A Review of Deep Rock Galactic (The Cooperative Board Game)

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Deep Rock Galactic is a cooperative board game (based on the video game of the same name) that was on Kickstarter back in March 2022 and promised delivery in December 2022. I just received my copy last week (January 28th or so, 2023), so it’s only about a month late! Maybe this a new trend: last week, we saw Sentinels of the Multiverse: Rook City Renegades deliver on time, and this week we are seeing delivery within a month. That”s really great!

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This is a cooperative board game for 1-4 players, ages 12+, playtime 60-150 minutes. Players become dwarves mining the galactic caves! I have never played the video game that this is based on, so I have no bias for/against the game going in. I just thought it would be fun to play dwarves mining in outer space! Let’s take a look!

Components

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This box is HUGE.

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It’s even bigger than our Thunderstone Quest box!

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Even with the Coke Can above, it’s still not clear how big it is until you put the can right next to the box!

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This is a big box!  It’s a little intimidating to be honest!

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The game box opens with two books:  a rulebook and a Mission Book: See above and below.

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Next comes SO MUCH CARDBOARD to punch out. See above and below.

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Also in that bundle of cardboard is the board.

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Most of the cardboard forms the terrain that you will be putting on the board.

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In that cardboard punchout pack is the Hostile Creatures sheet: this is critical because it’s the only place that describes the monsters! (Even the rulebook doesn’t describe the monsters).  You’ll be referring to this a lot.

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Underneath the cardboard are the dwarf boards: there are exactly 4 dwarves in the game.  These are really nice dual-layer boards, and they show a lot of the rules ON the board:

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Finally, underneath all that cardboard we get three trays.

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The top tray holds the cards, dice, and minerals (I mean, you are dwarves mining for minerals).

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The tray under that holds a bunch of miniatures.

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The third and final tray holds some of the bigger miniatures!  Pretty cool.

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When you see everything on the table, you see why this box is so big!  It’s chock full of pretty cool components.

Miniatures

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This is not a miniatures game per se, it’s just a mining game with dwarves that happens to have lot of miniatures! But the minis are really nice:

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Most of the miniatures are bad guys aliens the dwarves will be fighting in the caves.

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The dwarves themselves have pretty nice miniatures!  See below.

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Overall, the miniatures really enhanced the theme.  They look really cool: and they even match the pictures pretty well!

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See the Scout above with his miniature: his picture matches his mini.

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My only complaint was that the labelling of minis (which mini is which) and where they go (into the trays) was subpar. I made very sure to take a picture of all my miniature trays before I took anything out.  

The minis are pretty distinct, but I thought they could have benefitted from some colored bases or rings at the bottom to help distinguish them (like we saw for Hour of Need in our Comparison of bases for Hour of Need).

Rulebook

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So, the rulebook wasn’t great.  And it seemed to get worse the more we played (as we had to look stuff up).  But it seemed to have a lot of good intentions, and it did do a number of things right.

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It starts with an introduction that has a little bit of a sense of humor: that goes a long way.  But, the Index seems more like a Table of Contents (?): A Table of Contents outlines major sections and where they are, whereas an Index is typically more comprehensive and allows reference to minor points.  So, it’s weird that this first page is labelled as an Index when it should be a Table of Contents.  But, again, at least their heart is the right place: they are trying to organize!

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Great!  The next two pages describe the components!  I wish they had labelled a few more things (there are a lot of tokens and bad guys), but this was pretty good.  At least they showed a picture of most components with a label!

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The gameflow/overview description was great!  The set-up could have been better, but again, at least it was “mostly” labelled and its heart was absolutely in the right place. 

This rulebook has its heart in the right place: it’s showing lots of tables, it’s showing pictures of things.  I can appreciate it is really trying to do the right thing.

The rulebook just felt like it really needed another pass or another rethink.  Even though Combat initiating from the Dwarves well-documented, the combat initiating FROM the Hostile Creatures was really not specified very well (“Hey, roll the Chompy dice … where was that in the rules?“). The Hostile Creature sheet is absolutely critical to playing the monsters, but I also never got a breakdown of that chart.  See below.

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This chart above, THIS CHART is critical to the game, and there was never a  breakdown of it.  You kind of have to infer that the diamond is the hit points.  R is range, M is movement. And how do you notate that per creature?  We have a similar problem we in Batman: The Animated Series Game notating hit points for the bad guys (see our review here). When you have a bunch of bad guys, how do you individually notate their health?  The game says something like”put health tokens next to the creature“, but what do you do when you have  lots of them?  And the creatures move?  

This was a 1-or-2 GRRR rulebook, but the humor and a lot of other things done right helped quell too much anger.

I didn’t love this rulebook, but I forgave it a number of problems, at least in the beginning.  It’s kind of, mostly, all there, and there is lot of good stuff (good charts, good examples), but it really needs another pass: some rules seem either left off or very poorly specified.  It got more frustrating to look stuff up the longer we played.

Gameplay

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Once you get past the daunting nature of the box, the minis, and the “not-great” rules, the game actually moves pretty quickly.  It’s not a super complex game from a gameflow perspective.

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The back of the rulebook gives a nice summary of play: action/event/action/event/…. until players win or lose!  Once you get going, the game does flow well.

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The End of The Game can come about in many ways: see the rulebook page above. The Dwarves generally win if they complete their mission (usually mining and getting back to the start position).  If all dwarves fall unconscious, then they lose.  If the little swarm track reaches the end, dwarves lose. See the Swarm Track below.

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Each player takes the role of dwarf:

The dwarves all very very different powers and different weapons for fighting in the mines!

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Each dwarf also gets to choose a secondary weapon from the group above.

You can see some of the sense of humor in this game: the secondary weapon can be upgraded to “overclocked” when you turn it over (obviously a nod to the video game).

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Each dwarf also gets two one-shot cards: a Throwable (usually a grenade):

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… and a Rock and Stone (a fun one-shot card).

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These cards form the tools and weaponry of the Dwarf.

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The Set-up from the mission Book (above) shows you how to set-up the mission, and what the objectives are.

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Dwarves generally get three action points to do what they want: in three words, they can Move, Mine, or Fight.  IMG_5551

MINE: When the dwarves mine, they get shared resources to the MULE (middle space above) or carve spaces out or grab stuff.

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MOVE: When the dwarves move, they move around the board trying to get to minerals scattered about.  Stalagmites and pits block the way, but they can be mined through.

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FIGHT: Finally, the dwarves can fight!  Each of their weapons has a range and a set of dice they roll.

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For example, the Bulldog Heavy Revolver above has range 5, and you roll the blue die to see the effects.  Empty rolls usually mean miss, other symbols typically denote hits with other effects.

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Damage persists, so it may take a few tries to take out some of the bigger hostiles.

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After a dwarf goes, they flip an event card (The Event deck is the “Bad News” deck): typically the swarm track advances and other stuff happens. See above for an example Event card.

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When the Swarm track lands on a creature (see the lit bug above), you must draw a Swarm card!

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Typically, the Swarm card (above) adds creatures to the board.

Then the next dwarf goes!  That’s basically it! Dwarf activates, Event Card, next Dwarf activates, Event Card, … until the game ends!  

The game looks very daunting (size of the box, size of miniatures, rulebook length and grumpiness, amount of components, mission set-up), until you get to the core of the game.  At its core, it’s a very straight-forward game.

Solo Play

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Luckily, Deep Rock Galactic follows Saunders’ Law and includes several variants for solo play.  The obvious variant is to take two dwarves and alternate  playing between them.  The second variant involves choosing just one dwarf, but also playing a simplified robot known as BOSCO.

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BOSCO is a robot who helps you!  See above, left.  Frankly, BOSCO is almost like another dwarf, but can’t be killed (unless he revives you) and can’t run out of ammo. Basically, BOSCO is a simplified dwarf.  The rules for solo play and BOSCO were about a page a half in the rulebook.  Usually, I choose to alternate between two characters, but each dwarf is fairly complicated to operate, so I chose to use the “simplified” rules for BOSCO. 

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Look at the rules for a dwarf: the Scout (above) has extra rules for Light-Footed, Grappling Hook, Flare Shot, primary weapon and secondary weapon.  Honestly, I forgot to use a lot of my special abilities until the very end, and I only had one dwarf to operate!  The simplified rules for BOSCO worked pretty well, especially for a first play.   I could have easily gotten by with alternating between two dwarves for solo rules, but I am really glad the publisher included the BOSCO rules.

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My first solo play went pretty well.  It felt like it was a little story.

“Me and BOSCO beamed down to the planet.”

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“Our first priority was taking out the Grunt spiders at the front.”

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A well-launched throwable (SOIL SMASHER) did what we needed and took them (and some Stalagtites) out!”

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“Our next priority was to start finding the things we needed to accomplish our mission!”

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“BOSCO can’t pick up stuff, he can only mine it for me so I can take care of other things.  So he went out ahead to start doing some mining while I searched for the Apoca Blooms we needed.”

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“That worked well, until some really snarky creatures appeared!”

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After we had a few more firefights, we raced to the exit: we choose NOT to fight the Spitfall Infector and just ran to the exit!”

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“Me and BOSCO made it out of there alive … I wonder how we would have fared if we fought the Spitball…”

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The solo game was quite fun: BOSCO was easy to control, my turns were fun, and the Bad News deck was well-specified with minimal maintenance. Everything moved quickly, mostly.  The rules are terrible on a few axes, so they game did have to come to a grinding halt a few times as I tried to look up some rules.  This delay will go away (I hope) with further plays, but I also just had to make some calls a few times (“I think this means that: let’s just move forward“).  I really really wish the rulebook were better.  

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It was fun playing a Galactic Dwarf.  I think I’d play again solo.  

Cooperative Game

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Unfortunately, the rulebook issues became even more glaring as we played cooperatively.  Every time we did something, it would seem like clarifications were needed!  Something I had perhaps glossed over in my solo play became glaring when exposed to the light of the group!  We’d frequently say: “Pass me the rulebook while you take your turn, and I’ll try to find that rule!

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We enjoyed how each Dwarf was very different and had lots of different powers: Teresa chose the Engineer.

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With three players, we fit pretty well on the table.  See above and below.  I think a fourth player might have caused us to rearrange significantly.  It may not have even fit?

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See Sam above finding out “There’s no player reference cards!!!”  So, without any player reference cards, the rulebook got passed around A LOT.  I remember thinking “I wish I could sleeve the rulebook: it gets touched more than any card does!!!

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But Deep Rock Galactic looks pretty cool when set-up for a 3-player game.

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See Sam again consulting the rulebook while Teresa waits for a rule clarification.

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And that was kind of the summary of our experience with the game: play should have moved quickly, but we kept burying our noses in the rulebook looking up clarifications.

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In the end, we had some fun, but it took us three hours to play Scenario 2 with three people!  Granted, it was a learning game, but I had played it before and was able to teach most of the core flow, and my friends are smart/experienced gamers.  

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I asked my friends straight-up: “Would you play this again?” The answer from both was “sure, but I wouldn’t suggest it”.  Most of that hesitation was from the frustration with the rulebook.

Dwarves, Dwarves, Dwarves

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So, Deep Rock Galactic is a thematic game: it’s not a complex miniatures game, although the miniatures in the game enhance the theme quite  bit.  This is a dice-chucking, thematic, “pick-up-and-deliver” game with lots of combat. The combat is based on dice: with so many dice, there are bound to be bouts of randomness that will make the game not fun.

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We did review a different dwarf game a few months ago: The Siege of Runedar by Reiner Knizia.  See that review here.  One of my main complaints of the game was that there might be too much randomness from the dice there.  I think after seeing Deep Rock Galactic, I have a little more appreciation for the more controlled randomness in Siege of Runedar verus the more chaotic randomness in Deep Rock Galactic.  I still think Runedar should allow players to keep cards between rounds (to help mitigate the randomness), but Runedar seems much less random by comparison now.

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Deep Rock Galactic is a thematic dice-chucker.  It’s light, fun, moves quick, and just a fun little romp. It’s supposed to be a little random!

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If I want a lightweight, dice-chucking romp with dwarves, I choose Deep Rock Galactic.  If I want a more strategic game with dwarves, The Siege of Runedar is the better choice (with our one house rule of keeping cards).

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What I really want is a way to use some of the very thematic miniatures and mining elements from Deep Rock Galactic in the Siege of Runedar!  I would love to see some crossover mode where you could get the best of both games!

Conclusion

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I am kind of all over the place for Deep Rock Galactic: it really depends on what mood I am in.  If I want a lightweight, dice-chucking, mining, and fighting experience, Deep Rock Galactic is good game to play!  The game has such cool miniatures and components: it’s very thematic. It will be a 7/10 when I am in that mood! The game has a real nice flow once the rules are absorbed.

But when I want something more strategic with better rules, Deep Rock Galactic drops to a 6/10 … “It’s just too random and the rulebook should have been much better“. Then I’ll go play The Siege of Runedar and lament its lack of thematic elements:  “I wish Siege of Runedar had some awesomeness from Deep Rock Galactic“.

Decide for yourself: what are you in the mood for?

I’ll end my conclusion with a direct quote from Sam: he texted me after he digested his play!

Thoughts:

I’ll rate deep rock galactic a 6 – I had fun as the gunner and spraying bullets at the enemies but wish the rules were better organized and clarified. I like that everyone was unique and specialized even if we didn’t use our abilities to the fullest.

Would bump up to 7 if there was a good faq/errata/reference. Would play again if others were inclined (and might suggest it if we found a good faq/errata/reference)

(Incidentally, Teresa independently told me the same thing: “6, maybe would upgrade to 7 if rules were better”)

Appendix A: Game Mat Discussion

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For this Kickstarter, I got the game mat.  

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It looks great on the table: see above.  You can tell it’s a mat by the rounded corners.

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But the game also comes with a board.

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You can tell the board by the square corners.

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The board and the Game Mat are virtually identical!  See above:  the board is on top of the mat with the Mat peeking out at the top.

I like it when Game Mats do “something different”, but this Mat is just a replica of the main board. The only real difference is that you can have the board off-the-table slightly, whereas the Game Mat must fit completely on the table.

See above as the game board can “slightly” be off the table to give the players more room.  I like the Game Mat, it’s good quality, and it looks cool, but I don’t think it added a whole lot to my experience: in fact, I think forcing me to use the Mat gave me less table space.  I like Game Mats that give me something “extra”.  For example, I love the Game Mat for Aeon’s End because it really helps me organize all the cards! See Below.

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I don’t think you need the Game Mat for Deep Rock Galactic. Sure, it’s cool and spongey, but it doesn’t really give you anything extra.   The board that comes with it looks exactly the same, and it can enable more table space!  This is a big game!  That little extra space you get from putting the board over the edge can make a big difference!!  I dunno.  If you like Game Mats better, it’s still nice.

Appendix B: Repacking

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How do you fit everything back in?  I had a little trouble fitting everything back in, until I decided to reuse the Punchout Skeletons to hold the bigger terrain pieces! Not the small ones: just the ones with about 8 hexes or more. See above and below.  

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By placing the terrain pieces BACK IN the Punchout Skeletons, all the original pieces fit back in the box in a controlled and snug manner.  

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Without the Punchout Skeletons, the extra terrain pieces just flop around and do not fit in well.

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In the end, I found that it was just a little bit of extra work to use the Punchout Skeletons for the terrain pieces. This also allowed me to keep the rulebook and mission book flat in the box.

Caveat Emptor. I am a proponent of keeping Punchout Skeletons: see our blog entry here. This is just another reason to keep all your Punchout Skeletons: controlled storage of larger terrain pieces.

One thought on “A Review of Deep Rock Galactic (The Cooperative Board Game)

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