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Dorfromantik’s on Switch and I love it more than ever

by Ozva Admin

In a weird way, I kind of feel sorry for the team of students that made Dorfromantik. Call it Joseph Heller Syndrome: it’s the first time they’ve come out and they’ve made a classic. Does that leave you confused? Fearful? I suspect not, and that’s why I just feel a bit sorry for the team. The bad news is that they have done something that will be hard to beat, but the good news is that they have done something that will be hard to beat. They have brought happiness to hundreds of thousands of us all over the world. That kind of feeling stays, I think.

I play Dorfromantik a lot. It is a hexagon-based tile game about creating landscapes. You get a stack of tiles with small rivers, train tracks, forests, villages, grass, or farmland, and drop them. The quests seem to connect certain amounts of a certain type of landscape, and these quests, once completed, give you more tiles. Eventually, though, you run out. Game over. Overcome? Not really, because you’ve been doing a landscape all this time, worrying about the details, and once you’re out, the landscape is finished. You have the opportunity to see the whole thing as if it were the first time. You did that!

Dorfromantik just landed on Switch, which explains why I’m doing what I’m doing right now. I am trying to unlock the Midwinter biome. Biomes are unlockable prizes that give the landscape a certain color scheme or environment. Midwinter does what you’d expect: it makes it feel like winter. But more than that, it takes me back to Christmas and to the shelves where the most Christmassy book of all time lives, The Box of Delights by John Masefield. Christmas in the country! Dorfromantik is the most Masefield game of all time when you play Midwinter. You float over the landscape, over the woods, fields and small copses. I feel a bit like Santa.

What really is Dorfromantik? – Full version 1.0 trailer

Dorfromantik feels right at home on Switch. It is a glory to look at that screen that you have in your hands and see those winter forests and the frost, of course. But also, because you’re free from mouse speed when it comes to laying tiles, Dorfromantik feels a lot more like a physical board game on Switch. The cursor moves more slowly, so the tiles you’re placing settle into each slot as you pass with a speculative click. This, in turn, makes everything feel more magical, because when the lightly smoky trains appear on the tracks of this physical board game, everything feels possessed by a bright wintry spell.

However, what I’ve really been thinking about while playing on Switch is something that applies to all forms of Dorfromantik. I’ve been thinking about why I felt, from the beginning, that this game was special. And it’s not just the setting or the joy of watching a forest lazily grow on the ground. It’s the fact that this is a game of tactics, you can have tactics in the way you approach it, so for me it’s a game of tactics, which is exciting and interesting and fascinating at every stage of the game itself.

This is something I’ve talked about with many puzzle, tactics, and strategy game designers over the years. Take a 4X – okay, strategy rather than tactics, but the point remains. Not all of those Xes are equally exciting. The first two, explore and expand, always fill me with vertigo. I’m not so sure about Exploit and Exterminate. And yet, I know people who love those two and find the early parts of the game a drag.

Dorfromantik screenshot
Dorfromantik is a beautiful game.

Dorfromantik, however, has me from the first mosaic to the last. And it’s because the choices you make with each location are still interesting. I think this is because they are a balance of aesthetic and tactical choices first and foremost, and as the game expands, that balance may change, but the (aesthetic and tactical) parts remain, just in different amounts. So from the beginning I set up my fields in one direction, the trains in another, the lake over there, the forest over there and everything looks great. I keep the forest going the way I like it, dwindling then blooming, and winding up the train tracks. But twenty minutes later, I’m fighting my existing tile placements while trying to keep the flow of tiles. It’s tactical at this point, but I still don’t want it to look bad. The two concerns never completely cancel each other out.

I was playing the game this morning and was nearing the end, and I had messed things up: three different quests had bottlenecked a single missing tile space, and that tile would need train tracks, forest, and a river in order to to fit. This is what Dorfromantik really means, perhaps, I began to think: it is a warning not to ask too much of the landscape. Enjoy it, but don’t overload yourself or the land you live on. To put it another way, explore but don’t exploit.

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