Once you get past its bizarre name, Dorfromantik offers simple, relaxing sessions of tile-matching puzzle goodness. Connecting hexagons to build pretty landscapes offers the thoughtful strategy of a city-builder to provide a stimulating yet overwhelmingly Zen atmosphere.
Fans of the board game Carcassonne should quickly grasp Dorfromantik's concept of drawing random tiles and finding high-scoring – and aesthetically pleasing – ways to place them on the field based on their scenery. Tiles only fit next to those with corresponding edges; railroad tiles connect with railroads, rivers merge with other bodies of water, and so on. Creating expansive forests or sprawling villages reward more points, and I enjoy the challenge of finding optimal ways to make pieces fit. Completing sections of the map and watching boats sail across my pretzel-like waterways is a small but satisfying touch because of how it brings my model cities to life.
The classic experience presents objectives, such as building towns to a specific size, to provide nuggets of purpose to make the otherwise freeform experience engaging. You don’t have to complete these tasks, but I always delight in closing the loop on a plot of land I spent ages building up and watching my score skyrocket. Expanding your board can unlock new types of tiles, such as windmills, water wheels, and even new biomes to spice up the draw pool. Seeing the field evolve from the standard lush green to a patchwork of darker, barren earth or snow-frosted trees freshens the visual variety.
I appreciate how Dorfromantik's selection of modes provides several options for enjoying the experience based on my mood. A Creative Mode allows for building without restriction, even letting you discard ill-fitting tiles. Conversely, Hard Mode offers a steeper challenge with more complex pieces. Quick Mode condenses the game into shorter sessions, great for knocking out quick rounds while on the go. The Monthly Mode mixes up the game long-term with new batches of custom rules each month.
I spent a substantial amount of time playing the PC version of Dorfromantik when it launched in early access last year. The experience translates well to Switch, though using controller inputs to move tiles and the camera is, unsurprisingly, less intuitive than the snappy precision of a mouse. It's not bad by any means, though it is my least preferred way to play. That said, it's a fair trade-off for the perk of tile-matching in bed or on the couch. Plus, the simple yet colorful art direction, which has a hand-drawn quality, pops on the small screen.
Dorfromantik balances its strategic and cozy elements well, and it's easy to fall into a serene trance of dropping tiles. Pulling the camera back to reveal the full scope of my landscape always feels like a satisfying reward for my subtle, hard work, much like stepping back to admire a finished painting. While it's not the sort of puzzle game I feel compelled to play more than a session or two a day, I always appreciate the improved mood with which it leaves me.