Agricola hurts. It is known. But the farming simulator by renowned designer Uwe Rosenberg received a mea culpa follow-up in Caverna: The Cave Farmers, which takes a lot of the same elements as Agricola and leaves off some of the nail-biting tension. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on your preferences. Here’s how to play.

(click to view transcript)

Hi! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table, and this is Caverna: The Cave Farmers, a fantasy farming and mining worker placement game for 1-7 players. Let me show you how to play.

You and your friends play a dwarf couple who have built a cozy little home in the mouth in a cave next to a forest, and who want to start farming and mining to grow rich and bountiful.

You’ll clear cut the forest outside to grow crops and raise livestock, while strip mining the inside of the mountain to discover valuable ore and precious rubies. You can hollow out caverns and furnish the inside of your cave with more bedrooms to house your offspring, or with other types of rooms to give you an edge over your competition. You can even forge powerful weapons that let you lead looting expeditions to bring home more goodies. At the end of the game, you’ll lose points for any farm or cave space you didn’t use, any animal type you didn’t raise, and any family member you didn’t feed. But you’ll gain points for your animals, rubies, rooms, and crops, all of which you’ll liquidate into pure, sold ngyoLLD!! At the end of the game, whichever dwarf has amassed the most gold points, wins!

FARMING AND MINING

You have to keep two plates spinning in Caverna: developing your farm land, and your cave system as the years go by, all while keeping your family fed. This is a worker placement game, which means that you start out with two dwarfs, who are both perfectly circular like dwarfs should be… and there’s a common board of actions where you and your opponents take turns placing your dwarfs to get and do… stuff! Each space can only hold one dwarf, so all the spaces are first come, first served.

It makes sense to show you all the stuff you can put on your farm and how many points it’s worth, and then work backwards to show you how you GET all that stuff.

You can place a field or a meadow on your farmland, and very often you can place this dual tile that includes both. The very first farm tile you lay down has to go adjacent to the front door of your cave, and then everything else you build has to go adjacent to that, as you chop down the forest. Meadows and fields can connect to each other any which way, but they can’t go out of bounds, and it may be more advantageous to connect two meadows together, as you’ll see shortly. If you manage to cover up either of these spaces, you’ll find a wild boar roaming through the forest, and if you cover this water source, you’ll get 1 food token to help feed your family. Mmm! Delicious… water.

By taking certain actions, you can get crops – either grain or vegetables – and by taking certain other actions, you can plant those crops in your field, which you’ll be able to harvest and eat later.

The animals in the game include dogs, sheep, donkeys, wild boars, and cattle. With a few exceptions, any livestock you raise have to be fenced in or stabled, so you can build fenced pastures – either single tiles or double tiles on adjacent meadow spaces – and stables to keep your animals from running away. You can’t build pastures on top of forests – those spaces have to be cleared into meadows first – nor can you build pastures on fields.

Likewise in your cave, there are two types of spaces you can build: wide-open caverns (you start the game with one of these pre-printed on your board) or narrower tunnels. There’s a double tile you can place with a cavern and a tunnel on it, and on the other side of that tile there’s a double cavern.

You can furnish your caverns into rooms, and dig your tunnels into mines – either ore mines to get ore, or ruby mines to get rubies. Like the farm, your cave tiles have to go adjacent to existing stuff in your cave, and the tiles can’t overhang. If you build over this water source, you get 1 food, and 2 food for digging up this one.

The remaining resources i haven’t mentioned are wood, stone, and gold coins, which you’ll get and spend in a variety of ways.

So that’s all the stuff. Let’s see what kind of points it all gets you at the end of the game.

First things first: any unused space on your farm or in your cave loses you 1 point. Then, you’ll lose 2 points for every type of animal you’re missing. And finally, if you had trouble keeping your family fed, you may have had to take one or more begging markers, which lose you 3 points each.

But on the bright side, you get gold points for all the pastures, mines, and rooms you built. Some rooms even earn you points on top of points depending on what’s going on on your home board. Each member of your family gets you a point, and each individual animal you own is worth a point too. Your vegetables, rubies, and gold coin values are all worth a point each, and your grain tokens are worth half a point each, rounded up.

So that’s what you’re aiming for: build a bunch of stuff, get a bunch of gold points, and try to avoid empty spaces, missing animals, and begging for food. Now let’s look at the spaces on the common board, where you’ll place your dwarfs to get all the stuff.

ROUND ANATOMY

Here’s how a round works: all of these action spaces are available off the jump, and you deal one new action to the first space in round one. These cards come out more or less in a set order, though there is a little bit of randomization within the stages.

Some of these spaces get resources on them that you can claim. The first player gets first pick. That player places a dwarf, and does the thing. Then, in clockwise order, everyone else places a dwarf, and does the thing. Then, all the dwarfs stay where they are, blocking those spaces, and the first player picks again, placing his or her second dwarf. Then once more around the table. And you keep going like this until everyone is out of dwarfs. Later in the game, some players may have more dwarfs than others, so those players will get more turns. But they’ll also have the burden of more hungry mouths to feed.

Once everyone has placed all their dwarfs, you look at the symbol beneath the current round’s card. If it’s a green leaf, that means that it’s harvest time, when you’ll be able to reap your crops, feed your family, and breed your livestock. In some rounds, there is no harvest, and you’ll just have to feed your family a little bit of food, or none at all. And in some rounds, it’s a mystery as to whether harvest will happen or not. The harvest state is fixed for the first few rounds of the game, but it’s randomized for most of the game using these tokens. We’ll take a closer look at harvest later.

Once harvest happens, or doesn’t, depending on the round, you’ll take your dwarfs back, and deal out a new action card for the next round. You’ll also pay down any spaces that get resources – those are the ones with the little arrows on them. If a space like this one is empty, you put the number of resources showing here. But if the round ended and the space still has resources on it, you’ll add the number of resources in the bracket. So these spaces accumulate more and more stuff as the game goes on, until it just gets too tempting to pass up, and someone takes it all. Then they build up again from nothing.

Now let’s dive in deeper and see what the individual action spaces do.

ACTION SPACES

These are the standard spaces available to you off the top of the game. You’ll use different side boards depending on your player count, which provide extra spaces so the game doesn’t get too crowded.

Some spaces give you multiple options – these could be separated by either/or, and/or, or and then/or, or straight up and then, but in any case, you have to be able to do something on the space you take, otherwise you can’t go there. And on an “and then” space, you have to do the top thing before you do the bottom thing. Any space that has stuff on it means you place there, and you take the stuff. So here, you take whatever wood has accumulated, plus two food.

On the ruby mining space, you take however many rubies have accumulated there. If you have at least 1 ruby mine, you get a bonus ruby. That’s not 1 bonus ruby per ruby mine – it’s 1 bonus ruby whether you have 1 ruby mine or 5 ruby mines. Rubies get you a point at the end of the game, but they can also act as sort of a wild resource that you can use to buy almost anything else in the game. So pay 1 ruby to get any of these things, including a single meadow, field, or tunnel, pay 2 rubies to dig a single cavern, and pay a ruby and a food to get a cow. We’ll deal with this bit later. You can spend your rubies whenever you like, even when it’s not your turn, and even during harvest to, say, get a pair of animals just before breeding happens, or just before you place a dwarf on an action space, maybe to sow a field before planting your crops. If you spend a ruby to build a tile, you have to place that tile right away. In a 2 player game, the ruby mining space doesn’t start accumulating rubies until round 3.

The Housework space gets you a dog, and lets you furnish a cavern. You begin the game with 1 empty cavern, and you can dig more as the game goes on. There’s a whole pile of rooms you can choose from, loosely grouped into a few different categories: dwellings that can house extra dwarfs and food, rooms that let you house more animals and break placement rules, like this one, that lets you accommodate three cows, or this one that lets you overhang your twin tiles, and earn gold coins for doing it… rooms that get you more resources, like this one, that gets you extra rubies for the next 4 rounds… rooms that help you feed your family, like this one, that gets you extra food whenever you eat an animal, and rooms that get you extra gold points by endgame, like this one, that awards you points for excess stone, and this one, that gets you 8 points if you finish the game without any weapons.

The cost of each room us up here, and the number of gold points the room is worth at the end of the game is here. Some rooms have this asterisk, which means they’re worth a variable number of points depending on how well you’ve met certain conditions. Except for these standard dwellings, there’s only 1 copy of each room available, so get em while they’re hot! I’m definitely not going to go over what each room does, and it’s a lot to take in, but i think taking the time to study these rooms and what they all do is the key to doing well at Caverna.

Once you’ve built a room on either your pre-printed cavern or one you dig, you can’t move it… remove it… or build on top of it – and this rule, like the room, is etched in stone.

The Slash-and-Burn space lets you place a double field and meadow tile on your farm, following the rules we’ve already talked about, and/or to sow your crops on existing fields. You can sow up to two grain tokens, and up to two vegetable tokens from your personal supply. Place each token in an empty field, and then take two more grain from the general supply, or one more veggie from the general supply, and place them on top. Hey – free food! The only problem is that your food is technically underground, so it’s locked there until harvest time. You can’t use the sow action to plant something on top of a crop that’s already there… and you can’t plant more than one crop from your personal supply in a single field.

Now let’s look at the action spaces that get dealt out as the game goes on.

These three actions come out in a random order in Stage 1. The sheep farming space lets you pay 2 wood to fence in 1 of your meadows, and/or 4 wood to fence in a double-meadow. You can do one or the other, or both, or neither, but you can’t build either of these things more than once on this turn. You can only fence in green meadows – you can’t fence in a field… or a forest… or an existing pasture… or any space inside your cave.

You can also pay 1 stone to build a stable.

Stables can go on an uncut forest… on a meadow… or in a pasture. When they’re in a pasture, they double the amount of animals that pasture can hold. We haven’t looked at animal husbandry yet, but generally, this single-tile pasture can hold 2 animals of the same type, and this double-tile pasture can hold 4 animals of the same type. Add a stable here, and you can hold 4 animals. Add one here to hold 8 animals.

Generally, you can’t keep any animals on a meadow, but if you build a stable on it, you can keep 1 animal there.

And you definitely can’t keep any animals in the woods, but if you build a stable in a forested area, you can keep 1 wild boar there.

You can build a stable anywhere on your farm – it doesn’t have to be adjacent to any existing tile. But it can’t go on a field… and it can’t go in your cave. Farm spaces can hold 1 stable at a max, and you have 3 stables total that you can build throughout the game. You’re allowed to cut down trees around a stable and pop a meadow beneath it… and likewise you can fence in a meadow that has a stable in it. If you build a stable on either of these spaces, or on the water source, you don’t get the wild boar or food bonus. You need to place a tile there instead.

And finally, you get to take any sheep that have accumulated on this space.

The stuff you take from the board goes in your personal supply, but animals have to be accommodated on your home board. If you can’t accommodate them, you can eat them, which we’ll look at later.

If you take any action that lets you place a dual tile, and you’ve run out of room, you’re not allowed to place a single tile instead.

WEAPONS AND EXPEDITIONS

The Blacksmithing action lets you outfit one of your unarmed dwarfs with a weapon. The strength of the weapon depends on how much ore you pay. You have to spend at least 1 ore if you want a weapon, and you can pay a maximum of 8 ore to get a level 8 weapon. Or, you could skip this bit entirely and place a dwarf here who already has a weapon and go on an expedition… but you can’t place an armed dwarf here and pay ore to upgrade its existing weapon.

Whenever you have an armed dwarf on a space with one of these shield and axe icons on it, you get to send that dwarf on an expedition – and that includes a dwarf who’s just been given a brand new weapon. This card lists a bunch of loot you can get depending on your dwarf’s weapons proficiency. So a dwarf with a level 4 weapon can take any item from level 4 on down to level 1 – two chunks of ore or a vegetable or a donkey or a stone or a sheep or a grain or a dog or a piece of wood or this special ability, which lets you upgrade the weapon levels of all your armed dwarfs.

The number on the expedition shield indicates how many different pieces of loot you can claim, but the catch is that you can’t double up. So if your level 4 dwarf is entitled to 3 pieces of loot, you couldn’t take 3 vegetables – you’d have to mix it up and take a variety of things. If all you’ve got is a level 1 dwarf and you take a 3-loot expedition, you’d get 1 dog, 1 piece of wood, and 1 “upgrade all weapons” action.

After an armed dwarf goes on an expedition, it automatically levels up! Keep an incremented weapon chit nearby, and when you finish the expedition, swap its old weapon for the new one. If you claimed the “upgrade all weapons” loot, then this token should be 2 higher than your dwarf’s current weapon… and you should have immediately upgraded any other armed dwarfs you have, wherever they may be.

If you send your armed dwarfs on numerous expeditions throughout the game, you’ll be entitled to ever more valuable loot, including building cheaper dwellings, adding single tiles to your farm or cave, and at the top level, breeding your farm animals for free. 14 is the highest possible weapon strength.

Now, there’s one catch with armed dwarfs: when you place your dwarfs during the work phase, you have to place your weakest dwarfs first, up to your strongest dwarfs. That means you can’t gun for those expedition spaces right out of the gate – you have to work through all your weakling dwarfs first. But remember rubies? If you pay 1 ruby, you can play 1 dwarf out of order. So for one ruby, you can place Gorin Trollsplitter on any action space before her anemic family members roll out on successive turns.

The game designer notes in the rulebook that players tend to split along aggressive and peaceful lines, but if you have a group of pacifist players and one player goes after a weapons strategy, that player has an advantage. Likewise, if you have a group of players who all pursue an aggressive weapons strategy, and one player who goes pacifist, then the pacifist player has a good shot at winning!

On the Ore mine construction space, you can place a double ore mine tile over any two adjacent tunnel spaces… and if you do that, you get 3 ore. And/or you can go on an expedition for 2 pieces of loot, as long as the dwarf you placed here has a weapon. You can’t build ore mines on top of two deep, dark tunnels… or on top of a mix of deep and shallow tunnels.

STAGE 2 ACTIONS

These two action spaces come out randomly in stage 2, and this important action is in a fixed spot on the common board so that everyone has time to plan for it.

 

The Wish for Children space means you can either make a little dwarf baby, or furnish a dwelling in your cave. Note that this is specifically for a dwelling – which means you’d have to have an empty cavern, and you’d need to buy one of these orange rooms to fill it. Different dwellings have different perks – they cost different amounts, and they let you house different numbers of dwarfs and sometimes animals. They’re also worth a different number of gold points at the end of the game. You can only buy this dwelling if you already have five dwarfs in your family, and there’s only one of these, which means that one player at a maximum can go up to 6 dwarfs.

If you have one or more dwellings that has room for a dwarf, you can make a baby. Take one of the dwarf tokens from your personal supply, and pop it on top of your existing dwarf, to simulate the crushing burden of parenting. When it comes time to reclaim your dwarfs at the end of the round, you’ll take both discs back and spread them out in your home. And, of course, now you’ll get extra turns going forward.

On the ruby mine construction space, you can either place a ruby mine on a tunnel… or, if you’ve previously dug an ore mine, it has one of these darker “deep tunnels” next to it. If you dig your ruby mine there, you get a bonus ruby.

The donkey farming space is identical to the sheep farming space, except you get 1 or more donkeys instead of sheep.

STAGE 3 ACTIONS

These cards come out randomly in stage 3.

This one also lets you grow your family and/or sow your crops, and when it comes out, you have to flip the original wish for children card to its other side, making that card more powerful – now it says you can either take 3 gold, or build a dwelling AND get a baby at the same time.a

Ore delivery does what it says on the tin: take the stuff, and then get 2 ore for each ore mine you have in your cave.

This powerful Exploration action only comes out with 3 or more players. Exploration lets you send an armed dwarf on a journey to get 4 different pieces of loot. You’re not allowed to place an unarmed dwarf there.

STAGE 4 ACTIONS

These are the final three actions that come out randomly in stage 4.

This Adventure space lets you pay up to 8 ore to outfit one of your naked dwarfs with a weapon, just like the Blacksmithing space we saw earlier. Additionally, or alternatively, you can take a 1-loot expedition, and then another 1-loot expedition. That’s weird though… why is it split up like that? Well, because it’s two different expeditions, it means that you could double up, taking the same item both times!

Ruby delivery gets you x number of rubies, plus a bonus ruby if you have at least 2 ruby mines.

And finally, the ore trading space lets you trade in your unused ore for points and food – 2 ore up to three times. So the best you can do here is to trade 2 – 4 – 6 ore for 6 gold and 3 food.

Now that you understand the standard action spaces, the additional spaces that are dependent on player count should be self-explanatory.

The only ones that might throw you for a loop are these two, which get you either a tunnel-and-cavern tile, or the choice of a tunnel-and-cavern or the flip side of that tile, a double cavern, plus whatever stone is on the space.

These imitation spaces, which cost different amounts of food at different player counts, allow you to mimic an action someone else took. If you mimic an action space where someone took a whole pile of wood or something, you don’t get to take the same amount of wood – that stuff’s already gone. You can’t imitate a space that has one of your own dwarfs on it… and in games with multiple imitation spaces, you can’t daisy chain them – you can’t imitate an imitation space with someone else’s dwarf on it, in order to arm’s-length imitate a space with your own dwarf on it, you sneaky jerk!

This weekly market space gets you some gold coins, and then lets you spend coins on various items. You can buy as many things as you want, as long as they’re all unique, and you can spend more than just the number of gold coins you earned by going here. If you overpay, you’re allowed to make change.

One important space in every game lets you claim the start player marker and assorted other jazz, which means you’ll be going first next round, and play continues clockwise from wherever you’re sitting. You’re allowed to take this action even if you’re already the starting player, to protect it from sneaky jerks. And speaking of sneaky jerks, you can’t imitate the starting player space.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

We’ve seen that you can collect animals, and that animals can live on pastures or in stables, or in pastures with stables, and that 1 stabled pig can live on a forest tile, but there are a few other exceptions that each animal type brings to the table.

These are farm animals. This is not. So a dog can live anywhere it pleases – in your cave, out of your cave, between your spaces, on a field, under a meadow, up your nose, on a boat, with a goat – it doesn’t matter. But the coolest thing about dogs is that they can take the place of stables by guarding your sheep. So you can keep as many sheep as you want to on a meadow or a pasture, as long as you have a dog to watch them. You need one less dog than you have sheep to keep them safely unfenced. Having a stable in this situation has no effect.

Donkeys work the same as most animals, except they can also work your mines. Each mine can hold 1 donkey.

You may have noticed that there are no action spaces that provide wild boars or cattle. The only way that you can get these animals is by spending rubies – or rubies and food in the case of cattle – or by looting them from expeditions, or (in the case of wild boars), destroying their habitat. You can get ‘em in the Weekly Market too, but that space only shows up at certain player counts.

Your initial pre-printed cave dwelling has space for 2 dwarfs, and up to 2 animals of the same kind. Animals in Caverna don’t mix well, so you’re not allowed to combine different types of farm animals in your rooms or in pastures. You are allowed to move your animals around however you like, whenever you like, in order to accommodate them.

HARVEST

The first harvest happens at the end of round 3. Harvest is split up into three different sections: field, feed, and breed, and they happen in that order.

In the field phase, you pop off the top grain or vegetable from all of your fields, and put those tokens in your personal supply.

In the feed phase, you have to feed all of your dwarfs. Each family member eats 2 food – except for any babies crushing the life out of their poor parents on the actions board – they only eat 1 food at harvest time. And that food is probably your soul.

If you don’t have enough food tokens to feed everybody, you can convert the crops in your supply – not on your fields, but in your supply – and the animals on your home board, into food. You can even eat gold if you have to.

The food conversion chart is down here. 1 gold isn’t enough to buy you any food, and you can’t eat your dogs, no matter how delicious they look. 2 gold, a donkey, a sheep, or a grain will convert to 1 food. Cash in 3 gold, a boar, a ruby, or a vegetable for 2 food, and 4 gold, a cow, or a pair of donkeys will buy you 3 food. If, after all that, you still come up short, then for every food token you lack, you have to take 1 begging token, which will cost you 3 points at the end of the game. Short 2 food? Take 2 begging tokens.

And in the final harvest step, your animals breed. Anywhere you have two or more of a type of animal, even if they’re not in the same physical location, you get one more animal of that type, as long as you can accommodate it somewhere. That’s one baby animal, even if you have 20 parent animals. If you can’t accommodate the baby, it runs away. You can’t juice a baby animal for food, because the game designer has apparently never heard of veal. But once you accommodate a baby animal, it immediately grows to adulthood, and you can throw it in the sausage grinder to turn it into food. Board game logic!

Dogs aren’t farm animals, so they don’t breed. Hey – stop that.

Note that the breeding phase happens after you feed your family, so you can’t rely on newly bred animals to feed your peeps at harvest.

And now’s a good time to remind you that you can spend rubies at any time, so you could spend a ruby and a food on a cow right before breeding happens in order to get a third cow.

After round 4, there’s no harvest, but everyone has to pay 1 food per dwarf – even for babies.

Whenever you place a new action, you turn up the token beneath it. Most of these tokens will be green leaves, which indicate regular harvests, but three of them are red tokens. The first red token you meet means that there’s no harvest at the end of this round. The next red token you turn up works like round 4 – everyone eats 1 food, even babies, and there’s no harvest. And when you find the third token, that means that you have to feed everyone in the middle of harvest as usual, but all players individually choose whether you’re going to harvest your crops before feeding, or breed your animals after feeding. You don’t get to do both. These tokens are randomized at the beginning of the game, so they’ll keep you on your toes a little! And if you want to be on your toes for the whole entire game, try flipping these tokens only when the round has ended!

ENDGAME

When the last round ends and everyone has spent any rubies they want to spend, you count up the points to see who’s won. To recap: it’s minus 2 points for every type of animal you’re missing, minus 1 point for every empty space on your home board, and minus 3 points for every begging tile you took. Then, you get 1 gold point for every individual animal, vegetable, value of your gold coins, dwarf, and ruby, half a point for every grain token rounded up, and a certain number of gold points for all the pastures, rooms, and mines you’ve built. Then, tally up the points you get for certain meta-scoring rooms. Wood, ore, and stone don’t get you any points, unless you’ve built a room that says otherwise. In the case of a tie, all tied players share in the victory! (you rassa frassin’ little so-and-so…)

SETUP

To set up the game, grab a player board and 5 dwarf tokens in your favourite colour. Birth 2 dwarfs into your entry-level dwelling, and put your three unbuilt stables by your three unborn dwarfs. Put the two standard boards out, and then different combinations of side board depending on your player count. Put the harvest event card nearby. Shuffle all the phase cards, and then put them in order, and stick the Wish for children card in between stages 1 and 2. Remember when you put it out that it goes this side up, and it gets flipped to this side when this card comes out in stage 3. In a 2-player game, you gotta take this 4-loot expedition card out of the deck.

Shuffle the harvest markers and place them face down on all these spaces. In a 2-player game, get rid of one of them randomly, because you’re gonna put this lazy dwarf on this space to skip round 9.

Lay out the furnishing tile boards however they fit best on your table. These boards are double sided, with a limited number of rooms on one side for beginners, and the full monty on the other side.

Put all this other crap, like… i dunno. In a bucket or something.

The first player is whoever is the shortest player with the biggest beard, and that’s not sexist, because this is a game about dwarfs, so women count.

That player gets the start player marker and 1 food. Player 2 gets a food, player 3 gets 2 food, and everyone else gets 3 food. Make sure everyone gets one-a these, and one-a these.

If you’re playing solo, set the game up for 2 players, and start with 2 food. You deal the action cards out in a prescribed order according to the rulebook, and block the Wish for Children space with a dwarf card until round 4. Don’t worry about the harvest markers, because from round 5 onward, there’s a full harvest every round. The ruby mining space accumulates 1 ruby every round, unlike in a 2 player game. When it comes time to pepper all the spaces with resources, any space with 7 or more goods on it gets wiped out. You can spend a ruby for each space you want to prevent from being cleared out. Then, play through the game as usual, and try to get a high score. The game designer says 100 points is a good target to shoot for.

And now, you’re ready to play Caverna: The Cave Farmers!

 

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Get Your Own Copy of Caverna: The Cave Farmers

If Agricola sounds cool, but you don’t enjoy self-induced stomach cramps, consider adding Caverna: The Cave Farmers to your board game collection. It has an expansion called The Forgotten Folk that adds variable player powers. Shop for your copy using the Amazon link below, and i’ll receive a small commission.