Caverna Board Game Review

So B’hrian Goodmountain, here you are. You just wed to your true love Gunilla. You move into your “luxury” (well that’s what the estate agent told you) new build. Only to discover it is just a hole in the rock. Not the best start to wedded bliss. What is a Dwarf to do? Well actually you need to do what any self respecting Dwarf would do, which is dig.

You will need to make more room so knocking extra holes (err I mean rooms) in the rock is a good start. Add on some tunnels and you will have mines in no time. Meanwhile your true love can start to furnish the extra rooms. Oh and you need to feed yourself as well. Better chop down some trees to clear some pastures for animals and fields for crops. Before you know it there will be little Goodmountains running around to help out. Will your Cave-Farm be the most successful and luxurious?

Welcome to Caverna.

It’s off to work we go

Caverna is in essence a worker placement game. You will use your workers (Dwarves) to carry out tasks like digging out the cave and clearing forests. You will then furnish, mine, reap and sow. All the while gaining more workers (children) to allow you to do more over the course of the 12 rounds (11 in two a player game). The aim is to gain as many victory points as you can.

With a shovel or a stick

Not quite a shovel and stick. Instead you get a box that is bursting at the seams with bits. There are boards galore, wooden pieces, cards in fact here is just a taste of what you can expect to find:

  • 16 game boards.
  • 29 cards - made up of Harvest Events, Action Space, Overview cards and Dwarf cards.
  • 208 Tiles - Dwelling, Furnishing, Tunnel, Ruby Mine, Cavern, Twin Field.
  • 215 Counters - Coins, Food tokens, Harvest markers, Weapon tokens, Goods tokens, Animal tokens, Additional Dwarf token.
  • 382 Wooden & Acrylic pieces.
  • Score Pad, Rule Book, Appendix Booklet and Storage bags.

See I told you it was bursting at the seams. This is one game that is literally worth it’s weight coming with 800 components. A nice touch with Caverna, is that all (except the dwarfs) of the pieces are actually shaped to resemble what they are. Sheep look like sheep as does wood, cattle, donkeys etc.

To get rich quick

WOW. So just what do you do with all this stuff? Despite the huge amount of components, Caverna does not in fact play “difficult”. Yes there is a lot to take in, but you do not need to take it all in at once. You start off with your home board and just two dwarves. In the middle of the table will be the main play boards. These will be set up dependent on the number of players and level of familiarity to the game. Basically an intro setting and full game version.

On your turn you will place one of your dwarf counters onto an action space and take that action. Most of the spaces will offer an and/or option. For example “take wood and/or clear some forest”. There is very little game critical text anywhere. The icons are very clear and straightforward. Your aim is to clear the cave interior out to allow for building of rooms or mines.

At the same time as this you are trying to clear the forest outside to grow crops and raise animals. The problem is you only have so many rounds in which to achieve this nirvana. Throw into the mix the fact that you only have two dwarves to use, and you will also need to grow your family. You can have a family of up to five under normal circumstances.

This allows you to achieve a lot more but you are always left with that feeling of you wanting an extra dwarf (or three) to use. This being a worker placement game, you need to remember that once a space is used, no-one else can use it. Thus having flexibility in approach and the ability to spot potential blocks can be a bonus, nay a necessity.

Playing Caverna Board Game (Credit: aldoojeda BGG)

To farm and play

Caverna is not all farming and mining. No no no. Dwarves also like to explore. Why not forge a weapon and go on an expedition. Once you have forged some weapons you have the chance to gain extra rewards to help you out. You will be able to claim various rewards all the way from bits of wood to wild boar, and all the way up to furnished rooms.

Even better, every time you go on an expedition your weapon increases in level allowing you access to better rewards on the next trip. It is only with clever use of tactics that you can combine these different areas with the hope of coming out on top.

With sheep all day

OK Elephant in the room time. Experienced gamers or those just familiar with Uwe Rosenberg’s games will at this point be screaming Agricola. To be fair if you have played the aforementioned Agricola you will be already familiar with the style of play and the concept of using the action spaces, family growth and feeding your family. Yes there are a lot of similarities with the two games.

Both include farming and animals breeding. Both include planting crops. Both include the need to feed your family. But there also many differences. Caverna has mines, caves, tunnels, weapons and expeditions. Where Agricola had cards with various jobs which were available to only you. Caverna has furnished rooms that are available for all to build and all of them are accessible from the very start as well.

They are similar but different enough that I believe there is a space for both on a game shelf. Agricola is to me the slightly heavier weight game with the penalties for not being balanced much harsher than in Caverna. If I could only choose one to recommend though I think Caverna would get the nod, if only due to accessibility to newer gamers. But it would be very, very close.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

So, Caverna summary. I will start off by saying straight away, if you like a game that will make you think as you try to decide on the best action, this is the game for you. No brainless roll, move, fight, here. Now that's out of the way lets look at it in a bit more depth.

  • Quality Put simply; Caverna oozes quality from thick tokens to card stock to shaped wooden and acrylic.
  • Accessibility Apart from a couple of complex mechanics like expeditions, gems and the harvest, the iconography is clear and straightforward. Even without the excellent rule book you could work out the majority of actions.
  • Replay-ability Almost unlimited. The number of options for placing your workers even on turn one is huge. There are countless different strategies to employ and no one strategy is going to guarantee you a win.
  • Interaction There is no direct player v player in Caverna which might be off putting for some. That being said the placement of workers so as to block an opponent is always nice to achieve (as is the purple their face goes when you do it).
  • Length of game With two, three or four players the stated 30 minutes per player is achievable assuming no “analysis paralysis” from the players. However with 5-7 playing, sit back and make it the main event. With the best will in the world, 30 minutes per player in a seven player game is highly unlikely. Even if you managed that feat you are still looking at a 3½ hour game time minimum. Also to consider on game length is with close to 800 components, set-up and tear-down time can be quite lengthy. Although Caverna comes with plenty of bags for storage, this reviewer 100% recommends you improve on this option with either an insert or other storage solution. Especially if you want to play often (which you will).

Closing comments on Caverna

Caverna is normally one of the pricier worker placement games (Zatu will quite often have offers available though). If you enjoy medium through to heavy games then you will find it money very well spent. If however you like your games lighter or you are on a stricter budget. Then I recommend trying before buying if you know someone with a copy or have a board game cafe local.

I purchased my own copy of Caverna to review. This in no way affects my review or my final thoughts on the game.

You Might Like

  • Gameplay is intuitive and easy to manage.
  • Components high quality.
  • Variable strategies for winning.
  • Variety of tactics and room tiles increase replay-ability.
  • Creating a smooth cave and farm is very satisfying.

You Might Not Like

  • Lack of player interaction (except for action space blocking).
  • Game length can be an issue especially at higher player counts.
  • Potential for analysis paralysis due to available action options each round.
  • Could be too similar to Agricola for some.