A Game of Dwarves sounds an awful lot like some parody of George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy, but it's actually a time/dwarf management endeavor that has players aiding the grumpy little buggers in creating sparse, underground kingdoms. Players are tasked with gathering a clan of dwarves to flesh out their diminutive dwellings, collect resources, and defend the land from outside threats. Keep the dwarves safe to enhance their quality of life and grow the greatest dwarven empire that ever existed! Zeal Game Studios has delivered an excellent strategy title that looks and feels great, especially for tower defense addicts.
Though the name of the game is expansion of your dwarf clan's domicile throughout the underground real estate, the game plays out more like intricate tower defense that finds enemies of varying strengths, races, and power rampaging through your defense in order to get to your settlement. It's not enough to be excavating for minerals and resources while building up your defenses -- you've got to be on top of your game in order to drive away the oncoming attackers before they invade your camps and burn them all down. They're tough little buggers, varying between orcs and gnomes and everything in between -- even demons running up the pack in some of the later levels. The game is austere and unfriendly, not hesitating to leave you high and dry when it comes to figuring out an efficient way to protect your handiwork and dwarf settlement, so it's up to you to erect buildings and habitats that will take a beating rather than fully relying on your soldiers and defenses to keep everything (and everyone) safe.
Each game begins with a randomly-generated cave system that ensures you play a different version of A Game of Dwarves each time. This means new emerging strategies must be implemented with each new game rather than relying on the same tactics over and over, watering down the strategic requirements. Crafting items and playing the field, specializing your dwarven brethren, and mulling over the best fit is the name of the game. Do you want to place form over function for your dwarves' armor and weapons or are you looking to equip them with the best items possible? These are all things you're allowed to choose within the game's expansive crafting and item creation--a fully-realized and intricate engine that feels novel and fleshed out. Trading with other races was especially intriguing. If you don't make enemies of the gnomes, for example (through stealing or invading their bases) you can swap out your wares to better serve your own settlement. It's a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer -- and it certainly behooves you to stay on their good side.
As deep and complex as A Game of Dwarves is, it's also attractive on the surface. Colors pop, and cartoony 3D graphics are decadent and richly-detailed. The dwarves themselves are cartoony and goofy -- you simply wouldn't expect such adorable, chubby little dwarves to take center stage in what can quickly escalate to an extremely relentless strategy endeavor that newcomers to the genre may need to consult FAQs for in order to make competent progress. I found myself heading to online communities and chatting with fellow players to better understand some of the more obtuse machinations of the game, but once I came out fully understanding the ins and outs, I found an immensely rewarding experience.
A Game of Dwarves is a gorgeous, full-fledged strat-sim that may not be immediately accessible to players who don't normally dabble in the genre, but it blossoms into a fantastic adventure that fans of high fantasy or resource management will delight in ripping into. There's already DLC planned and plenty to complete, so once you're able to tear into the quirky world of this Game, you'll no doubt have a blast.