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Tireces

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Go to the Agricola page
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Go to the Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar page
6
Go to the Niagara page

Niagara

15 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

Most board games attempt to wrap their game mechanics in a theme possessing some degree of verisimilitude. Build a town, feed your tribe, power your cities — these things exist in some form in the real world. Then you have Niagara, where you race opponents to the abyssal edge of a waterfall to wrangle up valuable gems and return them to the goal line. With the specific, controlled environment and contrived system of rules designed to inspire competitive fun, Niagara sounds like a sport. So there you go. Think of Niagara as a board-game version of a sport that does not exist.

Gameplay
Each player starts the game with a hand of the same 7 paddle tiles and 2 canoes docked upriver from the waterfall. You play paddle tiles to float your canoes downriver, pick up gems from riverside gem sites, and paddle back to the docking area, with the goal of collecting specific sets of gems.

Each round, everyone simultaneously chooses a paddle and sets it on the board facedown. On your turn, you reveal your facedown paddle and move your canoe(s) the number of spaces on the paddle. You can also spend some of your paddle points to pick up gems from gem sites, or drop off gems to free up space in your canoes. Once everyone has played a paddle, the river and any canoes on it shift a number of spaces downstream toward the falls.

At the end of each round, all the paddles played that round are discarded facedown, meaning on subsequent rounds you have fewer paddle tiles in your hand to choose from. And at some point in the game, you may find your canoes nearing the waterfall, fighting an increasingly powerful current without the tiles you need to paddle to safety upriver. If your canoes go over the falls, you lose them — and any gems they were carrying. You can spend gems to replace your canoes, but recovering from the setback will prove challenging.

Collecting gems and avoiding the falls may seem simplistic except for two things. First, under certain circumstances you can steal gems from opponents’ canoes while they are still on the river. Second, when canoes on the river shift downstream in the river phase, the current flows based on the lowest paddle played. By observing canoe positions and keeping a mental tab of which paddles opponents have played, you can position your own canoes to steal opponents’ gems or play a timely high-value paddle on the same turn as everyone else to flush a few boats over the falls.

Winning
To win, be the first to collect a complete set of gems: either 5 different colored gems, 4 gems of the same color, or 7 gems of any combination of colors.

Smart opponents will each take a share of the closest gems, preventing an easy 4-gem victory. Fighting for 5 colors will usually be your best bet, then, but 2 of the colors lie at gem sites skirting the very precipice of the falls. Instead of risking your own boats for those hard-to-reach gems, you could let your opponents do it … and then steal the gems out from under them just before they reach the docks.

Theme
What is gem wrangling? The theme of Niagara. What is Niagara? The game of gem wrangling. Niagara totally lacks any real-life approximation of its theme, which means the game is the theme. The rules fit perfectly because the game is the theme. The setting fits perfectly because the game is the theme.

Components
Niagara’s game board is a river. You set the board on top of the box, and the waterfall portion hangs over the edge. Plastic discs represent the river spaces. You set the discs on the river, and when the river “flows”, you physically push the rear-most disc which pushes all the discs in front of it down the river and over the falls. Neat!

The game board’s river is smartly lined with an extra thick layer of cardboard so the river discs do not slide out of the river section when you push them. Durable plastic river discs and sturdy wooden canoes will survive any number of plunges over the falls. Heavy cardboard paddle tiles and acrylic gems round out the high-quality components, although one wishes distinguishing the different colors of semi-transparent gems was easier.

Pros:
+ Watching imperiled canoes spill over the falls and clatter across the table can be uniquely, tactilely satisfying.
+ Memorizing which paddles opponents have played pays off when you steal their gems or force their canoes over the falls.
+ Rules and components are tailored to the unique theme.
+ Short play time and simultaneous paddle selection will not strain your attention span.

Cons:
– Supernumerary rules for canoe movement may send you digging through the poorly designed manual frequently to resolve rule questions.
– Distinguishing the colors of the semi-transparent gems proves unreasonably difficult for a game based around tracking which colors of gem your opponents are collecting.
– Limited victory conditions leave little replay value.

9
Go to the Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar page
109 out of 117 gamers thought this was helpful

Corn-ageddon. Corn-aclysm. Corn-ocalypse. Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar may not have anything to do with doomsday predictions, but running out of corn in this game feels like the end of the world. You need it to place your workers, to feed your workers, to trade for resources. If you deplete your reserves, you must resort to begging — incensing the gods for your trouble. Also known as “that Mayan game with the gears,” Tzolk’in introduces unique mechanics and components that refresh an otherwise-predictable genre of board games.

Gameplay
As with many worker-placement games, you place workers to gather resources and use those resources to construct buildings and develop technology for victory points and gameplay bonuses. Every few rounds a temple-scoring phase commences, requiring you to feed your tribe but also awarding VPs or resources for climbing the temple steps.

Beyond the basics, Tzolk’in innovates worker-placement significantly by introducing action tracks. Instead of placing a worker on an action space and executing that action, you place the worker on an action track. Then, every turn you leave the worker on that track, it advances to a better possible action space that you use when you remove the worker from the track.

Example: On turn 1 you place a worker on the food track on the action space “Harvest 4 corn”. You do not take the corn when you place the worker. At the end of turn 1, your worker advances to the next food-track action “Harvest 5 corn”. Now, on turn 2, you can remove the worker from the food track to add 5 corn to your supply — or leave it on the track and take an even better harvest action on a later turn.

Each of the 5 action tracks generally focuses on a specific area, like harvesting corn, advancing your technology, or climbing the temple steps. Placing workers on a track costs corn and also increases the cost for other players to place on the same track in the same round. By timing when you add workers to an action track or remove them, you can outmaneuver your opponents and beat them to the best action spaces, the best buildings, and the highest temple steps.

Winning
Win by having the most victory points at game-end — and there are many ways to earn them. Climb the temple steps to score points in temple-scoring phases. Mount crystal skulls on the temples via the crystal-skull action track. Construct buildings, including special “monument” buildings that award bonus VPs for developing your tribe. Example: A monument will award bonus VPs for advancing on the technology track, or for harvesting lots of corn. It is also possible to lose VPs throughout the game by failing to feed your tribe or falling too low on the temple steps.

Theme
The Tzolk’in was the master Mayan calendar. Historians speculate that the ancient Mayans used the calendar cycle for planting and harvesting crops, birthing children, beginning construction projects, and organizing religious rituals. All of those elements figure into Tzolk’in the board game — but the components really evoke the theme.

Components
The designers of Tzolk’in have contrived an absolutely inspired component-implementation of the unique action-track mechanic. Each action track is represented by a plastic gear, mounted on the game board around a central hub with teeth connecting each gear to the hub. You place your workers on the action-track gears, and at the end of the round you rotate the hub — which rotates all 5 gears too, advancing everyone’s workers on all the action tracks simultaneously. Besides rotating the gears, the hub itself functions as a calendar, indicating the current game round, when the temple-scoring occurs, and when the game ends.

Even though the Aztec sun stone depicted on the hub may be inaccurate to the Mayan theme, it looks fantastic when painted (caveat: you have to paint it yourself). And the crystal skulls? Probably not historically accurate either, but hey, we can allow artistic liberties for such shiny components. Ordinary wooden resource cubes, cardboard corn tiles, and cardboard building tiles are sturdy and functional, even if they do look mundane next to the exotic gears and skulls.

Pros:
+ Action tracks add a new level of complexity to worker-placement, compelling you to plan your strongest actions several turns ahead.
+ Inspired gear components advance the action tracks effortlessly and also function as a thematic in-game calendar.
+ Unique sets of starting resources for each player and randomly drawn buildings can change your strategy and add replayability.
+ Numerous ways of earning VPs allows several viable strategies, but …

Cons:
– The resource-track strategy tends to dominate all others unless multiple players compete for it in a 3/4/5-player game.
– Advanced play tends to proceed formulaically, according to a limited set of ideal actions, significantly diminishing replay-value unless you start adding house rules.
– Since effective play demands thinking several turns ahead, slow or indecisive players will bog down the game.

7
Go to the Keyflower page

Keyflower

118 out of 126 gamers thought this was helpful

Keyflower marries worker-placement and bidding mechanics in a game where your workers also function as your currency. That, in short, is how the game distinguishes itself from all the other worker-placement games out there. If you like worker-placement mechanics, this one might appeal to you. On the other hand, if you loathe worker placement, Keyflower does not risk any significant changes to the formula and probably will not convert you.

Gameplay
Everyone starts with several random worker meeples and a starter building for his/her own personal town. A number of random buildings are set up in a communal pool. Over the course of the game you place meeples to bid on communal buildings to add them to your town, gather and transport resources, and upgrade your buildings using those resources.

On your turn, you place 1 or more meeples on a building to take the building’s action or next to a building to bid on it and try to add it to your town. Simple enough by itself, except that there are 4 colors of meeple, and once a meeple has been committed to a building, all additional meeples committed to that building must be the same color. E.g., you place 1 blue meeple next to the Stable to bid on it, so now any additional meeples placed on or next to the stable must be blue.

A game lasts 4 seasons. A season ends when everyone passes, usually because everyone has run out of meeples. You gain more meeples 1) at the start of each new season, 2) from some building actions, and 3) when other players place meeples on buildings in your town — you keep the meeples they place. You hide your supply of meeples from opponents so they cannot see how many you have and which colors, but if you pay attention to the colors each person gains, you can keep a mental tab of opponents’ meeples and plan your actions accordingly.

Winning
Win by earning the most victory points from your buildings. At the start of the game each player chooses 1-3 special VP buildings that everyone bids on in the final season. These special VP buildings provide bonus VP for collecting sets of resources, same-color meeples, etc. which can focus your strategy. Additionally, many other buildings bestow a flat number of VPs, and they can be upgraded to increase their VP value — as well as their functionality, which improves your available pool of actions. E.g., use the Mason to quarry stone; upgrade the Mason to gain 7 VP and the ability to mine gold.

Theme
You develop an old-timey town, with new workers shipping in each season. Workers migrate to the towns with jobs. Not much more to say about the theme than that. As with many Euro games, the theme lacks imagination, but at least it ties the game mechanics together neatly.

Components
Keyflower ships with a hefty bag of wooden meeples and resource bits as well as card-stock player screens. Cardboard hexagonal building tiles feel sturdy enough as well. Materials aside, the little touches in the artwork deserve particular praise. E.g., the artist illustrated both the exterior and interior of your player screen “house”, and building hexes set out in the game’s autumn season are landscaped with trees in red-orange autumn foliage.

Pros:
+ Keeping a mental tab of opponents’ hidden supplies of meeples tests your short-term memory but pays off when they end up a meeple short of outbidding you.
+ Workers also functioning as currency adds an interesting twist to the otherwise-common worker-placement mechanic.
+ Random buildings vary the available pool of actions from game to game and boost replayability.
+ Simple rules make the game accessible to a wide audience.

Cons:
– Even with the workers=currency twist, worker-placement and bidding mechanics may feel overly familiar if you have played many other games with these mechanics.
– Randomly drawn buildings can result in some resources being impossibly scarce, which in turn renders buildings requiring those resources useless.
– Unremarkable theme may deter players looking for something more imaginative.

9
Go to the Glass Road page

Glass Road

94 out of 102 gamers thought this was helpful

In Glass Road, you produce glass and brick from several basic resources and then use your resources to construct buildings and develop your own glass-making town. You might feign cast a wistful eye at the other gaming tables with their space battles and painted minis — except that your attention will be fully absorbed in mentally navigating the delightfully complex decision trees of manufacturing glass as efficiently as possible.

Gameplay
Each player has a deck of action cards and a player board. You play action cards to gather resources; clear forests, ponds, etc. from your board; and consume resources to construct buildings on cleared board spaces. Buildings open new avenues for acquiring resources and provide victory points.

Every player starts a “building period” with the same 15 action cards, secretly chooses a hand of 5, and sets the others aside. At round start, everyone secretly chooses 1 of their 5 cards and sets it facedown. On your turn, you reveal and play your facedown card. After 3 rounds, a new building period begins and everyone secretly chooses a new hand of 5 cards from their 15.

Why the secrecy? Each card has 2 actions: If you reveal the card and no one else has it, you get both actions; but if another player has the same card, you get only 1 of the actions and then the other player gets to play 1 of that card’s actions out of turn. Thus, to get the most out of your action cards you want to play cards that no one else will choose and then round out your hand with cards that others will likely play.

Winning
To win, you want the most victory points. VPs are awarded at game-end, primarily from constructing buildings that grant VP bonuses. E.g., a building will grant bonus VPs for stockpiling glass or planting adjacent forests. Piggyback onto opponents’ action cards and avoid giving them the same opportunity to more efficiently maximize your VP bonuses or simply out-build your opponents.

Theme
Fabricating glass and brick forms the backbone of Glass Road’s theme, and pastoral artwork of forests, buildings, and old-timey woodcutters fits the milieu.

Components
Glass Road replaces wood or cardboard resource bits with resource dials. E.g., when you gain 5 coal, instead of taking 5 coal chits, you move the coal marker on your dial up 5 spaces. The dials cleverly visualize glass and brick production because as your basic resources shift up the dial, you turn it to simultaneously consume basic resources and produce glass or brick. The dials, player boards, and building tiles, are made of sturdy cardboard.

Pros:
+ Action-card piggybacking and a common pool of buildings reward careful planning around other players’ strategies in addition to your own.
+ Abundant buildings, drawn randomly each game, encourage new strategies and boost replay-value.
+ Resource dials streamline game setup and resource-piece juggling while cleverly visualizing the game’s glass and brick resource mechanic.
+ Quick setup and (potentially) short play time facilitate playing in between other games or within schedule constraints.

Cons:
– Complex player decision-trees will perplex indecisive players and inflate play time significantly.
– Glass-making theme might deter players looking for a more colorful or exciting backdrop.

7
Go to the Forbidden Desert page

Forbidden Desert

56 out of 63 gamers thought this was helpful

From the safety of the helicopter you survey the Cliffs of Abandon on the horizon as they crumble into the whirlpool. Far below, the sea surges out from the sinking island. You breathe a sigh of relief. Your team managed to grab the treasure and escape … barely. Through your headset, you hear the pilot going on about some lost desert civilization and their flying machines. Apparently your flight path will take you directly over the ruins. Suddenly the pilot cuts his chatter. After a moment, his voice crackles through the headset, “Uh, guys, I don’t like the look of those storm clouds …”

***

Crawling from the wreckage of your crashed helicopter, your group must work together to find and reassemble a lost airship and escape the Forbidden Desert. But with dwindling supplies of water, and an escalating storm threatening to bury you under mountains of sand, you are in race against time.

Gameplay
Forbidden Desert is played on a grid of desert tiles. On your turn you can take any combination of 4 actions: move, remove a sand marker, flip over and reveal the desert tile you are standing on (if there is no sand on it), or pick up an airship part. Revealing tiles will yield shelter from the burning desert sun, new supplies of water, survival equipment, and the lost airship parts. After taking your actions, you draw storm cards.

Storm cards cause the desert sands to shift, whereupon you physically slide the desert tiles based on the pattern shown on the cards. Then you add sand markers to the tiles that shifted. As the game goes on you draw increasingly more storm cards and add increasingly more sand. Storm cards may also deplete players’ limited supplies of water.

Against such adversity, each player can deploy special abilities based on their respective adventurer roles. E.g., the archeologist can remove an extra sand marker with each remove-sand action, or the meteorologist can choose the next storm card to be drawn. Maximizing the role-advantages will prove crucial to your survival.

Winning
To win, your group must locate and pick up all the lost airship parts and then rendezvous at the ship to escape the desert. You lose if any player runs out of water, if you take too long and draw too many Storm Picks Up cards, or if the storm buries you under mountains of sand and exhausts the supply of sand markers.

Theme
Watching the sand markers pile up and the water markers sink dangerously low conveys the desert survival theme, while the pieces of lost technology you unearth from beneath swirling sands enchants the proceedings with a whisper of back story. It turns out you would not be the first to meet an untimely end in the Forbidden Desert.

Components
Thick cardboard desert tiles and sand markers, wooden pawns, plastic airship components, and a cool tin game box belie the game’s budget pricing.

Pros:
+ Dwindling water supplies and rising mountains of sand maintain the tension of an uphill battle throughout play.
+ Punishing difficulty forces you to plan well and maximize role advantages.
+ Strong desert survival theme, simple rule system, and short play time open the game to a wide audience.

Cons:
– Players’ limited ability to mitigate the effects of Storm cards often results in unwinnable scenarios, which may dishearten people who need to win to have fun.
– Light complexity may not appease gamers looking for a deeper co-op experience.

7
Go to the The Cave page

The Cave

20 out of 21 gamers thought this was helpful

You clamber down the rope until your feet hit the cavern floor — its surface worn smooth, drip by drip, over millenia. Before you stand two passageways, one climbing gradually back up, the other plunging still deeper into the earth. Your flashlight beam splits the primordial night of the downward passage. There could be anything down there … goblins … balrogs … or even more exciting: giant selenite crystal formations!

In The Cave, you step into the shoes of a speleologist and explore undiscovered cave systems. Although the gameplay does not change much from one play through to the next, if the experience wins you over once, you will find plenty of excuses to bring this game to the table.

Gameplay
Exploration and gear management anchor The Cave’s gameplay. On your turn you have 5 action points to spend moving, discovering new tiles, packing/unpacking gear, and collecting exploration tokens worth victory points.

From the starting base camp tile you can branch out and discover new tiles in any direction with a lead (an unexplored passage with no tile next to it). To discover a tile, move to a lead and spend 1 AP to draw a random tile from the stack and add it to the edge you explored. New tiles add cave features tied to exploration VP tokens, many of which require special gear to collect.

Whenever you are at base camp you can outfit yourself with new gear, but since you have limited space in your pack, you must choose what to carry with you. Each turn you must burn a “consumables” token, so you want to bring lots of consumables tokens to avoid needing to resupply at camp too frequently. You will fill the rest of your pack with other items — e.g., a camera for shooting photos of crystal formations and picking up camera VP tokens or rope for rappelling deeper into the cave and picking up rope and descent VP tokens.

Winning
To win, you want the most victory points, most of which you earn throughout the game for shooting photographs, laying rope, etc. At game-end, bonus points are awarded to players who collected the most or second-most tokens of different types — e.g. gain 8 bonus VP for laying the most rope or 4 VP for laying the second most rope. Specializing in collecting one or two token types will go a long way toward winning those bonus VP and the game.

Theme
You spend an entire turn squeezing through a narrow gap only to realize you have exhausted your supply of consumables — food, water, and flashlight batteries. Now you have to feel your way back to camp ever-so slowly and carefully (spending an entire turn to move 1 tile at a time) in the pitch dark.

All of The Cave’s mechanics serve the theme effectively, while the threat of stranding yourself in a deep tunnel (although easily avoidable with planning) adds just a bit of tension to the game.

Components
Thick cardboard tiles, player boards, and tokens feature spelunking-themed artwork. Wooden speleologist meeples and camps stand out so they are easy to find amidst all the tokens on the board.

Pros:
+ Descending to new, cavernous depths to grab up descent tokens satisfies a person’s inner speleologist in a way no other board game can.
+ Strong theme, light complexity, and short game length make the game friendly to new players and non-gamers.
+ Choosing gear, planning actions, and grabbing opportune VP tokens can still engage gamers who prefer deeper games.

Cons:
– Random tile draws ensure each cave you explore has a unique layout, but different layouts do not much change the strategy or the experience as a whole.
– Not one balrog … not even a little one.

9
Go to the Hanabi page

Hanabi

70 out of 91 gamers thought this was helpful

Right before I played Hanabi for the first time, I heard a riddle — and found that the logic of the riddle’s solution applied perfectly to Hanabi. You see, every game of Hanabi poses a series of riddles based on logic and insinuation. The other helpful reviews here already discuss the mechanics and components of the game, so instead I offer this riddle. If the solution delights you as it did me, Hanabi is a game you will want to play.

A Logic Riddle in the Vein of Hanabi
A madman has kidnapped four men, imprisoned them in a room, and contrived a sadistic game for them. He has tied each of the men to a chair and arranged them in a line. Each man faces the back of the man in front of him — except that a wall separates the first and second men. Each man wears a black or a white hat, in alternating order.

<–1 (b) || <–2 (w) <–3(b) <–4(w)

The men know there are two white hats and two black hats, but they do not know what order they are in. None of the men can see his own hat, but only the hats of the men in front of him. That is, the fourth man can see the hats of the second and third men. The third man can see the hat of the second. The first and second men cannot see any hats at all.

The madman informs the four that if one of them can correctly identify his own hat color, they may all go free. Otherwise, he will flood the room and drown them. They are not allowed to communicate in any way or to speak — unless one of the men decides to declare the color of his own hat.

Which of the four men, using logic alone, can correctly identify the color of the hat he is wearing?

However …
Whatever you think of the riddle, be aware that Hanabi is a multi-player co-op game. Your fun with the game will depend not only on your fondness for logic but on how logical your teammates are as well. That said, with the right group, you will find ample opportunity to admire one another’s cleverness every time you break out this game.

10
Go to the Space Alert page

Space Alert

231 out of 239 gamers thought this was helpful

When they sent you to scout the fathomless deeps of space, they told you the process has been streamlined so well that it can be done in 10 minutes. Warp in, capture the data, warp out. What they didn’t tell you is that you will be warping smack-dab into the middle of hostile alien war fleets, giant meteoroids, and sundry space monster hunting grounds.

At its heart Space Alert is a cooperative Euro-style efficiency game, requiring players to work together defending their spaceship (the Sitting Duck) as effectively as possible with as few actions as possible. However, unlike a lot of Euro-games, the pacing is frantic and the theme vibrant.

Gameplay
The most distinguishing feature of Space Alert is that, start to finish, a game takes 10 minutes to play. It includes a CD containing several 10-minute mission soundtracks with audio cues indicating when threats appear, when players can draw or trade cards, and when the mission ends. During those 10 minutes, you plan a sequence of actions reacting to each new threat. At the end of the time limit, you set down your cards and walk through a resolution phase to see how your crew’s planning panned out.

For each mission, threats appear on several different trajectories, all aimed squarely at your Sitting Duck. If a dreadnought appears on the blue trajectory, players must react by moving to the blue zone of the ship, charging the blue reactor, and firing the blue lasers. Each player has a player board with a spot for 1 card on each of 12 turns. Every action — moving, charging, shooting, etc. — is performed by playing the corresponding card on the corresponding turn on the player’s board.

Winning
To win, survive for 10-minutes. Coordination is the real challenge of the game, demanding the active participation of every player. Addressing a single threat requires several players to perform a series of actions all on the same turn. While players are coordinating their efforts against one threat, another threat will appear, and then another. Against this onslaught, you simply do not have enough time for any one player to micromanage everyone else — and if one player plays the wrong card on the wrong turn, your Duck is cooked.

Theme
Even as Space Alert runs a player’s brain through its gauntlet of conflicting priorities and communication hurdles, it engages the imagination. The threats highlight the space combat theme brilliantly. Take, for example, the interstellar octopus: Shoot him, and you’ll only make him mad, but ignore him for too long? Well, this moon-size monster is on a collision course with your little ship.

Components
Plastic space cadet figures and wooden energy and damage cubes are easy to grab and move during fast-paced play. Large threat cards provide sufficient space for threat description text, and small player-action cards are easy to juggle.

Pros:
+ Frenetic pacing consistently tests your ability to triage threats and coordinate with teammates.
+ Randomly drawn, diverse threats create unique challenges every mission.
+ Yellow (and with the expansion, red) threats step up the difficulty but rarely, if ever, make a mission mathematically unwinnable.
+ Very short playtime and lively space combat theme never strain your attention span.

Cons:
– New players will feel lost amidst all the moving pieces until they have played a few games and had time to orient themselves.
– Mental gymnastics involved here will make a more deliberate (or indecisive) mind dizzy.

8
Go to the Caverna: The Cave Farmers page

Caverna: The Cave Farmers

104 out of 111 gamers thought this was helpful

“Then I climbed up the dragon’s back, lopped off his head with me ax, and staggered back to camp.”
“But what happened to the dragon’s hoard, grandpa? The mountains of gold? The jewel-encrusted treasure? The legendary weapons forged in the dragon’s flame?”
“Pfft. What would we do with all that junk, boy? Nah … on me way home from the campaign I picked up a bag of seed for next year’s harvest. And a big rock. We never seem to have enough rocks.”

Although Caverna: The Cave Farmers can be a little imagination-deficient, it is nonetheless a solid Euro-efficiency game, with dwarves, a steep learning curve, and tons of little wooden resource bits.

Gameplay
You start Caverna with a forest, a cave, and a pair of dwarves that you will use to develop your humble hole in the ground into an industrious agricultural and mining complex. Gameplay revolves around basic worker placement: On your turn you place a dwarf on an action space and carry out that action. Throughout the game you will use your dwarves to clear forests and excavate tunnels; gather resources and livestock; and use those resources to develop mines, rooms, pastures, and fields on the forest and cave spaces you clear. Harvest phases, in which you must feed all your dwarves, turn up every few turns, so it is vital to start planting crops and breeding livestock as early as possible.

Winning
To win, you want the most victory points, which you earn by developing your farmstead. At game-end you get points for your animals, crops, mines, etc. A few specialized victory-point rooms — e.g., a room that grants +1 VP for each stone you collect — will guide your strategy and, hopefully, nudge you ahead of your opponents. You can also lose points for failing to feed your dwarves during a harvest, which makes the game a balancing act between developing your farmstead and feeding your dwarves.

Theme
Although not very inspired (so, “cave farming” huh?), Caverna’s theme ties its build-harvest-feed mechanics together neatly. E.g. tunnel out new sections of your cave to get stone. Plant crops and breed livestock so your dwarves can eat. Intuitive enough, right? Unfortunately, the game’s “expedition” actions seem tacked on. Forge ore into weapons, arm your dwarves, and send them on a daring quest to bring back … a dog, a log, and a discounted room. No gold, no prisoner-slaves, no player-vs.-player arena action. Seems like a wasted opportunity.

Limited artwork — pictures of forests, mines, etc. — fits the theme without being very remarkable otherwise. However all the shaped wooden bits deserve attention since, from a component standpoint, they really enliven this whole cave-farming business.

Components
Sturdy cardboard player boards and improvement tiles, plus quality wooden and acrylic bits shaped like pumpkins, donkeys, rubies, etc., justify the high price of the game.

Pros:
+ Plethora of options and resources challenge your ability to puzzle out optimum actions and plan ahead.
+ Highly deterministic mechanics reward practice and skilled play.
+ Unique room improvements furnish different paths to victory as well as decent replayability.
+ Heaps of tiny wooden pumpkins, donkeys, etc. impart a visible, thematic measure of your progress over the course of the game.

Cons:
– First-time (or simply slow) players can double the play time.
– Expeditions lack flavor.
– Worker-placement and harvest mechanics may feel overly familiar, especially for Agricola veterans.

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