I used to mine a lot of ore in space way back in the day. I’d hop in my rust-bucket spaceship held together by duct tape and blast off toward the nearest asteroid field where I’d spend minutes scouring for the more precious ores, only for some jerk to come by and blast me out of my cockpit because they could (oh EVE Online, those were the days). “Darkrock Ventures” luckily doesn’t fall into the same repetitive trap that most video games set in space have a habit of falling into…mine, sell, repeat. Rather, it’s a worker placement game that allows players to manipulate dice in a LOT of ways to mine that ore and make some money. Before going any further, I want to thank Ian Stedman from Magic Meeple Games for providing me with a press copy for review purposes.
“Darkrock Ventures” surprised the heck out of me. The minute I opened the box and saw the dice I groaned, knowing that the dice gods would once again curse me with bad luck. They surely did, but it turned out that I had some help in the form of clever game play mechanics that spawned all sorts of possibilities. You see, most of the ore in the game is mined by rolling an exact number. Getting that exact number can be tough with two dice, especially when you have to commit workers before rolling some of said dice (the white dice are rolled before assigning workers & the black & player rig dice are rolled after). That’s where worker placement comes in…there are MANY spots available that allow you to re-roll, flip, and move dice around. Some even manipulate workers and their default placement rules. My vague overview of the way it all comes together doesn’t do the game justice.
For example, as stated above, two white mining dice are rolled first. From these, players have to decide what sum is likely to come up when they roll their rig die/dice AFTER placing their workers. In order to successfully mine, a player must pair any of the white mining dice or the black neutronium die with one of their rig dice and if the sum of any such pairing of two numbers is equal to a spot with one of your matching workers you placed earlier, you get to mine. It makes more sense when visually looking at it in the video below. If you take away anything from this, just know that there are dice rolling at different times and the sum of which you’re trying to manipulate in order to successfully mine. Mining allows you to collect ore which in turn can be sold for cash. The player with the most cash at the end of the game wins.
While players are trying to get the odds to be ever in their favor, they’ll have to contend with marauders. These guys show up to chase your workers away from doing anything on the station, though you can spend neutronium (the least valuable metal) to power shields and protect them. Marauders are optional, but make the game all the more interesting. Speaking of optional, there’s a research deck for game-lasting technologies that players can make use of by assigning workers there as well as Corporate Sponsor cards that define what players start with instead of the default ship & crew compliment. A couple of variants are available in the back of the manual, including a solo/team co-op mode where you all work together as opposed to against each other. The co-op mode definitely adds more to the game and I’m glad the developers made this happen.
“Darkrock Ventures” is one heck of a simple yet strategic worker-placement game. I normally hate dice rolling games that rely on luck, but love exceptions like this where the dice can be manipulated in ways that benefit the player despite a bad roll. It reminds me a bit of “Stone Age” in the sense that workers are committed first before the final dice results are determined. You don’t know what’ll happen until the last second, making any worker placement choice a risk in itself. “Darkrock Ventures” just released with an MRSP of $50, though I’ve seen sales as low as $34 (like on Miniature Market) as of the date of this posting. It’s also a featured game on “Tabletop Simulator” for those of you who “video game”. I’d say that’s fair for what you’re getting here as the replayability is extremely high, what with the optional content and different game modes.
Final Verdict: 9/10