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

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

In a weird way, I feel a little sorry for the team of students who created Dorfromantik. Call it the Joseph Heller syndrome: first outing and they made a classic. Does it confuse them? Fearful? I suspect not, and that’s why I only feel very slightly sorry for the team. The bad news is that they’ve done something that will be hard to top, but the good news is that they’ve done something that will be hard to top. They have brought happiness to hundreds of thousands of us around the world. That kind of feeling lingers, I think.

I play Dorfromantik a lot. It’s a hexagon-based tile game about creating landscapes. You get a stack of tiles with small rivers, railways, forests, villages, grass or farmland, and you plant them. Quests seem to connect certain amounts of a certain landscape type, and those quests, when completed, give you more tiles. However, you end up running out of it. Game over. Defeat? Not really, because you’ve been doing a landscape all this time, caring about the details, and once you’re out, the landscape is done. You can see the whole thing as if it were the first time. You did this!

Dorfromantik just landed on Switch, which is why I’m doing what I’m doing right now. I’m trying to unlock the Midwinter biome. Biomes are unlockable prizes that give the landscape a certain color palette or mood. Midwinter does what you’d expect: it feels like winter. But more than that, it transports me to Christmas and to the shelves where the most Christmassy book of all time, John Masefield’s The Box of Delights, lives. Christmas in the countryside! Dorfromantik is the most Masefield game ever when playing Midwinter. You soar over the landscape, over woods and fields and small groves. I feel a bit like Santa Claus.

What is Dorfromantik? – Full trailer of version 1.0

Dorfromantik is very comfortable on the Switch. It’s a glory to look at that screen, held in your hands, and see those winter forests and that frost, of course. But also, because you’re freed from the ancient speed of the mouse when it comes to placing tiles, Dorfromantik is much more like a physical board game on Switch. The cursor moves more slowly, so the tiles you place nestle in each slot as you pass with a speculative click. This makes the whole thing more magical, because when trains appear with little smoke on the tracks of this physics board game, everything seems possessed by a brilliant winter magic.

What I really thought about playing on Switch, however, is something that applies to all forms of Dorfromantik. I thought about why I felt, early on, that this game was special. And it’s not just the setting or the joy of watching a forest grow lazily across the land. It’s the fact that it’s a tactics game – you can have tactics in the way you approach it, which makes it a tactics game for me – that’s thrilling, interesting and captivating at every stage of the game itself.

This is something I’ve talked about with a lot of puzzle, tactics, and strategy game designers over the years. Take a 4X – okay, strategy over tactics, but the point stands. Not all of those X’s are as exciting. The first two, explore and expand, always make me dizzy. Not so safe to exploit and exterminate. And yet, I know people who like these two and find the early parts of the game a bit tedious.

Dorfromantik is a beautiful game.

Dorfromantik, however, got me from the first tile to the last. And that’s because the choices you make with each investment remain interesting. I think it’s because it’s a balance between aesthetic and tactical choices in the first place, and as the game develops that balance may change, but the parts of it – aesthetic and tactics – remain, just in different quantities. Right from the start, I organize my fields in one direction, the trains in another, the lake over there, the forest over there and everything looks really nice. I keep the forest the way I like it – shrinking, then blooming – and winding my train tracks. But twenty minutes later, I struggle with my existing tile placements as I try to maintain the flow of tiles. It’s tactical at this point, but I still don’t want it to look corny. The two concerns never completely dominate each other.

I was playing the game this morning and was getting to the end, and I had moved things wrong – three different quests had bottlenecked a single missing tile space, and that tile would need railroad tracks, of a forest and a river in order to fit. Maybe that’s where Dorfromantik is really going, I started to think: it’s a warning not to ask too much of the landscape. Enjoy it, but don’t overload yourself and the ground you live on. In other words, explore but don’t exploit.

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