Happy October! Summer is over, and hopefully we’ll be back to our regular scheduled game nights. With luck, we’ll start having some weekend game sessions as well, so my weekly report posts will feature more than one game!
The Weekly Report series serves as my script for my segment on Cardboard Conjecture’s weekly “Whatcha Been Playing Wednesdays” episodes. If you want to hear me speak this, rather than read it, check it Norm’s podcast here
Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Following up on last weeks play of New York Zoo, we chose to return to one of Uwe Rosenberg’s most popular game, Caverna: The Cave Farmers. Now, I’ll profess all day long that I prefer Agricola, but I’ll concede that Agricola can be a harsh game. Between failing to get an engine running, getting iced out of placing professions, and watching someone else get a game breaking combo of cards that makes you feel grossly inadequate, I can see why some people prefer Caverna.
In both Agricola and Canverna, you play as farmers trying to scratch a living from the land. You start with a tiny two room home and are tasked to grow crops, breed animals, and build structures to enhance your daily life. In Caverna, your player board is two sided, on the left you have the familiar farmland, overgrown with trees. On the right is your home mountain. The action selection board is huge, and populated with resources every round. Players place one of their workers onto an action space, collect the resources or preform the action depicted, and play continues around the table until all workers have been deployed. You pull your workers back, evaluate if there is a harvest or not, then re-seed the board with resources and go again.
One of the biggest changes in Caverna is the furnishing board. Instead of decks of cards of occupations and tools, now, there’s ~50 some odd rooms you can build in your mountain (once you hew space in the rocks for your couch, that is). Each of these rooms will provide you with some kind of benefit. Some will let you house more workers, others will allow you to feed your children by feeding them rocks, and others will give you end game points. Another big aspect to Caverna (although you can ignore this aspect) is arming your dwarves and sending them out on adventures to pick up various goods. The bigger the axe, the better goods you can acquire.
Most of the rounds will conclude with a harvest phase, where you can pull one good off your planted crops, then you need to feed your family (2 food per family member), and then, if you have two or more of an animal, they produce a single offspring.
I find Caverna to be more open and forgiving than Agricola, and to me, that’s a detriment. I enjoy the tension and satisfaction of overcoming the challenge that is “Misery farm”. Caverna is more deterministic, the buildings available are static, meaning you could chase the same strategy every time with the only differences being the order in which the actions come out each round, and your opponents taking resources that you require (which, granted, those can be pretty big impacts on your game).
Even though I’ve been detailing all the ways that I prefer Agricola over Caverna throughout this entire article, I still really enjoy both. It’s fun to get an engine running, and it’s fun to see the ebb and flow of resources, and it’s satisfying at the end of the game when you tally up your points and marvel at how much you managed to achieve, especially after the first 5 rounds feel like you’ve achieved nothing.
That being said, here’s a little story. The copy of Caverna we played this week is owned by Bigfoot, who bought it second hand. The ad reported that it had only been played once. The scorepad in the box corobroated this claim, but man, the scores the previous owners recorded were absolutely atrocious. They had negative 17 points due to unfilled farm spaces, only two people managed to have produce a third worker! The 5 players managed to earn a 10 – 15 points each. By contrast in our 3 player game, two players had 4 workers while I managed to have 6, all but 2 spaces on each our player boards were filled, and we all managed to have at least one of every animal. Our scores were just under 80 points each. I weep for the miserable time the previous owners must have had.
I have only played Agricola a few times when I was new to heavier games. I decided the game should have been named “misery farm” and never played it again. I probably should revisit it now that I have much more experience with heavier games.
My favorite Rosenberg is still Bohnanza which is the least like all his other titles so maybe I’m just not a good match for that style?
It’s kind of disappointing when a designer releases a game you really like, and all their follow-ups fail to live up to their prior designs!
The stress of not being able to feed your family in Agricola can be upsetting for a lot of people, but for me, I have so much satisfaction at the end of the game when I overcome that challenge and have a productive, profitable farm! My partner REFUSES to go back to Agricola. I hope that when you do, you’re able to find some joy in the game 🙂