Caverna: Cave vs. Cave is Uwe Rosenberg’s new two player twist on his epic game Caverna. As many of you know, he did something similar with Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small and it was received very well by the gaming community. Cave vs. Cave is a resource management and optimization game. You’ll have to make many tactical decisions and adapt your plans as the game state is constantly changing. The Board and Components
There are two types of boards in this game. First, there is the action selection board. These will be the actions that are available to the players each round of the game. Only five of these actions are available during the first round, and one will be added for each subsequent round. Players will have many more options to consider later in the game. Players will take two actions per round at the start of the game, but this will ramp up to three mid-way through the game and then four for the final round.
Secondly, each player has their individual player board. Much of the board starts covered by rocks that will need to be excavated. There is also an area to track how much of each of the six resources the player currently holds. Excavating creates room in the player’s cave to begin furnishing rooms. The excavated tile is flipped and becomes a room that is added to a display of rooms for either player to add to their cave. It's also worth noting that the boards and tiles are all very thick and sturdy. The Gameplay
Players will get two actions per round for the first three rounds, then three actions for four rounds, and finally four actions for the final round. The game starts with four action tiles available and one additional action becomes available each round (including the first). Players will alternate actions, taking one at a time. To do this, they slide the action tile they want towards them and carry out the action. The chosen action is then unavailable to the other player for the current round. I’ll touch on a few of the things you can do with your actions:Excavate:
This allows you to clear the rock from your cave. You must excavate orthogonally adjacent to an excavated area or your cave entrance. The excavated tile is removed from your cave, leaving a space to furnish a room. The removed rock tile is flipped over and is added to a display of rooms that can be furnished by either player. Furnish:
This allows the player to add a room from the display of rooms to their cave. Each room requires a specific orientation of walls, which is sometimes more flexible than other times. Each room has a resource cost as well. Build a wall:
If you want to furnish a specific room and don’t have the proper wall orientation in your cave, you can build a wall to create the required alignment. Be careful though; walls can’t be excavated through later. There is also an action that allows you to destroy a wall that you’ve previously built.Collecting or exchanging goods:
This speaks for itself. You’ll need certain resources to carry out the actions you want, and there will be many opportunities to gain and exchange goods for what you need.Room actions:
Some of the action tiles show an orange one, two or three symbol on them. This indicates a number of your orange rooms you can activate (blue rooms are passive abilities). These actions are usually pretty good, and you can create some neat synergies between the rooms that you’ve furnished in your cave.
The game is over at the end of the final round, and points are gained from the amount of gold you’ve collected plus the point values of each room in your cave. The player with the most points is the most successful cave farmer!Final ThoughtsStrengths:
Lots of options – Of course there will be times when you’re really hoping to furnish a certain room or gain a certain action tile and your opponent gets in your way, but there are usually a couple ways to accomplish what you need to. For example, there will be multiple ways to excavate and furnish rooms. Most of your turns feel fun and productive. It doesn’t quite feel like solitaire, because you are prioritizing the action tiles you think your opponent might be after, but you can usually have a solid plan B.
Caverna flavor – This game gives the flavor of one of Rosenberg’s longer, epic strategy games like its namesake, Caverna. I don’t always feel like playing a three hour game, however, and it’s nice to have an option that plays in about 45 minutes. Do Agricola and Caverna have more room for strategy and long-term planning? Of course they do! But I think this game fills a nice niche too.
Competitive scores – The games I’ve played have been fairly close. In the games I lost, I didn’t feel like I was ever hopelessly behind. I was still trying to optimize my moves until the very end of the game, and usually the point spread is going to be less than 10 points. Some buildings provide 10+ points, and if you can build one of two of these late in the game, you might catch your opponent off guard.
Variability – Each game is going to feel somewhat different. The action tiles will come out in a similar but different order in each game. For example, there are three ‘2’ action tiles, which will be shuffled before each game and placed on the action board in the first three spaces, to be flipped before round one, two and three. This ensures that certain actions will be available fairly early in the game, and others later, but keeps it a bit unpredictable. Likewise, the rooms that are excavated are done so without knowledge of what’s on the other side of the rock. The order that rooms become available to the players will be very different each game. Some rooms are much better in the early game and others in the late game. Weaknesses:
Similar feel each game – This might seem contradictory to my ‘variability’ point, and maybe it is. Even the actions and available rooms will vary from game to game, you’re still executing a similar game plan during each play. You still need to excavate and furnish rooms in a relatively cyclical fashion each game. The strategy is similar, but you’ll need to approach the game with an ability to react and adapt.
Luck of the draw – This is not a huge concern of mine, but sometimes good rooms will be excavated that just happen to fit your opponent’s board much better, or maybe they have the resources for and you don’t. This will likely go both ways over the course of the game, however.
Don’t expect Caverna – Don’t set your expectations too high. If you’re looking to play an epic Rosenberg game, do so. This game doesn’t contain the same sorts of long term planning that its big brother does.How easy is the game to learn?
This game is quick to teach. There are only a handful of different action types, which I covered above. You’ll be managing resources to excavate, furnish, and repeat. Pretty simple!Will it be easy to find players?
If you have a lot of opportunities to play two player games, probably. It is a bit more limiting because of the two player (or solo) requirement. Many of Rosenberg’s ‘bigger’ games play well with two, three, or four players, which allows for more chances to play them. Try not to allow the ‘Caverna’ name to scare players off. It’s much easier to learn and play than its namesake.Is the reward worth the time spent?
Absolutely. It remains competitive until the end and in the games I won, I really feel like I executed some great plays and built a good synergy with my rooms. In the games I lost, I felt much the opposite. And all that in only about 45 minutes!How much fun is defeat?*
This is just a fun game to play. The decision space isn’t so broad that it suffers from a lot of analysis paralysis. It moves quickly, and I feel like I’ve really accomplished something by the end of the game, even if my opponent did it a bit more efficiently. It’s quick enough that it’s easy to jump back in and try again.Overall Score
*I think one of the best ways to evaluate a game is to consider how much fun it is to lose. The goal is to have fun whether I've won or lost!If you enjoyed reading this review, feel free to check out my other game reviews HERE