Dwarf Fortress is one of the longest-running and most respected names of the last decade. It has been kept alive by two brothers, Tarn ‘Toady One’ and Zach ‘Threetoe’, for the past 16 years. They had the honour of seeing Dwarf Fortress as one of the first video games installed at the Museum of Modern in New York. The game was even the original inspiration for later sandbox sims, which you should check out if you want to play the best games like Dwarf Fortress.
Dwarf Fortress is a colony-sim in a generated world, not only in how the resources are laid out, but also in the selection of animals, poetry, and even the dances that your dwarves can learn. The world has a dedicated dynamic weather system that makes the world feel alive. The dwarves must learn how to craft and establish a functioning society in order to survive in the world. Once they’ve built their first structures, their unique culture will flourish under your supervision.
It’s an incredible experience to watch the rise and inevitable fall of civilisations. The player can learn from the mistakes of the fallen, and ensure that the next colony of dwarfs avoid the same fate. So what games can you check out, whether you like Dwarf Fortress, or just want to see what the genre's like?
Best games like Dwarf Fortress
The game closest to Dwarf Fortress is Rimworld, which is an unsurprising fact seeing as it was the main inspiration for its creation. The game is a sci-fi take on the colony sim, where the player begins with three survivors shipwrecked on an unfamiliar world. They must create a world for themselves, take on slave traders and build the colony from the ground up.
The developers pride themselves on Rimworld being a story generator, with the narrative being driven by an AI storyteller. The colonists will have unique backgrounds that will affect their gameplay and will develop relationships with one another. It’s difficult to sum up the depth of Rimworld, so if the idea of building a civilisation from scratch appeals to you, make sure to check it out yourself.
There are no prizes for guessing when this colony-sim is set. In a world that has just seen almost the entire global population wiped out by a plague, Going Medieval entrusts the player with gathering the survivors and building a new kingdom for them. The towns can be planned and built using 3D terrain tools. This which means that no matter whether you want a towering stone fortress dominating the skyline or an underground maze, it’s easy to make it happen.
As the population grows, the threats from outside the walls will grow and the villagers will have to learn how to defend themselves. The player will need to ensure that they are always making progress in researching technologies and building the strongest town the 14th century has ever seen. The villagers will have personal needs and wants that will affect their emotional states, so make sure that they’re met or there might be an uprising!
Oxygen not included
The depths of space aren’t exactly built for human survival, but that hasn’t stopped colonists from trying. Your will manage one such set of colonists in Oxygen Not Included, as you try to make their new life in a unique, procedurally generated world.
It really is the basics that must be carefully managed with this game. In order for the colonists to live long enough to dream about advanced technology, they must first be able to survive long enough to do so. The oxygen levels, planet temperatures, and establishing a power grid are huge feats here, and understandably so! It has a more light-hearted feel than some other colony sims. However, that doesn't stop it from becoming complex in the late game!
Imagine a city-building sim that revolves around wooden architecture and water physics. Now, imagine that city inhabited solely by beavers, and you have Timberborn. The beaver species must learn how to survive in the harsh world left behind by mankind, dealing with disasters such as flooding, drought, and other horrors found in the Old World.
One factor that is quite unique to colony-building sims though is the choice of game direction. Timberborn will present players with two factions they can join; either the Folktails, who are very eco-friendly, or the Iron Teeth, who want to burden the world with iron and smoke and industrial fervour.
If dwarves and beavers are too big for you to handle, then why not consider managing some gnomes instead? Gnomoria will have the player manage a renegade group of gnomes who have left the big city in order to try and build up their own kingdom. Each world is procedurally generated to ensure that each game is different.
The unique feature of this game is the fully destructible environment. Everything that can be seen in the world can be harvested or removed somehow, even taken down and rebuilt elsewhere if the gnomes know how!
Prison Architect had humble beginnings as a crowd-funded game and then grew into a BAFTA-winning franchise that even spawned a sequel. The premise is simple; the player is in charge of building a successful and even profitable prison. Not only do they have the role of the architect, building rooms and making sure they have electricity and other utilities, but also the governor. The player is in charge of finances, recruiting staff and even reformation efforts.
There are additional factors that the player can choose to have alter their game too. For example, they can turn on gang violence, extreme weather or even a female-only prison that has additional facilities for childcare. It’s an interesting take on the building-sim, but one worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre!
A classic take on the colony-sim, Odd Realm presents you with a wild world filled with procedurally generated biomes and lets you pick where you settle. This location will alter what kind of resources are available to the player, and what kind of experience they will have.
The player has three colonist races to choose from, which will give them a unique gameplay experience depending on which one is chosen. There are even scenarios and encounters that can be a consequence of the players' actions.
For more recommendations on games, check out our list of the best games like Pokemon, or our picks for the best free strategy games of 2022! Alternatively, we have a roundup of our favourite mods in November.