First look: Caverna

For his birthday Dani received a copy of Caverna, a worker-placement game in the style of Agricola. We quite enjoy Agricola but hadn't heard of Caverna before.

This was pretty serendipitous; his family knows we like board games, doesn't know very much about the games we like, but found their way to this. They got advice at Snakes and Lattes, which sounds like an interesting place. As a nice coincidence (I don't think they knew to look for this), this game supports seven players, which is unusual in the games we enjoy. (Yes yes, of course Seven Wonders, and if you've got 8-12 hours there are other options.)

Like in Agricola, each player plays a family of workers trying to grow a farm and family. In Caverna you're playing a family of dwarves, and you have both cavern spaces (living quarters, mines, special rooms) and forest (that you clear for crops and pastures). Agricola's occupations and improvements have been replaced by (a smaller number of) special rooms that you can build. Some aspects of production have been expedited; for example, a single action can get you a double tile (field and meadow) and grain that you can later plant in that field. The game has ten turns, a few fewer than Agricola. It's easier to get food to feed your family, but harvests are more frequent so you need more. Harvests occasionally go...wrong.

There are two "wildcard" aspects to the game, rubies and expeditions. Rubies come from one of the possible actions each turn, and you can also dig ruby mines in your cave. Rubies, in turn, can be spent to get one of, well, pretty much anything -- a building resource, a crop to plant, food, an animal, and some special tiles. If you have some rubies, it's much easier to get out of a bind than it is in Agricola -- you can get that last bit of wood to add to your house, or that grain or vegetable to plant, or one more animal to eat.

The other "wildcard" is expeditions. You can spend ore (which you get from actions or from your ore mines) to give a dwarf a weapon, and armed dwarves can take expedition actions. An expedition lets you choose 1-3 items (depending on the type of expedition); how good those items are depend on the quality of the weapon (more ore = better weapon, plus they get better with use). As with rubies, most things in the game are available this way.

We've played two (two-player) games so far and enjoyed them. We'll definitely be pulling this out at the next games day (whenever that is), in addition to playing more games ourselves. The instructions claim the game is 30 minutes per player, but so far we're coming in around 45 minutes per, plus setup and cleanup. I assume we'll get faster as we learn the game better.

There's just one down-side, which we're trying to rectify: the game has a lot of pieces, many of which look similar enough at first glance that you do want to separate them. But they get mixed up in play, so setup and cleanup take a lot of time.

No, really, a lot:

box of many game pieces

That box is 5-6 inches deep.

Dani ordered some sectioned boxes that, with luck, will let us play right out of the trays, instead of having to dump pieces out on the table and try to keep them vaguely sorted.

Fun game, and a nice gift!