Players: 1–7 Time to Play: 120 minutes Recommended Ages: 12+ Designed by Uwe Rosenberg
Published by Lookout Games (Mayfair Games)
First off it's time for me to admit that I have never played Uwe Rosenberg's award winning game, AGRICOLA.
Having said that, and knowing it probably makes me the only boardgames player in the whole World who hasn't
played it, I can now say that I am pleased not to have played it because CAVERNA: Cave Farmers, is apparently
the same game but expanded and enhanced. So if you are going to play a game for the first time you might as well
play the updated revised edition. For the record I have played Friedemann Friese's COPYCAT and that is, as the
name suggests, also a copy of some of the Agricola rules. The rules for CAVERNA actually say that if you know how
to play Agricola then you needn't read the whole of the Caverna rules book to be able to play. It is just the text printed
in brown that differs from Agricola, that, the introduction of Dogs and Donkeys, and the variations of cards and tiles.
The Players are Dwarves who live underground but also like to farm and tend animals. Caverna is for 1 to 7 players,
though to be a little more accurate the solo game is more of a learning experience than an actual challenge. There are
so many cards and tiles, playing solo gives you the opportunity to try out different and varied strategy combinations,
ready for multi-player games.
Each player has their own board which depicts their starting cave with one male and one female (wooden counters with
no actual reference to Man or Woman) and the openings to an underground cavern system and a wooden acreage. The
home space can hold only 2 Dwarves plus a pair of animals (ie 2 of any kind of animal not just 2 animals). The cards
are in two variants, those that are pre-printed onto the playing area board and those that are shuffled and placed as a draw
pile to be added to the playing area one per turn over the 12 turns of the game.
The start player places one of their Dwarves onto one of the cards which activates the Action or Actions on that card. Then
the second player places a Dwarf onto another card - only one Dwarf per card unless "Imitation" is activated - and so on
until all Dwarves have been placed and all Actions possible or required taken. That is basically one turn. At certain times
there is a Harvest when fields give up their fruits and a Spring when animals give birth if there is room for them to do so
in the field, paddock or pasture, they occupy - there are rules on how many animals can be in a space and exceptions that
include dogs and stables. Dwarves only reproduce when the action to do so is taken.
CAVERNA is one of those brilliantly irritating games where you need to grow your family of Dwarves so you can do more
actions but you cannot grow too fast as you need to be able to feed them all. Without more than the original pair it is almost
virtually impossible to compete. To put this in a nice neat complex manner, you need Dwarves to build Dwellings for other
Dwarves to live in but as you only have limited Actions (one per Dwarf) per turn you need to make more Dwarves but you
can't produce them until they have somewhere to live and there are so many other things that you need your Dwarves to do
that it feels like you are wasting turns by choosing the "have a baby" action especially because you have had to waste a turn
to build a Dwelling.
The building tiles are colour coded for quick reference as to type buit before you can begin to lay either the single or double
chambers, caverns and various other rooms etc you need to prepare the land. There are double and single underground and
grassland tiles. Some of these show fields or small caves, some have a cave/field and a pathway and others have two paths.
Certain buildings and mines can only be placed onto other caves/fields or cross-path sections and Mines have to be placed onto
deep tunnels. With only 12 turns in a game you really need to make a plan and try to stick to it as best as possible. Willy-nilly
playing is very unlikely to be successful.
At the end of the 12th turn there is a scoring - a pad is provided for this but is really unnecessary if you go through the list and
score each player separately. The game is about having the most value but there are also many irksome ways of losing VPs in this
final counting. Not having at least one of each animal is the one that catches most players, mainly because animals are also food.
The game takes a long time (around 30 minutes per player) to play because even once you know what all the cards and tiles do
someone has had their turn before you and has taken the tile you were wanting or actioned the card you had sights on. Of course
you can use the Imitation card action but this costs food and you need food so once again you find yourself in a circular dilemma
of choices. Thus much of a player's turn, which basically is just playing a Dwarf and completing the chosen action and / or buying
a tile, is used up by rethinking your plans. Naturally, players who like to know all the possibilities will spend a great deal of their turn
looking at what other players have and could do or be going to do (trying to outguess them) before making their own decisions which
means a lot of mental calculating and recalculating each turn. In a 5, 6 or 7 player game this can literally add an hour or more onto the
game time, but it is too good a game to introduce a time limit - making an error through poor thought processing is one thing, but
making the wrong decision because a clock is ticking really would ruin CAVERNA's excellence.
My opinion is that if you haven't played AGRICOLA and you like man and resource management games then CAVERNA: the CAVE
FARMERS is the better option to go for.