Should games be reviewed in a vacuum? When I consider a game, should I be looking at it as a product as if no other games exist, or should I be comparing it to similar games? Does this change if the designer of the game already has a similar game on the market? The question of “Do I need both?” comes up often enough, so I assume there are values in the comparisons.

Uwe Rosenberg has released a lot of games, and if you’ve played several of his game, you’ll start to notice some common trends. The polyomino games like Patchwork, New York Zoo, Cottage Garden, and A Feast for Odin or the farming games like Agricola, Fields of Arle, and Caverna: The Cave Farmers have similar mechanics between them, often evoking similar feels and emotions when they get played.

How to Play

Caverna: The Cave Farmers is a worker placement game. The centre of the table holds the main action board that gets populated with resources every round, and allows you to take actions on your player board to help you scratch a living from the land. Players start with only two workers living in a simple dwelling. On your turn, you place one of your workers onto an unoccupied space on the main board, and take the depicted action.

Your player board has two halves. The left half is a forest, which you can slash and burn to create fields and meadows to grow crops and breed animals. The right side of your board is a mountain, which you can carve into space for furnishings and dwellings, which will give you special powers, or earn you victory points at the end of the game.

At the end of each round, there might be a harvest. During a harvest phase you start by pulling one item off each of your crops, then, you must feed your people. Two food is required for every fully grown worker you have. Then, if you have a pair of animals on your board, they produce a third animal!

At the start of each round, and new action space is revealed, offering new and exciting actions for you and your opponents to take. Once you’ve reveals all the actions spaces, and satisfied the final harvest phase, the game comes to an end, and the player with the most points is the winner.


Look, Agricola and Caverna: The Cave Farmers (hereby just called Caverna) get compared a lot. They’re both worker placement games where you need to build a farm and feed your people. I’ve outlined some of their similarities and differences here, but I’ll be focusing on Caverna as if Agricola doesn’t exist until the end of the review.

Caverna is a big box. With enough components to play up to 7 players, it has heft, and it sprawls, consuming even the largest of tables. I highly recommend having bowls or some other way to manage the tokens, and they are plentiful and get messy when someone’s fingers dive into the neat little piles, sending tiny wooden pieces skittering across the floor. I can’t imagine playing Caverna with 7 players. At an advertised (and generous) 30 minutes per player, that would take all day. The downtime in between turns can be a bit of a problem at 4 players already. In a 4 player game, if I have 30 minutes of ‘game play’ time, that would mean there are 90 minutes of me just watching my opponent hem and haw over which resources they want to take.

I generally enjoy worker placement games, they’re interactive without the daggers. The most you can do to your opponents is take the spot they wanted to go to, which is enough for me to have some trash-talk with my friends, but not enough to inspire ill will. Uwe Rosenberg has mastered the tension of worker placement games, making plenty of spaces lucrative and tempting, and that every space should be taken at least once per game. There’s enough actions to take so that I never feel like I’m wasting a turn, but there are plenty of situations where you really really want to take a specific action space as it would just benefit you so greatly.

Caverna’s resources are varied. There’s wood, stone, ore, rubies, food, gold, dogs, sheep, donkeys, cows, wheat, and vegetables, each as a custom shaped wooden piece. Most of these resources can be found on the main board, flowing into the system and into your personal supply by taking the stockpiles as your action. Rubies are a wildcard resource, they can be converted into almost anything else at any time, making them valuable and perfect for filling in any minor shortfalls you find yourself in. Of course, having this many resources means you’ll frequently find yourself missing one entirely and need to take a whole action to acquire however many of that resource are available on the main board.

One of the mechanics I didn’t talk about above is the ‘expeditions’. Once the smelting action becomes available, you can spend ore to build a weapon for your worker. If that worker is then placed on an action space that allows expeditions, they acquire resources up to their level. This is perfect for acquiring a small amount of a lot of different goods and covering any dearths in the market. Bigfoot just took all the sheep from the board? No problem, I’ll just bring one home from my expedition.

The expeditions open Caverna wide up. Suddenly, missing resources on the player board aren’t a real issue any longer. Fairly quickly, you can get anything you need from a simple expedition. Desperately need a pumpkin? My level 4 worker has got you covered. The expedition spaces are hotly contested, but Caverna does force you to use your workers in reverse strength order, meaning your worker with the best weapon will appear on the board last. You can spend a ruby to play one out of order, however.

The expeditions can grind the game to a halt. If you’re trying to figure out which 4 items you will take from your level 9 adventure, there are a lot of aspects to consider. The rule book says that while someone is considering their expedition loot options, the next player can proceed with their turn. However, in one of my 4 player games, the subsequent players all took their turns, and it made it back around to the player who was still wrestling with his options. It’s a bit of a struggle just watching people think while you wait for your turn. If you or your group are sensitive to analysis paralysis, be wary of this game.

The game length is also deceiving. The first 5 rounds FLY by, taking mere minutes each. The very first time I played Caverna, I texted my (then) girlfriend after 6 rounds and told her to meet me somewhere in 30 minutes. Low and behold, the final 3 rounds take at least 15 minutes each. It makes sense, as the game goes on the number of workers each person has will likely double, and the number of available actions also increases significantly. Not everyone will be bothered by the length of the game, but adjust your expectations accordingly.

I’ve barely touched on the furnishing board. 48 different buildings that are available to everyone from the start of the game. To build these, you need to prepare space in your cave, but they offer game-changing bonuses if chosen correctly. The Seam room provides an ore everytime you obtain a rock, the cooking cave allows you to trade in a vegetable and a grain for 5 food (2 more than they would provide on their own), and parlours, storage rooms, and chambers offer a bevy of end-game scoring opportunities. These rooms never change and known from the start of the game.

Here is where I arrive at why I prefer Agricola over Caverna. Agricola has multiple decks of cards offering various tools and occupations. While luck can hurt, it’s up to you to figure out a way to earn the most points by using the cards dealt (or drafted) to you. Each game is unique and can vary wildly. Caverna takes a more static path, allowing you to pick the strategy you want to change before you even take your first turn. I could see rote openings and meta strategies being developed among Caverna enthusiasts. Caverna lacks the same tension and stress that I enjoy overcoming in Agricola. Never have I even come close to needing a begging tile. Sure, MAYBE giving up a cow would cost me more than 3 points, and it MIGHT make sense to beg instead of slaughter my animals, but I’ve never been in danger. That said, I’ve also never won Caverna, so maybe my own sense of tension is misguided. I generally don’t feel the pinch of resources being taken from me, as I can just go on an expedition to make up my shortfalls, or collect rubies to convert into anything I might need. It’s much more forgiving than Misery Farm

That being said, I do quite like Caverna, just not as much as Agricola. It appears that I’m in the minority, as everyone else I’ve played Caverna with, and have also played Agricola, prefer this cave dwelling experience more. Both games are excellent, and playing either one is well worth your time, but I do not believe that anyone needs to own both. This is a case where you should try both and choose your favourite to own. If you enjoy randomness and variability, seek out Agricola. If you prefer refining your strategy with a more static set up, then Caverna: The Cave Farmers just might be the right game for you.