Oct 15, 2014

[Games] Caverna: The Cave Farmers

It feels like we've had this total explosion of worker placement games in terms of our collection here at the Sietch. I guess Tobie has been rather enamored by the game mechanic and so he has been exploring more and more games that follows that pattern. And I can't really complain - the joys of worker placement games is all around the sort of weight that every action now has as you try to get to victory over your competitors.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers was one of those games that I had no idea about until Tobie was pretty much ordering the game. He had managed to reserve a copy for us over at Paradigm Infinitum right before our last trip to Singapore. And so when he showed the game to me, I didn't really know how to react to the game.

But there's a lot to love about this game - and this goes beyond the fact that it contains a ridiculous number of wooden figures ("animal meeple" is a lovely misnomer that we've embraced). It's a fairly complex game that provides a generous number of paths to success that provides players with many different options every time they sit down to play.

Synopsis: Caverna: The Cave Farmers is a worker placement game designed by Uwe Rosenberg and was initially released in 2013. The game supports 1-7 players and can run for about 30 minutes per player.

The basic premise of the game is a bit of a strange one - you are the dwarf leader of a family or tribe unit living in a cave in a mountain. As Cave Farmers, you have the option to expand out into the fields and forests around the mountain to cultivate vegetables and raise animals. Or you can go deeper into the mountain to find ore mines and build special rooms that provide different benefits. You start with two dwarfs under your control (which represent your two actions per turn) and from there you try to figure out how to best find a path to success.

Different actions trigger different benefits, but ultimately you need to find actions that give you more victory points. For example, harvesting ore is important to building weapons for your dwarfs to allow them to go on expeditions. However ore has no impact on your final victory points unless you get the right furnishing / room that gives them some value along those lines. In contrast, harvest vegetables can give you 1 victory point per vegetable at the end of the game while grain only offers half a point each.

The key component in this game is balance, I feel. There are a fair number of things to worry about such as having enough food for their dwarfs by the next harvest season or having enough space for your animals. You want to be able to take advantage of every harvest season by having grain and vegetables ready to grow or animals ready to breed. Do you let them reproduce or do you instead slaughter them to feed your people instead? Or should you just focus on getting gold / victory points mid-game and hope that carries you to the end.

With all those elements driving you mad, one can relish in the delight of all these wooden figures to help you track so many different things. There are pieces to represent the wood, ore and rubies that you gather. And there are pieces to represent the sheep, dogs, donkeys, boars and cows that you might possibly try to breed (except for the dogs actually). If you already like the meeples you get from games like Carcassonne, then you're going to love these little guys.

I've seen players win with a ridiculous horde of cows because he used both the harvest and expedition abilities to maximize his actions. I've personally tried to have as many mines as possible in order to score more points outright with these mines. I've seen sheep armies, massive vegetable farms and all these different strategies. And every time I play, I wonder if I'll try something new this time around, especially when other players get the actions or furninshings that I was hoping to use. This is a truly brilliant aspect of the game.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers is not for the faint of heart and you're probably going to screw up your first game. However if you like worker placement games with a heavy emphasis on resource management, then this is work the time needed to learn it and eventually master it. Thus the game gets 5 cute little sheep meeple (which can't be sheeple, right?) out of a possible 5.

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