Caverna: Cave vs Cave is the two player re-implementation of Caverna. During the game, players will be competing to make the best cave for their dwarven tribe. They will be doing this by excavating the cave and constructing new rooms both for living quarters and to obtain resources.
The mechanics are similar to a worker-placement game, but instead of placing a worker, players take actions for their sole use. Each round players take a set number of actions, which increases as the game goes on. These actions can be used to excavate the cave, obtain more resources, or take actions from built rooms. Players will only start with one excavated room, so one action they can take. As the game progresses and rooms are built, the variety of actions will grow.
Rooms can only be built if the walls are in the right configuration for them. Some rooms must have a specific wall configuration, whereas others have a few more options. There is only a limited supply of walls, and limited options to build these. Players must be strategic with where to place their walls so they can keep building their cave.
Players have to be careful to manage their resources as they need to ensure they have enough resources to be able to build rooms. However, at the end of the game gold is the only resource worth points so players need to be sure they don’t have too many resources which go to waste.
The player with the highest total points from rooms built and gold collected wins.
Caverna: Cave vs Cave also comes with a solo mode where a player can build up their cave, trying to get as many points as possible, to see if they can beat their previous best.
Number of Players: 1-2
Game Length: 20-40 minutes
The Way to a Man’s Heart…
If there are somethings in life that are certain it’s death and taxes, and the fact that Uwe Rosenberg loves farming..... Or food at the very least. From Le Harve to A Feast for Odin, Uwe loves his grub, famously punishing players for not feeding their workers in arguably his most famous game, Agricola.
Caverna won fans by being slightly less punishing in this respect and moving from the open fields of the countryside to the damp claustrophobia of caves. Like Le Harve and Agricola before it, Caverna has now been given the two player treatment in an affordable small box, which is the same size as Patchwork.
Excavating the Box
Caverna: Cave vs Cave is an impressive feat for a number of reasons, first being that it feels like good value. For very little you get a good number of components that do different things. You could argue there’s more cardboard present in Patchwork, but most of it is just tiles to use in your duvet construction. Cave vs Cave has three types of tiles, player boards, an action row board, wooden resources with cardboard substitutes should you prefer, action trackers and so on.
Having not played Caverna but seen the mountains of resource I perhaps should not have been surprised, but what was surprising was the depth of play. With a game like Patchwork you know what you are getting yourself in for; a light, fast and fun experience that can be explained in minutes, if not seconds.
With the heritage here I expected a lot more learning and a lot less playing, at least initially. I was pleasantly surprised to find the rules approachable and the inclusion of solo play made learning the game a joy.
Caverna: Cave Vs Cave - Game play
Although well presented, the theme is somewhat light. Resources and points are earned in a rather abstract fashion and although you have to excavate your cave to build rooms, you really feel like you are generating resource and victory point engines rather than the foundations of a cave dwelling society.
Having said that, every time I play I find myself immersed into the process of that engine building, trying to react to the other player, and the order the rooms and actions come out.
Caverna: Cave vs Cave is a quasi worker placement game without workers. Instead there is an action row with a number of tiles on it. The basic actions start face up and the more advanced face down. Each turn a new action will be flipped and players will take turns choosing an action that will then not be available again until the next round.
This nicely simulates the idea of blocking in a true worker placement game, without the need for additional components. As you progress down the action line you will get to take more actions, moving from your initial two to eventually four. This is clearly represented on the action board and the backs of the tiles.
There can be some initial confusion over some of the iconography used, especially on action tiles that require you to pay a certain amount of food dependent on how many workers/actions you are using that round, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
You will use these action tiles to gain resources which in turn enable you to build rooms in your cave, but first you must excavate to create space. Six basic rooms are laid out to purchase, but you add to these every time you excavate, as the more advanced tiles are initially laid face down in your caves as rubble to be cleared.
This means you never quite know what order the rooms will be available, so you cannot rely on the same strategy again and again. There is also a slight variation in the order the action tiles come out, although this is not nearly as random.
Rooms come in two types, orange rooms which must be activated by action tiles, which can lead to combos, and blue which are reactive - giving you more food when you earn another resource for example. Rooms also have certain parameters that must be meet before you can build them, needing a certain amount and lay out of walls built first.
Some of the best scoring rooms must be completely surrounded by walls, so room and wall placement needs careful planning.
Going into Cave vs Cave I was expecting something… different. What I got was a streamlined, action selection engine building game that is a joy to play and one of the only games I play solo. The game is not without flaws however.
Should you elect to use the wooden resource trackers you still have to use cardboard for food and gold, which seems strange when they also give you another complete set of fully cardboard trackers. The wooden components, although nice, do take up a lot of room on your player board - sometimes making it difficult to keep track of your meagre resources, which in this game is vital.
A bigger worry is the fact that you literally use all the tiles available in every game, the same room tiles, the same action tiles. Although they come out in a different order each time, you will have seen all the game has to offer, in one sense, four or so plays in. For me that has yet to cause a problem, but I do wonder how long it will be before I’m a hankering for an expansion to add more variety.
Like all simple but deep games, but particularly here, there is an advantage if you have played the game before. I’m not a great gamer but I’m almost 100% confident I’d beat you in your first game. Normal games are quite pacy so it’s likely you will want to reset and play again, although some more tactical players will be prone to the old analysis paralysis from time to time.
Despite these criticisms I have found Caverna: Cave vs Cave to be a deep and engaging experience that is incredible value for money. Whether I’m trying to crack that elusive 60 points in solo mode, or testing my engine against a friend I find myself compulsively trying to get the most our of every move, or accept a lesser go to block my opponent.
The fact that I have already played it enough times to be thinking about an expansion somewhat makes up for the fact that you could argue the game was released with expansion in mind.
Not having played the original game I can not compare the two, but if you have regular opportunity for two player games and are looking for more depth than Patchwork you could do a lot worse than taking Cave vs Cave for a spin, because if it follows the two player version of Agricola it may be hard to get hold of soon.