Despite being one of the best colony management sims around, Dwarf Fortress hasn’t quite aged well, what with its outdated UI and ‘losing is fun’ design philosophy.
And although the game’s creator, Tarn Adams, plans to address many of the original’s flaws in an upcoming enhanced edition, the project doesn’t appear to be anywhere near completion for the time being.
The good news is that there are plenty of games that draw inspiration from Dwarf Fortress‘s design while introducing new mechanics and improvements, such as more complex AI and clear goals for the player to focus on.
Here, we’ll be highlighting the best games like Dwarf Fortress to play in 2021.
Many of these games are either directly influenced by DF or explore similar ideas. Make sure to check back as we continue to update this list with new entries.
Lastly, while you’re here, consider reading through our other curated lists for more gaming recommendations:
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Developer: Ludeon Studios
The similarities between Rimworld and Dwarf Fortress become apparent the moment you start a new game and begin establishing a space colony. The game gives you the option to pick from multiple worlds before crash-landing on its surface and sending your space explorers into the unknown to collect resources.
You’re tasked with making sure your colonists’ physical and emotional needs are being met while at the same time taking strides to expand your settlement into a flourishing community.
Where the game differs from Dwarf Fortress is its complexity and overall difficulty. While it’s still a tough game, making a single mistake won’t cause your colony to collapse like it would in Dwarf Fortress. This makes Rimworld much more approachable for casual-minded players who may not have the experience or desire to keep up with DF‘s demanding gameplay.
Oxygen Not Included
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Alternatively, if you’re someone who enjoys Dwarf Fortress‘s approach to managing a colony, Oxygen Not Included may be more your style. It’s a challenging game that sees you managing a space crew attempting to live beneath the surface of an alien planet.
As its title suggests, oxygen is exceptionally scarce, meaning you’ll frequently have to take measures to maintain a steady supply of the stuff.
Where things get tricky is potential for disaster, as your colony is always at the mercy of its environment. Temperatures can rapidly rise or fall, pollution can build up quickly, and the mental states of your colonists continuously change.
The game has a drastically different aesthetic than DF, presented in 2D hand-drawn visuals, and played from a side-view perspective versus top-down.
They Are Billions
Developer: Numantian Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1
If you’re a fan of zombies and steampunk, you may enjoy what They Are Billions has to offer. Part colony management, part tower defense, the game sees you commanding the last few remaining humans as they fight to reclaim civilization from an army of flesh-eating zombies.
As you gather resources, build housing, and set up defenses, more and more zombies will attempt to invade your settlement.
They Are Billions‘ game engine is quite sophisticated and can render thousands of enemies on-screen at any given time. This allows for increasingly aggressive zombie raids on your camp that can see you at the game over screen if you’re not careful.
While the game can be overwhelmingly difficult at times, the ability to pause mid-action and give yourself time to strategize helps alleviate some of the stress.
Space Haven is a highly-detailed colony management sim set in the outer reaches of deep space. You play as the leader of a ragtag crew searching for a new home for humanity.
The game offers a lot of room for in-depth customization, allowing you to build your spaceship tile-by-tile and decide the placement of every single door, wall, and hull.
This comes with a lot of responsibility as your crew also depends on you for survival, demanding you pay attention to their needs and provide enough food, medicine, and oxygen. Where Space Haven standouts from Dwarf Fortress is its focus on narrative.
As you make your way through space, you’ll encounter random scenarios such as alien invasions, derelict ships, and internal conflicts amongst crew members.
Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation
If Dwarf Fortress‘s fantasy-inspired setting isn’t dark enough for you, Judgment offers the perfect blend of satanic rituals and colony management. In it, you’re put in charge of a group of campers who unintentionally escape a fiery apocalypse by merely being in the woods.
However, it’s only a matter of time until the demonic forces realize what they’re doing and show up.
This is presented in the form of a visibility mechanic, in which demons will become more aware of your colony as it continues to grow. To counteract this, you’ll have to research new stealth tactics and perform certain rituals.
Flourish too quickly, and the evil forces will come knocking on your door but take too long, and you may not last. Where the game departs from Dwarf Fortress‘ design is the addition of real-time tactics-based combat.
Developer: Double Eleven
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1, Switch, Android, iOS
While building and running your very own prison may seem like a fairly straightforward process, Prison Architect proves otherwise. Instead, the game uses its correctional facility setting as a springboard for its intertwining gameplay systems.
As the architect of your prison, it’s up to you to design the layout, hire the staff, and manage the day-to-day lives of your inmates.
It’s not always easy, considering every guard and prisoner has distinct needs and character traits that affect their productivity and overall behavior. Additionally, it takes a lot of money to run a prison, especially if you’re looking to turn a profit.
Although the game provides a decent level of challenge, its overall a lot more forgiving than DF, encouraging you to experiment and try out different layouts and strategies.
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1
Frostpunk is a narrative-driven colony management sim that takes place in an alternate world where a new ice age has come about during the 19th century.
You play as the leader of a colony that maintains its survival through a steam-powered heat generator located in the heart of the village. The goal is to expand the town by adding new structures using a base-building system similar to that of Dwarf Fortress.
Where Frostpunk differs is there are consequences for every decision you make, which get reflected in the story and a villager morale system. Will you let the sick use up resources while contributing nothing to society, or let them die?
Should children spend time studying and living freely, or be put to work in factories for the benefit of humanity? There are both pros and cons to the choices you make throughout the game.
Developer: Haemimont Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1
Considering how much of Dwarf Fortress’s design is influenced by tycoon games like Tropico, we thought it would be fitting to include a similar title from the series’ creator, Haemimont Games.
Part city-builder part survival game, Surviving Mars sees you raising a Mars colony from infancy to adulthood. Your people require proper housing, factories to produce goods, and commercial buildings where scientists will research new technologies.
At the same time, the planet’s atmosphere is very unwelcoming of humans and will consistently throw new obstacles your way. Oxygen levels have to be maintained and water must be transported from deep below the surface to structures using an intricate pipe system.
Additionally, colonists possess unique strengths and weaknesses that can both negatively and positively impact the growth of civilization.
Colony Survival takes a very different approach to colony management and base-building than Dwarf Fortress while delivering the core gameplay loop fans have grown to love.
For one, it’s played from a first-person perspective. And second, it incorporates elements of crafting and exploration, making it play a lot closer to games like Minecraft.
Starting with a small colony, you’ll continue expanding until you have a thriving community of citizens with diverse jobs and access to continually improving technology.
However, you’ll also have to prepare for attacks from monsters who threaten your colony’s survival. If you’re successful enough, one day you’ll be able to send your colonists out to establish new settlements and discover new resources.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
We’ve covered a lot of colony management sims here that do things similar to Dwarf Fortress but haven’t mentioned any with similar visuals.
Odd Realm‘s top-down perspective and minimalist pixel-art presentation may not be an exact copy of DF, but still evokes this idea of substance over style. With that said, the game is still rather pleasant to look at and features a much more readable UI than DF.
In it, you take control of a group of fledgling settlers as they try to endure changing seasons and attacks from bandits, underground monsters, and spiteful deities.
Like DF, worlds are procedurally-generated and feature unique characteristics such as limited resources. You can also play as multiple different races that introduce new approaches to playing the game.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Of all the games on this list, Kenshi is the most different from Dwarf Fortress while still sharing a few similarities. To start with, it’s a third-person RPG set in a sandbox-style open-world that encourages you to make decisions for yourself.
This could mean becoming a nomad who travels from place to place in search of sustenance or establishing a town with its own defenses and laws.
This is where the game’s colony management mechanics come into play, allowing you to add more characters to your party, attract settlers to come live in your village, and wage war with other factions.
There are no restrictions on what you can do or how many characters you recruit as long as you can provide for each of them. It can be tough to get started in Kenshi since just about everyone can be a potential threat, making it a good alternative for DF players who enjoy a challenge.