Dwarves are lazy. They drink constantly, require tables of food, and pass out in any available bed…even if it happens to be made of stone. Developed by Zeal Game Studio and published by Paradox Interactive (the guys that brought us War of the Roses), A Game of Dwarves is crammed with the lazy race, that despite being so lovable, just need a good straightening out. So naturally, as a loafing dwarf prince, you are ordered by your father to make something respectable out of yourself. A task easier said than done, but one that turns out to be a fun and easygoing experience.
A Game of Dwarves is a simulation and strategy game that requires you to take control over several different classes of uniquely named dwarves. The game has more in common with The Sims than say, a Sid Meier game. As such, A Game of Dwarves is aimed at a more casual market, so those expecting a deep experience full of options will need to look elsewhere. What A Game of Dwarves is however, is a simple and effective time gobbler that just so happens to be quite charming.
As the prince, you’ll spend your time assigning tasks to all your loyal dwarven underlings. Your dwarves can dig, build, plant and gather food, and undergo valuable research that can upgrade your the dwarves themselves and even certain gameplay elements. The dwarves are dependent on each other, so to have one begin research you’ll need to have a Builder put together a Research Table. The dwarves also have a Happiness Bar that, when low, causes them to operate at a much slower pace. It’s a simple mechanic that can have varying affects on your game; unhappy dwarves generally work like they don't care and sleep a hell of a lot more. One of the most important and passive classes is the Soldier, who will mostly remain inactive until you run into a monster while excavating. Speaking of excavating, prepare to dig – a lot. The Digger is the most frequently used class in the game, and the more of them you spawn, the faster things will go.
While the game contains elements of micromanaging, those who love to pour over every detail may find things a little slow or boring. Besides happiness, there are stats for gold, food, building materials, and each individual dwarf has their own life bar. For the most part, if you’re making use of all of the classes (there are about five,) you won’t have to worry too much about them. While working, the dwarves will rack up XP that make them more efficient. Most tasks can be automated, though you’ll always need to keep track of any enemy appearances in case a Solider isn't nearby or readily available. If the prince gets killed, it’s game over.
Even though most of the game caters to casual players, you do have the option of creating your own custom campaign. This is one of the strongest aspects of the game, and can extend its replay value almost indefinitely, as you can keep creating and tweaking campaigns as much as you want. The customization options aren’t the deepest, but they do allow an amount of freedom that has to be earned from the normal campaign. Feel like starting with some research levels already unlocked? Go ahead. You can also have enemies and special events appear more frequently, and other general tweaks to the gameplay. Unless you really crank the settings in an earnest attempt to make your life difficult, the game mostly stays at a cool, easy going pace that can actually be relaxing.
On the presentation side of thing, what little voiceover work there is fits in perfectly with the cute and innocuous atmosphere, even if it happens to be fairly lo-fi. The atmosphere is kept light, including the use of a well-known (i.e. overused) Star Wars reference in the opening cinematic. Graphically, the dwarves themselves somewhat resemble Mega Bloks creations, and remain irresistibly adorable. As for the soundtrack, A Game of Dwarves features a surprisingly upbeat score with a definite sense of fantasy and wonder.
A Game of Dwarves is a solid, laid-back experience, and casual fans of the genre will want to check this out. Gamers looking for more options and more things to micro-manage would do better to look elsewhere. However, when searching for that one game to relax to at night, you could do much worse than A Game of Dwarves.
Fun Factor: A fun and relaxing experience, just as long as you’re not looking for any major action.
Difficulty: Low. A small learning curve means that most people would be comfortable with the gameplay after just halfway through the tutorial level.
Length: Possibly infinite with the use of custom campaigns, but the story-based route will take you less than ten hours.
On the Negative Side: Lack of in-depth options and longer Story Mode will turn some off.
Bang for Your Buck: At 9.99, A Game of Dwarves sits right on the precipice of being too expensive for people to take a risk on. But as long as you’re in the market for a casual simulation game, the risk is negligible.