UWE ROSENBERG's game CAVERNA: The CAVE FARMERS was the top hit of 2013 as well as being one of the most imitated (ideas-wise and with similar mechanics) board games for many years. In 2017 Caverna's little brother, also designed by Uwe Rosenberg, could be found on the game store shelves as the excellent 2-player CAVE vs CAVE.
CAVERNA: CAVE vs CAVE is Uwe Rosenberg doing what he does best (in my opinion) and that is superior tile-laying strategy of the highest order. The game is about creating a homely cave for your tribe to inhabit while having gained the highest total of Victory Points after the 8th Round.
Both players begin with a cave board that unfolds to show they are on a level (well underground but fair) playing surface as each cave is identical to the other. Players are also given one of each of the Goods: Wood (brown), Stone (grey), Flax (green) and Emmer (yellow) all depicted as shaped wooden pieces, the other two Goods are Gold and Food which are card counters, the Gold having a +10 on its flip side. There are also small cardboard counters that come with the game that are for each of these six Goods. The wooden pieces look best but they do take up a fair amount of room on the Goods Track especially as the rungs of this ladder-like track aren't particularly wide - on the flipside, the small counters are very fiddly and more liable to being accidentally dislodged. Players begin the game with their Goods on the first rung (#1) of the Goods Track. As well as the pre-printed Cave Entrance Tile, player's Cave Boards have 10 tile spaces and the 9 space Goods Track. Information corner: Emmer is a type of Grain or Wheat and Flax is a plant that can be eaten or have its fibres turned into cloth.
Between the two boards, which are placed in front of their owning player, is placed the Action Board. This Action Board is a long narrow strip marked into 12 segments, each segment being the shape and size of an Action Tile and split into groups separated by a wall. There are 12 Action Tiles, four of which have a Dwarf printed on their backs. These four are placed face up in any order on the first 4 unmarked spaces of the Action Board. The other Action tiles are split into 3 with a 2 on their backs, 4 with a 3 on their backs and a solitary 4. Apart from the 4, the other tiles are shuffled in their specific sets and placed face down onto the Action Board into the spaces numbered according to the numbers on their backs. The 4 goes on the last space.
Play alternates with the players selecting one of the face up tiles on display and carrying out the actions of the chosen tile. Some tiles have a cost (in Goods) to use, this is shown by number and symbol in the second colour band of the Tile. Room Tiles have three colour bands: Blue or Orange, Brown and Fawn. The top colour, Blue or Brown shows whether the room is activated by an Action tile action (Blue Room) or whether its effect comes into play when specific situations are met (Orange Room). The Brown band indicates if there is a cost to pay to use the tile (ie you cannot take it from the display if you cannot afford it) shown in Goods, and the final band, Fawn may be single or split - if single that is the action if it is split you have to choose an action from those shown either side of the split line.
The 18 tiles showing a dark rock formation are shuffled and dealt out to each player, being placed face down and unseen onto the spaces of each player's cave. One space has a symbol showing a red circle split by a diagonal line and a pick-axe and must be kept free of Room Tiles during the setup, a tile may be positioned here during play. The numbers on the Action Track also indicate how many turns a player has each round, so 2 in the first 3 rounds, then 3 and finally four in round 8. Players take turns in taking a tile, that is the main mechanic of the game, but once chosen there are other actions on the tile that can affect your turn, in fact as long as you can afford it you should buy the tile that best suits your current situation and that isn't necessarily always the most expensive.
CAVERNA Cave vs Cave is a game about making the right decisions and utilising the opportunities the tiles afford you. I have found, to some small degree of success, that it is usually a good ploy to have a tile that allows you to spend food for various effects and actions. This is because at any time during the game you may exchange Emmer, Flax or Gold for Food on a more than fair 1:1 basis.
As I have mentioned already there are two types of Rooms, Blue and Orange. The Blue Rooms are better because their actions are always available to you when you select the associated tile from the display whereas the Orange tiles are best for gathering resources (Goods), except Gold you may only ever have 9 of each type of Goods. A rather neat rule of Cave furnishing (adding Rooms) is that you must always have more Orange Rooms than Blue Rooms. This sounds a simple task to upkeep but the run of the game can sometimes go against you. The number in the Orange boxes on some Tiles allows you to use the action/effect on Orange Tiles already face up in your Cavern. Thus if the number is "3" you may use the Actions of three different Orange Rooms.
To flip the Room tiles from your Cavern over you have to be able to reach them first while they are face down, and to do this you need a Pick-Axe symbol (or more than one). The Pick-Axe symbol allows you to take an accessible face down tile from your Cavern and flip it over, then place it onto the Display making it available for either player to choose on a future turn. Each Room Tile has a small icon that shows the configuration of its walls, and to place a Tile into a cavern it must reach the requirements of walls - there are obviously walls in the cavern already and some tiles will give you wall pieces that you can either place or move. Once you have the space for a Room and you have the cost to purchase it you still need to have the Action that allows you to Furnish a Cavern (ie introduce a Room to your cavern). There is also one larger empty Cave Tile which is awarded as an extra cavern space to the first player to completely furnish their cave.
There are rules for solo play which require a few changes in Setup, a few changes in play and a little more random input. It plays okay but it is rather lonely playing a game like this on your own so I prefer to play it with a human opponent. It is quicker to play than CAVERNA: The CAVE FARMERS, which I am sure you would have already gathered, but although it is significantly different from the original board game it is also significantly better than the majority of two-player games that emerge from the shadows of their former selves.
This is not like any other tile placement game, in this game you are not simply drawing a tile and placing it, you are having to consider each tile and whether or where it could be of use. Even though the same four tiles are always available to choose from at the beginning of the game, plus one of three marked on its back with a "2" the randomness of the tiles in the caverns and to an extent the randomness of the tiles in the 2 and 3 slots ensure that each game is a challenge. The "4" tile Renovation) on the Action Track can only be used by the player with the most gold and it is a very useful tile, however you still have to weigh up whether it is worth a total pursuit of Gold just to gain its effects. There are so many things to take into consideration every turn.
This is a very clever game that often backs you into a corner as far as your selection of tiles is concerned. I have already said that there are times when you need to choose a tile to use rather than one that is more valuable and this is often the case when it comes to building additional walls or Furnishing a Cave - the tiles which offer these services are few and far between and it's sod's law that they always seem to be available when it is your opponent's turn first, or you and your opponent need them both and they are both in the display.
CAVERNA: Cave vs Cave never gets stale, or at least it hasn;t so far, and is always offering a good challenge. You are forever trying to create the best and most comfortable (and most valuable) cavern by building the best Rooms you can and/or upgrading them when possible, however since your opponent can see your cave, as you can see theirs, if you have a choice of Tiles that will help you but one of them will prevent your opponent from making a good move then that is a solid tactic, you can then take the other tile, if you still want it, next turn.
CAVERNA for 2 players is a game I will highly recommend. You need a fair amount of table space so it isn't really a travel game, even if you are on a train with a table between you, but it is good to take it with you on vacation in your suitcase. It is also a very good game to introduce new players to a different style of board game which could lead them onto playing the original CAVERNA game and hopefully many more. Learning the mechanic of play is, as they say, simple, but in this case it isn't a game you can then take years to master because there really isn't, at least not immediately visible, a way to win game after game. It is skill and luck in good portions, plus it is entertaining, challenging and even puzzling at times. Excellent!