Review: Caverna: The Cave Farmers

Caverna review

Farming is tough. Especially in the old days, back when having lots of children was the best way to get cheap labour. If things were hard, feeding those extra mouths is not easy. What’s a young dwarf family to do but try to make the best of things?

Caverna is a worker placement game created in the mind of Uwe Rosenberg. It’s the spiritual successor to Agricola which was my introduction to worker placement games. Opinions are divided as to which farming, worker placement, game is the best.

For the TL;DR version click here

Opening the box

Specs on the box:

  • 1-7 players
  • 30 – 210min
  • Ages 12+

It’s a big, heavy box. Very heavy. That’s because it’s chock full of euro goodness. There’s a plethora of components. Stacks of wooden pieces from resources and veggies to sheep and dogs. Baggies and baggies full of cardboard chits. The board itself is in multiple pieces, some are double sided and some are not.

Caverna review
Packing the box is either art or science….initially I thought I was going to need magic.

There are also double sided player boards and a pair of rule books. One is an appendix, both are well written and easy to read. Finally there are action cards, which add some variety to the different stages of the game.

Sleeves

There’s no real need for sleeves in this game as there is very little shuffling. If you want to protect your cards from unwanted spills then I’ve sized my cards to fit these. They are slightly taller than the cards but that will help against liquids.

mdg-Euro size 59mm x 92mm

Theme

So you and your spouse have ventured out on your own. You’ve found yourself a lovely mountain (did I mention that you’re a dwarf?) to live under. Your front door overlooks a lovey valley which you plan to turn into a beautiful farm, so you can feed yourself while you mine rubies in the mountains core.

Over on the opposite peak the Joneses have setup their home, and well, you can’t really been seen with them having a better home than you , can you?

Gameplay

Setup can be a chore on this one. There are a lot of components that need to be sorted out. I’ve got a tackle box which I just leave on the table for most of the pieces. The board itself needs to be built; this depends on the number of players. 1-7 is handy size.

Caverna review
The board of actions is built with these, there are reminders on them of which ones are needed for each game.

Once everything is laid out and the action deck is constructed, each player must select a colour of components and grab a player board.

Each player starts the game with 2 family members in their home and takes turns sending each of them out into the world to perform different tasks in order to return with the fruits of their labour. Being a worker placement game each action can only be used by 1 family member at a time. If someone got there before you then tough, you have to do something else this turn. At higher player counts there are actions which let you copy other actions, at a cost.

Most actions have a dual function eg, collecting wood usually means that you have sent someone down into the valley to chop down some trees, this creates pastures and for your farm animals and fields for your crops. Having someone get stone, means sending them into the mountain where they carve out spaces that you can use.

Each turn a new action is added to the board. One of these actions lets your furnish a room. Remember the stone and wood that you collected previously? Well you can use those to construct bedrooms for when you have children or other rooms that provide in game benefits.

Caverna review
At the start of the game your board is rather empty…

Every action that you perform allows you to do something that will either gain your victory points or enable you to gain points later. The player with the most victory points after the last action is added to the board is the winner. Scoring, at the end of the game can be a chore but there’s a handy app on the Play store that makes it easy.

It’s not as easy as it sounds though. You have a family; you need to feed your family. To do this you will either need to have veggies or animals at hand that you can eat. Eat too many of them and you might starve in future turns, and you can deprive yourself of victory points by eating too much of your produce, but more family members means that you can do more things in the limited number of turns so you need to find a balance.

Caverna review
As the game progresses things get rather full…

Conclusion

Caverna is all about options. There are just so many options available each turn that you will find, in your initial games, players suffering from Analysis Paralysis. You can also find the downtime growing especially at higher player counts. The game can go long but with experience it does not have too.

Some also find the rules to be complex. There are a few If-then-else scenarios, which can cause confusion. I have to say that it did not bug me. I guess it’s because I deal with that kind of logic for a living that it’s easy for me to remember and deal with. I can see how it can be a problem though. Nothing that playing a few more games won’t resolve 😉

Caverna review
Most animals can be kept on pastures, Dogs however can roam free. They are a dwarfs best friend, next to his axe.

Worker placement games are all about forward planning. What can I do now so that I can score big 2-3 turns down the line? There’s very little left to chance. The deck of actions that you draw from each turn, is divided into phases, what cards will appear in each phase is known, just the order is not. Should I take the first player action now so I can do X next turn? Will I be able to feed everyone if I do that?

I love it. It’s like you’re playing a puzzle against other people. There’s also quite a bit of variety, at the different player counts there are different actions available. On top of that you can build specialist rooms in your house which grant you some big benefits there’s 2 different sets of these. There is an easy set and an advanced set for experienced players.

Caverna review
Donkeys are content to live in the mines. You can actually make them work in the mines too.

Which do I prefer, Agricola or Caverna?

Not an easy question. Both are really good games. Agricola feels a little more cutthroat though, you’re on the verse of starvation almost every turn. Caverna feels a bit lighter but there’s so many different strategies that you can employ that you will never want for variety. I like both and will play either 1 anytime, if I could chose only 1 though. I guess I would go with Caverna. It just feels more accessible and I prefer the artwork. I used to prefer Agricola because of it felt tenser but I like the options that Caverna brings to the table.

Additionally in Caverna you can send your family off to become adventures wielding their weapons to bring back the spoils of their adventures. Ok, it’s not quite that grand, sometimes they find a dog, and other times they can find your furniture to furnish a room. There’s about 16 different rewards that they can bring back and it’s not random, you select what they bring you based on their level.

Can I play this at a braai?

Easily. Often you will have time on your hands to go and turn the chops. In WP games I’ll often pick 3-4 actions that I’d like to do and then just use one of the ones that are left. Provided I don’t forget what they were 😉

Caverna review
The blacksmithing action makes weapons and sends you off to find loot!
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