A Game of Dwarves Preview (PC)

Imagine PC games are people, and like people, they have faces. Still with me? Right, now imagine they have bodies, limbs, and shoes. Now keeping all of that in mind, think of Dungeon Keeper, all humanoid and tall. Put fluff on its face, slice a few inches off its height, and give it a Scottish accent. Then do the same with Evil Genius, Dwarven Fortress, and The Settlers.

But why am I playing imaginary dress up with software? Because essentially that is what A Game of Dwarves is: a game you will recognise, but with a pen drawn-on beard. It's all the above cobbled together, given a paunch, and a pickaxe.

Remember ALL dwarves are Scottish and ginger...

The great gaming disappointment of the past decade has been the disappearance of the micromanagement-heavy simulation. It's almost as if we've all been lead to believe these buzzing beehives of resource juggling are no good; but is that true? I know I've been dragging around a Latin-shaped torch for the Caesar series for years, and there is certainly room enough in my other hand for a more modern metaphor.

Which is why I would now have it known that I love Paradox Interactive, and it's recent compadre developer, Zeal Studios. Daring to make the games that nobody else seems interested in, the Swedish publishing house is quietly churning out PC-exclusive gems. One such piece of software plucked from the dank, damp rough is A Game of Dwarves.

Being little, ginger bearded, and living in a cave is never an easy trio. You have to deal with the mould, the constant jibes about Snow White - plus everyone thinks you're Scottish. Add to this the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, and pot plants, and you have a real conundrum of dwarven proportions on your hands.

Which is why it's lucky you are the plucky young Prince of Dwarf Kingdom (no that's not Disney's latest attempt at inclusion). Under the watchful eye of the grey-bearded king, you take the reins of the situation. The order of the day? Elevating, or rather borrowing your race back to prominence, battling orcs, gnomes, and the rest of fantasy rainbow.

Presented as an overview campaign, A Game of Dwarves will instantly tickle the expansionist tendencies in all of us. Conquering each scenario will move you on further through the continent, allowing you to finally spread across the land like a particularly small, stout-chested plague.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to OMG SPIDERS!

But conquering these vignettes of the campaign are never easy. In the mould of any self-respecting micromanagement sim you must create a hospitable home, gather resources, and conquer your underground domain.

To do this you assign jobs to your various dwarves. The roles of digger, worker, scholar, military, and craftsman allows your mine to run smoothly. But dancing around the issue of their basic needs sees you constantly dreading an impending cave-in.

So to alleviate these fears, you need food. This is achieved by farming fertile patches found underground. From lemons to apples, you must keep your feasting table stocked with the finest flavours around. If not, your peons will perish from starvation. As the old saying goes, 'a hungry dwarf is a dead dwarf.' Maybe I just made that up.

But the toil doesn't end there. You must also provide a suitable place for your bearded workers to sleep, whether this is an uncomfortable stone mattress or a luxurious straw one. Keeping your miners fed and rested will be crucial as you carry on your onslaught of rocks.

So once you have tended to their needs, it's time to start digging. A Game of Dwarves is different to other simple base-builders in that the play area spreads vertically as well as horizontally. Expanding up or down like MineCraft, you will dig out process gems, ores, and if you are particularly lucky a secret treasure room or two.

And this becomes the fascination within Paradox's latest adventure. Coordinating a welloiled mining operation fills you with the type of inner glow I can only imagine comparable to child birth. It's easy to sit for hours, highlighting new tiles to be excavated, cooing and cawing at your tiny minions, and wishing you were a dwarf overlord in reality.

Staying underground for too long makes staring at inanimate objects acceptable.

But the minute you recline and start to simulate stroking a particularly hard-working dwarf with your cursor (which isn't weird) then comes the problems. While you might carve out a delicate, finely decorated home in the rocks, seldom are you alone.

Goblins will spill from the pores of the Earth, threatening your tight-knit community of snoozing, greedy small-folk - so protection is a top priority. Warrior dwarves can be assigned to guard certain areas, as well as upgraded; but then this also throws up its own challenges.

Using an elaborate skill tree, your mine can be promoted with perks of farming, as well as digging, and the aforementioned militaristic aspects. With a finite amount of research points, do you go all in for defence, or instead spread it finely amongst all categories? Therein lies the challenge.

In respite of more important decisions, Game of Dwarves will also often indulge your more sinister side. Traps can be placed to deftly murder enemies. You can also try your hand at interior design, making your cave look particularly modern and homely. It's a game of always keeping your fingers busy, and one that genre-fans will hopefully relish.

So while the peons over at Zeal Studios keep working tirelessly until launch day on October 23rd, A Game of Dwarves is hoping to settle a craving for endless juggling, directing, and administering. While it may feel something of a facsimile of other games, it's those twists and turns of identity that will either give this cave-dwelling adventure the light of popularity, or instead banish it forever to the dark of the Earth. Can Paradox and Zeal pull it off? We've got a few weeks to find out.

Most Anticipated Feature:
Hoarding treasure and forging traps.

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