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Deep Rock Galactic: The Board Game: The Kotaku Review

Co-op shooter Deep Rock Galactic was first released on PC in 2018. It has a devoted following online and countless loyal fans, but this is not a video game review. This is a review of the board game with, confusingly, the exact same name.

And the name isn’t the only thing the two have in common. While many of the board game adaptations I cover here are more concerned with the spirit of the video game than its literal interpretation, Deep Rock Galactics tabletop experience, despite the shift to a turn-based system, is all similar to its digital.

You and up to three other players take control of space dwarfs heading into a dark cavern to drill for gems. So much for video game. You will then find those caves full of alien insects that you have to mow down. Again, just like the video game. Then you need to get those gems and get out of there. You can see where this is going.

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Image: MOOD

The difference here, of course, is that this takes place in the video game in a Left 4 deadlike frenzy, as players run around in real-time while playing a frantic shooter. The board game is much more relaxing, as it shifts to a system where players can take turns and work their time through the caves.

Deep Rock Galactic looks and plays, like so many other modern day dungeon crawling games, from Origin until Imperial attack. Everyone gets action points they can use to move around and interact with things (“interacting” also includes “shooting bugs in the face”), everyone gets unique weapons and powers to use and, as expected in 2023 for a licensed game, everything—from the dwarves to the bugs and even down to the stalagmites—is represented by a series of incredibly detailed, hugely satisfying miniatures.

(REMARK: The game comes in two editions. The standard only has plastic minis for the dwarves, while the more expensive deluxe edition, which I played, has minis for everything).

Where this is trying to do its own thing, and match the feel of the video game (if not the pace) at the same time is how enemy actions are triggered. Instead of basing enemy moves on initiative, or having them move after all players have done so, in Deep Rock Galactic every time a dwarf finishes their move, they draw an event card, and these almost always trigger an enemy spawn and/or move.

The build quality of this game is impressive.  Each player card is packed with recessed slots for your ammo and tokens, always a welcome (and premium) move from publishers.

The build quality of this game is impressive. Each player card is packed with recessed slots for your ammo and tokens, always a welcome (and premium) move from publishers.
Photo: Luke Plunkett

Making them appear and move around the board so many times before all players have had a chance to react may sound unfair, but it does a fantastic job of making you feel just like the video game in that you’re constantly inundated with things that crawl out of the walls. And it’s rarely unfair anyway, because every dwarf is full of really cool (and powerful) weapons that satisfactorily blast huge chunks into hordes of insects that get them close enough to you.

The main consideration of the board game, as with the video game, is to balance your need to mine a certain amount of resources and your need to keep destroying enemies to stay alive. Lean too far into either of those approaches and you’ll fail the mission, either because you didn’t mine the resources in time (each level has a time limit) or because… you’re all dead.

I like the video game and I like dungeon crawlers, and so for the most part I loved to play Deep Rock Galactic. The tension between the game’s two imperatives is constant and perfectly balanced, and the combat – a combination of your powerful weapons and hordes of huge plastic miniatures that you can move around and throw off the board when you’re dead – is one of the most fun I’ve spent ages with a game of this type.

Plus, and I know people (myself included!) get tired of every game being shipped with a ton of minis, in this case they are very welcome, not only because they are so detailed and solid, but because the game also includes a MULE that you can drop your little gems into, a tactile experience so amazing that for me it might have been the highlight of the entire game .

Nothing is more fun in this game than dropping gems into your MULE and closing the lid.

Nothing is more fun in this game than dropping gems into your MULE and closing the lid.
Photo: Luke Plunkett

One thing to note, however, is that despite its price and genre, Deep Rock is not the kind of extended table experience you might expect. While the idea of ​​a dungeon crawler with lots of miniatures might raise expectations of a days-long campaign, Deep Rock Galactic is really just a collection of self-contained missions that can be completed in about an hour, depending on how many players join (another cool feature of the “bad guys go at the end of each player’s turn” is that it scales perfectly to the number of people at the table).

While there is technically a campaign – just a short command to complete all the missions in order without dying – and it’s not a game built around a story, it’s still a bit weird to pull out such a huge box and on for what is essentially a mid-session game.

That’s none issue, just something to note beforehand if you’re thinking about picking this up or playing this. You should also know that despite being a very literal adaptation of a video game license, it requires absolutely no familiarity with the digital version of Deep Rock Galactic then. As long as you know you’re a space dwarf that drills and collects gems and shoots bugs at the same time, you’re good to go.

About my only real criticism of the game is that the documentation is some of the most frustrating I’ve come across in a while, the lack of a proper quick start guide and the splitting of the important information into individual rules and mission books, which made our first mission a all splatter slowly. Indeed, it cost us forever to find out how the enemy’s system even worked (pretty important info!), so if you’re playing this and have the time, I 100% recommend checking out an online tutorial on rules beforehand.

Here's a very odd caveat: these are the sharpest minis I've ever come across.

Here’s a very odd caveat: these are the sharpest minis I’ve ever come across.
Photo: Luke Plunkett

There is nothing revolutionary as regards Deep Rock Galactic. As I mentioned above, it’s another dungeon crawler, another licensed adaptation, and another game that (depending on the version) has tons of minis. But fans of the video game will find a tabletop conversion that faithfully converts the co-op experience into one more conducive to drinking beer and being in the room at the same time while everyone else is just finding a solid night of gaming to blow up space bugs and loot some treasure.

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