A Game of Dwarves might sound like a hilarious Game of Thrones knock-off, with every character played by Peter Dinklage, and it could be if he just grew a beard or two. When Zeal Game Studio created Dwarves! and released her into the ever populated world of Steam, Paradox Interactive took notice. The publisher has been known to pick up and invest in budding IPs with the intent of nurturing a potential epic franchise. Paradox made a deal with Zeal that included an updated, 3D version of Dwarves! - to become A Game of Dwarves - as well as the supported development of the Firefly inspired multiplayer RTS, Starvoid.
A Game of Dwarves is broken down into two modes, Campaign and Custom game. In the campaign, players will try to rebuild the great Dwarven Empire, which has been destroyed by evil mages. As you complete quests, you will take back the land that is currently under villainous rule. In the custom game, you can have a much more relaxed gameplay, full of exploration and construction. You simply have to keep your dwarves alive and build, build, build!
Each dwarf will have a variety of specialization options which they will level up as they continue to work in their chosen field. At certain points during gameplay, you can reassign classes via a green plus sign that appears beside each character. I chose to go with a research-heavy group, assigning only two dwarves to mining, one to crafting, and two to the research and development team. If I had my way, we would have a Batmobile by the end of this game.
Moving into the 3D aspect of Dwarves, you can build outward and up/downward to expand your fortress. When mining outward, you can find soil that can be made fertile using special stones in your inventory. The stones prep the soil for planting, which is where you will derive your resources. You can grow food, wood, even beer and gold! If I could plant a beer tree, I'd never leave my garden.
No great empire is without its scholars, so the R&D Department of your dwarf kingdom is quite important. Dwarves slated as researchers will spend time mulling over books, leveling up as they make breakthroughs in various fields like "Beard Maintenance" and "Bunion Reduction." Ok, I made those up, but the research tree does offer a lot of expansion in the form of various fixtures you can craft, efficiency in the form of crafting, new items to assist in mining, and the list goes on.
Starting with a custom game, I was able to expand my empire as I saw fit. It felt a lot like Minecraft crossed with Dungeon Keeper, which is quite the solid combination. With about fifteen minutes to mess around and see what trouble I could get my dwarves into, I set off for a series of question mark blocks located about seven levels below my current area. With no context clues as to what was contained within these blocks, I just assumed it was an exorbitant amount of gold.
As we pushed downward, I neglected to add stairs for the dwarves to escape from the Tunnel of Doom and do normal dwarf-things like eating, drinking, being merry, or sleeping. The hopelessness of the situation finally broke one of the dwarves and he stood lamenting his situation until he finally passed away from utter, debilitating sadness. The dwarves wanted to hold a wake in his honor, but I insisted there was no time. This became a troubling constant for the duration of my playthrough. We kept building downward, but I could see this was a fruitless endeavor with my current team, so I made the last few minutes of my game as pleasant as possible for the dwarves still left alive.
This title has serious potential. For as awful as I did during my first stab at A Game of Dwarves, I still had quite a lot of fun. Having only played the open-ended version, I can't say for sure how well the campaign would run, but Zeal has the right idea. There were a few bugs in the controls that made the game slightly more frustrating than intended, but overall it ran smoothly. Switching between levels is initially confusing, however any gamer could parse multi-level information if given a short amount of time. The interface was easily digestible, something any player can pick up within the first few minutes of gameplay. A Game of Dwarves is incredibly accessible, and with varying levels of difficulty in the campaign mode, this game is casting a wide net over its intended target audience.
Definitely keep your eye on A Game of Dwarves. I know I'm terrible when it comes to resource and team management, so it was no surprise that by the end of my little experiment I hadn't reached the goal and most of my workforce was dead. When you can epically fail at a title and still have a fantastic time, that spells success, and A Game of Dwarves has that in spades.
A Game of Dwarves is slated for release in Q4 of 2012.