In Caverna: The Cave Farmers, each player takes on the role of the leader of a dwarf family, having just moved in and begun a homestead in a snug little cave. You must then, in a limited number of turns, excavate your cave and clear the forest just outside your home. Decisions must be made: will you grow your family? Will you expand your home to fill the cave with rooms? Will you develop an ore and ruby mining empire? Will you feed your family with agriculture or animal husbandry? Will you forge an axe and go adventuring? The choice is yours, but remember that you are also in competition with the other players for the highest score, obtained by crafting the most economical homemaking strategy!
Gameplay consists of a fixed number of rounds, during which each player takes turns assigning his dwarven family members to certain jobs, each of which can (ordinarily) be performed by only one dwarf, among all the players, each round. Each player has a small board in front of him, representing their home cave and the land just outside. It is the goal of each player to maximize score by developing all the spaces on the board with the most efficient and score-accumulating strategy they can devise.
The player accomplishes his clever plans by during his turn assigning one of his dwarves to one of the spaces on the action boards. Plan carefully though! Each action space can only be chosen once per round, so you may have to go with Plan B if someone else chooses the action you wanted. These action boards vary depending upon the number of people playing, and offer opportunities to gather resources (wood, stone, animals, ore, etc.), clear forest or excavate the cave, furnish the cave spaces with room tiles, build pastures, fences, and barns, dig mines, plant crops, and more.
One of the main choices when deciding your strategy will be in how to furnish your cave using room tiles. For example, one strategy may be to keep with two dwarfs only, build four ore mines, which should then have placed in them one donkey each. Furnish one cavern with the Mining Cave, which reduces the food cost by one per donkey in a mine. Since it costs two food per dwarf per round, this will remove the food-gathering burden, allowing to focus on other things, like gathering ore! Along
with this strategy, one could also furnish a cavern with the Miner room, which provides bonus points at the end of the game per ore you have. Since you have four ore mines, you can very quickly accumulate a lot of ore. Having lots of ore also allows you to easily forge weapons for your dwarves to gather needed resources through adventuring. This is just one sample strategy; many others will suggest themselves to you as you learn the game and realize the potential synergies available in the game mechanics.
There are a TON of pieces to this game! The game’s website reports:
• over 300 wooden pieces for animals, resources and dwarfs
• over 60 acrylic nuggets for Ore and Ruby
• 16 game boards
• 16 punchboards with over 400 pieces
• 30 Cards
• score sheet [tear-off pad]
• 1 rulebook
• 1 appendix
All the components to this game are of great quality. The wooden animals and resources are chunky, feel really good in the hand, and are easily identified at a glance what they represent. They add a lot to the game; I think the decision to use these wooden pieces, rather than, say, cardboard discs with the picture printed on it, makes the game feel more active and like the player is really building up a homestead, rather than playing a card game. The game boards, room and other game tiles are made of sturdy thick cardboard, and this too was well-designed, in that they stack on the other tiles to give a sense of development. For example, one may first excavate a couple of cave spaces to make tunnels; the tunnel tile is placed on top of two cave squares on the home board. Then, the player may be able to place an ore mine atop the two tunnels. Following that, they may want to delve further into the remaining tunnel space to dig a ruby mine; the ruby mine tile is then placed over the tunnel. This stacking mechanic gives an easy to understand visual representation of the progress being made.
Concerning storage, we would like to make a suggestion that has helped us out a lot! One of our biggest headaches with board gaming is the setup and cleanup of games with lots of pieces, and this one certainly qualifies! It probably has more pieces than any other game we play. Bagging up all the pieces, pouring out and cleaning up takes a lot of time, and discourages us from getting it out often. Or, rather, it did until we made a purchase which I would highly recommend along with this game: Broken Token makes organizer boxes for different board games, and this one greatly improves piece management of Caverna. When you get Caverna, pick up this organizer as well. Once assembled, it inserts into your Caverna game box, and the component trays just lift out for easy access. You can find more pictures and different angles of the organizer on the Amazon page.
I believe that Caverna has the distinction of being most often out on our game table on Saturday nights, especially when Mary (age 12 at the time of this writing) is picking. She regularly destroys us, scoring two or three times as much as the next runner up! I would rate the learning curve on this game as modest and the mastery as challenging. Developing a winning strategy will involve learning the room abilities and understanding synergies between them and different playstyles, and those members of your family that can make those connections easier will consistently score better.
The design of this game allows for between one and seven players, and the actual individual game play doesn’t change much between the single player and multiplayer game. What this means is that there isn’t a whole lot of interaction between the players; basically it amounts to us each playing a solo game in turns on our own game boards and comparing score at the end. The interaction comes in that another player can affect or thwart your strategy if you are shooting for the same rooms or methods and they buy the room or choose the action you wanted that round. This sort of solo-multi-play is not uncommon in Euro-style and worker-placement games like this, but it can have the effect of moderate periods of boredom for younger players when it is not their turn. Optimally, during other players’ turns, you will be making a Plans A, B, and maybe C (if others take the room or action you intended) for when your turn comes around again.
This is not a game of chance, but of strategy! As such then, I would recommend that this game either be played by a group of kids of approximately the same age, or that the play group be 12 and up, as recommended on the box lid.
Caverna is about farming and building and does not portray or insinuate inappropriate moral content like violence, sex, or profanity. I am quite comfortable with my kids playing this game in that regard.
As with all board games, playing Caverna fosters opportunity for family interaction around the table, good sportsmanship, mind skills development, and lasting family memories. We like this game, and so if this review piques your interest, go out and get it and schedule a game night!
Playing time: 30 min per player
That’s our opinion of the game. Now it’s Your Turn! Have you played this game? What do you like about it? Let us know in the comments!