I’m not sure what the German-sounding word “Dorfromantik” means, but I can tell you it’s the best $10 you’ll spend this year.
Developed by four German students, Dorfromantik is a single player, tile-laying city builder that recently hit Early Access on Steam. If you’ve played the board game Carcassonne, you should be familiar with the basic gameplay of placing tiles to build a map, though Dorfromantik does away with worker placement entirely.
Every turn I place a randomly drawn hexagonal tile on an ever-expanding map. Tiles must connect to previously placed tiles, and can contain a number of features, including village houses, wheat fields, and a river. The map comes to life as I begin to place tiles, with each placement scoring a number of points. More strategic placements score more points, such as filling in holes and connecting to similar tiles.
The goal is to score as many points as possible before the tiles run out, and the game ends. The pile starts at 100, but completing random tile quests adds new random tiles to the pile. By completing quests and stringing connected tiles together, I can extend my gameplay and reach higher and higher scores – as well as creating expansive and delightful little tile-based worlds.
I’m also striving to unlock new achievements and tiles. String enough train tracks together and I’ll unlock new train tiles, which offer connected rail quests, as well as putting a cute little train on my map that follows my tracks. The same goes for boats and lengthy river quests, and a windmill for churning up all my connected wheat fields.
Semi-frequent quests add a welcome layer of strategy in my tile placement. A village quest tile may contain the number “42+,” meaning I can score bonus points if I connect at least 42 houses together – either by placing this tile next to an already established village, and/or by adding future village tiles. Tiles snap together, and connected sections helpfully light up to indicate if they’re part of a connected chain, along with the quest number updating based on its placement. Things get trickier when numbers don’t contain the “+,” however, demanding that I include exactly that many houses, wheat fields, or train tracks in one area.
Part of the joy of Dorfromantik is playing at my own pace. I can easily relax and place tiles for 20 minutes, or I can ruthlessly place each tile with maximum efficiency over the course of an hour, striving to complete each quest that I draw. Advanced strategies include creating different size regions for varied quest sizes, with the possibility of joining them together when drawing the truly enormous quests, like over 140 houses, and forests with over 1,000 trees.
Fortunately there’s zero penalty for failing a quest. In fact, there’s no real distinction between a win or fail state at all; the only thing that matters is the final score, and whether I’ve unlocked any new achievements, biomes, and tiles.
Even in Early Access the gameplay feels complete, offering a single-player board game-like experience. Currently the more advanced achievements feel a little too demanding. I also wish the wheat fields were a bit more detailed rather than orange blobs. Multiplayer could be a really interesting feature, with players drawing from the exact same deck of tiles in the same order, and could be played side-by-side or asynchronously to achieve the higher score. But even as a solo-only puzzle game, Dorfromantik is a completely charming experience that should not be missed.
The full game should launch later this year with more biomes, tiles, and quests, as well as a freeform Creative mode. Dorfromantik is currently available via Steam Early Access.