As expected, my skill at the game has increased over the past few hours. Under my leadership, the dwarven outpost is building wide-ranging new tunnels, hauling back significant amounts of valuable materials (including, recently, mithril - I hope I'm not digging too greedily or too deep), and just generally ticking over nicely . . .
Except that it's still a mud hole. The culprit here is the tech tree. The way it works is that all the game's hundreds of available recipes are divided up into "techs," such as Basic Armor or Advanced Furnishing. Each tech gives you between 3 and 6 recipes, allowing you to build a few new items. It seems fine in theory, but the way you discover new techs is by building items from their immediate prerequisites, and the various techs aren't really balanced against each other.
When trying to get past Basic Illumination, you have a really easy time, because of course you're going to be able to use dozens of torches. But then Basic Weaponry comes along, and you reach a point where all your dwarves are as well-armed as they need to be with this tier of equipment, and you're left with the dilemma of having to build a whole bunch of superfluous maces just to grind out the xp, using up valuable minerals in the process.
It wouldn't be so bad, but certain useful items are found pretty deep in the tree, so I've largely been running far below capacity so far. That's why my headquarters is so shabby. I've not yet unlocked the tech that will allow me to build stone walls, and while I could theoretically replace my dirt walls with wood paneling, that would be a massive waste of wood that would be better spent on furniture, tools, and (especially) ladders.
Luckily, the first mission of the campaign is pretty easy (though it doesn't exactly tell you what you need to do to beat it), and the monster attacks have so far proven to be mostly a nuisance. This has given me plenty of time to stretch out and explore the chthonic depths of the underworld, which is nice, though I wish I could advance my tech in a more responsible and uniform way.
Overall, though, I'm enjoying myself. I like sending my dwarves out to mine, and though sending an expedition out into the uncharted reaches is a little nerve-wracking, I do enjoy the challenge of planning my digs in order to access the really hard-to-reach minerals. The crisp and cartoony graphics are pleasing to look at, and, of course, hoarding and building are two of my favorite things. I'm still pretty ambivalent about the monster-attack/survival portion of the game, however. I'm glad that it gives meaning to my equipment, but I'm getting tired of replacing my doors.
My hope is that in the next few hours, I'll have a breakthrough, and my rate of expansion will increase to the point where I'm easily able to wrap up the whole tech tree and become some sort of dwarven force of nature, complete with powerful weapons of semi-magical craft and elegant subterranean architecture. It's a thing that happens. I've seen it happen in similar games. The trick is to hold on and ride the chaos until it wears itself out.
I think I'm going to make it. I'll just have a lot of extra pickaxes and wall treatments by the time it happens.