Big Dig cover


Reading Time: 4 minutes

Whether you’re hoping to strike oil or excavating archaeological treasures, you gotta dig deep.

What Is Big Dig?

Big Dig is a draft-and-draw game for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 10 minutes to play. It retails for $14.95 and is available in stores and online now. The gameplay is fairly easy to learn, with a family-friendly theme, so the age rating is about right. Even younger kids may be able to play with some assistance.

Big Dig components
Big Dig components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Big Dig Components

Big Dig is a pretty compact game with just a few components:

  • 4 Boards
  • 4 Dry-erase markers
  • 5 Digging cards
  • 10 Goal cards

The boards are small, about 3.5″ x 4″, with a glossy surface so you can write on them with the dry-erase markers. All four are identical: a small “above ground” illustration at the top, and then the rest consists of a grid of sand, rocks, and various other elements like red coins and pterodactyl fossils and so on. The boards are also double-sided, with a slightly different layout on the back. My only minor complaint is that on one side, the oil tanker isn’t aligned exactly with the squares below it, which may matter if you get the “Deliver Oil” goal card.

Big Dig goal cards
A few of the Big Dig goal cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The dry erase markers are also pretty tiny, and the cards are all small Euro size cards. Digging cards are double-sided, with various patterns shown on either side; goal cards just show an icon with text below it.

The whole thing comes in a pocket-sized box that makes it easy for travel. I will note, however, that the box lid can be a bit tough to remove because it’s a tight fit and the box contents aren’t heavy enough to pull the box down if you lift by the lid. For boxes of this size (with light contents inside), I’d prefer to have some finger cut-outs on the box lid.

Big Dig game in progress
Mark your tunnels however you want—draw shapes, color in squares, or just X out squares! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to Play Big Dig

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to be the first to complete all three goal cards.

Big Dig setup
3 goal cards and 5 dig cards—set up and ready to go! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Shuffle the goal cards and place 3 face-up in the center of the play area, along with the 5 digging cards (flip a couple over to randomize the mix of which patterns are showing).

Give each player a player board and a dry-erase marker, and pick a random starting player.

Big Dig 3-player game in progress
3-player game in progress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Gameplay

On your turn, you take one of the digging cards from the center and then “dig” that pattern on your player board. You must dig either from the surface (at the top of your board) or extending from one of your existing holes. You may rotate or mirror-image the pattern, but you must dig the entire pattern without overlapping existing holes, the edges of the board, the two large objects (the fossil or the tablet), or the dark grey “stone” squares.

Alternatively, when you take a card, you may “explode” one square on your board (again, connected to the surface or an existing hole): you may explode anything except the fossil and the tablet, so this is a way to remove the stones.

If it’s your turn to take a digging card and there aren’t any available, everyone puts their digging cards back, flipped over to the other side, and then you choose one.

There are various goals available: some are just about digging up all of the coins or emeralds; some require you to excavate the fossil or tablet, in which case you must dig all the way around the item. There are goals to deliver water or oil—complete a continuous path from the water or oil puddle near the bottom of the board to the water tower or oil tanker on the surface. You might need to dig out the lighter beige squares, or connect the two pipes on the left and right edges of the board.

Big Dig shapes
I connected the pipes and excavated the tablet! Now to explode one more stone. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Game End

The game ends immediately when a player has completed all three goal cards, and wins!

(For expert players: dig an extra hole according to your player turn order when the game begins: first player digs 1 square, second player digs 2 squares, and so on.)

Why You Should Play Big Dig

You may have noticed that these roll-and-write, flip-and-fill, draft-and-draw games are pretty popular these days, and there are a lot of them to choose from. One of the selling points for Big Dig, somewhat ironically, is its small size. The boards are a little smaller than standard postcards, and the cards themselves are those half-sized cards, so this is a game that’s very portable.

Big Dig dig cards
5 double-sided dig cards provide a variety of shapes. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Using polyomino shapes to fill a grid isn’t a new idea, but Big Dig uses the randomized goal cards to give you different priorities each time you play. Drafting the dig cards means that even though everyone has the same map to work with, you can’t copy somebody else’s work, because you have a different shape to dig with. That gives a lot of room for choices, both in the card you take (and what you leave for your rivals) and in where you’ll use that shape on your map.

Since it’s a race game—first person to the goal wins—I highly recommend using the “expert rules” where you get to dig extra holes if you’re not the first player, because it helps balance out the game a little. Otherwise, once everyone knows how the game works, it doesn’t seem as fair if the first player won and everyone else was a single turn away from winning.

Overall, Big Dig is a fairly simple, straightforward implementation of the draft-and-draw game. It doesn’t seem groundbreaking (other in the thematic sense) but it’s a solid, fun game that’s easy to teach. I like the way the randomized goal cards and the double-sided maps let you mix things up so the game isn’t the same every time you play, and that it’s the sort of game you can take and play just about anywhere, as long as you have a place to display the dig cards. Since the boards themselves are cardboard, you don’t even need a table for those.

If you like the current trend of writing/drawing games, you might want to add Big Dig to your collection!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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