28 November 2017
We dig this two-player variant of Uwe Rosenberg’s dwarven hit
As he previously did with farming masterpiece Agricola, Uwe Rosenberg has pared down one of his celebrated worker placement Eurogames to a pacey two-player version. This time around, it’s Agricola spiritual successor Caverna: The Cave Farmers.
Caverna: Cave vs Cave sticks close to the mountain-mining setup of that game, pitting two clans of dwarves against each other in a race to build the finest underground abode around.
Cave vs Cave does away with the distraction of external forestry and animal breeding, limiting the action to two individual cave boards that must be excavated and then filled with a variety of rooms to earn renown by the end of eight rounds. This makes the game an easier beast to learn and teach, compressing the tension down to a relatively brisk 40 minutes as players battle to collect resources and build rooms before their opponent.
There’s a growing momentum over the course of each game, as the pool of useable abilities and number of actions available to each player gradually increases with each turn – constructed rooms can also be activated for bonus skills.
The room and action tiles are semi-randomised, yet the game remains a strategic Euro at heart; this is a worker placement in all but components, with the back-and-forth selection of actions where the meat of the showdown lies as each player denies their rival certain abilities and swipes rooms from the shared central stock.
While the theme of the cave-farming dwarves lives on in the exploration and expansion of the internal habitat, the reduced scope of the game means that it’s not quite as immersive as its bigger sibling. Similarly, while digging into your mountain home square by square can be engrossing, there’s quite not as great a feeling of progression – you’ll find no chance for crop harvesting or breeding of animals (or dwarves, for that matter) here.
That said, Rosenberg has adapted the placement of rooms to introduce a new tile arrangement dynamic to Cave vs Cave. Furnishing vacant caverns can often be a tricky affair, with specific wall placements required for many of the higher-scoring chambers. Putting up walls in the right places – and, more importantly, quicker than your rival – is key to maximising your score but, with a limited number of barriers, it’s just as important to pull down used walls, pocket the materials and hope to erect a new partition on your next turn.
Carefully managing resources is a must in order to keep quarrying deeper into the hillside. While rooms cost a variety of goods, you’ll find yourself commonly trading most of them for food as the price of furnishing a room increases during the game. Stash that gold, though, as each nugget is an extra point. This becomes especially vital during the notable single-player game, a great variant-on-a-variant that happily involves trying to reach a specific high score instead of aimlessly collecting as many points as possible, and features a rule set not too dissimilar from the head-to-head main mode.
Given how little is in the box for Cave vs Cave (the creators even found room to include alternate resource tokens if you find the wooden tokens a little too big), the dinky Caverna variant manages to pack a whole lot of Eurogame punch. It’s not the deep, immersive epic of its namesake, but it’s far from a watered-down hack job, either. It’s a wonderful, strategic game in its own right, with enough of that distinctive Caverna Rosenbergness, combined with some unique tweaks, to please fans looking for a faster, travel-friendly version, while also being thinned-out enough to attract those for whom the heavy original is too rich a taste.
By trimming away the more drawn-out and complex parts of its predecessor, Cave vs Cave ends up delivering a strategic game that stands alone but maintains enough of Caverna’s excellent thinky decision-making to be a rich and fulfilling experience – all in under an hour.
Genre: Action selection
Time: 20-40 minutes
This review originally appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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