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Tile-laying for the win

Tonight the winner of the Spiel des Jahres prize has been revealed, and I immediately thought: "Crap! It's a solo game! They are going to ask me to cover it!" Indeed, the phone rang almost immediately - with a BGG weight below 2, there was no way Athena and JW would consider this cute tile-laying game for the casual gamer to be of their league. It turns out that I keep a pile of recent board games to randomly gift people in case the opportunity presents itself, and you bet Dorfromantik was part of it, so, in the latest four hours, I have been incredibly busing unboxing the game, learning it, and squeezing in 18 plays of it as fast as I could. It's been exhausting, but here I am, at your service.


So, first of all, you may have learned of Dorfromantik: The Board Game. Let's forget about the video game it is adapted from, I never heard about it beforehand and chances are, you neither. The game, then. It's a tile-laying game that shows all the classical hallmarks of the genre, with boring countryside-inspired art, terrain types to match, short-term and long-term scoring conditions, and greenish hex-shaped tiles. But it's also a campaign game, as you may have heard, and of course the two concepts seem to conflict. So, is it something real, or just a fancy buzzword for which the designing team should congratulate their marketing pal? Let's find out.



You start with a bunch of tiles. As you may see, there are two sorts of tiles: task tiles, and landscape tiles. Task tiles give you a mission in the form of both a terrain type and a number; the mission is fulfilled is the tile is part of a terrain (matching the task's type) of exactly the task's number. So, a "5 river" means the tile must be part of a river of size 5. It's not what you would call the most convoluted thing ever. On the other hand, you have landscape tiles. That's easy, landscape tiles just help you fulfill the task tiles. It all makes sense. That's the good thing with games in the lighter end of the spectrum. It's just not very elaborated from the get-go. Just one more thing: you start with three task tiles in play. Whenever a task is fulfilled, you draw a new task tile. Otherwise, you keep drawing landscape tiles, until there is none left. Then comes the scoring part, and the end of the game.



That was my first game. You can see the task tiles with the little bubbles on them. The tasks I fulfilled are laid orderly somewhere else on the table - these will sum up to just a many points. On top of this, you score the longest railroad track, the longest river, and each "flag" grants you points equal to the tiles making up their territory, if closed. Now I have been quite exhaustive in the explanation of the rules, so, let's jump to what you expect the most: opening new stuff.


There are five tuck boxes in the game box. Each one holds stuff that you will quickly unlock by fulfilling achievements - little side objectives that play no role in the scoring. Furthermore, each game gives you points (depending on your final score) that you may spend to move forward a "tech track" that will also unlock new stuff. And believe me, each of these little tuck boxes is just as many dopamine doses in cardboard form. Opening them is exciting, enticing, and will sustain your lust to keep playing again and again in order to discover everything.


Wooden hearts. New special tiles. An assortment of scoring conditions. New achievements to strive for. New scoring thresholds to beat. And so on, and so on. And with all of this, the game keeps growing bigger and bigger.



So, what all this new stuff really is about? Not much, actually. The game mostly stays true to its core from start to end - because, yes, I finished the campaign and unlocked everything. And that's the first clever thing the designers did: don't do a campaign game, if the core loop isn't robust enough. And, I must say, the vanilla game, the one you get to play the first time you open the box, is very much fulfilling on its own. As a casual player of a variety of tile-laying games, from Limes to Habitats, I was thrilled. The task system gives you something to work for constantly, and it creates a positive feedback loop: since task tiles add terrain, the more tasks you fulfill, the more tiles you place, and the more tasks you can fulfill as a result. It's obviously addictive and empowering, especially when, in the late game, as your landscape tile reserve is getting depleted, you start fulfilling tasks by placing several task tiles in a row. There is a positive feedback loop, but one you can catch up any time - so you won't be penalized if you have a slow start.


The second thing the designers have been clever about is that the stuff you unlock is nice, but not a game-changer. It doesn't add tons of fiddly rules, it doesn't get in the way of the raw enjoyment of the core game. It gives you more tiles, a few additional scoring conditions that are adornments, mostly, just a few sweet bonus points to inch your way through the next threshold.


The third thing worthy of praise is that the achievement system also gives you an incentive to play differently, to try new things, and succeeding at one achievement may grant you a bonus that will help you with another. You have multiple objectives in sight on top of the game, and it makes chaining games a raw and rare pleasure.


But, also, it grows longer. A twenty minutes game becomes a forty minutes one. Soon I had to move to the floor because the thing was just sprawling too large in unpredictable directions. Sorting the tiles becomes more of a chore, set-up and tear-down get a bit fiddlier. But, I'd like to say, never too much.


And then the pace of unlocking stuff becomes no more than a trickle. Achievements get fulfilled, the "tech" tree becomes fully explored, objectives become further apart, the rewards less alluring compared to the stuff you already got. Yet you go on, and eventually, it happens: the campaign ends. You get it all. Ultimately the game offers you some scoring summits in the distance to work through, but you know the joy is past and the merry times are over. It is all unlocked, and the tuck boxes now lay empty.



But let me tell you the one and ugly truth. I had a great time with Dorformantik. In fact, it was one of the most exciting gaming experiences I had of late. I positively think that the campaign system is splendid and the achievements are genius. As a comparison, I have played both My City and Carcassonne: The Mist. The first one has the dopaminic hook of having you revealing new components as you play through the legacy campaign. But it's a legacy campaign, and yes, I absolutely loathe these. You may want to restart. To play again. To play differently. And Dorfromantik just shows beautifully that, to get the suspense, the sense of discovery, the raw joy of opening your next little envelope, you don't need any destruction, any permanent alteration. I also found that the new components in Dorfromantik were much more exciting, because they come with new achievements, new objectives to look forward to, not only new stuff that should give a twist to the experience as you iterate it again. As for Carcassonne: The Mist, I felt that further missions just added new constraints and more chores to deal with as you try to build your nice little kingdom, so that you feel increasingly miserable, while Dorformantik gives you a sense of development, of growth, of blossoming.


So, I was most certainly delighted when I saw it nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, and I am even more tonight as I realize that it won. I was 100% rooting for it, and I hope that this achievement system will populate new games in the future - all the more so as it may lean to a variety of genres and mechanics. Maybe it existed already in bigger Fantasy games full of narrative stuff and minis and so on, but the shear beauty of it here is that it is so incredibly accessible - only a few subtle touches that makes a good abstract game brimming with wonder and discovery.


Well done, Dorfromantik. Despite your poor looks, your dull setting, and your "old german family game" core mechanics, you did it and you deserved it. And I'm just glad I could get along.

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Derek
Derek
Jul 28, 2023

I'm with @SnowDragonka and have had this game on Steam for well over a year. I really like it. Very relaxing and enjoyable. I wasn't sure how they could create the same sense of unlocking tiles etc with the tabletop version so I'm glad it turned out great.


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SnowDragonka
SnowDragonka
Jul 17, 2023

I am one of those weirdos who play the video game. My bf actually found out about it and got me to play it more than a year ago at this point. We always talked about it as a boardgame in video game format. It's no surprise it got a boardgame implementation, it could be basically 1:1 adaptation. But I've played the game long enough to know how sprawling it could be and that prevented me to get the boardgame version. Happy to hear it turned out so well!


Reminds me also about another game, one that I was more inclined to back (but didn't in the end): Hextremadura. It uses a very similar system to Dorfromantik in "just 18…


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SnowDragonka
SnowDragonka
Jul 17, 2023
Replying to

I'm aware there are differences, but I don't see those as impactful. Most of it is that you can get more precise and bigger and longer in the video game, sure, but nobody wants a boardgame that spreads on 4 tables.


I noticed I tend to like "tighter" tile laying games. Like in Cascadia vs Calico, both tile laying, I didn't like Cascadia, while I love Calico. And I think it's because I don't have to think ahead in Cascadia much, I can do whatever and it will work out. In Calico I count the tiles I've seen, I plan ahead, I calculate probabilities, cause it's such a tight puzzle and I love that. I'm a weirdo.

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JW
JW
Jul 16, 2023

Wow, that was fast! I just asked for a post this evening 😄 But of course I already knew you liked it. Just not how much. Thanks for the report.

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Zerbique
Zerbique
Jul 16, 2023
Replying to

The fun thing is, when you asked me to write a Dorfromantik post based on my number of plays, I thought: "What, he's stalking me to know which games I play so he can trick me into writing Table Presence posts about them? Well, it's only fair, I'm stalking him, too." So, I agreed.


Then I got a notification for Challengers! that got the Kennerspiel prize (too bad it wasn't on my "gift pile"). So I went to check who got the regular SdJ, and only then, I understood why you wanted me to write about Dorformantik all of a sudden.


Yes, I enjoyed it a lot. Still, it's a tile-laying game with a dull countryside theme. It will never…

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Zerbique
Zerbique
Jul 16, 2023

Disclaimer: a troubling coincidence had it that I finished the campaign yesterday, after 18 games, within less than a month. The only game I played as much in such a short period of time without growing tired of it was Bullet.


The game is fully soloable. Actually, there are no "players". You only place one tile at a time, so if you want to play with pals, you only need to alternate who gets to lay the next tile. Therefore, I would venture in saying that it's a solitaire game at heart.

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