Space, the final frontier…for mining. After seeing a couple of games recently about space mining pop up (Super Motherload and Periorbis) on Kickstarter, I was worried that Darkrock Ventures from Magic Meeple and Gamelyn Games would get lost in the mix. But with my confidence in Michael Eskue, designer of Council of Verona, I broke out this colorful game looking forward to a grand time in the vacuum of space and I have returned, ready to report on my experience. Michael Bay, eat your heart out.
Darkrock Ventures follows a handful of mining crews based in the far reaches of space. Valuable minerals and metals are tough to extract from the asteroids that populate our galaxy, but on top of that, aliens have been alerted to the mining and are not happy. Frequent raids assault the miners who are just trying to do their jobs, which is to strip those space rocks of everything precious they have. Imagine if the crew from Armageddon decided to stay on that asteroid instead of blowing it up. Yeah, it’s kinda like that.
Each crew is fighting to become the biggest money-maker in the galaxy by assigning workers to different locations around the board, from mineral-rich space rocks to Human Resources where more workers can be fired hired to help out. Hey, not everything about space is sexy. There’s always paperwork. Mining in zero gravity requires special equipment and ideal circumstances, represented by Rig and Power dice that players pair together to match numbered asteroids on the board. Unlucky rolls can be modified in many ways through rerolls, addition/subtraction, or even with Vortex Drills. Those suckers are crazy. Harvested resources can then be stored and exported for cash, helping to purchase future crew or storage space. Once three asteroids have been depleted, the game ends one round later, with the richest crew taking first place.
The rounds are fairly simple to follow and the game mechanisms are so easy that most players will get it after that first round of asking what each space does. The first thing that happens is that the Leader (fancy term for the player who goes first) rolls two Power Dice to depict the mining conditions on the six asteroids that are even numbered from 2 to 12. The #2 and #12 asteroid house the rarest and most valuable metals, while the middling #6 and # have lots of cheap iron to go around. The Power Dice forecast which asteroids are most likely to reward crew assigned there and the competition can be fierce. Everybody wants a piece of the action.
Next, players take turns assigning a single crewmember to an empty location on the board or to a space that already has one of their own working there. This way players can double up on actions or asteroid mining, risking wasting two workers in hopes of a larger payout. There are spaces that can unlock more storage for resources and a space that lets you become the leader for the rest of the round. Players have to prioritize their crew placement because once a space has a rival worker, it is very inefficient to go there too using other spaces like the Rover or Delegation. Later in the game, players can hire Captains that function as powerful workers and block any other enemy workers from sneaking in. Captains don’t take any guff from anyone.
Once all of the workers have been placed, a third die is rolled and placed near the Power Dice. This Neutronium Die is very volatile and can be rerolled by players willing to spend neutronium to do so. Neutronium is no Unobtanium and is pretty plentiful in space, but is also very useful when it comes to defending your crew from aliens (more on that later). The Leader now rolls their own Rig Die and calls back their crewmembers in any order they want. In order to mine an asteroid, a player’s Rig Die is paired with a die in the center to match an a rock their crew is working on. Don’t worry though, because Neutronium can be mined easily from asteroids if no combos can be made otherwise. If you don’t want to rely too heavily on luck, you can also assign workers to the solar cells to harvest solar energy that builds up the longer you leave a worker there. There’s rarely a turn that feels utterly wasted, which is nice considering how competitive the game is with other players.
Once a player exports resources for the first time, aliens are alerted to the mining operations and will run raids on stations and asteroids. Sometimes these attacks can be predicted by rolling doubles at the beginning of the round, but most of the time players have to be prepared by having Neutronium to activate shields and protect your workers. If you are unable or unwilling to spend a resource, all workers on attacked spaces are returned without accomplishing their task, so be careful about placing all of your crew in one area without backup shields to activate. These aliens are another random element to a game that already relies on dice heavily, but it didn’t seem like overkill, though it sometimes punishes those in last place. It’s up to you to decide how much luck you want in your games and Darkrock Ventures does have a bit.
The end of the game has a weird situation where a player knows they cannot mine and export resources in time and they “let go” their crew and Captain in order to make a few quick space bucks. It’s funny, but also weird and I can’t help but think that is a little bit of a problem in an otherwise good game. There is also a worry about “the rich get richer” when players can only unlock more Rig Dice by reaching a certain dollar amount. The faster you do that, it becomes a lot harder to slow you down. But for how light Darkrock Ventures is, I’m not too concerned.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in space, mining platinum and fighting off aliens. The game looks amazing with diverse crewmembers depicted on helpful player boards and really shows off a colorful side of space. Darkrock Ventures is a solid enterprise into the large world of space mining. Check it out when it hits Kickstarter on July 14th.
These are prototype components and do not represent the final product, though I like the star stickers. I’ll probably add those to my real copy.