I played a lot of game demos during the Steam Festival, but I kept coming back to one for some head space each evening before turning in. Dorfromantik is a gorgeous, soothing mix of city-building macromanagement and strategic tile placement, and its demo provided me with some much-needed calm during the doom and gloom of winter.
You start with a single hexagonal tile of grass and a stack of 50 additional tiles, each containing some mixture of railway, water, pasture, housing, or woodland. As you place these tiles, the game reveals certain tasks: perhaps you need a cluster or a string of a certain type of tile, like a forest with 40 trees or several houses clumped together. Completing these tasks rewards you with more tiles, so you can continue expanding your city and accumulating points.
The difficult part is that while you can see the next couple of tiles in your stack, you can’t skip any – every tile must be placed in the order in which it’s served to you. You start trying to compartmentalise the board, hoping you can create neat and efficient areas for each type of tile. Inevitably, the stack throws you a curveball, forcing you to abandon your plans and improvise in order to meet your growing list of tasks. Over time you end up with a patchwork of forests, canals, and hamlets. Keep going and you might end up with a town that’s separated from satellite settlements by lakes or fields, with a railway track linking them all together.
You start with a basic set of tile types to manage, but as you grow the board you unlock new types and even whole new biomes to factor into your designs. A locomotive, for example, will need a lot of track to be placed, and animals like deer want a large forest to roam around. Your stack of tiles and the order in which they’re served is completely random, but it’s your job to manage and organise that chaos, gradually turning the board from a lifeless void into a pastoral idyll.
Every game plays out differently depending on what randomly generated tiles you get, and I’ve ended up going from a waterlogged board with barely any farms to a sprawling metropolis surrounded by thick forests. Like all the best strategy games, Dorfromantik also has a ‘one more tile’ hook where you’re only ever a couple of turns away from your next reward. And while there is some threat in the form of the depleting stack of tiles that spells the end of your build, there’s very little moment-to-moment pressure, meaning you’re free to mull over every decision for as long as you like.
I could sink countless hours into Dorfromantik, absent-mindedly placing beautiful little tiles until, without realising it, I’m looking at a picturesque rural landscape. It’s the kind of game I’d never want to uninstall for fear that I couldn’t immediately turn to it after a particularly gruelling ranked match of Rainbow Six Siege.