Remarkably, the four German students that make up Toukana Interactive have formulated the perfect antidote to the inherent anxieties of modern life with this relaxing village builder. They’re surely too young to know the heart-stopping terror of an unexpectedly large energy bill, yet somehow they’ve conjured a cure.
If you’ve ever played the board game Carcassonne, Dorfromantik will be immediately familiar. Like its cardboard cousin, it tasks you with laying tiles to match up similar features: a forested tile needs to be placed next to a forest, houses should be placed next to houses, and so on. But where the board game uses square tiles, Dorfromantik plumps for hexagonal ones, greatly increasing the possibilities. Each matched edge gives you ten points, and perfectly matching every edge of a tile nets you a full 60 points.
It’s those perfect placements that provide Dorfromantik’s dopamine hit. Pop! An impeccably placed tile gives a little jiggle, accompanied by a pleasant sound effect as the word ‘Perfect’ triumphantly appears. Importantly, a perfectly placed tile also adds another tile to your reserve, so theoretically you could keep playing for hours as long as you’re accurate. That’s easier said than done, mind: some of the tiles feature a combination of buildings, fields, grass, and trees all on one hexagon, so finding spots where all the edges match up can be tricky. Then there are rail and river tiles, which have to be joined to other rail tracks and rivers, and it’s easy to box yourself into a corner if you don’t leave room for your railways and waterways to expand.
But when you’re on a roll – oh man. Minutes can slip by as you ceaselessly scroll over the game world, hunting for the elusive place where your current tile will fit just so. Finding just the right spot elicits a shiver of satisfaction, and then you’re onto the next one, and the next. Hours disappear as your mind is lost in agrarian reverie, all thoughts of electricity bills muted, the shopping budget blissfully absent from your brain. Every now and then you’ll pause and wonder at the beautiful landscape you’ve created almost as a by-product of your obsessive tile matching. Smoke rises from chimneys, tiny boats chug up and down rivers, and miniature trains huff their way in and out of stations. It’s utterly charming.
It can’t last, of course. Eventually the tile supply runs out, and you’re presented with your final score. Unlike cut-throat sessions of Carcassonne, there’s no multiplayer here, no sneaky sabotaging of someone else’s city. It’s simply a serene bid to extend your play session for as long as possible, to beat your previous best.
There are ways to refill your tile reserve other than through perfect placements. Every now and then a tile will appear with a quest attached: perhaps you’ll be asked to join together 35 or more houses, or exactly 16 fields. At the end of some quests, a flag will be planted in the middle of the feature, and if you completely close off that forest, field, or village, you’ll get extra tiles.
Most exciting of all, there are special quest tiles lurking out there in the wilderness surrounding your bucolic wonderland. Find them and complete the quest they hold, and you’ll unlock extra challenges, like laying 50 perfect tiles in a game. Complete these challenges, and you’ll get some unique tiles to play with, such as the watermill. All of this is soundtracked by some soothing, ambient music that I’ve somehow never tired of, even after listening to it non-stop for hour after hour.
Dorfromantik has been in Early Access for around a year now, and Toukana has been busy adding features to the game ahead of its 1.0 release, like the utterly essential ‘undo’ button, for when your perfect tile placement is scuppered by a slip of the mouse. There’s also a Creative mode, which lets you lay down whatever tiles you choose to create your own unique pastoral idyll. Quick mode, meanwhile, challenges you to beat your high score using a set number of tiles, and Hard mode ups the difficulty with fewer quests and more complex tiles. Finally, there’s a Monthly mode, where you’re given a set starting map every month and have to compete with the community for high scores.
These extra modes are nice to have, but the original game – Classic mode – is where the real action is. And when I say action, I mean the blissful lack of action. The simple pleasure of watching forests and villages slowly expand. The chance to slip away from the world for an hour or two and lose yourself in the gentle rhythm of laying tiles.
Pop! Perfect. Pop! Perfect.
The supreme satisfaction of laying perfectly placed hexagons is only exceeded by completing the game’s various challenges to unlock special tiles, which include windmills, watermills, fountains, and even a beaver lodge. Generally these are merely cosmetic additions, but it’s always delightful to see one appear in your reserve pile, and they help to make the landscape even more idyllic.
Dorfromantik’s sedate strategy is the anxiety antidote we all need right now.
Genre: Strategy, puzzle | Format: PC | Developer: Toukana Interactive | Publisher: Toukana Interactive | Price: £10.99 | Release: Out now