Thank you for checking review #26 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Disclaimer: We received a copy of this game from Mayfair Games in exchange for an honest review. All opinions below are my own and were not purchased nor influenced by receiving a copy of this game.
An Overview of Caverna: Cave vs Cave
Caverna: Cave vs Cave is a game designed by Uwe Rosenberg and is published by Mayfair Games. The box states that it can play 1-2 players and has a 20-40 minute play time.
In the two-player game Caverna: Cave vs. Cave, each player starts the game with only two dwarves and a small excavation in the side of a mountain. Over the course of eight rounds, they’ll double their workforce, open up new living space in the mountain, construct new buildings and rooms in which to live, and dig for precious metals.
In more detail, each player starts the game with an individual player board that’s covered with a random assortment of face-down building/room tiles and only one space. Some tiles are face up and available for purchase at the start of play. Four action tiles lie face up as well. At the start of each of the eight rounds, one new action tile is revealed, then players alternate taking actions, with the number of actions increasing from two up to four over the course of the game. As players excavate their mountainous player board, new building and room tiles are added to the pool; some rooms can be used immediately when acquired, whereas others require the use of an action tile.
After eight rounds, players tally their points for buildings constructed and gold collected to see who wins.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
Each player gains their player board and six resource tokens, placing them all on the 1 space on their shelf. Mix the dark-backed rooms (they show a pickaxe) and give each player nine of these which are placed face-down on the player board on every space except the starting space and the one with a no pickaxe sign. The six rooms with a light gray back are placed face-up to form a common purchasing pool. Sort the remaining tiles by number (the four with a dwarf on the back form the first four available actions) and mix them up, placing them with the three 2s, then the four 3s, and finally the 4, all face down on the action board.
Players will take turns selecting an action to activate, making it unavailable for use for the remainder of the turn. During the first three turns each player will get two actions, the next four turns each player takes three actions, and in the final round each player takes four actions. At the end of a round, all of the used action tiles are replaced face-up on the row and the first player marker passes to the next player.
In essence, the game is about clearing space in your cave, gaining resources, and then using those resources to furnish your cave with rooms. The unique mechanic is that each room not only has a cost, but it has a required layout of walls that have to be around the room in order for it to be built.
With two players, this game sets up, plays, and tears down rather quickly. In later rounds the turns tend to slow a little as players are calculating their options and the sequence of selections needed to get there, but overall this game moves at a fast pace. The alternating of actions helps to keep any downtime to a minimum.
This game manages to take a few of the aspects of Caverna: The Cave Farmers and implements them well in a shorter, more streamlined game. This is the type of game for those who dread the time it takes to setup, play, and teardown the traditional Caverna, or who might want to play Caverna but lack the time to do so. This is not an equivalent game – you don’t get the same experience but in a condensed time span – but it does hit on some of those mechanics to provide a comparable version that can be played in a shorter timeframe.
The wall requirements for building a room is a neat addition that, most of the time, works really well. I really enjoy most aspects of it (see further below for some on the negative) because it forces you to think and plan ahead on where to build things, etc. The orientation of the tile itself isn’t important, which is a good thing, so if it fits turned sideways than it works. This part makes some of those stronger, and higher valued, rooms a little harder to obtain. Which is a good thing.
I really enjoy how things ramp up throughout the game. Early on, it costs 2 food to build a room. However, as the game progresses that cost also increases to 3, and then to 4 in the final round. The rooms you’re building in those first turns are likely the weaker, low-point rooms that provide the foundation to generate a resource engine. Which is vital to get in place, as you’ll need more and more resources as the game progresses. It works well, and forces you to keep the generation of food in mind as an essential aspect.
I really like the blue rooms. It wasn’t until the last game we played that I experimented with them, and I found they really helped out my engine. There have been plenty of games where they come out too late to matter (more on that later!), but if they come early they are essential. Unlike the orange rooms, these are active at all times and provide a bonus that ties to the gaining of a certain resource or the completion of a certain action. They tend to be low in cost and low in points, requiring few walls as well, so they are easy to get out. But gaining that free resource can be the difference between an efficient turn later or having to spend extra time getting the resources you need to make those plays.
You can generate six different resource types throughout the game. Some are easy to come by. Some are difficult to gain. All of them are important in some fashion, spendable via rooms or actions to make something better. An efficient engine has a good way to produce at least 1-2 of those resources in addition to food (needed to build rooms) and gold (pure VP). Yet, at the end, only one of those is worth points if you have any left over. At first I wasn’t a fan of this, but it has grown on me. You need to have ways to generate those other resources otherwise you’ll end up way behind. Yet focus too much on those and you’ll miss the chance to gain the only thing that matters at the end (apart from the rooms you’ve built). This is a fun and interesting approach that I have come to enjoy.
There is a bonus “room” space you can gain if you are the first to fill your player board. I am yet to do so, but I’ve come close! It gives me something lofty to shoot for. And I like having a goal like that to angle for, at least once.
I love excavating the cave. But I hate that you don’t know what rooms will come available and when they come available. If you, or your opponent, don’t excavate often early in the game, it can lead to a cluttering of subpar or expensive rooms in the pool. Which means it can be harder to get that optimal engine going in your own cave. The not knowing what will be out there is important, but at the same time it is really frustrating to not see those rooms you need or to see all those blue rooms finally flipping in the final rounds when they won’t add much value.
It is a challenge to build a great engine with your rooms when almost every action selection allowing you to use your rooms’ actions provide a single action. There is a single action that lets you use 2 rooms, and one that lets you use 3, but almost everything else gives a 1. This slows your production down from what it could be, especially when you get 2-4 rooms that synergize with each other. I never feel like I was able to accomplish everything I could have, but I also never end up feeling like it was a barrier I couldn’t overcome. It just ends up taking a little longer to do some things than I’d like, and makes it so you almost need to take that 2 or 3-action tile when it is available at the start of each turn.
I understand that building walls should be something that is hard to come by; however, since there are many rooms that require one or more walls added to the cave, it surprises me that there is only one action which adds a wall. At least, until the final round of the game. Depending on when the action comes in the tier-two actions, you get anywhere from 6-8 chances to build a wall. Assuming your opponent takes that action half of the rounds, that means you’re looking to get at most 3-4 walls to add in your cave. Few things are worse than seeing a room flip in the final rounds that you need to add 1-2 walls in order to build.
I hate the final round’s action. Seriously, I rage inside every time it flips up. Why? Because only the player with the MOST gold gets to use that action. You’re in the lead on gold, so here: add a wall and a free room. Wait, what? Shouldn’t that be the person who is BEHIND on gold gets to use that room? Nope, better luck next time. Don’t let yourself get behind in the gold race. Don’t spend that hard-earned gold to build a room worth extra points. Sit and horde it like a dragon, because then you can block your opponent from using the best action in the game. Finally, in my very last game played of this, I was able to use that action. It felt great, but it also felt wrong. Because, as you’d expect, I was clearly winning at that point and this action secured that victory. The player who uses this action wins the game more often than they will lose, and it is no wonder why.
Overall I enjoy this game. It has been months since we played Caverna: The Cave Farmers and this game has me itching to get that back to the table. My wife claimed we no longer need the big game, but I think I may end up disagreeing with that decision. This game is small and fast, but it is missing some of the key elements from the larger game that I enjoyed. I can see there being plenty of want to have them both in a collection, just like Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small doesn’t replace Agricola or Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game doesn’t replace Castles of Burgundy. The experiences between them, while sharing similarities, are different enough to merit having them both. Unless you really just like building rooms to furnish a cave and nothing else about Caverna.
This game also falls into an awkward spot compared to some of the other 2-player only games we’ve picked up and played this year. It is different enough that I can see keeping Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft, 7 Wonders Duel, and Patchwork (among many others) in our collection. They are all excellent games with 2 players that can be set up, played, and torn down in under an hour. It doesn’t set itself apart as being better, nor worse, than any of those mentioned games because they all provide different experiences. I’m finding that some of the best 2-player experiences are coming from games that play just two players, probably because those have been playtested extensively at that player count.
Having not tried it solo, I cannot speak to how that aspect stacks up but I have a feeling it will be much like any Rosenburg solo game: try and top your high score from the last game. With the removal of one action, you get fewer turns to accomplish that feat which would help the scores range similar to what you might get in a 2-player game.
I wouldn’t proclaim this a must-buy for everyone who wants a 2-player game, but neither would I say this game is one to pass on. This is a great game and a ton of fun. If you enjoy Uwe’s games, or Caverna itself, then this is likely a must-buy for you. If you want a game that is light on take-that effects to play with one other person, this game would fit that requirement well. If you enjoy building things and finding combos to set up a small engine, this game will scratch that itch. It won’t be perfect for everyone, but it is a solid game that few gamers would regret adding to their collection.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.