands. Plus some wonderfully tiny animations. Whirling windmills, birds floating overhead for scale and adorable puffing trains.
The actual gameplay of Dorfromantik is placing tiles though. You get a prompt of how many points each tile will generate when you place it. Connect forest to forest, wheat to wheat and you’ll get points.
There’s a little challenge involved, as tiles require certain conditions to be met in order to be placed. So you can’t place a river mouth against a field for example. Relatively intuitive. You can still create a mishmash in most cases. Isolated wheat fields in the middle of a forest, a lake surrounded by buildings.
But if you get enough points, you’ll generate more tiles on the bottom of your stack. So creating naturalistic/appropriate stretches of forest or wheat field ends up being more valuable.
In terms of progression though, there’s an underlying tension between the overall mission design and the escalating regional developments. As the stack of tiles continues, the requirements will become more and more pronounced. 12 Houses becomes 49. 24 Trees becomes 127. Eventually you’ll simply not have enough tiles left to complete the quests.
Sometimes though, the challenge of the game is simply the randomness. A bad hand gets dealt. That final rail you need never turns up. You keep getting quests that require you to place a specific number of objects, so you can’t connect your massive settlements.
The tile stack runs out, the game ends, you get your score and a lovely rolling vista of your map plays.
But there’s gaps. That plain you never filled in, and that railway that ended up full of holes because the quests didn’t line up.
And that’s okay. Because there’s always the option to simply turn off the scoring mechanisms, and convert your savegame into the far more serene creative mode. It turns Dorfromantik into even more of a toy like tool than it already looks.
There are in fact a few ways to play. Customise your tile generation seed, play a more difficult mode or even a monthly fixed event for competing against other players in a challenge mode.
What Dorfromantik ends up being, more than anything else, is pleasantly calm. It’s nice to simply sit and consider placements of tile edges, trying to create something pleasant looking through seeking that higher score.
It’s impressive that even in this mindset of challenge seeking, Dorfromantik never feels frustrating for more than a moment or two. The strange accidents and weird placements end up taking on a life of their own as the tapestry of the map unfurls. Each plinking tile presents a new opportunity to stretch out further and build this world more and more.
All Images/Trailers courtesy of developer Toukana Interactive.