No – Dwarf King really doesn’t have a lot to do with Dwarf Fortress. I never managed to get into the game when I had the time, and these days I don’t have the time. But there is an overlap in themes, of course, even though the game play itself has little in common. In terms of inspiration, Dwarf King comes closer to the one of my all-time, favorite games King of Dragon Pass (KODP), with its blend of interactive fiction and resource management.
In Dwarf King (as in KODP), your job is settle the survivors of your Kingdom in a new and dangerous land after a great calamity befalls your people. You will need to overcome predictable obstacles: hostile neighbors, natural disasters, and internal unrest, while leading your people to prosperity and glory. Ultimately, the threat that destroyed your home is still out there, though; and you will have to meet and defeat that threat, or see your new home suffer the same fate as your old.
The player is represented as a character in Dwarf King, defined using a more streamlined version of the role-playing system used in Pirates and Traders. The player’s skill will impact not only the interactive fiction sections, in that the skills of your King will dictate to what extent diplomacy, brute force or cunning are viable solutions to the challenges you face, but also the resource management side of things. Combat in the game will directly involve your player character and can be terminal; get killed in battle, and your game will end along with the life of your character.
Surrounding the player character are his privy council selected from among the most influential and notable Dwarfs – both nobles and peasants. These will help (and sometimes hinder) the player in the work of saving the Kingdom, and can be used to delegate authority (such as being sent out on diplomatic or exploration missions), fill out official government positions, and can be brought along on the missions your character goes out on. In many ways, the latter is not too dissimilar from an adventuring party in an RPG. The only difference is that as the King, you are the one deciding which missions are the most important, so presumably if you send your party out on a rat stomp, you have a good reason.
The game itself is turn-based, with a game year broken down into weekly turns (at least per the current implementation). Each turn that the player character is available, the player can select an action. Different actions takes a variable number of turns, but the player will also have to balance their decisions around the rhythm of the seasons: spring (sowing crops), summer (ideal for mining, quarrying and construction work), autumn (harvest), and winter (the time for crafting, repairs, and preparing for the next year).
In addition to taking direct actions with the player character, the player also gets to adjust how the division of labor between the different activities is managed in the Kingdom. Ideally, the resource model should function in a pretty hands-off manner, as long as the player has sufficient manpower (i.e., doesn’t call out the fyrd in the middle of the sowing season). Where the player decisions really come in is in terms of how to exploit the land (mining, quarrying or farms?), what buildings to construct (defenses or palaces?), and which direction to focus production (weapons or trade goods?). The choices will (or should) depend on what your player character looks like, as well as how the game map (which will be randomly seeded with resources) ends up looking.
I’m working on Dwarf King again at the moment, after a long stint of almost uninterrupted work on Small Battles, so hopefully in the next blog post on the fortress management, I can go a bit more into details on the subject as well as show some in-game screenshots.