That’s Dwarf Fortress, perhaps the deepest and most intricate sandbox simulation game I’ve seen, and I have been meaning to write it up for a long time.
Underneath the hood of Dwarf Fortress is a simulation of bewildering complexity. Creatures are modelled down to blood and bones, teeth, skin, hair and organs. Dwarfs have likes and dislikes, personalities and traits, and individual skills. Even infection, disease, complex histories, religion, relationships, temperature and the flow of water and magma are looked after.
As for you? You don’t have to worry about most of that. Take the world as you find it, then make it your own.
You start by generating a world. That takes about a cup of coffee or so, depending on your system. Then there’s several things you can do with it. You can eyeball the history of the generated world, looking at historical events and figures. You can play in adventure mode, which gives you a free-form roguelike game where you can wander the world, exploring, defeating monsters, gathering loot and doing much as you please.
Or you can start the Dwarf Fortress simulation.
In that mode, you pick a starting site for your colony, and then either quick-start with seven dwarfs and supplies chosen for you, or select the skills and supplies of your dwarfs with more care.
Having chosen one of the two options, your dwarfs will arrive in Spring of the first year of your colony. There’s a lot to do, and even more that you can do.
Your dwarfs all have their individual traits, but two things that they all have in common is a love of alcohol and a love of work.
Plus, of course, basics such as needing to eat, rest, and get some level of social contact.
Early on you’ll want to gather plants, and chop down some trees for the wood, make some barrels and a still for making alcohol, and get some fields planted and tended above-ground or underground (trickier), get some beds made and a dormitory set up (at the minimum, or individual rooms), and maybe a well or two.
Dwarf Fortress operates around tasks. Dwarfs can perform a wide variety of actions, and learn by doing, by training, or simply by watching other dwarfs at work. Mark an area to dig out and your dwarfs with the mining labour-preferences set will take up any pickaxes (if they’re not already carrying them) and hustle over to start digging, and will keep at it, barring breaks for food, drink, sleep, time-off, or interruptions by hostile creatures.
Select a workshop of one of the many types available (and a material to construct it from) and a dwarf with matching labour settings will go and get the materials, then construct it. Select the completed workshop and you can select a variety of products. Appropriately set dwarfs will pick up materials for the product and produce it.
Tasks get queued if they cannot be done immediately. A dwarf allocated as a manager can be given manufacturing quotas, and will assign the tasks as needed.
You can designate areas as refuse-dumps, stockpiles for different materials, meeting areas, hospitals, fishing-areas and water-sources. You can build stills, wells, masonry workshops, soap-making workshops, querns, clothiers, looms, metalworkers, glassworkers, furnaces, stills, kitchens, leatherworkers, butchers, tanners and more.
You can construct doors, walls, stairs, ramps, grates, hatches, archery targets, beds, cabinets, coffers, armour and weapon stands, tables, chairs, barrels, bins, weapons, armour, clothes, toys, mugs, flasks, backpacks, jewellery, traps, pumps and more. Above and below ground.
Dwarf Fortress provides a large space, which extends downward deep into the earth. Build on the surface, or underground to keep the rain off of your dwarfs. It’s up to you.
Every year, migrants may come to join your colony, or your dwarfs may contrive to have baby dwarfs. Trading caravans will visit up to several times per year, starting from Autumn in the first year, where you can trade what you have for what you need.
Periodically, hostile forces may come to raid or lay siege to your community. You can button-up and hide underground or behind your walls, maintain a force of trained soldiers, siege weapons, and fortifications, lay intricate booby-traps, set up a moat and a drawbridge to keep unfriendlies away, or whatever the heck you like.
And you’ll screw up. Things will go wrong.
A hunter wounds, but doesn’t kill an Elephant, and it stampedes through your fortress bleeding everywhere and trampling your citizens and their pets. Your medical dwarfs are injured, and unable to process the backlog of casualties with any speed, infection runs rampant through the population, and everything just gets worse from there.
A popular dwarf dies through misadventure. Friends of the dwarf are angry and upset, and start acting out. Fights break out, some property damage occurs and rioting escalates.
Through a miscalculation, you simply run out of food, and before you realize, it’s too late to grow more, and you’ve already temporarily overhunted the local populations.
The Dwarf Fortress motto is “Losing is fun.”
Every time something goes horribly wrong with your fortress, you learn something about the mechanics, and about ways to prevent it in future. Armed with that knowledge, you can either send a military team to the failed fortress (to find out what happened to the last group, and reclaim it) or create a new world and start a new fortress.
It’s one of the deepest games you’ll ever play.
There’s no sound to speak of.
The game is available for Windows, Intel Macs, and Linux from Bay 12 games. It’s free, but more than worthy of a donation, as it has been under pretty much constant development for years.
It’s also tiny, and will take up almost no space on your hard-drive.
And I’ve said nothing about the graphics, so far.
There aren’t really any… and that’s fine.
The game uses hyper-fast text-graphics in a 2D, top-down, roguelike style. It’s a bit bewildering at first, if you aren’t used to that sort of thing, really.
However, the system does support graphic tilesets that can make the whole thing a lot easier to figure out.
While the game is a sandbox game, with no real goals other than those that you set for yourself, it is surprisingly satisfying.
Very, very highly recommended.