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Deep Rock Galactic is becoming a frantic co-op adventure board game

The crowdfunding campaign goes live in February

Early versions of the Deep Rock Galactic miniature dwarves, surrounded by aliens. Image: Ghost Ship Games and Mood Publishing
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Deep Rock Galactic, the four-player cooperative first-person shooter, is getting the board game treatment. Initially announced in October, franchise creators Ghost Ship Games are partnering with Mood Publishing to bring the tabletop version to market. The next step is a crowdfunding campaign, which launches on Kickstarter later this month. Polygon spoke with lead designer Ole Steiness and Ghost Ship CEO Søren Lundgaard to learn more.

Deep Rock Galactic launched on Steam in 2018 as an early access game, quickly earning a dedicated fanbase ahead of its formal 2020 launch. The Left 4 Dead-like co-op game puts players in the role of hard-bitten dwarf miners working an asteroid in deep space. Barring the way between them and untold riches is a diverse range of insectoid enemies. Players either make it back to the drilling platform with armloads of loot, or die horribly underneath a tsunami of chitinous claws.

First-person shooter video games are traditionally a challenge to translate to the tabletop. It seems that for every excellent adaptation — like the original Tannhauser or CGE’s Adrenaline — there are four terrible releases. One excellent example served as Steiness’ inspiration: Jonathan Ying’s Doom: The Board Game, published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2016. It blended medium-complexity gameplay with gorgeous production values. Ghost Ship and Mood are headed in the same direction, including large, detailed miniatures and quality of life upgrades like dual-layer player sideboards.

A render of the core game, including dual layer player sideboard and loads of miniatures. Image: Ghost Ship Games and Mood Publishing

“[Doom] was the framework,” Steiness told Polygon. “That was kind of the same tabletop presence we were looking for. We knew it was going to look awesome with all the miniature dwarfs running around. We could have some custom dice, and you can have all the cool minerals that you have to chop out of the cave walls. That was the setup, and then we had to dig in and look at the different features.”

Steiness is perhaps best know as the designer on Champions of Midguard, a hybrid board game that blends some traditionally European gameplay mechanics with rich theming. It’s that same kind of blended approach that he’s taking this time around with Deep Rock Galactic.

“Having both the mineral [extraction] and the creature slaughtering [was difficult],” Steiness said, “and the exploration, [but] I think we succeeded quite well in getting them in there.”

The game includes a mission book, where players will be able to choose which challenge they attempt during a given game session. The action will play out on a hexagonal grid, with dwarfs moving along and performing actions on each of their turns. Different locations will be placed on the map ahead of time, but shuffled and laid face down. You’ll know that you’re heading toward an open chamber inside the rock, for instance, but not exactly what you’ll find once you get there. And that’s where the game departs from other FPS-style dungeon crawlers.

“You carve your own way,” Steiness said. “That’s the unique aspect of the game compared to other dungeon crawlers. You dig your own path, you make your own strategy of where to go and when. [...] That’s your challenge as players: How do you utilize the terrain the best way to survive this encounter?”

A miner digs into the rock, revealing the chamber beyond. Image: Ghost Ship Games and Mood Publishing
Alien critters break through the other side. The dwarf uses fire. It’s super effective. Image: Ghost Ship Games and Mood Publishing

All the while, Steiness said, different events will be popping off from a random deck of cards. Perhaps there’s a hidden loot box to top off your supplies. Maybe there’s a grabber — an insectoid flying enemy — that’s come to pluck one of your dwarfs off their feet. Adding to the tension is a swarm counter that is slowly ticking down, showing roughly how long your dwarfs have to prepare for the next wave of enemy creatures that will come burrowing out of the depths.

Fans of the video game know that much of the meta-layer in Deep Rock Galactic is about improving each of the different classes of dwarfs, unlocking new abilities, and upgrading weapons for the next mission. How will that style of gameplay translate over to the tabletop?

“We discussed that a lot,” said Lundgaard. “It’s definitely a huge part of the computer game. On the other hand, that requires players to play multiple sessions of the board game in a row, just like if you were into Gloomhaven or something like that. Of course, that speaks to a certain type of player, but probably not all the players that we want to get into this. So we decided to focus on making a single session of the board game exciting.”

Lundgaard says upgrades will be available during each session, meaning that dwarfs will end the game more powerful than they began. But those upgrades won’t carry over into the next session.

Another render of the miniatures available in the core set. There’s large and small enemies, plus flyers as well. Image: Ghost Ship Games and Mood Publishing

Like other crowdfunding campaigns, Lundgaard indicated there will be plenty of stretch goals and expansions to the base game available during the campaign. That includes additional miniatures. like MULE, Deep Rock Galactic’s four-legged robotic mascot.

Final pricing is still up in the air, but the team said fans should expect it to be comparable to other recently crowdfunded board game adaptations of video games like Frostpunk, Darkest Dungeon, Skyrim, and The Witcher. A retail release could happen depending on the success of the campaign. You can sign up to be notified when the Kickstarter campaign launches Feb. 10 at 1:00 p.m. EST.

Deep Rock Galactic continues to thrive on Steam and on consoles. The latest patch arrives Feb. 11 for Xbox One. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, where the game just made its debut last month.