Big Dig (Game Review by Brandon Kempf

  • Designers: Shaun Graham & Scott Huntington
  • Artists: Nate Call & Katie Welch
  • Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 5-15 minutes
  • Times Played: 4


                          -Booker T

We all, at one time or another, have fantasies about being excavators, or treasure hunters, in the same vein as Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. Being out in the field excavating priceless artifacts, or discovering gold or diamonds. Are we going to accomplish that dream here? No, but we are going to be excavating via a choose and mark mechanism that is somewhat like another game that released this year, Silver & Gold

In Big Dig, two to four players are going to race to complete three goals that are revealed at the beginning of the game. The first to successfully complete all three goals is the winner, and the best treasure hunter around. 

So, I called Big Dig a choose and mark game, what does that mean? In the game, each player is going to have a player board that is exactly the same as their opponents’. On this board are several squares that are going to be marked out, thus the “marking.” Some of the squares will have special things in them, such as amethysts, or water, or oil. These are the things that are going to be raced to in order to successfully complete the goal cards. 

How do you “mark” your player board? First off, the board is a dry erase board, and you will have a dry erase marker that came with the game. Secondly, there are five cards in the middle of the play area, these five cards are effectively your “digging cards”. Each card as a different shape on it that you are going to mark off of your player board when you select it. You can rotate or mirror the shape in order to best fit your needs on your board. Just don’t flip the card over, that comes later. Each turn, a player is going to select one of those digging cards and mark out the dig, keeping the card they selected in front of them. Or, you can use some explosives. You see, most spots a simple digging is good enough to clear an area, but there are some rocky areas where you need to use explosives. So instead of choosing a digging card on your turn, you would simply mark an x through a rock that you are exploding on your board. 

There are a couple of rules to follow when excavating. At the start, you will be starting from the top edge of your player board. After that initial turn, everything else you mark off has to either start from the top row, or adjacent to something that has been previously excavated. 

When the last digging card is taken from the available cards, after the player has finished their turn, everyone returns these cards to the middle of the playing area for the next person to choose from, but in doing so, they flip them over to their opposite side to reveal different shapes for excavating. If, after completing a turn, someone has completed their third goal card, the game ends and they celebrate their win, probably by drinking water or something. Excavating is hard work, after all. 

Another slight iteration on the Roll and Write genre is showcased here. This time with a stagnant selection process. Meaning that it’s always going to be the same five things to choose from, every other round. Silver & Gold had a deck that you flipped and everyone marked the shape on their player boards, but in Big Dig only one person gets to use the shape each turn. Slight changes to make something that seems familiar, a little bit different. 

But different isn’t always better, and it isn’t always more exciting, and that’s where Big Dig falls a bit short for me. It’s just not that exciting to play. In the end, everyone is shooting for those same three goals to be completed on boards that are exactly the same. So more than anything, this is a game where you win if you are the most efficient, and most of the time that efficiency is going to be through selecting the digging card that covers the most land. Also, a lot of that efficiency may be covered by being the first player. In a game like this, where everyone’s goals are exactly the same, and their boards are exactly the same, it just makes sense that the first person is usually going to have an upper hand. This is partially why after a play we kind of ignored the initial placement rule where you have to dig from the top down at the start and I just allow folks to dig wherever they want to with that first dig. That’s not the rule, that’s me changing things up, but I think it kind of helps add a bit of individual strategy to the game. There is a “variant” in the box as well that allows for players not in the first position to dig a number of squares based on their position in turn order, I don’t know that it adds much, but it does seemingly help the other players compete from a position other than first. 

It’s simply innocuous, and I think that we want more than innocuous to occupy our time, we want to think and we want to have fun while playing. Not just to be playing because it’s there. Every game of Big Dig is going to always be close, and it’s usually going to be where everyone will be able to end the game on the same turn, so there is some “excitement” there, but that’s not necessarily a good kind of excitement. 

Other than that, I think this is a fine small box game from a company that I trust to bring great games to the table, which is what makes this a bit of a disappointment for me. Maybe that’s just me having my sights set to high for something that is ultimately a five-to-fifteen minute game. But there is an awful lot of competition around for those five to fifteen minutes of game time, and Big Dig is going to have a difficult time digging out from under the pile of other games to see the table on a regular basis. 

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers:

Alan H: I played this once which was enough. There wasn’t enough fun to be had in the 20 minutes that it took.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it.

I like it. 

Neutral. Brandon

Not for me…Alan H

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1 Response to Big Dig (Game Review by Brandon Kempf

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