What happens when a family of simple, cave-dwellers gets a taste for gold?
Caverna: The Cave Farmers is a game of ruthless dwarf capitalism. Set your pick-axe on rock-smashing mode, and start tunnelin’.
Brief Overview of Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Caverna: The Cave Farmers is a worker-placement Eurogame for up to seven players. Leading a family of dwarves, your goal is to evolve your community from a one-room cave-dwelling of hunter-gatherers to an agricultural power family in a mountain mansion.
Quite how you choose to do so is up to you. You can till farmland, breed animals, mine ore and rubies, go on expeditions, excavate new caverns for your dwarves to live in, and even make baby dwarves! After 12 rounds, whichever player has the most prosperous family of dwarves is named the winner.
Unboxing Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Much like the protagonists, Caverna is a hefty beast. Inside, you’ll uncover:
- 291 colored tokens (including dogs, sheep, donkeys and vegetables)
- 65 red and black cubes (gems and ore)
- 46 dwarf and stable tokens
- 7 home board
- 5 game boards
- 4 supply boards
- 69 gold coins of various values
- 166 markers (including strength and food markers)
- 104 single tiles (landscape, tunnels, etc)
- 104 twin tiles
- 29 cards
- Scoring pad
- Appendix book
As you can see, Caverna has a whole sack-full of pieces. A large number of them are colored wooden tokens that represent all the resources you’ll be gathering, like vegetables or stone. I especially like the animal pieces – I mean, who can’t help but love a tiny wooden donkey?
Board Game Components
The general, the quality of all the components and tiles is very good. This is going to be important as, sometimes taking several hours to play, things can get quite fiddly.
In terms of artwork, there’s nothing necessarily spectacular going on here. The dull greens and browns and rigid animation felt a lot like the old version of Runescape – just without the hilarious animation. And, while the overload of icons is very useful, they don’t really bring any fun into the way it looks.
I would have appreciated, too, a little more effort going into bringing the dwarves to life. I get that worker placement games are quite impersonal by their nature, but their representation throughout lacks any real personality. This includes the dwarf components, which happen to be basically the only pieces not carved to look like what they’re supposed to be.
Despite all that, though, you can’t help but be quite impressed once you have the game going. Surveyed from above, your little community, spanning out over the hills and fields, can look quite spectacular.
Although do watch out. Once you start hitting four or more players, you’ll need to have quite a lot of room!
How to Play Caverna: The Cave Farmers
First of all, lay out the game boards depending on the number of players you have. The action boards are split into ‘rounds’. On them, you’ll place action space cards, which are the available actions players can use. Also, place a random harvest marker on rounds 6 to 12.
Next, lay out the supply boards, furnishing tiles, and landscape tiles. And then build the action space card deck, with the stage 4 cards at the bottom and stage 1 cards at the top.
Finally, give each player a Home board and their two starting worker dwarves and some food. They’ll be able to get more dwarves as the game progresses.
How It All Works
Your dwarves can take one action per turn. This is done by the first player placing one dwarf on an available action on the game boards and resolving the action (and taking any goods placed on the card). The next player then places theirs, and so on until every dwarf has been placed. No action space can have more than one dwarf placed on it.
Your actions will be used to gather resources and improve your home board to help your dwarves prosper. At the end of the game, whichever player has the most gold points wins.
The Home Board
Your home board has two halves. One is made up of caves, which your two starting dwarves live in. You can mine the caves to get stone resources, and also create room for more dwarf friends to live in. As an action, you can purchase different dwellings and furnishings with your resources, all of which provide different benefits.
The other half of your home board is forest. You can cut this down to get wood and then use the space for farming or breeding animals.
There are 12 rounds of worker placements, with five different phases:
- Add a new action space card to the game board from the action space deck, expanding the actions available to take.
- Replenish any goods on cards that were taken in the last round.
- Place all the dwarves and carry out the actions immediately after placing each one.
- Return dwarves to their dwellings.
- Harvest time – gather resources from your Home Board and breed animals, if necessary. Also, pay food to feed all your dwarves.
The number of different actions you could place your dwarves on is long – each action card has multiple actions, as do several others – so I’ll round up a few of them here to give a flavor of what to expect:
- Excavate the mountain or clear the forest – this will grant you stone or food resources and space to grow your colony.
- Furnish – pay the costs of a furnishing tile and put it in on an empty cavern space. Dwellings are a special type of furnishing that make room for more dwarves.
- Grow the family – if you have room in your cavern, add a new dwarf to your stock.
- Add resources – for example, with ore mining, you take one ore token for each ore mine you own.
- Build something – such as a ruby or ore mine.
- Trade resources.
- Build stables or pastures – these increase the return of your meadow tiles.
- Build weapons.
Weapons and Expeditions
By collecting ore, you can smith weapons for your dwarves. The more ore you use for a weapon, the stronger your dwarf will be.
You never use weapons to attack other players. Instead, you go on expeditions. When doing so, you get to choose your reward loot, which is limited by the strength of your weapon and the card level.
Also, once your dwarf completes an expedition, its strength value increases by one. As such, this can become an increasingly valuable source of resource.
Game End and Scoring
Players take turns placing dwarves, generating resources, growing their communities, going on expeditions, and furnishing their caverns. After 12 rounds, the game ends and scoring takes place.
Gold points are won based on the resources you generated, tiles and furnishings you built, dwarves in play, and various other elements. Whoever is the most blingy dwarf family wins the game!
Your First Game of Caverna: The Cave Farmers
One thing to watch out for when playing your first few games of Caverna is placing furnishing tiles. Dwarves are stubborn creatures. Once you’ve furnished a cavern space with a tile, it can’t be renovated into something else. So make sure you think hard about placing a furnishing and whether or not it will contribute to your long-term strategy. You don’t want to waste them!
Another thing you should be aware of is rubies. These act like a type of currency that can be exchanged for other resources or landscape tiles at any time. They are, therefore, incredibly useful because of their flexibility. But also in high demand!
Rubies can also be used to affect the turn order. Turn order is usually dictated by whoever played a dwarf on the Starting Player action on the previous round. The following dwarves are then placed in ascending order of strength. However, a player can spend a ruby to play an armed dwarf out of turn.
It could be the difference between successfully completing a sought after action and not.
Versions & Expansions
Caverna: The Forgotten Folk
The only expansion for Caverna, The Forgotten Folk, was originally an unofficial fan creation. But, it proved so popular, the developers picked it up and made it official.
It introduces new races to Caverna, meaning players can now take on the roles of elves, dark elves, and trolls, too, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. The new races bring with them a host of additional rooms and resources to mix things up, as well.
- The Forgotten Folk is a Game Expansion. Requires Caverna the Cave...
- Expansion includes 8 different folks with their individual perks...
- From Lookout Games (distributed by Asmodee Games, North America).
Caverna: Cave vs. Cave
While the original Caverna: The Cave Farmers can be played by one to seven players, Cave vs. Cave is a version of the game developed exclusively for two players.
Sharing lots of similar ideas with its bigger brother, Cave vs. Cave strips back some of the complexity (and price!) to create a much swifter Caverna experience.
Pros & Cons
- Comprehensive worker placement game
- Great replayability
- Anywhere from one to seven players
- Can get very long
- Lots of rules
The joy of Caverna is the sheer breadth of actions you can take. I had so much fun deliberating over exactly how I wanted my dwarven paradise to be run. One day I might feel like running a peaceful commune that works the land and just gets fat. Another day you could find me chipping away at my mountain until only a shell remains.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Clearly, giving players lots of decisions to make was a key ambition of the game. Even the individual action spaces themselves have multiple actions to choose from. The result is that you can come back and play Caverna multiple times and have an entirely different experience each time.
It can be really fun to see how different players evolve their communities each game (or incredibly frustrating when someone takes a similar route to you). Some might choose to focus on expeditions, while others will take a more peaceful route. No one way is necessarily better than the other. What is for sure, though, is that you can’t just let one person get on with it unopposed.
Strategy Wins the Day
This means that there is a huge amount of strategy that goes into winning Caverna. As with any worker placement game, often it’s as much about what you sacrifice doing than what you actually end up doing. Made all the more difficult when someone steals the action space you were intending to use and mucking up your plans for that round entirely.
In particular, for me, Caverna is so strong as a strategy game because it rewards flexibility. Stubborn adherence to a plan is rarely the most sensible way to achieve anything, and Caverna definitely leans towards those that like defining multiple contingency plans.
All this strategy and planning, though, can lead to a lot of thinking time as players tie themselves in knots over where to place each individual dwarf. Thinking time that only gets longer if someone steals your intended action space.
A Deep Game
It all builds up to one very lengthy affair – albeit a satisfying one. What’s more, with so many possible actions to take, there are a lot of rules to learn. None are particularly complex, but staying on top of them all can mean quite a bit of time spent nose-deep in the rulebook each time you want to do something new in your first couple of games.
As such, make sure you keep a few hours free before embarking on a game of Caverna (I’ve never played it with seven. But perhaps an entire weekend would be more appropriate if you do). It is always time well spent, though!
Caverna Review (TL;DR)
Caverna: The Cave Farmers is a classic worker placement eurogame. Taking control of a small community of cave-dwelling dwarves, your mission is to mine, farm, weld, chip, and breed your way to becoming the most wealthy dwarves in the land!
Your available actions are as plentiful as the little wooden animals you get in the box (including donkeys!). It makes for an incredibly rewarding community-building experience, with no two communities you grow ever being quite the same.
But for those that prefer games on the lighter side, do watch out. While your dwarves may be small. This game isn’t.
Caverna is one of my favorite worker placement games. The gameplay is smooth, decisions plentiful, and the components wonderfully produced.
While there isn’t necessarily any huge innovation in terms of mechanics, it is definitely one of the most rewarding in terms of what you can create. I’ve spent an entire game packing my little community full of wooden animals and sowing seeds. Then next time I’ll find myself developing a complex system of generating wealth through expeditions (I’m British, it comes naturally to me).
Whatever path you choose, you’re going to need a lot of strategy.
Just do be careful. This game can get quite heavy as each player spends time weighing up their options. So you will need to carve out a good few hours before you sit down to play it. But boy, is it worth it.
Have you tried Caverna? We’d love to hear your thoughts on our Caverna review. Drop a comment below!