Dorfromantik was 2022's 'no thoughts, just vibes' game of the year

Dorfromantik - 2022 GOTY Personal Pick
(Image credit: Toukana Interactive)
Personal Picks

Game of the Year 2022

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.

What was your greatest gaming achievement in 2022? Defeating Malenia, Blade of Miquella solo? Punching your way through Sifu without aging 100 years? Deciphering Tunic's mysterious language? I'll tell you what I did: I built an enormous lake out of hexagonal tiles in Dorfromantik, then waited patiently—so, so patiently—for just the right pieces to fill in its last remaining gaps. When I drew the final of three water railway stations I needed to complete the lake, I knew just how Michalangelo must've felt when he finished painting The Creation of Adam. Great works demand to be admired, even by their creators.

Building a tiny little cottagecore world in Dorfromantik presents no real challenge. Technically you can place any piece you like next to any other, hiding a quaint village inside a grand forest, or marooning a two-stop train line on an island in the middle of a lake. But its light goals push you towards placing tiles together in clever ways: the more sides of the hexagon you perfectly match, the more tiles it awards you to keep building. 

My lake was nearly perfect, but for a couple gaps near an aquatic railway station. These became my favorite tiles in all of Dorfromantik, because the reward for placing one is seeing a little boat and a little train come puttering out, fueling an imaginary economy. I don't know what they're hauling. Lumber? Apples? Bundles of fluffy sweaters? Something cute and festive, surely. 

At first I played Dorfromantik as more of a pure puzzle game, optimizing every tile placement to see how long I could keep building. Then I started to care about the trains. I mean, if I was going to run their rails out into the middle of a lake, the least I could do was terminate them at a proper station, right? Or give them a path all the way across to the opposite shore? Didn't my growing world deserve a proper trade hub, a bustling (but not too bustling) center of industry? 

Dorfromantik doesn't even have little people walking around for me to please, but designing a practical train line or shapely glade in the woods kept me playing for hours a night over the summer. Dorf became my evening Steam Deck game of choice for a few weeks, because I could just plop down on the couch and melt into the calm of laying down one tile at a time. I felt deeply content to sit and watch the seasons change and little white marshmallows of smoke puff up and out of the boats as they chugged along.

Even if I mostly played at night, Dorfromantik is the embodiment of a cozy Sunday morning with a blanket and a mug of tea. Games rarely manage to be this soothing while still feeling substantial, but Dorf stays compelling. As you build out your map you'll eventually see apparitions of tiles in the distance, and reaching them will unlock new pieces to fold into your kingdom, gradually making it prettier and slightly easier to puzzle together with "perfect" hex placements. Ultimately that just leads to more happy sighing as you survey the world you've put together.

I told PC Gamer's Chris Livingston, who also enjoys Dorfromantik, that I didn't have a lot to say about it beyond "It's Just Nice." So he supplied me with part of an acrostic to say "It's just Nice" but in more words, so I don't look like I'm slacking.

D is for docile, which is how it makes me feel
O is for ogle, because its looks are ideal
R is for round, which a hex sort of is
F is for fun, as this game surely tis

Inspiring! I mustered the last of my December brainpower to hopefully give Dorfromantik the sendoff it deserves.

R is for round, like a callback, see?
O is for onboard, a little boat where I want to be
M is for matching, a mechanic so sweet
A is for autumnal, the vibe despite snow or sleet
N is for nothing, the thoughts in my head
T is for tea time, as you've already read
I is for ignoring the binary of win or lose, and...
K is for kindly curing your wintertime blues

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).