If there’s one thing that I learned from Lord of the Rings, it’s that you never toss a Dwarf…especially if his name his Gimli. While there isn’t any Dwarf tossing in “Dwarfs!?”, you’ll be constantly looking after them as they dig, dig, dig. Before we take a look at the game in further detail, I wanted to quickly thank Robin Flodin from PO2 Games (Power of Two) for sending me free review copies.
Dwarfs!? is an action / strategy game that tasks the player with managing “Dwarfs” as they dig around your starting base. The gameplay varies depending on what mode you’re playing, but for the most part, you’ll be trying to earn as many points as you can while fending off various dangers as they are revealed.
The game gives you a few options from the get-go, though the main menu isn’t like anything I’ve seen lately. Rather than list out your options, you’ll have to hover your mouse over different objects to access a particular menu. Not to worry, there is text on each object to indicate which menu is which. You’ll have the ability to set options, compare scores with others on the web, view a codex, and participate in skirmish, campaign, base defense, and arcade modes.
The skirmish menu gives you access to some bonus modes that alter the rules of the main game in some fashion. Rush Mode will test your reflexes as your Dwarfs spawn at an incredibly fast rate. Dark Mode adds a fog of war that will shroud everything but your caves, making the exploring aspect that much more exciting. Endless Mode does what it promises in that you can dig to your heart’s content, without a time limit. Finally, Sandbox Mode allows you to flex your creativity muscles a bit.
The base defense mode is separate from the skirmish menu and certainly adds an interesting twist. First, a spawn point appears at the beginning of the wave and you can choose to spend coin to dig a custom path to your base. If you let your Dwarf go on his own, he’ll just build a direct route. After this is accomplished, you build towers in between the spawn point and your base to stop the mobs. The process repeats each wave, so the challenge is finding a good mix between making complex paths and saving enough money for towers. If you make a nice, long path but only have enough for one cheap tower, you won’t do well.
Arcade mode is the meat and potatoes of the game, allowing you to experience the wonderful world of digging and Dwarf management in five, fifteen, thirty, or sixty intervals. I appreciate the option in setting different time limits, as I don’t always have a half hour to drop on a particular game in one sitting. The five-minute option allows me to get a quick fix before I’m running off to do who knows what. There’s also four different difficulty settings to compliment whatever mood you happen to be in at the time.
Now that we know that all of these different modes exist, let’s take a quick look at how a typical arcade mode game plays.
The map you start with is randomized every game, but you’ll see a base of operations surrounded by mounds and mounds of dirt. If you look around a bit, you’ll see some caverns / caves that hold unknown wonders (and/or dangers). You’ll earn some coin as you dig, but your primary goal is to find treasure. The Dwarfs themselves dig and move around on their own, but you can tell them what to do for the cost of coin…the very thing you’re trying to earn in spades for a high score. This mechanic becomes an interesting balance of trying to guide your Dwarfs in the right direction without leaving you broke and thus, without a score to speak of.
You can certainly ignore your Dwarfs and let them have at it. If you’re extremely lucky, they’ll find some nice caves with treasure in them on their own. However, there’s a stronger chance that they’ll come across something that will threaten to destroy your base…which by the way, would result in a game over screen. You’ll have water and lava flooding to contend with along with enemy mobs such as spiders, skeletons, goblins, dark elves and zombies. Dealing with these threats will often require you to personally command your Dwarfs and section off areas before it’s too late.
What starts out nice and slow in the beginning later turns into a chaotic mess. As more tunnels are dug and more Dwarfs are spawned, you’ll wish you had been blessed with the agility and reflexes of a professional StarCraft player. There’s just so much going on after a while that you’re primary concern is just staying alive long enough for the time limit to expire. While this might sound negative, I actually enjoyed watching things spiral out of control despite my best efforts. This mechanic kept challenging me to do better next time.
Overall, Dwarfs!? is a fun diversion that is best played with the mindset that it is “OK” to fail. Its generous price tag of $4.99 (as of 10/9/12) makes it very appealing, especially with all of the different modes that the game has to offer. It has that “Lemmings” charm to it but manages to add mechanics that makes it highly replayable. If you’re looking for something cheap in terms of price that you can come back to as often as you’d like, then I’d say give Dwarfs!? a spin. There’s a demo on Steam for those of you on the fence, link below.
Final Verdict: 7/10
You can view video play sessions here:
You can learn more about “Dwarfs!?” by visiting the following website:
You can find “Dwarfs!?” on Steam here:
Editor’s Note: I was provided with a few extra Steam codes and here is what those who received them had to say:
Anonymous Friend (30+ / male): “I finished the tutorial and I love that it’s voiced by Simon of the Yogscast. The game is fun so far…getting the Dwarfs to do what you want is kind of a pain but I guess that is part of the experience. I try to put a wall up to stop water and the crazy dwarfs dig right through it. It took me a while to figure out that I had to put a wall and a hole in front of the tunnel. I like that you don’t have to micro-manage everything…you can just watch them go crazy if you want. I wish you could tell the warriors what to do a little more specifically. I also like how the background changes slighty, little things pop up like a button that says do not press or random stuff in mined tunnels.”
Anthony (15 male, “Dad’s Review Crew”): Anthony, who helps me review board games, said that he liked the campaign mode but not the arcade mode. He claimed the map in the latter mode was too big and it was too difficult to manage the Dwarfs after playing for a while. He claimed that the campaign was much easier to play because it guided him on what to do next. He expressed an interest in playing it again. Personally, I think once he overcomes the learning curve, he’ll enjoy the arcade mode a bit more.