Saturday, February 4, 2017

Board Game Review: Caverna: The Cave Farmers


Don't forget to check out the podcast version of this article! You can listen to it in the embeded media player above! And please let me know what you think. Is this a good idea? Or should I stick to text only?

A single player board, with various pieces arranged on it. The board has two halves: the cavern half and the forest half. Each is subdivided into twelve squares. Some of those squares have tiles representing conversion into tunnels, mines, or living areas (in the cavern half) or livestock pens and crop fields (the forest half). There are tokens of various types on these tiles.
As I progress in my quest to play 80 or more of the games on the boardgamegeek.com top 100 list, I find I'm getting to play all sorts of interesting games. This is certainly what happened last week, when I found myself playing Caverna: The Cave Farmers. I keep hearing that it's similar to Agricola, but as I haven't played Agricola yet, I can't comment on that.

But it does mean that I get to review Caverna. So let's get this started the right way: with a bunch of numbers!

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.

Strategy: 5
Randomness: 1
Complexity: 5
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Gameplay: 2 hours
Gamer Profile Ratings:
   Strategy: High
   Conflict: Medium
   Social Manipulation: Low
   Fantasy: High

Welcome to Caverna! You are a clan of dwarves living in the caverns of a mountain bordering a forest. You must dig into the stone of the mountain, and cultivate the forest into a farm to provide sustenance to the dwarves living there.

Caverna is a a worker placement game. The object is to have the most victory points at the end of the game. Victory points come in a variety of forms, from animals on your farm to rooms you've built in your cave to forest squares converted into farmland and other sources besides. You accomplish these tasks by taking actions available on an action board. This board is compartmental, so the actions available depend on the number of players. But even that is only part of the picture, because each round, you draw a new action card and place it on the action board, so that more actions become available as the game progresses.

A few of the actions available in the course of the game may include:

  • Go on an adventure. By converting ore that you've mined from your cavern into a weapon, you can send one of your dwarves on an adventure, to bring back one of a number of different rewards, depending on how high-powered that dwarf is.
  • Plant crops. You can turn one piece of grain into three, or one piece of vegetable into two, by taking this action.
  • Clear Forest Tiles. This action allows you to place a double-space crop and pasture tile over available spots in your forest. These are necessary for raising livestock and growing crops.
  • Furnish living quarters. By taking this action, you can put a living-quarter tile on a cleared space in your cavern. This grants you one of a number of benefits (there are a great number of tiles, and with the exception of a single stack of twelve 'simple dwelling' tiles, they all do something different).
  • Make babies. Eventually, you start being able to produce offspring, which gives you more dwarves, enabling you to take more actions on subsequent rounds.
This is just a small sampling of the actions available to you. Most of the actions aren't that straightforward, either. Many action cards, for example, gain an additional resource token each round, and when that action is taken by a player, he receives all the tokens currently on that card. Most of the cards tend to grant you a pair of actions that you can do, which you may do either or both. Some require you to choose only one. And so forth.

So. My final thoughts on Caverna. It's a fun game, with a lot of possible options. The number of available actions is staggering. The available rooms you can place in a cavern is also enormous. The rules themselves are actually quite easy to grasp. I read the first four pages of the rulebook, skimmed briefly over the remaining twenty or however many there are, and I was able to play the game. Not well, mind you. But most of the rulebook is specific rules for each possible action or tile, and as such, is more for rules questions than for understanding the game itself.

That said, it is a very heavy game. The number of components is astounding. The box is large, and every bit of space is used. It's certainly not a bad game. I'd be willing to play again. But for my personal tastes, I don't think I need to own a copy.

Anyway, that's my thoughts. As always, don't let me tell you how you feel. Look at my numbers, read my descriptions, and decide for yourself. Until next week,

Game on!

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