If Caverna (which are yet to review) is known as one of Uwe Rosenberg’s most complex and expansive board games, then it’s exclusively two-player sibling Caverna – Cave vs Cave must be one his cleanest and most straightforward designs. This is action selection at its most streamlined, and it’s a very crunchy addition to any two-player game shelf.
Caverna – Cave vs Cave is about dwarves; Industrious dwarves living in and expanding their home, to be precise. The game takes place over eight rounds, and each round the players will take turns to choose one of the actions available on a shared track that sits above or between their player boards. As each action is taken, it becomes unavailable for the remainder of the round.
Each cave begins with just a single room, an empty space for one more room and then nine infilled spaces represented by tiles covered in rocks. Each player also has a tracker on their board which shows how much of each resource (food, flax, gold, stone and wood) they have. Between the two players there is a display of six available rooms that can be built whenever the furnish action is taken (assuming the player can pay the resource cost.) These rooms are first come, first served, so if you really want something, you’ll need to get it before your opponent does.
Scarcity of rooms isn’t the end of the world though, because as each of the infill tiles is taken from either players cave (following an excavate action) then the tile is flipped over to reveal a new room, and this is placed between the players and can then be built with a lager furnish action. There’s a certain tension here between wanting (and needing) to excavate your own cave, whilst also not wanting to give your opponent access to rooms that they can build and use to their advantage.
Building placement costs resources such as wood and stone, so whilst excavating and furnishing are some of the more exciting actions, it’s also necessary to do more mundane tasks. Many actions allow players to take one or more specific resources, but some actions also show a number backed by a yellow square. These actions allow the player to active that number of rooms as shown — and rooms tend to offer bigger bonuses to resource production.
Together, this ecosystem of actions gives Caverna – Cave vs Cave a tight decision space where everything a player does is linked to both their overall plan, but also the plan they anticipate their opponent having. Taking actions is about maximising efficiency in the moment, but it’s also about denying your opponent. Excavating space is key to your own plan, but timing it so that your opponent can’t take advantage is just as key. Building rooms is about increasing productivity, but you can never plan for a specific building strategy because the rooms you might depend upon may simply not appear out of the rubble.
There is already an expansion available for Caverna – Cave vs Cave and the game is available in a Big Box variant that includes the expansion content – including a load of new rooms. For me, there are enough rooms in the base game to create variety and unpredictability whilst also allowing some aspect of forward planning. More is almost alway better, but I do feel as though Caverna – Cave vs Cave is very finely balanced as it is.
As always with exclusively two player games, Caverna – Cave vs Cave is very much about who you’ll be playing it with and how often. This is a straightforward game to learn and to teach, but it’s also one that rewards deeper understanding following repeated plays. Any couple can play it, but I found it to be particularly good with my eldest daughter – and we have managed to get each game to about half an hour, after which we reset and go again.
With its small footprint, low barrier to entry and deep strategy, Caverna – Cave vs Cave is a superb two player game. It has enough variability to keep it fresh from game to game, yet the strategies on offer feel broadly equal and almost every game results in a very tight outcome. The option of buying into an expansion offers even more flexibility for those who really enjoy it, and if you want to play with more players — there’s always the full version of Caverna to explore!
You can purchase Caverna – Cave vs Cave on Amazon.