Co-op shooter Deep Rock Galaxy was first released on PC back in 2018. He has a dedicated online fan base and many dedicated fans, but this is not a video game review. This is a review of a board game with exactly the same name.
And the name is not the only thing that unites them. Whereas many of the board game adaptations I cover here tend to be more concerned with the spirit of the video game than its literal interpretation., Deep Rock Galactic’s desktop experience, despite its move to a turn-based system, very similar to its digital one.
You and three other players control space dwarves heading into a dark cave to drill for gems. So far, video games. Then you will find those caves full of alien bugs that you need to mow down. Again, just like in a video game. Then you must grab those gems and get the hell out of there. You can see where this is going.
The difference here, of course, is that in a video game this takes place in left 4 Dead– like crazy when players are running around in real time playing a crazy shooter. The board game is much more relaxing as it shifts to a system where players can take turns and work in caves at their own time.
Deep Rock Galaxy looks and plays like many other modern dungeon games since Descent to Imperial attack. Everyone gets action points that they can use to move around and interact with things (“interaction” includes “shooting insects in the face”), everyone gets unique weapons and abilities they can use, and as expected in 2023 for a licensed game, everything from gnomes to bugs and even stalagmites is represented by a set of incredibly detailed, extremely enjoyable miniatures.
(NOTE: The game comes in two editions. The standard version only has plastic miniatures for the gnomes, while the more expensive Deluxe version I’ve played has miniatures for everything.).
Where it’s trying to do its thing, and match the feel of the video game (if not the pace) at the same time, this is how the actions of the enemy are triggered. Instead of basing an opponent moving on initiative, or forcing them to move after all players have done so, in Deep Rock Galaxy each time a dwarf ends his turn, he draws an event card, and this almost always causes an enemy to spawn and/or move.
It may seem unfair for them to appear on the board so often and move before all the players have had a chance to react, but it’s a fantastic job to make you feel exactly like in a video game, in that you’re constantly surrounded by things crawling out . walls. And in any case, this is rarely unfair, because every gnome is loaded with very cool (and powerful) a weapon that delights in smashing huge chunks of any hordes of insects by picking them up close enough to you.
The key in a board game, just like in a video game, is the balance between your need to get a certain amount of resources and the need to keep destroying enemies in order to stay alive. Lean too far into one of these approaches and you’ll fail the mission, either because you didn’t get the goods in time (every level has a time limit) or because… you’re all dead.
I love video games and dungeon crawling, so for the most part I really enjoyed playing. Deep Rock Galaxy. The tension between the game’s two imperatives is constant and perfectly balanced, and combat – the combination of your powerful weapons and hordes of huge plastic miniatures that you can move around and drop off the board upon death – is one of the most fun. I’ve had ages with this type of game.
Also, I know that people (myself included!) get tired of the fact that every game comes with a bunch of miniatures, in this case they are very welcome, not only because they are so detailed and solid, but also because the game also has a MULE that you throw your little jewels at, the tactile experience is so wonderful that it may have become the highlight of the whole game for me.
However, it should be noted that, despite its price and genre, deep rock it’s not the long-term desktop experience you might expect. While the idea of a dungeon crawler with lots of miniatures might raise expectations for a multi-day campaign, Deep Rock Galaxy it’s really just a bunch of individual missions that can be completed in an hour or so, depending on how many players are taking part (another cool thing about the “bad guys leave at the end of each player’s turn” system is that it’s perfect scaled for the number of people at the table).
As long as there is technically the campaign is just a short challenge to complete all the missions in order without dying – and it’s not a storytelling game, it’s still a bit odd to pull out such a huge box and tweak it for what is essentially a mid-length session game.
Is not problem, just something to note ahead of time if you’re thinking of picking it up or playing it. You should also be aware that even though this is a very literal adaptation of a video game license, it absolutely does not require familiarity with the digital version of the game. Deep Rock Galaxy anything. As long as you know you’re a space dwarf, drilling and mining gems, and shooting bugs, you’re good to go.
As far as my only real criticism of the game is that its documentation is one of the most disappointing I’ve come across in a while, due to the lack of a proper quick start guide and the separation of important information between individual rules and mission books, which made our first mission a very slow syllable. Indeed, it took us forever to find out how the enemy system worked in general (pretty important info!), so if you’re playing it and have the time, I’d 100% recommend watching the online rules explanation beforehand.
There’s nothing revolutionary about Deep Rock Galaxy. As I mentioned above, this is another dungeon crawler, another licensed adaptation, and another game that (depending on the version) has a ton of miniatures. But video game fans will find a tabletop conversion that definitely makes co-op play even more beer-friendly. and being in the room at the same time while everyone else will just find a solid night game by exploding space bugs and looting treasures.