Unusually, both Blue and Green were there early, so decided to get a in quick game. After a bit of discussion, they decided on Blueprints, a cute little dice rolling and building game. They had set up and Blue had just finished explaining the rules when Black and Purple walked in, so it quickly became a four player game. The idea is quite simple: each player has the blueprint of a building and on their turn, they take one die from the central pool, add it to their construction and then replenish the used die from a bag. Dice must be placed within the two-by-six footprint and any stacked dice must have the same number or higher than the one below.
Each building is scored depending on the dice used and their position. Thus, orange dice (wood) scores highly if surrounded by other dice, whereas black dice (stone) score for being higher in a stack. In contrast, green (recycled material) scores well the more it is used, and clear colourless dice (glass) score the face value. At the end of the round, each building is scored and points awarded for Bronze, Silver and Gold, scoring one, two and three victory points respectively. Prizes (worth two victory points) are given out for buildings that comprise all six numbers, buildings that have four or more of the same number, buildings that are five or more dice high, and buildings that have five or more dice of one colour (they are more aesthetically pleasing, obviously). All ties are broken by two dice that are drawn out of the bag at the start of the round.
Blue was the only player familiar with the game, so unsurprisingly got off to a flying start, winning Gold for the highest scoring building and a prize for a building with four dice of the same number. Purple picked up Silver and Black took the Bronze. As is normal with this game, after the first round there was a pleasing “Ah! Moment” as everyone suddenly simultaneously realised how it all fitted together, what the point was, and how clever the game is. Consequently, the second round was much more keenly fought and positions were completely reversed with Blue coming out with nothing and Green, Black and Purple winning the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards respectively.
So it was into the final round with all to play for, and this time it was very tight indeed. Green and Black jointly top-scored, but Black took it on a tie-breaker. Green lost out on a second tie-breaker with Blue for the award for four dice of the same number. With an extra prize for using five “glass” dice, Blue finished in joint first place with Black, which necessitated a quick rules check find the tie-breaker in favour of the player with the most prizes, in this case, Blue.
Next, we decided to play our “Feature Game”, which was Caverna: The Cave Farmers. Caverna is by the same designer and is closely related to Agricola, which is a game we’ve all played quite a bit. In fact, Caverna is often described as “Agricola 2.0”, so we’ve all been quite keen to give it a go and see how the two games compare. In Agricola, players start with two people and a hut and have to build their small-holding with points awarded at the end of the game for the most balanced farm. Caverna has a new skin, but is a similar game: players start with two dwarves and are trying to develop their cavern in the hillside while chopping down the forest for use for farming. There are a lot changes to the game play, some small and some larger. One of the biggest differences is the absence of cards. In the advanced version of Agricola, you can start with a hand of cards, which contain “improvements” that you can choose to build to enhance your small-holding. These add variation to the game and force players to come up with different combinations of buildings and adapt their strategies to match. In Caverna, these cards are replaced with tiles that are available to everyone to buy; as it was our first game, we chose to use the smaller set.
Another one of the key differences between the games is that dwarves can go on expeditions in Caverna. These can be highly lucrative, but also introduce challenges of their own. The idea is that players use ore at the Blacksmith’s to forge weapons for one (or more) of their dwarves. Some of the actions also have an expedition associated with them, so when a dwarf with weapons carries out an action with an expedition, he can also go looting. The loot he comes back with depends on two things, the level of the expedition and the level of the dwarf’s armoury. The dwarf’s level dictates what he comes back with and the expedition level dictates how many items. Thus, a well armed dwarf sent on the right mission can bring back a lot of loot, but more importantly, players can mix and match the loot to suit their purpose which makes them very versatile. Added to that, every time a dwarf goes on an expedition, he gains experience, so on his return, his level increases by one. The disadvantage of arming dwarves is that the better armed a dwarf is, the later it goes in the turn order. This means that players have to choose whether to play a lower level dwarf on expeditions, or whether to take a chance and hope no-one else uses that action and wait until they can play a more experienced dwarf.
There are a lot of smaller differences too, for example, the game has two currencies, gold and rubies. At the end of the game, everything is converted into gold and the player with the most wins. However, during the game, rubies are more useful as they can be used to buy other resources at any time. They can also be used for playing dwarves out of turn, but as they are worth one gold in their own right, they are quite valuable. Rubies and ore can be obtained with certain actions, but players can also build mines in their caverns which not only enhance their supply, but are also worth gold at the end of the game. There are also new and different animal, principally dogs and donkeys and with them, new animal husbandry rules which we never completely got our heads round (e.g. sheep can now be kept in an unfenced meadow looked after by dogs at a rate of one more sheep than there are dogs; donkeys can be kept in mines; only pigs can be kept in a shed in the forest, but any animal can be kept in sheds in pasture or meadow-land etc.).
Purple, who was still suffering with her post Essen lurgy, went first and began by collecting ore, while Green went into agriculture. Blue meanwhile, started off with wood while Black, who was the only one with a very firm plan, began collecting rubies. Blue and Black then began to build up a stock of ore and it was only a matter of time before Blue made her first visit to the Blacksmith and Green followed in the next round. By this time, there were harvests at the end of most rounds and Purple was beginning to struggle to feed her people (good job she picked up the Writing Chamber!). Green had built an agricultural empire and a Cooking Cave, and Blue was feeding her people on prime Aberdeen Angus, but without a reliable, continuous food supply, Purple had to use her grain to prevent starvation, which meant she didn’t have any to plan to provide a continuous food supply…
And all the while, Black just kept collecting rubies.
As the game drew to a close, Blue had managed to develop and fill her pastures, arm all three of her dwarves, and had managed to furnish her cave with a room for Weapons Storage when Green wasn’t looking (he went to build it in the final round only to be sorely disappointed). Green had four dwarves, plenty of spare grain and had filled all available space and include mines and other improvements. Purple had managed to complete her cavern and develop her woodland, but was missing a lot of animals. Black was also missing some animals and had a lot of unused spaces, but he had managed to pick up both a Ruby Supplier and, in the last round, a Weaver to make the most of his sheep. We had been really pushed for time, so people counted points individually as others packed up. Despite initial appearances (namely Black’s HUGE pile of rubies that double scored), it turned out to be a really close game with only a handful of points separating the first three players. In fact, after several recounts, the game finished in another draw between Blue and Black, and, after another hasty check of the rules, we declared both to be winners.
As we left, we had a quick discussion about what we thought of the game and how it measured up to Agricola. We concluded that it felt longer, possibly because of the fiddling with the expeditions, though that could also be due to our lack of familiarity with the game. Despite that, we felt that Caverna was probably less complex, though it felt like there were more options which meant there were more ways to do what you wanted. This meant the game was less pressured than Agricola, which might not be a good thing, though it probably makes it more forgiving for new players. On the other hand, the extra options also makes it very confusing for the first play. The lack of cards and the fact the same tiles are available every time meant we felt it also didn’t have the variety that Agricola offered and therefore was less deep and, probably ultimately has less replay-ability. However, we will have to try it again a few times before coming to any real conclusions.
Learning Outcome: Tie-breakers can have a large impact on both the feel and the outcome of a game.