Tiago Perretto
Brazil
Curitiba
Parana
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Ah, the Agricola feels! This will mostly be about comparing Caverna: The Cave Farmers to Agricola, if that is something you want to know, carry on.




Rules of dungeoneering:
There are several similarities between the two games, but the most noticeable is the absence of cards for the players to use. They were all replaced for buildings, all available, at first, to everyone. So, the set up is the very same for all. Then, in spite of having several feeding moments, some that could be one after the other (with only one round of preparation of it, like the final round of Agricola), it is much easier to avoid hunger, as is possible to transform animals, grains, vegetables in food without the requirement of a fireplace or other cooking implements. Furthermore, the game has money, which can also be used to buy food.

There are several intricacies to the game rules, but the basics are: you have a cave space, where the dwarves live, and a forest space, outside the cave. In the cave players can excavate to open tunnels and new areas for new living quarters or buildings, and can mine, to obtain ore and rubies. In the forest is possible to cut the trees down to get spaces to farm and grow crops, or places to surround and turn into pastures for animals. The actions Caverna: The Cave Farmers are mostly similar to those in Agricola: get resources (ore, wood, stone, rubies, food, animals), make buildings, fences, plow fields, excavate, making the family bigger, etc.

And also making weapons and go into adventures. Yes, this is the main different part of the actions. Though it is less "adventurous" than it might sound. In game terms it works this way: there are spots in the board in which is possible to forge a weapon by spending ore - the more ore spent, the bigger will be the level of the weapon. With weapons, the dwarves can go into adventures - they are always successful, and there really ins't an adventure phase, in which the dwarves form parties, fight monsters, loot rooms, and these sort of things. What do happens is: there are places that, coupled with a normal actions (like gather wood) the dwarf can also go into an adventure - these go from level 1 to 4. The dwarf gets rewards accordingly to the level of the weapon he has or bellow - so, if a dwarf has a level 7 weapon, he can get rewards from the 7th level or lower. The level of the adventure is equal to how many rewards the dwarf will get: one level 3 adventure gives 3 different rewards. Therefore, using a dwarf with a level 7 weapon, after going to a level 3 adventure, can get one reward level 7, one 5 and one 4, for instance. After getting the rewards, the dwarf rises the level of the weapon in one. Finally, it is worth mentioning that several of the spaces on the main board have two options of actions to use - in most spaces, is possible to do both, and in some, only one or the other. In any case, the duo possibility allows for more to think in the moment of choosing which space to use, and this is a good thing.

Buildings, as one can expect, make certain actions better, allow for others, make for room for more dwarves, to gain points at the end of the game, etc. All the buildings start available for anyone to build them, but most are unique, and once built by someone, you won't be able to get an equal replacement, which makes the fight for them more fierce and the timming to get them all that more relevant.

The goal of the game is to make points, but is different that that of Agricola. In Agricola players are required to cover well all areas, first because of the limition in points each of the things have, so, usually, there is no way to make a "grain strategy" or a "cow strategy", as neither of these, alone, will allow to make a whole lot of points, enough to lead to a win; and second, due to the negative points given by lack of things. In Caverna: The Cave Farmers, players can focus their play in certain aspects of the game and do pretty well. Yes, there are still negative points for missing types of animals and unused areas of the player board, but these aren't enough to completely prevent a winning strategy that takes these negative points into consideration. This is because there is no limit of points something can give, so is possible to take one element - rubies, animals, adventures, etc - and boost it to maximum, maybe enough to lead to victory. In Agricola the winner is usually the best generalist. In Caverna: The Cave Farmers the winner can be the best specialist.

Oh, and there are shepherd dogs. I love them. I want all of them.

Decisions:
The set of decisions to be made in game are as complex as those in Agricola, but my take is that, in the first plays, there will be more difficulty to play well, as the spectre of options is broader - there are 48 buildings, while in Agricola the player has to deal with less than 10 cards and 10 major improvements. Sure, is still possible to play a simpler version in the first games, in order to get used to the ins and outs; to me, though, playing this way, as in the family version of Agricola (without cards), half of the fun is missing, and this can harm the prospect of follow-up plays. Still, for those familiar with Agricola I guess it will be easy (as it was for me) to enter stright into the full game of Caverna: The Cave Farmers.




Interaction:
As in Agricola, in Caverna: The Cave Farmers the main interaction between players is "someone got what I wanted". And that is it. Is even smaller than you can get in Agricola when using some of the more interactive decks. Caverna: The Cave Farmers is definitely one of the type of games in which you do your thing, I do mine, and we meet in the to compare scores. The game requires some attention to what others are up to on their boards, however, it likely won't be something decisive in most plays, and will rarely get into a point that will make someone get their feelings hurt, mad or chased by the others. It is possible that, at a point, losing a key space or building might harm the momentum of a strategy, to the point of making a player lose. But then, this can pass by separated issues (if it something was that important, one should have got it sooner, for instance). Overall, Caverna: The Cave Farmers can be easily recommended for partners that play often head to head, as the focus stays more in making your own strategy work and use your board better than to throw a wrench in the strategy of others. And, no, this isn't a good title for persons that haven't a good experience in playing board games.

Playing time:
Perhaps by not having as much pressure to feed the family, Caverna: The Cave Farmers allowed for a briskier game - in 3 players, we finished the game in around 80 minutes. There were some moments of slowness, pondering about the several options, specially when choosing the reward of adventures - it was common for the game turn pass around and return to the adventuring player and he still didn't choose all the rewards, as everything is good and is of use, and is not always easy to know what is best in that precise moment.

Components:
The components are of good quality, with the usual great art by Klemens Franz, to the point of having a "night" board, that really doesn't do anything, but is there. Also, the game comes with 2 metric tons (conservative estimation) of wood inside the box, with enough pieces for 7 players. Now, I don't get why someone would want to inflict such a torture on himself and others by playing with 6 or 7. Well, in one hand, it does give more color options to choose from; and, on the other, it makes the price steeper and a pain to carry the game around, as the weight of everything is an absurd.




Final words:
Overall, Caverna: The Cave Farmers showed itself as a good game, filled with options for the players, in a level of complexity that will require some plays to be fully understand, and yet, even in the first play, is possible to reach some success in varying degrees. Caverna: The Cave Farmers does fill the same spot as that of Agricola, with several similarities between them, and even in feel of gameplay - and I can't see why owning both. For me Caverna: The Cave Farmers isn't superior to Agricola, nor is inferior. Agricola seems more demanding and cruel - even more when playing with certain decks, or with the great expansion Agricola: Farmers of the Moor. Caverna: The Cave Farmers is more open, more loose, without so many restraints. However, the potential interrelations of the hundreds of cards of Agricola allow, if not a really much different end to the farm, at least an almost infinite amount of ways to reach that end. In Caverna: The Cave Farmers, what worked once, can probably work again, as the set of options is always the same at first. It is up for the players to challenge themselves, to seek new paths.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers is, in the end, a good game, with enough to stand by its own merits.

And that is it!

Regards,


Image credits (in order):
W Eric Martin
AndriusLT
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Gabriele Pezzato
Italy
Padova
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tiagoVIP wrote:

In Caverna: The Cave Farmers, what worked once, can probably work again, as the set of options is always the same at first. It is up for the players to challenge themselves, to seek new paths.

This is what frightens me and prevents me to choose Caverna over Agricola. I fear that players will make up their own strategies and repeat them over and over, killing the game's replayability. This happened to my group with Kingsburg, where everyone (including myself) found their preferred strategy and sticked to it till death!
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