A Dark Room certainly ranks as one of the more unique games that I have ever played. Part of the magic of this game is that, because of the lack of any discernible tutorial, there is a very realistic sense that the character does not know what to do and is trying their best to keep their growing community going. Because of all that there really is a need for some guidance for those playing through the first time, or even those just looking for a more efficient route when booting the game up for the second or third time. That's what I'll attempt to do here, starting of course with waking up in a dark room.
[Note: We've tried to avoid spoilers as best we can, but even the emergent gameplay in A Dark Room could be considered spoiler territory to some. If you haven't played the game before and would rather feel your way through the first time, we advise that you hold off on reading this guide until your second attempt.]
A Dark Room
When you first awaken in this dark room there is really nothing to do but light the fire. Get used to pressing this button because it's the one constant thing that you will be doing throughout the game. Lighting or stoking the fire will save your game and reheat the room when it becomes cold. After lighting the fire you will notice that you are now in a firelit room and a ragged stranger stumbles through the door and collapses in the corner. You now gain access to the silent forest in which to collect wood. Do so and upon returning stoke the fire; the game will save and the stranger will begin to awaken with the warmth. The Supplies tab displays the amount of wood that is available, and each stoke will use up one wood.
A Firelit Room
When the stranger awakens she will tell you that she's a carpenter, and with wood she can make you a cart or a hut for other strangers. Start off by building a cart, and then once enough wood has been gathered move on to your first hut. The builder can also construct traps that collect animals, which give meat, fur, teeth, and sometimes scales. The meat that is caught can initially only be used for bait to catch more animals. Begin stocking up on furs and meat as they become useful later in the game.
CART - Used to transport +18 wood quicker than the usual gathering of +10. Cost: 10 wood
HUT - Houses strangers. Up to 4 per hut. Cost: Increases with each hut.
TRAP - Used to catch game. Provides fur, meat, teeth, and sometimes scales. Cost: increases
The builder will also go out on her own and bring back 2 wood every 10 "ticks," in addition to any that the player gets with the cart. Once the builder builds the hut the Silent Forest will become a lonely hut, and you will see the population rise from 0 to (eventually) 4. Each hut holds 4 people and there can be up to 20 huts total. After building the hut, the builder will also learn how to build a lodge and trade post.
LODGE - Unlocks hunting that brings in more meat and furs. Cost: 100 wood, 10 fur, 5 meat
TRADE POST - Allows purchase of scales, teeth, and leather by means of fur. Cost: 300 wood, 100 fur
As you collect resources for these two main buildings the game will flash brief thoughts from the player on the screen. It is important to note that when the village box has an exclamation point after it, that means there is some narrative the game wants to tell you. This will appear in the familiar white text within a black heading at the top of the screen. The game picks up steam here as more buildings are quickly unlocked, but we will ignore them for now until the Lodge and Trade Post are built.
After building the lodge you will notice that under the lonely hut or tiny village tab there are plus/minus boxes listed next to hunter and trapper count. These are fairly self-explanatory and are unlocked by creating the hunting post. Basically what is happening is that the player is assigning people away from simply carrying wood in and instead having them do more specific jobs. The main focus of this game is to create a good balance between these jobs. If you notice that every tick the trapper uses -1 meat to create +1 bait, it is wise then that the hunters, who also create +1 meat apiece, bring in more meat than the trapper consumes. This balance will be prevalent later in the game as well, as each job creates supplies that another profession consumes.
Upon building the trade post the nomads will set up a place to shop and a new item will become available on the main screen. This is the merchant who drives a very hard bargain, and initially offers a compass, scales, and teeth in exchange for furs. The compass will seem weird, but once purchased it allows the user to wander the lands around the tiny village. However, before venturing out very far, a tannery and smokehouse will need to be constructed to provide armor and food for the journey.
TANNERY - Creates leather from fur that can be used in armor. Cost: 500 wood, 50 fur.
SMOKEHOUSE - Turns raw meat into cured meat that can be carried on journeys. Cost: 600 wood, 50 meat.
A Modest Village
At this point the game really starts to slow down as massive amount of resources are needed to obtain anything important. Focusing on village growth is a good plan as it facilitates a steady stream of supplies. At around 5 huts the village will become “A Modest Village,” which doesn’t provide anything other than a change in name. Concentrate on getting enough supplies to build the tannery and smokehouse, as well as amassing enough furs to buy the compass - which is expensive at 400 fur, 20 scales, and 10 teeth. You may encounter the black boxed text in the village becoming darker in subject as it seems to be pushing towards a domineering agenda.
A large population is important because, after building the tannery and smokehouse, there needs to be someone manning them. And, like other jobs, they consume materials to create their own goods. Take your time in building a stable village, even as the mysterious shadowy white text urges you to adventure further into the woods.
A Dusty Path
Once you buy the compass, the Workshop becomes something that the builder can construct. The Workshop builds items that your character carries with them out in the wild such as containers for water, torches, backpacks, weapons, and armor. This quickly becomes the most important building in the game. And finally, those bones and scales that you have been picking up randomly have a purpose. The map is one of the more confusing things I have seen in a while because, just like the rest of the game, it is totally text-based.
A - The village. Home. Safety.
@ - Denotes the player.
H - A house. These can be quite dangerous, but they can contain a lot of valuable loot.
I - An iron mine. Once this is discovered and cleared you can now assign villagers to excavate iron and bring it back to the village.
V - Cave. These are tough and full of tough enemies. Torches are needed to venture into these.
C - Coal Mine. Used to create steel. Mining is identical to the iron mine.
# - Roads. You can walk along them without fearing a random attack.
You will need to take some time wandering around the forest collecting materials and discovering mines. Always be aware of your food and water reserves, as one step consumes water and two consumes one cured meat. If at any point you die in combat or run out of food or water you will magically re-appear at your base with a heavy message of a burdened woman who rescued you. Any progress you made and any items you were carrying at the time of your death are all lost.
Once you obtain a steady supply of steel it is time to venture outside of the relative safety of the forest and into the wasteland. This is where I leave you as the end of this game is something to enjoy unspoiled, but I would suggest stocking up on bolas and rifles as well as plenty of cured meat when you venture into the treeless wilderness.