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Caverna: Cave Vs. Cave is a 2-player distillation of the Caverna theme, with some new (and exceedingly streamlined) mechanics. Both players take turns drafting actions in order to gather resources, clear space in their caves, and build rooms for points.
COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
Standard high-quality chipboard action board, player boards, room/action tiles, walls, and markers. Wooden resource meeples of good quality (or optional chipboard resource trackers).
GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
Both players receive an individual cave board with 9 unexcavated cave spaces, 1 opened space, and one orange room. Players also start with 1 of each resource. A set of actions is available on the central board.
On your turn, you may take one unchosen action tile from the central board and use it. Actions include some combination of:
*Excavate a cave space to ready it for building
*Place a wall in your cave
*Build a room in your cave (requires an excavated space, resources, and possibly some walls)
*Activate orange rooms in your cave
After each player has taken 2/3/4 actions (depending on whether it is turns 1-3, 4-7, or 8), all actions are returned to the central board, and a new action is revealed as an additional option for the following round.
At the end of the 8th round, you add your Gold total to your VP for built rooms, and whichever player has the highest total wins.
*Fast and easy to learn and play
The original Caverna may dwarf (ha) Agricola when it comes to complicated setup and lengthy playtimes. CvC is a much lighter game, even lighter than Agricola Family Edition. The game lasts only 8 rounds, and turns are fairly straightforward as you just grab an action from the central board and execute it. While the iconography may not quite be self-explanatory, after a quick explanation it's pretty clear what each action does, and the flow of Get Resources-->Build Rooms is a fairly simple one. The streamlined game eliminates all of the overhead and complications such as food upkeep or family growth, and just focuses on gathering resources to build rooms in a cave.
*Feels Caverna-themed without just being a watered-down Caverna
While many aspects of Caverna proper (e.g. farming, weaponsmithing, animals, etc.) may have been disappeared, CvC maintains the overarching sense that you are a tribe of dwarves hollowing out your cave to build rooms in it, which in turn requires gathering resources to build the rooms. That being said, the gameplay is sufficiently different that CvC feels more inspired by Caverna than an attempt to recreate it. The main mechanic of action-drafting may function similarly to worker placement, but the feel of the game is sufficiently different that I'm happy to have both CvC and Caverna in my collection.
*Random rooms force different strategies
An interesting wrinkle of CvC is that aside from the four starter rooms, a new random room becomes available to build whenever anyone excavates a cave tile. The result is that - unlike Caverna - players cannot rely on building a certain room early in the game to help them along, as it may not even appear until the very end of the game. In the few games I've played so far, the game played out somewhat differently depending on what rooms were added to the pool early. Early good infrastructure rooms are obviously a very strong buy and can guide your strategy for the rest of the game.
But it's also true that seeing a high-point room early on may cause you to jump through a few hoops in order to grab it -- one game saw the Dungeon as the first room flipped, and led me to rush gold and walls in order to get the points.
*Everything is Infrastructure
Rather than having many different types of rooms ranging from housing to endgame points to assistance, CvC only has one type of room, in two varieties. Every single room is both infrastructure and endgame VP. This seems like a sensible design choice in a game where rooms are revealed in a random order, so any room can be valuable as early as turn 1 for its infrastructure, or as late as turn 8 for extra VP.
Not that all rooms are created equal. The VP has a range, and the infrastructure comes in two types: Blue rooms, which automatically give their bonus whenever the trigger condition is met, and Orange rooms, which may be activated as part of your action whenever you take an action tile that has an orange number on it. But the fact that every room is useful is a large part of what makes the game work.
*Lacks Caverna's breadth of options
Obviously this was a requirement in order to trim down the behemoth that is Caverna into a fast little 2p game like CvC. But where Caverna seems to offer boundless options to expand in whatever way you like, CvC has a fairly constricted path you need to follow. While Caverna might let you focus on weapons while ignoring farming, or focus on farming while ignoring coal, or ignore all of the above just to raise animals, in CvC every player will necessarily be following the same exact flow of excavate spaces, gather resources, build rooms.
Cave vs. Cave is a good game that I enjoyed playing. But at the same time, I don't see myself suggesting it when someone says "Let's play Caverna!" To me, they are very different games. CvC is a tighter resource-gathering and room-building efficiency contest, as opposed to Caverna's wide-ranging farm/cave sim space. I think CvC may well hit the table at my house more often because it's quick to setup and play where Caverna is a "afternoon off" sort of game. But that's not because CvC in any way replaces Caverna; this is a game with a similar theme but a very different feel.
And I'm good with that. If you read my Agricola: Family Edition review, you know that while I enjoyed Agricola:Family well enough and can see how it would appeal to those who found Agricola too complex, I myself would never play it instead of Agricola, because it doesn't do anything Agricola doesn't. CvC, meanwhilst, is a different beast than Caverna, and for me that is a point in its favor and means I will want to play it again.
IS IT FOR YOU?
Caverna fans looking for more of the same will likely find CvC's more constrained playspace a bit too confining. CvC is not just Caverna Lite, but a different game in the same theme. Caverna fans will have the best chance to enjoy CvC if they can come to it expecting a tighter 2p efficiency building game, rather than a streamlined farm sim game.
If you know nothing about Caverna, CvC offers a solid game with good components which is quick to learn but has a sufficient variety of rooms to offer some replay value.
*Review copy supplied by publisher