Just realized I haven’t blogged about “Caverna: The Cave Farmers” yet, the heaviest board game I’ve bought so far, literally. By Amazon it weights 7.8 pounds. It took me more than 20 minutes just to punch out all the tokens.
Caverna is basically an “Agricola 2.0”. If you’ve played Agricola before, you can easily find lots of similarities in Caverna. Fixed number of rounds, sowing vegetables and harvesting crops, feeding animals and turning your farm to a zoo, and of course, feeding your family and struggling on the line of starving. Hence, it’s pretty easy for Agricola players to learn Caverna despite the length of the rule book.
But after a few plays I noticed there were some obvious differences between Caverna and Agricola, which actually made a veteran Agricola player like me feel weird. It was not until almost 10 games that I started getting the hang of it.
The first impression of Caverna was everything goes faster, twice faster. In Agricola the game gets more and more going on later in the game, the Caverna the “game accelerating trajectory” is even more dramatic. For example, Slash and Burn (build a field and sow) is an end-game “power move” in Agricola, but in Caverna it’s available from the beginning. In Caverna, a high-level dwarf doing a 4-loot expedition feels like he can single-handedly turn the farm over in one day, which gives you an exciting feeling that is rarely found in Agricola. On this point, I like Caverna better.
Another great part of Caverna is it increased the strategy diversity. In Agricola almost every game and everyone aims for the same main route: building rooms and adding family members. The strategy variety in Agricola greatly depends on the career/development cards. In Caverna because of the introduction of Expedition and the general increase of action capabilities, the value of an action can be much more dramatically different, so a smaller family size is not necessarily a huge disadvantage, in some cases it could even be an advantage (your higher-level dwarf can act earlier). Scoring changes for family members also reduced the importance of having more family members. Considering a few other scoring and rule changes, I feel Caverna really enables more feasible strategies in the base framework of the game, instead of relying on a huge set of random cards.
Using a fixed set of Furnishing Tiles to replace career/development cards is a bold design. Agricola’s great replayability mainly comes from the random cards, which is a double-edge sword. A strong hand or just one or two combos can sometimes give a player unfair advantages in a game; and new players usually cannot figure out their cards well that either slow down the game or make their winning chance very dim. Therefore I definitely welcome a try for a more transparent and balanced mechanism to provide similar replayability. So far I have mixed feelings about Caverna’s Furnishing Tiles. They’re public information so when a new player is confused you can easily explain. However they don’t seem to be very well balanced as far as I can see. There are obviously strong tiles and almost useless ones. Maybe I haven’t experimented enough strategies to see more usefulness from some cards. Anyway it’s still better to have all Furnishing Tiles in a public market so any player can buy, so the imbalance introduced by drawing is eliminated.
Overall I recommend this game to people who like Agricola and would like to experience something similar and new. Have the expectation that you might be confused for a few games and won’t immediately enjoy it even if you know Agricola well. It’s a real v2.0, not a v1.1.
Haven’t played RFTG for years although it is the first strategy board game xw and I ever played and practically led us into the board game world. We played the original version and the 1st expansion a lot, but the 2nd and the 3rd expansions made us lose interests on this game, because it felt like the system became complex and difficult for us to have a good grasp and enjoy.
The last game I bought, Takenoko, wasn’t very successful. So I’ve been looking for a new one for a while and noticed RFTG released its 4th expansion last year, named Alien Artifacts. The 4th expansion started a new “Arc”, or you can understand it as a new trilogy. So it should be played only with the original game, not with the first 3 expansions. Because of the history above, this feature is actually very attractive to me.
The 4th expansion added a bunch of new cards into the original game, and a new sub-system – Alien Orb. The Orb system feels quite weird because it’s not really “integrated” into the game and is completely optional. It’s slightly similar to Carcassonne: players put new tiles to form a map in turn, and move “meeples”. The mechanism is almost completed separated with the main card game, and the main relationship is you can get a few power tokens from the Orb system to use in the card game, also VPs.
I played 2 games with the Orb system and 2 without it. So far I prefer the latter much more. The Orb phase feels like a distraction so players need to “switch” thoughts between the cards and the map. And it introduces downtime into the fast-pacing original game, but doesn’t seem to bring enough interaction as a good trade-off.
Although the Orb system seems a bad addition to me and also received lots of critics on BBG forums, the 4th expansion is still a good expansion overall. The original game has a few elements “incomplete”, such as Rebel cards and Uplift cards, even the whole Alien branch. It’s obvious the design idea is to complete the missing parts in expansions. The new cards added in Alien Artifacts are quite a lot and balanced the whole game well. When play a card suite with the 4th expansion, it feels much more like a complete system and not over-complicated. I highly recommend to try this expansion if you play the original RFTG, but feel free to leave out the Orb system.