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In many ways, it’s hard to find games like Dwarf Fortress– even if you’re the best at staying on top of gaming news.
Dwarf Fortress is, in many ways, a deceptive game: while its graphics are more unassuming, the gameplay, especially with the focus on workshops, has earned praise as complex and interactive. And now that gameplay is getting an upgrade.
The Developer, Bay 12 Games, introduced an update coming to Steam that will give workshops an interface overhaul. While the news has not yet been finalized, the update is expected to include a new windowed option, more clickable buttons, and the ability to streamline current tasks.
For a game that was initially released 14 years ago, Dwarf Fortress still garners attention and still has a prominent player base. Part of that may be due to its humble beginnings, and part of that might be due to its unique approach to the construction and management simulation genre.
But if you enjoy Dwarf Fortress, and are looking to branch out a bit, there are many options for games like it. Here’s what you need to know about the hype behind Dwarf Fortress, and the best games like it that are already available, or soon to be released.
What is Dwarf Fortress?
Dwarf Fortress has an incredible story behind it– which is why I think so many originally invested in it.
Dwarf Fortress was announced in 2001 with the alpha version released 4 years later. At the time, success seemed like a reach: produced by just two people, the game could only be developed through the support of community donations.
While the game did receive acclaim for its complexity, the introduction to the gaming community was not all smooth sailing. Many critics cited that the text prompts and lackluster graphics, as well as difficult interface, made the game less playable– an issue that to this day the developers are working on.
But regardless, Dwarf Fortress turned out to be a success. The indie game went on to be praised as ambitious and detailed, with depth many would not have expected. Many also loved how there was no single way to play the game, and the immersive creativity that later is said to have inspired Minecraft.
And things have turned into better reception, as well: by 2020, Dwarf Fortress earned the title of third “Best Management Game” by Rock Paper Shotgun, following its success as being recognized as a “Best Free Game” back in 2006.
The gameplay of Dwarf Fortress centers around three main game styles: adventurer, legends, and basic mode. As a construction and management simulation, you are tasked with managing and building up a colony of dwarves. As is the case with most simulation games, Dwarf Fortress, is a sandbox-style game, focused more on creativity than any clear objectives.
In adventurer mode, the gameplay is more turn-based. Legends mode allows an expansive view of different civilizations, worlds, and entire histories. In all modes, the focus is on construction, management, and building. But unlike some games in the construction and management category, graphics are not a focus. In fact, the graphics were textually based.
Construction and Management Game Genre
The construction and management game genre combines creative sandbox gameplay with strategy and is a wide genre that attracts gamers, from console to PC and all gaming setups. Resource management, building, and creativity are key to these games.
As opposed to games with a linear storyline, or even action-adventure games, there is no real objective to construction and management games. They range from more fantasy-based, like Dwarf Fortress, too rooted purely in reality, in games like the Cities: Skylines Series, and can even include games like Roller Coaster Tycoon.
Strategy, creativity, and management skills combine as players can pursue their own goals and construct as they wish. Most of these games take a more overview look as opposed to more minute details or everyday life simulation that a game like The Sims is famous for (which is considered a life simulation game, along with games like Stardew Valley).
Overall, construction and management games are great options for those who love to blend creativity with logic and management–without the bounds or limits of having to play a certain way or complete certain tasks. I also love that these games tend to be especially replayable.
Games Like Dwarf Fortress: My Picks
Now that you understand the basic premise behind Dwarf Fortress, here are my top picks for the best games you can play now or are soon to be released.
Rather than stick to the text-based gameplay or free-to-play, these games I selected offer a more intuitive user experience but still provide the general heart of engaging simulation gameplay, with a heavier emphasis on construction and management.
I considered overall gameplay experience, graphics, other gaming ratings, and value. These games are generally well-received, bring their own unique qualities, and are great options across a variety of gameplay platforms. So get ready to relax in your favorite gaming chair and read on for what I considered to be the best alternatives to Dwarf Fortress– and why I love each option.
RimWorld is a construction management simulator that has an equally inspiring story of success and will appeal to indie game fans and sci-fi fans alike.
RimWorld, which was released in 2017, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, is available on Windows, MacOS, and Linux. RimWorld, despite humble beginnings, won an Indie Game of the Year in 2016 and has also been nominated for among the best simulation games.
Though not complex in graphics, it has a certain charm to the indie, drawn style that accompanies gameplay that involves random events, combat, survival, and, of course, construction. But in some ways, the objective is more clear than Dwarf Fortress, in that you must manage resources and capabilities in order to survive.
Set in a space colony, you select from one of several scenarios, your objective nonetheless is to help your colony survive the harsh environment and randomized events that can impact the colony’s health and circumstances. Pirate attacks, traps, and other adversaries will try to attack occasionally.
You’ll have to fight off starvation through hunting, farming, and building up technology. In many ways, RimWorld is immersive in that it combines elements of many simulation games, but with the backdrop of urgency for survival. While there’s not a rich backstory, what you do have are characters with unique needs, and the ability to even have relationships with other characters. Buy Here.
Satisfactory offers 3D world exploration but still gives you the colonization aspect, with building and construction at the core, plenty of hours of creative gameplay, and a whimsical appeal, all developed with the Unreal Engine 4– with both multiplayer and single-player options, and offered on Windows 7 and up.
The factory simulation game is set on an alien planet and forces players to manage resources to survive. As you explore, you’re tasked with finding things such as raw materials and even things like vehicles, jet packs, and jump pads to get around more quickly.
From there, you’ll construct factories across the world in order to create new things, automate tasks, and more–you even have the power to automate everything from converter belts to transportation.
While it does feature sandbox-style gameplay, you can’t select your own world, and the area of exploration is fairly limited. The open-world features different plant and animal life, while the factory system is customizable and can be built on everything from flat plains to more mountainous regions.
Players report building for hours on end, making this great if you’re really into the construction aspect of simulation gameplay. There is some level of customization in terms of energy sources, including nuclear power plants. Though there isn’t much in terms of actual battle, you can fend off would-be predators with a few weapons, and even vehicles.
Plus, Satisfactory sold over 500,000 copies within a matter of the first few months of its release, and over 1.3 million as of June 2020. Buy Here.
As one of the most successful games in the simulation genre, let alone in the construction simulation genre, Cities: Skylines by Paradox is a true classic, and will offer players endless hours of gameplay, with a level of replayabillity and overall quality that’s hard to come by.
Originally released in 2015, Cities: Skyilines and its subsequent releases have sold now well over six million copies and counting and had earned critical acclaim. It’s gone on to add many DLC, including one as recent as 2020, coupled with a lively modding community that keeps the game fresh and alive all these years in.
The gameplay is very much built and management-based. You’ll be tasked with building a city from the ground up, and not only construction, but managing everything from zoning, taxation, services, employment, and much more.
Of course, you’ll have a budget to deal with, pollution, and different citizen demands. You can play in both challenge and creative sandbox modes, adding even more to the versatility of this game.
What I also love about this game is the sense of progression: as you build up, you gain access to more improvements and things to build and develop. You’ll also have to ability to create specific zoning types, enforce regulations, and create robust transportation systems.
Overall, if you’re looking for a challenging, creative, and replayable game with many ways to play, I highly recommend giving it a try. Cities; Skylines is available for release for Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Mac Os, Linux, and Nintendo Switch. Buy Here.
If you’re into city building but want less creative gameplay that’s offered from games like Cities: Skylines and have a desire for more survival-based gameplay, with construction too, then Frostpunk may be a great option for you.
FrostPunk, known as a construction simulation game with survival elements, takes place in the unique backdrop of the 19th century, but in an alternate history timeline. The dramatic backdrop of a bitter winter adds a sense of urgency to gathering resources and making strategic decisions to help those survive after a natural disaster.
Dramatic and dark for still hopefully, there’s a bit of roleplaying as you take on the character of the Captain and are tasked with dilemmas to ensure as many survive as possible. You’ll be faced with brutal weather conditions, political upheaval, and more. Gathering natural resources will be critical for generating both heat and energy, but there are also homes to look after.
Real management with a realistic number of obstacles– from poor insulation to the unrest in made of a natural disaster– make FrostPunk a surprisingly intense playing experience, going so far as even to include dynamic medical and government systems. How you command very much impacts your citizens, while investment in technology can make or break your survival.
Frostpunk has sold over 1.4 million copies as of 2020 and has enjoyed mostly positive reception. You can buy it for Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Buy Here.
Factorio is a natural alternative to Dwarf Fortress– and, as of its release, has sold over 2.5 million copies. It’s also earned nomination for a Steam Award and high approval ratings from players.
The main objective of this game is to construct and improve upon your factories. In order to do that, you’ll be tasked with mining for natural resources, building from the ground up, and making the most of what you have. In fact, you’re also able to craft materials, leading many to compare this game to Minecraft.
And like Minecraft, but of course, with the added focus of factory building and automation, you’ll have enemies, as well as a variety of player modes to choose from. Combat mode involves protecting against dangerous plant life, and even pollution on an alien planet setting. Online multiplayer mode, meanwhile, allows you to battle against friends nearby, or team up to build and survive the hostile environment together.
I love that Factorio also has a modding community so you can design your game to look to your liking, while factory automation is a fun and great way to enhance your defense and combat capabilities, as you work your way towards more advanced technology.
Factorio is available on Microsoft Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Buy Here.
Anno is a long-lived city building and construction series, and one of my favorite games like Dwarf Fortress is you’re a history buff at heart. If you enjoy roleplaying historical games like Crusader Kings or Europa Universalis, but want something more based on construction management, then Anno 1800 could be the best game for you.
Anno 1800, as the name suggests, is set in the 19th century and focuses on innovation during the industrial age. Combining trade strategy, and building, this immersive historical setting includes managing the various demands of workers and citizens, as well as artists. You’ll also have to contend with adversaries, unique maps, and military management.
Factories are constructed not only to produce but also have an impact on the overall city’s health, finances, and mood. Builders will delight with the use of blueprints to construct, while strategy players will find plenty to love. I also like that you can play both free creative, sandbox-style, and competitive or even multiplayer.
While construction and building are key to this game, the possibilities are endless for creativity and immersion. As the winner of the 2018 PC game of the year at Gamecom and several-time nominees for multiple other awards, it’s a great pick, and also has solid replay value. It also has DLC to add to your experience. You can purchase DLC through sets, or Season Passes as well.
Anno 1800 is available only for Microsoft Windows, so hopefully, the series will offer it across more platforms in the future. Buy Here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Is Dwarf Fortress hard?
Answer: Dwarf Fortress has a few difficulty levels, which allows you to play at your own pace– but some of the biggest difficulties center around simply learning how to use the interface. The interface, even with the upcoming potential improvements, is a bit tricky and not exactly intuitive to use.
Question: Can you beat Dwarf Fortress?
Answer: Dwarf Fortress isn’t a clear objective game– it’s more sandbox-style gameplay, so technically there is no one way to win, or beat Dwarf Fortress.
Question: Can my computer run Dwarf Fortress?
Answer: Most players will be happy to know that the system requirements for Dwarf Fortress are fairly low. You don’t need the best gaming laptop to play– system requirements are a Windows XP or more advanced.
Whether you’re more into the construction and city building aspects or you want to add in a bit of survival or even role-playing gameplay, there are plenty of options for games like Dwarf Fortress, and many of them only require basic game accessories to play.