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Dwarf Tower Review – Duel Time!

Don Parsons / November 18, 2014 at 12:00 PM / Reviews

Take control of an Archmage who is building a tower in a duel against his fiercest rival. Summon the power to construct rooms from your lair, bind dwarves to your service and launch destructive spells at your opponent.

That is a fictionalized description of what happens in Dwarf Tower but does represent what the game is about. Dwarf Tower is a bit of a hard game to categorize because it takes from several elements – it has the hidden target, 1v1 aspects of Battleship, the various rooms and fire types of FTL, and a card game aspect that randomizes what you get to play each turn.

Each turn you receive cards that can be used to build empty rooms, protect rooms, fill rooms, cast spells, or have your dwarfs do things (like tunnel). This is the first phase on every turn – you build your tower up and tunnel down laying places to build your dwarves, get mana from crystals and libraries to hold spells. The way you build it also matters due to the odd physics of the game, namely it doesn’t fail unless the room that it is connected through fails – no matter what your eyes may tell you about gravity and rooms floating in midair.

Now that you’ve laid out rooms, it’s still in the build step. If you want to store spells in your library or Archmage chambers you do so. Store any dwarf actions you want with the Dwarves. Then you go to the build phase where you can use your dwarf building actions to get rid of flooding, put out fires, move a room to a new location, or repair a broken room. As soon as you’re done that, the attack phase comes where you can choose how much spells and dynamite you can and want to throw at your opponent. The game then resolves it in the order you submit it, and then you get another chance to use the dwarfs to repair and next turn.

Dwarf Tower Screen

Each turn you get new cards to play with and enhance your tower or give you replacement attacks as all cards are use and gone. Spells and actions can be stored in their proper buildings (library and dwarf dwelling) but that’s it. Many of the more powerful and costly spells don’t come on for the first few turns, which gives a higher amount of usable cards early to build your tower and get of quick attacks.

The game continues playing in that manner with you trying to get the opponents Archmage Chamber while protecting your own. The game has some irritating elements though that I haven’t gotten to mention as I was giving a general layout of a turn in the game. Most of the spells are more or less random targeting which I think reduces the strategic options. The Ray spell you choose where it hits with 50% effectiveness. Lightning you know hits the highest element. Flood, and Collapse offer choice, but only underground targets. The rest of them are more or less left to ‘first floor only’, ‘above ground only’, or ‘underground only’ and select which ones they hit at random.

There is already a large random element in which abilities you get, how much protection and how much attacks you get.  There’s no reason that some of the spells can’t add more precision and make the game more about quick thinking and strategic placement and movement (via dwarf movers).

Spell variety is another bit of an issue. Namely, there aren’t that many and some of them do more or less the same thing. Fire, and Fireball are very similar and Lightning has many similarities. All of them use the same 50/50 chance as well for damage reducing some options in that way. Rain and Flood are very similar in how they fill up underground but at least have different degrees. There are several other ones like that that do hurt the game some, especially in single player. One minor issue with the UI is that when choosing spells in the combat step, you can’t get a reminder what they do unless they require a selection.

The AI also isn’t particularly sophisticated which compounds the single player issues some. On the other hand, the high amount of randomization does mitigate that somewhat because it doesn’t have to choose a target most of the time.

Dwarf Tower

The graphics in the game are serviceable for the most part. They aren’t going to stand out particularly, especially on PC but they are mostly clean and work. There are a couple exceptions to this though. The first is that when you use some spells, especially those that hit underground, you can’t see what happens as your own tower blocks the view. While you might be able to argue that’s intentional, what is more annoying ironically is the end game when it goes to reveal what your opponent had… and lots of it is blocked for the same reason.

The audio is more or less the same. The music fades into the background, the sound effects are basic but mostly nonintrusive and while there’s a bit of repetition it’s not much of an issue.

The Multiplayer is the greatest strength of this game in my opinion. The multiplayer connection works simply with a list of players who are looking for games and connects across platforms (so you can play someone on iOS or Android). Playing against another person adds a lot more fun for it, and makes the game more dynamic and interesting. The only issues I had really with the multiplayer was the chat interface which raises the size of the font while typing to 26 or so. The other was a lack of players in general there sadly. If the game is put on steam, apparently it will be able to play via that with your steam friends.

Dwarf Tower is an interesting game that, while not flawless can be fun to play with friends. Its short playtime means it isn’t even really something you need much time for. Dwarf Tower can be tried as a demo, bought on the Humble Store for PC, and is currently on Greenlight.

Disclosure: A review copy of this game was provided by the developer on the PC. It was reviewed on the PC, not the mobile versions.

6.0
 

Good

Summary

A fun multiplayer game with some issues. A quick way to pass a bit of time, ideally with a friend.


Don Parsons

News Editor

I've been a gamer for years of various types starting with the Sega Genesis and Shining Force when I was young. If I'm not playing video games, I'm often roleplaying, reading, writing, or pondering things brought up by speculative fiction.