One of the earliest hidden role games (think Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow, Coup, or The Resistance) that i ever played was Saboteur. The original card/”tile”-laying game has a number of sequels. Saboteur: the Dark Cave is the latest installment in the story of dwarfs secretly stealing gold from each other. This time, the knee-high nugget luggers are escaping the mine as it floods, and dueling dangerous creatures as they do!
Something about the way you just told that giant cave rat to attack me suggests you might not be on my side. Hi – it’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table. Here’s how to play Saboteur: The Dark Cave.
You and your friends play dwarfs trying to escape a cave system with your pockets loaded full of loot. You’ll either be on the yellow team or the blue team, but unbeknownst to you, some of the members of your own dwarf clan may secretly be in cahoots with the rival dwarfs, and have sworn to help the other team escape with the most gold! You’ll build out the passages of the dark cave towards the four goal tiles, only one of which hides the exit, blocking paths and peeking at cards and siccing monsters on each other with the hope of ferreting out the saboteurs, to help your team make it out alive with the most money.
Saboteur: The Dark Cave supports between 2-8 players, and you set it up differently depending on your player count. In a 2-player game, one person is a blue dwarf and the other person is a yellow dwarf, and you just duke it out against each other – there are no secret roles. In a 3-4 player game, you just pick a single clan colour – yellow or blue. Let’s say we pick the blue team of dwarfs. On the backs of the cards, you have three loyal blue dwarf images: these dwarfs are true blue, and are trying to score the gold for their own team. But two of these cards show disloyal graphics: these represent blue dwarfs who are playing for the other side, and who want to hand the gold over to the other team. Saboteurs! So for 3-4 players, you’ll get rid of one of these loyal dwarf cards, shuffle up the rest, and deal them out to the players, who look at their cards, but keep them secret from everybody else. That means you’re guaranteed to have at least one saboteur in a 3-player game – possibly two! And in a 4-player game, two of the players will definitely be saboteurs.
In a 5-8 player game, you use all the clan cards of both colours, but remove 1 saboteur card from each clan. Shuffle up the cards and deal them all out. So once again, everybody might be loyal to their own side in a 5-8 player game, but you could have up to two saboteurs messing things up! Set the remaining clan cards aside. Nobody’s allowed to peek at them, because that would give stuff away.
From there, everyone grabs a dwarf standee and matching character card. The standee goes on the starting card in the middle of the cave, and everyone gets 3 gold on their character card to escape the cave with. Do try not to lose any gold before you reach the exit, won’t you?
There are three different decks of cave cards labelled 1, 2, and 3. Shuffle them up individually and shuck off 5 cards from each stack into the box. That’s to keep anyone who might have memorized the deck from guessing what’s available. In a 2-4 player game, deal everyone 5 level I cards. For 5-6 players, everyone gets 4 level I cards and 1 level II card. In a 7-8 player game, give everybody 3 level I cards and 2 level II cards.
Then stack the level II cards on the level III cards, and the level I cards on top to form the deck.
The cave isn’t built yet, but you’re trying to reach these goal cards to get out of there, and only one of the four cards has the exit on it. The other three goal cards have a ladder, a dark hole, and a gold vein. Shuffle the goals and put them on the corners of the cave.
Where are the corners of the cave? Well, in a 6-8 player game, you have to imagine a 7×7 grid of cards, and the goal cards go in those corners. For a 2-5 player game, the cave grid will be 9×9… so that’s 4 cards out from the starting card in all orthogonal directions. You’re not limited to that grid – as you build the cave, you’re allowed to have cards go outside the grid – the grid just tells you how far away to put the four goal cards.
On your turn, you can either play a card from your hand, or discard one or two cards from your hand if you don’t like the cards you’ve got, or if you’re unable to play any of them.
Doing something with your cards is mandatory: you’re either playing a card, or getting rid of 1 or 2 of them.
Many of the cards in your hand will be path cards. You play them to the cave next to any face-up card that’s already there. You have to play a path card in portrait orientation – either like this, or rotated 180 degrees like this – but you can’t play a card all sideways. You have to make sure that all the edges of the card you play match the edges of the other cards in the cave – so this is no good because these edges don’t match, and this one can’t go here because neither of these edges match. And you can’t play a card that doesn’t extend an existing path, like this kind of thing. You don’t have to play a card next to the starting card or next to your dwarf, but you can’t just stick it out in the middle of nowhere.
If you play a card and it connects a face-down goal card to the rest of the cave, that goal card stays face down until someone moves their dwarf onto it.
So that’s the next thing you can do on your turn: optionally move your dwarf up to three spaces through the cave. You count one movement point whenever your dwarf moves from one card to another, or across one of these dotted blue lines. The level 1 cards don’t have any dotted blue lines, so to move from here to here costs 1 movement point. But as you get into the level II and III cards, the cave starts filling up with water, which slows down your movement. These cards are split into two and three different sections respectively. So to go from here to here, you’ve have to move your dwarf one, two, three spaces.
Some of the cards in your hand don’t have cave paths on them at all – they’re action cards that do a variety of things. Instead of playing a path card, you can play 1 action card on your turn, and we’ll look at what all the action cards do in a sec. After playing an action card, you can move your dwarf up to 3 spaces just like you would if you’d played a path card.
If you can’t legally play any of your cards, or you don’t want to, you have to get rid of 1 or 2 of them. Put them face-down into the discard pile. Then, you can move your dwarf up to 3 spaces as usual.
At the end of your turn, you draw back up to the number of cards you had at the start of your turn. So if you played 1 card, you draw 1 card. If you discarded 1 card, you draw 1 card. And if you discarded two cards, you draw two cards. Then, it’s the next player’s turn going clockwise around the table.
So here’s a summary of what you can do on your turn: play one path or action card, or discard 1 or 2 cards, optionally move your dwarf up to three spaces, and then draw 1 or 2 cards, depending on how many cards left your hand.
Some of the cards you play will be action cards that do different things. Here’s a rundown.
This spyglass lets you peek at a card. You can look at one of the face-down goal cards to find out what’s on it – remember, you’re looking for the exit, but it can help to know where the exit isn’t, especially if you’re one of the saboteurs, or if you’re trying to figure out who’s sabotaging the mission. Or, instead of peeking at a goal card, you can peek at any other player’s clan card, so you’ll know for sure whose side that player is on. You can keep that information to yourself, of course, or you can tell everybody at the table what you just saw. And just like in any good hidden role game, you can lie about it.
This swap cards action lets you trade your entire hand with another player. At the end of your turn, that player draws a card instead of you, to bring that hand up to its original size.
You play a spiderweb card face up in front of you, and then fi nd the spiderweb token with the matching shape, and put it with the number 2 side face-up on any connection point between two cards, or on any open-ended exit path on a card. The “2” means the spiderweb lasts two rounds… when it’s your turn again later, you flip it to its “1” side, and when play comes back around to you again, you remove the spiderweb from the cave and discard the card.
Spiderwebs prevent dwarfs and creatures from moving past them.
You can’t put a second or third spiderweb on a connection point that already has a spiderweb on it.
If you play a rockfall card, you can remove a card from the cave, as long as it doesn’t have a dwarf or a creature on it. If you remove a card with a spiderweb on it, you get rid of the spiderweb too – but only if the spiderweb is dangling on an open edge. So remove this card, and the spiderweb stays. But remove this card, and you’d remove the spiderweb along with it. Likewise, you can get rid of the gold sitting on a gold vein card. You’re not allowed to get rid of the start card or any of the four goal cards.
Two types of action cards in the game are tools that you can play in front of you. You can play this pair of boots to get an extra movement point for your dwarf. It’s one pair of boots per player though: you only have two feet.
If you’ve played the dwarven battle-axe in front of you at the beginning of your turn or on a previous turn, and you’ve walked your dwarf up to a spiderweb, you can discard your axe to hack that spiderweb down to 1, or if it’s already at 1, you can knock it off the map completely.
And we haven’t talked much about creatures yet, but if you move into a space with a creature, or it moves into a space with a you, you can discard your battle axe to uh… tickle that creature until it runs away. And then when its back is turned, you kill it. Whichever player was controlling that creature discards its card.
The last few action cards have three different creatures on them: rats, goblins, and lindworms. If you play a creature card in front of yourself on your turn, you summon that creature to one of the dark holes of your choice. If there aren’t any dark holes in the cave system yet, you can’t summon the creature. Once it’s summoned, you move the creature through cave system to attack unsuspecting dwarfs. Meh heh heh! Rats can move up to 3 spaces. Lindworms can move up to 4 spaces, and goblins can travel up to 5. If, at any time during its movement, a creature enters the same space as one or more dwarfs, the creature stops moving, loses the rest of its movement points, and attacks all those dwarfs simultaneously. If one of the attacked dwarfs discards a pre-played battle axe, everyone is safe, Otherwise, the creature does something bad, depending on what type of creature it is.
A rat will make a dwarf lose a card. The player to the left of the attacked dwarf draws a card from that dwarf’s hand at random, and now that dwarf has to play with fewer cards for the rest of the game. The lindworm paralyzes a dwarf by knocking it over. When play circles back around to that player’s turn, stand the player’s dwarf back up, but then move on to the next player going clockwise – the paralyzed player has lost a turn. And the goblin commits possibly the worst offense of all: it steals 1 piece of gold from every dwarf it attacks! The gold goes back to the supply. If you don’t have any gold for the goblin to steal, the goblin gets… ha-nothing.
Creatures stay in the cave after you’re done with them, until play comes back around to you. At that point, remove the creature and discard its card.
If you want to play a creature card on your turn and that type of creature is already in the cave, the player who originally attracted the creature discards that creature’s card, and you take up the mantle by playing the card and moving the creature from the space it’s currently standing on, up to its full range of movement.
Creatures are allowed to double back. So if someone conjured this goblin and it moved here to attack this dwarf, you could play a goblin card on your turn to move the goblin here and back to re-attack that dwarf and put him in the poorhouse.
Certain path cards have little features on them that modify how you move through the cave system.
Ladder cards are like warp tunnels. Spend one movement point to move from one space with a ladder on it to any other space with a ladder on it.
If you cross a bridge, you have to randomly lose one card from your hand, reducing your hand size for the rest of the game, just like if you were attacked by a rat. The top part of the bridge is a completely different path from the underpass. So if you were here, and you moved here, you couldn’t move here next – but you could keep travelling under the bridge to this card. Likewise, you couldn’t hop down to the lower path from the upper path. And travelling under the bridge is free – you wouldn’t lose a card by doing that.
So what happens if you cross enough bridges or get bit by enough rats that you reduce your hand to zero cards? Well, you won’t be able to move anywhere, and your turn just gets skipped for the rest of the game. So try not to let that happen.
There are actually three spaces on this double bend card. You could scoot along like this, or from here down to here… or you could spend a movement point to go from one of the bends into this tunnel. But if you do that, you’ll lose one piece of gold, and remember: you’re a dwarf so gold is everything.
Speaking of gold, if you place a card with a gold vein into the cave system, you put a piece of gold on it from the supply. Any dwarf who reaches that space gets to take the gold, but that dwarf also has to flip over their clan card for all to see, for the rest of the game!
If you enter a space with a creature on it, the creature automatically attacks you, and if you don’t have a battle axe to discard, the creature’s attack is successful.
By the way, creatures can use cave features just like you can – they can cross bridges and use ladders and pass through tunnels. The only thing they can’t do is bypass spiderwebs. And if a creature reaches a goal card, it can’t reveal that card. But you can! Just be sure to orient the flipped goal card so that it matches what’s going on along the neighbouring edges. If you can’t get the edges to match, then at the very least, you have to make sure the goal card’s path connects to the path your dwarf is coming from.
If you move your dwarf to the goal card with the exit on it, you successfully escape the Dark Cave with whatever nuggets of gold you’re still carrying. You put your dwarf standee in front of you and flip your clan card so that everyone can see which team – yellow or blue – you were working for, and after the shouting dies down, the game keeps going. You still get to play and draw cards on your turn to influence which other dwarfs get to escape – you just don’t have to worry about moving your own dwarf around any more.
If all of the dwarfs working for the same side escape the cave, that ends the game. But how do you know if that happened? Well, in a 2-player game, that’s easy. One of you escaped, and one of you didn’t, and the game’s over.
In a game with three or more players, the first player to escape gets to look at the cards you set aside from the beginning of the game, and based on that, you should be able to tell whether one team has won or not.
So let’s say it’s a 3 player game. You grabbed all the yellow clan cards, removed a loyal yellow dwarf card, and shuffled up the rest of the cards – so that deck has two loyal yellows, and two saboteurs who are working for the blues. You deal the cards out to the 3 players, and you set the 4th card aside. You know you’ve either got two loyal yellows and a saboteur, or one loyal yellow and two saboteurs.
The first person to escape flips his own card – he was a loyal yellow! Did the yellow team win? Well, take a look at the card that didn’t get dealt to anybody. If it’s a saboteur, you know that there’s still one loyal yellow and one saboteur inside the cave, so you’ll have to wait until one of them escapes to see who’s won. But if the card that got set aside is a loyal yellow, then you know the two dwarfs in the cave are both blue saboteurs! The lone yellow player wins the game for the yellow team!
Let’s look at a more complex example with 5 players. There are 5 clan cards for each team. The blue deck has two saboteurs, and the yellow deck has two saboteurs. Per the setup rules, you removed 1 saboteur card from each team, shuffled the cards up, and dealt them out. That means there were 3 cards left over, which you set aside.
The way the deal shook out, 4 players got blue clan cards, and one player got a yellow clan card. The first player to escape the cave has a blue clan card. She flips it to reveal she was a saboteur! Now, it’s entirely possible that the game is over, but she won’t know until she checks the cards that were set aside. If all three of those cards are loyal yellow, that means that this yellow clan member is the other saboteur working for blue, and the rest of the players are all loyal blue. So yes – if that’s the case, then the game is over, because there’s one yellow team member – the blue clan saboteur – and everyone else is blue, and they’re all still in the cave.
If, however, she flips the set-aside cards and finds the blue saboteur card is in the mix, that’s both saboteurs accounted for, so she knows that all three of these blue clan members are loyal blue, and this yellow clan member is loyal yellow. Since there’s still a mix of yellow and blue clan members remaining in the cave, the game’s not over yet. But it will be, if this loyal yellow dwarf escapes the cave before the other dwarfs do!
The other way the game can end is if the draw deck is empty, and everyone has played all the cards in their hands. The game mentions that if you can kind of look ahead and see that no one left in the cave has any hope of reaching the exit based on the way everything is arranged, you can end the game early without going through the motions.
If dwarfs on both teams escaped with some of their gold, you have to count it up to see which side won. When the game ends, any dwarfs who are still stuck in the cave lose all their gold and it doesn’t count towards final scoring. Those players all flip their clan cards so you can see what you’re dealing with.
Sort the dwarfs according to the teams they were playing for. So saboteurs go to the other team’s side. Count up the gold your team escaped with, and multiply it by the number of dwarfs playing for the other side. So team yellow ended the game with 5 gold, times 3 blue dwarfs, for a score of 15. Team blue ended the game with 4 gold, times 3 yellow dwarfs, for a total score of 12. In this example, team yellow wins the game! Now it’s time to take that gold and go shopping in the upcoming Saboteur: Mall Madness. (Not a real game.)
And now, you’re ready to play Saboteur: The Dark Cave.
Get Your Own Copy of Saboteur: the Dark Cave
This game definitely plays better at higher player counts. If you’re looking for something to entertain a big group of up to 8 players, give it a whirl! Use the Amazon link below and we’ll receive a small commission (of gold!), while your price remains the same.