Not often does a game skyrocket as quickly to the top 5 of my all-time favorite games as did Caverna after playing it a grand total of…one time! I’ve since played many times, and I am in love.
Caverna has the perfect amount of variations to win. Do you focus heavily on planting and harvesting crops along with breeding animals out in the open? Do you concentrate your valuable (and limited) actions to dig deep underground, creating caverns, ore mines, and even a rare ruby mine? Do you invest heavily in weaponry to reap the awesome loot that comes from high-level weapons? Do you horde rubies to instantly turn them into valuable goods? Or do you plan a coordinated, balanced strategy to maximize your return on investment? I’ve seen every one of these tactics win.
Here are a few random and fun small-scale things that I love about Caverna which will be particularly intriguing to those who have played Agricola: the dogs can “watch” sheep in open meadows without a fenced-in pasture; you can store a single donkey in each underground, unfurnished cavern; there is some randomness embedded with the harvest (you don’t always know if there will be a harvest or not); you can store a single boar in a forest space with a stable; lastly, you can convert animals and harvested grain/vegetables into consumable food immediately! There are many other reasons why I prefer Caverna to Agricola, but these are just a few.
Another awesome aspect is the furnishing of caverns. Don’t overlook them! Once you build a cavern, you can “customize” it to suite your particular strategy and reap many benefits immediately, over several rounds, or at the end of the game. For example, one furnishing gives you one coin per two sheep at the end of the game. Another gives you one ruby for each of the next several rounds. Another gives you discounts on subsequent furnishings or pastures. There are many combinations of furnishings that can provide powerful enhancements to your gameplay.
Set-up and take-down are a bit of a beast. There are, as I count it, 43 different types of playing pieces, tiles, boards, cards, and tokens for a grand total of 851 individual items (not including the cards) in a 9-pound box . But don’t let that deter you! It is well worth it. The gameplay itself moves along at a good pace, and after a couple of games, you can keep the time under the estimated 30 minutes per player.
Overall, I give this game a resounding 9.5 out of 10. I’ve never given a full 10 before (I’m saving it for that one special game!), but this is as close as I’ve come!
Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review, but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.
Note: Mayfair Games published Caverna. Asmodee games recently acquired Mayfair Games. They’re still working out the acquisition, so you won’t find Caverna on Asmodee’s site yet.