The holidays have given me some extra time, and what better way to spend it than to play a game that takes a while to get the hang of … Dwarf Fortress. Maybe there’s a small part of me that derives pleasure from being able to say that I’ve started to conquer the mountain that is, in my opinion, close to the ultimate nerd game.
Playing Dwarf Fortress these days is a lot easier than it was a few years ago (when I unsuccessfully tried to get into it). Now there is the Lazy Newb Pack complete with more meaningful graphics, easy installation and super handy utilities such as Dwarf Therapist (no, it’s not counselling for Dwarves, but an easy way to track and change the professions of your ever growing Dwarf population). There are also a tonne of tutorials on YouTube and a great Wiki. This isn’t a game that I’d recommend you just dive into without some preparation.
As a brief explanation of the game, you are given 7 dwarves and some equipment and dumped on a spot on the map (of your choosing) with the goal being to create a great fortress capable of repelling all manner of enemies (including from within) and last as long as possible. You don’t control the dwarves directly, instead you assign jobs (such as mining) and the dwarves with appropriate matching professions will get to it after they’ve finished hauling, sleeping, eating etc. New dwarves (migrants) arrive every so often, seasons change, wild animals attack, enemies attack (but you get a grace period for this), dwarves need to be placated and nurtured and fed. To build the fortress you will need to grow food, chop trees, gather plants, fish, mine, build workshops, craft craft craft, make bedrooms, dining halls, build a military, set traps, etc etc etc. There is so much depth to the game it’s mind boggling. Having said that, within just a couple of short hours you know enough to survive the basics.
This isn’t a game you can ‘win’ per se, hence the game philosophy often mentioned on the Wiki, ‘Losing is fun!’, and it is! As my last fortress was rapidly flooding (water and other physics are very realistic and tricky when you don’t know what you’re doing!) I read the announcement screen and watched the fortress. Some of my dwarves had been missing for a week, other’s had gone insane, there were ghosts, miasma (a toxic cloud from rotting material) and all manner of hilarious things happening. Even though I was facing the end of this game, it was making me laugh. As it ended, I immediately started up a new fortress, armed with more knowledge of what NOT to do.
Pushing through the learning curve is well worth it, and it’s a free download so you won’t be left out of pocket if it doesn’t ‘twig’. Dwarf Fortress is coded and designed by Tarn Adams (Toady One) with the help of his brother Zac (ThreeToe) Adams. Donations are encouraged if you enjoy the game, from what I can gather these represent Toady One’s sole income as this game is now his life’s work. There is a really interesting New York Times article on the game and the brothers.