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Caverna: The Cave Farmers» Forums » Reviews

Subject: 8(+1) things Caverna does better than Agricola (or not) rss

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Nicolò Blotto
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Uwe Rosenberg is a unique designer. Not because he likes special mechanics in his games, or because he has some special idea for his game, or because he sports green and purple mullet. Uwe is special in the world of boardgaming because it looks like he has a very specific concept of game in his mind, and he is determined to make it better and better and better until he nails that elusive perfect design he has in mind.

A lot of people in my local gaming group initially dismissed Caverna as "yet another version of Agricola", and it's hard to counter those complaints. Caverna definitely is the most similar game to Agricola ever made, both looking at the rule side and at the component side. People look at it and think "Agricola on steroids" or "Agricola expanded" and it's really hard to make somebody that has already tired of Agricola interested in Caverna.

But if you give it enough time, you will see that Caverna is much more than Agricola 2.0, and it actually manages to really improve on the original design in so many ways that it really feels like a big improvement on it. Let me tell you why.

1) Feeding your farmers, er, dwarves is far less difficult. It's a small change, but it has two big effects coming from it. First, people that felt stressed by the feeding mechanics and hating the kind of pressure Agricola originally had will feel much more at ease with Caverna. Second, easing the pressure means that your gameplan is much more open. Getting food is easier, you don't need ovens to "burn" animals, and all this sums up in having more actions available to follow your strategy instead of having to catch up with the increasing demands from the game.

2) Scoring don't punish you for not doing things. This is probably the biggest change in philosophy in the game. Agricola required you to have something of everything, or you had to pay some points for that. The difference between having a lonely animal or no animal of a single type could be huge, and people in the end reverted to a "meeple salad" approach to the game, where you got everything and anything just to avoid penalties. Not anymore with Caverna, and this means you can truly push some specific strategies without having to dedicate actions to something you don't need.

3) Having every single building available from the beginning is another big change in design philosophy, and one that Uwe embraced in all his latest designs. The cards in Agricola were good at trying to give the player a suggestion on the way he should have played, but they also meant your strategic rails were already layed down at the start of the game: feed your meeples, buy something of everything, and try to exploit the cards you have at the beginning of the game. In Caverna everything is in front of everybody from the beginning, and this means you can actually sit down at the table with a strategy in your mind and try to pursue it without having to adapt to the cards you're dealt.

4) Adventurers add both another path to victory points and an elegant way to allow people to get what they need when the production spaces gets crowded. I've seen several way to implement this kind of "free market" in games, but they rarely deviate from the idea of a "generic action that's less efficient than the specific actions". Expeditions can actually be very efficient by the end of the game, but they need an investment from the player to become so. This actually makes adventurers a viable alternative to the usual worker placement tactics of "building a new builder every time you can". And the order of worker placement is a very subtle addition but very effective and you'll see a lot of people cursing about it after having said "who cares" during rules explanations.

5) While the "pastures" board is more or less the same as the good old Agricola board, the caverna add a small element of spatial puzzle to the game, both in the way caverna tiles works and in the way some rooms are scored, integrating something that was only found in the farmers of the moors expansion of Agricola. It's not that an important part of the game, but it can be very rewarding, and add another small detail you need to consider (or decide to ignore).

6) Something that's often overlooked from just a glimpse to the rules is how much Caverna can "feel" a more complete and better game than Agricola when you finish your first full game. Agricola feels more like a struggle for survival, and the last few turns can often be a frantic chase for those last few tokens or spaces you are missing. In Caverna by the last few turns your point earning engine is ready and you get a couple more turns to make it work, just like in Le Havre. That really gives you the feeling of a job well done.

7) Caverna is also a little bit better than Agricola at handling more players. Adventurers are nice for people that get their space locked, there are more actions that can give you a material you need due to an abundace of "mixed" spaces, and all in all it feels like a more "open" game than Agricola. That also means there's less potential to screw other people plans by placing a worker on a specific place, but that arguably never was one of the selling point of Agricola anyway.

8) Components in Caverna are fantastic. If you had the old Agricola with the cubes, well, you will definitely go crazy over the great animeeples and vegemeeples of Caverna. I don't know how many Agricola players still use the black cubes for pigs, but then if you are in that situation, you will drool over the great look of Caverna.

All in all, for me, Caverna is a big step in the right direction and one that improves Agricola in a lot of different ways, big and small, without any apparent mistep. The only thing that I can find as a drawback in Caverna is that teaching the game takes a little bit longer, and that for some players, having to check so many different rooms and understand how to use them and what you need to build them can be really a little bit too much. But for the dedicated gamer or for the gamer that plans to play this several times, this is really a non-problem.
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Chase Clinton
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Excellent review. I just bought Caverna although I have never played Agricola (unbelievable eh?) and I enjoyed your analysis. Completely agree with you.
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Eric Clason
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Nice review of the differences between Agricola and Caverna.

3) is the reason that I prefer Agricola. I enjoy coming up with my strategy based on the cards I am dealt and seeing how well it works. It is one of my favorite parts of Agricola.

I feel that most of the other items you list make Caverna different. Not better nor worse, just different. I have pimped my copy of Agricola, so 8) is not applicable to me.
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HenningK
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A good review, even if I don't agree with its conclusion. Point 3) is actually a huge negative for me, and 1), 2) and 6) are also aspects I like better in Agricola. I like being stressed in a game, the feeling that I didn't play good enough. It is an incentive for me to come back to it and try better.
In Caverna, I feel like I can do whatever I want, and I miss the stress and thus the tension. There is always a good backup plan if things don't go as planned. I once read a great description: In Caverna, you always have the choice between a good and a great action, while in Agricola, the choice is between a bad and a worse action. When you eventually manage to pull off a game where you really feel like you did well in Agricola, it feels infinitely more satisfying.

But this is just my personal preference, and I can totally see why Caverna feels like an improvement to everybody who feel uncomfortably stressed and punched by Agricola. I guess I am just a bit of a masochist.
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Greg Bigler
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I prefer Caverna personally, but I can understand that others like a tight game like Agricola and prefer that.
That is exactly why we have many different kinds of games.
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Gomeril Gnak
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Exactly my feeling. Caverna sounds like "Agricola light" and who needs that.
 
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NeuroNiky wrote:
8) Components in Caverna are fantastic. If you had the old Agricola with the cubes, well, you will definitely go crazy over the great animeeples and vegemeeples of Caverna. I don't know how many Agricola players still use the black cubes for pigs, but then if you are in that situation, you will drool over the great look of Caverna.

I'm still a "black cubes for pigs" guy (and this even after buying the Goodies expansion under the assumption that we'd prefer the animeeples. we didn't). I guess the abstraction makes it easier for me to throw my livestock into the oven without remorse during the feeding phase.

Thanks for the comparison review. The "we're adventuring dwarves" theme is a definite turn-off for my wife, and your points 1-6 are all reasons why we're forever fans of Agricola. For us, the struggle makes the game. Definitely different games for different people.

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Nicolò Blotto
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Thanks everyone for the feedback on my review.

I can see a lot of people still love Agricola and the way it was designed, and that testifies, if was even needed, how great Agricola was in the first place.

I do love Caverna more than Agricola, as it was made obvious by my review, but that's just personal preference in the end. I think the design make for a better game because I feel I'm playing more against the other players around the table and less against the game itself, but that's just me.

I think we can all agree on the fact that one or the other should be in the game library of every boardgame lover, though . Well done indeed Mr. Rosenberg!
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Karl Wobbe
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NeuroNiky wrote:
... The only thing that I can find as a drawback in Caverna is that teaching the game takes a little bit longer, and that for some players, having to check so many different rooms and understand how to use them and what you need to build them can be really a little bit too much...


This is one thing I feel gets overlooked because of what could almost be a naming issue involving:

Agricola: Family Edition

I discovered Caverna and really wanted to play it with my kids but I had no experience with worker placement / euro games and neither did they.

Long story short I got A:FE played it a bunch of times now with the kids (posted a review of our first 4 games over in the A:FE forums [found here] ), everyone had a great time, we learned the basics and overall concepts of it and to me it seems to be much more of a Caverna: Family Edition stepping stone than an Agricola one.

Point being for new or inexperienced (especially younger) euro game players wanting to try Caverna I would 100% say to try A:FE first and then move up to Caverna (Introductory game) and then progress to the Full version and avoid any overwhelmed / overlong starter games.




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kalle wong
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NeuroNiky wrote:
Thanks everyone for the feedback on my review.

I can see a lot of people still love Agricola and the way it was designed, and that testifies, if was even needed, how great Agricola was in the first place.

I do love Caverna more than Agricola, as it was made obvious by my review, but that's just personal preference in the end. I think the design make for a better game because I feel I'm playing more against the other players around the table and less against the game itself, but that's just me.

I think we can all agree on the fact that one or the other should be in the game library of every boardgame lover, though . Well done indeed Mr. Rosenberg!


This was a great review!

I played Caverna yesterday and I have played it about 6-10 times. don't know sence I haven't been playing it so often since I don't own the game. I have been thinking of that Caverna was a little more static and not that much variation accept from that we played with differnet people and was actually searching for why first player shouldn't go for guesthouse allways with the office togeather in a 7 player game. cause that is a winner allways.

but during my search I was stumble over your great review and was thinking of my agricola: why I don't give it a try and why I havn't played it that often. I have to admit that I like Caverna a lot but was getting a little bored of the static in it and came around that I like Agricola cause of the variations but as you mentioned that it is more like playing against the game than against the player and there is too much of luck of cards. So I was thinking of a great way to try to merge the two games. Having open cards in the agricola layed out in front of everybody to pick as in Caverna, but with new sets every time depending on players and also to work around the harsch of negative points in agricola you take Cavernas pointsystem and overlay in agricola. that would solve all my problems with both games.

As you understand I like both games but have hard time to decide witch one is best

Sence I havn't played both game more than maybe at most 10 times each I just thought this would be a interresting thing to discuss with you and wonder if this is a disasterous ide or a intriging way to play?

Thanks for reading my long replay

cheers!
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