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CAVERNA: CAVE VS. CAVE

Reviewed by Herb Levy

CAVERNA: CAVE VS. CAVE (Mayfair Games, 1-2 players, ages 12 and up, 20-40 minutes; $28)

 

Several years ago, Uwe Rosenberg designed a well received game (reviewed in our Spring 2014 issue) called Caverna. Often, well received games spawn sequels of sorts and so it is with Caverna as Rosenberg has come up with a two player version of the game titled Caverna: Cave vs. Cave

In this game, two players are leaders of dwarf tribes in competition to be the most successful in carving out from the mountains themselves a whole network of furnished caverns that will yield vital resources – and even gold! This sounds like hard work so let’s roll up our sleeves and get started!

Each player gets his/her own playing board which represents their cave. One space has an already “built” room that will give the player, when activated, 1 of the basic resources of the game (wood, stone, emmer/grain or flax). Players also have the ability, at their discretion, to convert 1 grain, flax or gold into 1 food as many times as they want.) One space is vacant, ready to be furnished. The remaining nine spaces are randomly filled with tiles (placed face down) specified for this purpose. These spaces will have to be excavated before they can be furnished.

Both players begin with a starting supply of resources: 1 each of wood, stone, emmer (grain) and flax as well as 1 food and 1 gold, with the amounts of each tracked on the board. Six designated “starting” rooms are placed in a central display. Between the players is the game’s Action Board. Four specific Action tiles are placed face up on its first four spaces. Remaining spaces on the board (labeled 2, 3 and 4) are filled with like numbered but face down Action tiles.

On a turn, the active player will choose one available Action tile and perform that action. Starting Action tiles allow a player to get 1 stone and excavate 1 or 2 (if paying two food) adjacent caverns. Another grants you 2 grain AND 1 flax AND the ability to activate a building. One gives you 2 wood and lets you activate a building. The final starting tile allows you to furnish an excavated cavern (spending food or gold to do so). Once a tile is chosen, that action is unavailable to the other player that round. Going first alternates each round.

Each round, all Action tiles become available again and another Action tile (adjacent to an already revealed action tile) is flipped and added to the supply, eligible to be chosen.  As the game progresses, more – and more powerful – Action tiles are revealed. For the first several rounds, each player will only be able to do two actions. By the time the game enters its eighth and final round, four actions will be taken by each player before the (proverbial) dust settles.

As caverns are excavated (through a tile action), the tile occupying that space is flipped to reveal a room. That room is added to the central display, eligible to be placed into a cavern to furnish it IF requirements are met.

Not only do you need to choose an Action tile that allows you to furnish a room (and pay the stipulated cost for such an action), you must be able to pay the additional cost of the room (if any) in resources. But even if you pay, you must be able to place the room properly.

All rooms show a silhouette of the room bounded by walls. Walls in black are requirements; walls in white are optional. You must adhere to the proper wall configuration. You ARE allowed to rotate tiles to see if they “fit” but sometimes you just need to build walls so that they DO fit! (Obtaining walls to meet these requirements – and breaking them down to get resources – are things that later revealed Action tiles allow you to do.) It’s all worth the effort since furnished rooms are the main source of Victory Points. 

There are two types of furnished rooms: orange and blue. All rooms provide benefits ranging from more resources to converting resources of one type or another to gold. Orange rooms need to be activated in order for their abilities to be used. Certain Action tiles will activate those orange buildings (1, 2 or as many as 3 of your choice depending on the tile). Blue buildings are ALWAYS in effect. However, you must always have more orange than blue buildings in your cavern.

At the end of the final, eighth round, scores are tallied. The sum of the Victory Points of all furnished rooms in a player’s cave is calculated with with Victory Points earned for any Gold they have accumulated (at the exchange rate of 1 Gold = 1 VP) added. The player with the highest total wins! Tie? Then the player who built the most valuable room (in VPs) wins. Still tied? Then the game ends in a draw. 

Caverna: Cave vs. Cave is a smooth and streamlined adaptation of Uwe Rosenberg’s bigger – and heavier (both in game terms and box weight) – Caverna. This 2 player game is much simpler to teach, takes a relatively short time to play but still manages to capture the feel of its predecessor with meaningful choices each turn. After a few games, players will get to know what the actions will do but precisely WHEN a specific action will be available is a bit harder to predict as only one tile gets revealed at a time.  (Might be room for an expansion here with a different set of action tiles to add or exchange to keep things fresh and less predictable.) The only exception to this occurs in the final round when the one and only new Action tile, “Renovation” (which allows you to take a wall AND furnish a cavern in a single move), is revealed and made available only to the player who currently has the most Gold! This adds an additional incentive for producing Gold besides its intrinsic VP value. 

Winning  the “tug of war” between you and your opponent as to which Action tiles to take and which to leave is key. You might even feel compelled to grab a tile you cannot fully use just to keep it out of opposition hands! But this can be risky as there are only eight rounds so you really can’t afford to squander opportunities to advance your own cause. Another consideration is, just as with its “big brother”, the managing of resources which is critical to success. You need to insure that you have enough wood or stone to buy rooms, food to furnish them and enough Gold to give just that extra push to cross the line to victory. (The track used for charting resource holdings barely has enough room for the tokens. This can result in mistakes in amounts. Be careful you don’t shortchange yourself.) Building an engine to generate those resources in ample quantities is part of the challenge and fun. (And, if you can’t find another player, rules for solo play are also provided.) 

Uwe Rosenberg is an acknowledged master of game design – and for good reason. His Caverna: Cave vs. Cave packs a lot of game into a small package making this a game well worth digging up and digging out.- – – – – Herb Levy


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