Back in 2022 there was a brief bubble of enthusiasm over a video game called Dorfromantik – “village romance” in German. The player had to create an ever growing landscape of forests and fields, railways and rivers, trying to complete tasks in order to earn more tiles and keep playing. At the time, there was a lot of talk about how much like a board game it felt. Now, we’ve got a dedicated tabletop version which went on to win the 2023 Spiel des Jahres, the most prestigious prize in board gaming.
What’s in the Box
The Dorfromantik: The Board Game box is like a Russian doll, because most of what’s inside the box is more boxes. But you’re not supposed to open them right away: a key part of this game’s appeal is that it’s a campaign. Each game lets you tick off boxes on a campaign sheet based on your overall score and, as you progress through various branch points, you get to open different boxes and find out what’s inside.
When you start out, you only get to use what’s available inside the main box itself, which is lots and lots of hexagonal tiles. They’re all decorated in much the same way in a chunky, simplistic yet appealing art style that delineates various landscape features, just like the tiles in the video game.
There are also a bunch of counters, one for each landscape type, with numbers on the back. You also get a pad of scoresheets and campaign sheets. That’s your lot, and the relative dearth of content is more than enough to make you super-curious about what’s in those six additional sealed boxes nestled in the component tray.
Rules and How it Plays
Dorfromantik is easy to learn and play and, since it’s also a cooperative board game with all the players working together to build the landscape, it’s a great candidate for play with friends and family. On your turn you draw a tile, which will feature a mix of terrain elements, and fit it into your growing landscape. Most terrain elements can abut anything else you want them to. The exception are rivers and railways, each of which must be contiguous and can’t be cut off mid-flow with a different kind of tile.
There are two kinds of tiles: landscape tiles, which feature a mix of terrain elements, and task tiles, which are the same but also include a blank box. You fill this by drawing a counter of the matching terrain type and flipping it to reveal the number. That task is finished when that terrain type expands to the number on the counter, then you score that many points and draw another task. There must always be three tasks in play, so the first three turns always consist of adding task tiles. Otherwise, unless an existing task is finished, you must draw an ordinary landscape tile.
The only other feature of note to begin with are flags, which feature on three landscape tiles. These fit into the board like any other tile, but if you manage to close off the terrain type with the flag on it, so that none of that terrain is on the edge of the board, you’ll get points for each contiguous tile of that feature. When you run out of tiles, you add together the closed-off flags, your completed tasks and a point per hex of the longest river and railroad on your board, and that’s the final score.
At first, you’ll probably find this recreates that famous Zen-like calm of the original video game very well. It’s pleasant and undemanding, yet it’s just enough to occupy your brain and hands with the simple rules of the game to try and tot up some extra points here and there. The expanding landscape is attractive on the table. You can have a laugh and a joke as you play. It’s good fun. Your first game will almost certainly cross of a feeble single box on the campaign sheet, and you’ll wonder what you can do to score better and get down the track faster to find out what’s inside.
You won’t know it, but at this point you’re a Dorfromantik: The Board Game addict and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The genius of this game is that there’s a lot of shallow but subtle strategic decision-making beneath that placid exterior. There are indeed lots of ways to improve your score, some down to luck and some down to skill, several of which you probably realized mid-way through your first game. You’ll spot a couple more each time you progress those initial games, as none are particularly hard to grasp. But when you’ve got them down, you’ll realize that knowing what to do and putting it into practice are two very different things.
What makes it tricksy is the sheer openness of the landscape. Besides rivers and railways, you can stick any tile anywhere. Most tiles feature multiple terrain types and so can help advance more than one task. Despite the straightforward scoring conditions, the sheer array of options makes it far harder than you initially realize to work out what the best thing is to do with each tile as it comes up. It’s not difficult, as such, so the game still feels pleasantly undemanding, but you’ll often realize later there were better choices, and the way your skill grows with each attempt is even more enjoyable.
If you’re familiar with the video game, you’ll recognize quite how much of these mechanics mimic the gameplay elements of the original. But there’s one crucial difference. In the computer version, scoring tasks earns you extra tiles to prolong your game and increase your score. It isn’t long before the landscape you build gets out of control and your placement options alongside it. Trying to keep on top of this is a key skill. Here, though, you’re always using the same fixed pool of tiles to try and work towards bigger and bigger scores. This is, in many ways, far more manageable and satisfying.
I won’t say too much about what’s in boxes for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say that each adds another, simple rule to the game and increases your opportunities to score points. So, as you progress, additional strategic wrinkles are revealed and your high scores slowly go up and up, meaning you can meander across the paths of the campaign sheet a bit faster each time. It’s hugely gratifying to do so and feel like your mastery is increasing over time, in addition to the reward of opening new campaign elements when you reach them. If anything, Dorfromantik: The Board Game only gets more addictive the more you play.