Many of the games I get to play these days are played with the family or with my casual gamer crew, which can mean that the more complex titles tend to languish on the shelf as time and willingness to play and teach those bigger games can be hard to find during the hecticness of the year. However, every now and then I get to pull out one of my more complex games and sit down for an enjoyable few hours of crunchy decision making and point scoring. And this year, that game was Caverna.
Caverna replaces Agricola, the progenitor of the farming games. In Agricola you were a family of struggling farmers, barely scraping by, doing your best to raise your livestock and cultivate your crops. Agricola took the world by storm with this gruelling game of trying to survive and it reigned supreme for a while in the ranking tables of the board game world.
Now however it has been supplanted by this young upstart, Caverna, The Cave Farmers. In Caverna you are in control of a small household of Dwarves, eking out a meagre living in a cave deep in a lush green forest. The Dwarves must manage both sides of their board, burrowing deeper into the mountain to expand their home and mine for stone, ore and rubies. And clear the forest to build pastures and plough fields to house livestock and grow crops.
At the end of most rounds the players must harvest their crops, feed their Dwarves and breed new animals. In Agricola, feeding your people was a chore that often got in the way of expanding your farming empire. In Caverna the feeding phase is much more forgiving as your Dwarves can subsist on a diet of raw donkey, gold pieces or even nice crunchy rubies. Of course, subsuming your livestock or gold stash also cuts into your profit margin so finding ways to make more food is probably a better alternative.
Each round players will dispatch their Dwarves to seek out riches and rewards by placing them on to action spaces, which allow them to gather resources, clear forests or tunnel through the mountain. As the rounds go by the number of action spaces will increase bringing new options, like being able to “Wish for Children”, giving you more workers to use on future rounds.