Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Adam Kaluza


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Polish game author Adam Kaluza seems to have a liking for extreme sports, because he has not only lead us players on a dangerous trip up the slopes of K2, but now he takes us onto a journey into the depths below earth's surface. Thus, The Cave sees the players take the role of speleologists (wow, I have learned a new word!) who have found an undiscovered cave, and each player now tries to find the most spectacular locations and passages in order to score most victory points.

When the game is over, the players will receive victory points for photos of spectacular rock formations, for managing to cope with difficult sections where a traverse line has to be used or where the passage gets narrow, for exploring subterranean lakes and for reaching the really deep parts of the cave. Thus, they will collect tokens for performing these deeds during the course of the game, and the player who has collected the most valuable tokens will be declared to be the winner.

All players start with their team pawn being placed at a big base board where the base camp of all players is located. This board features several exits, and during the whole game the players may spend some of their action points allowance to reveal new Cave tiles and place them adjacent to an exit, provided there still is an unexplored exit available on the tile where their team pawn is currently located. Reminding me a bit of classic Dungeonquest, these square Cave tiles are drawn at random, but in order to give the game some structure the tiles do not come from one big deck, but instead the tiles are split into four decks which are shuffled separately. Depending on the number of participating players, some tiles from each deck were randomly discarded, and then the first deck will be used for the first phase of cave exploration. Only when the current deck of Cave tiles has been fully used up the next deck will become available, and by this means Adam Kaluza retained some control which Cave tiles will become available in the course of the game.

Some rules also must be followed when a new tile is placed, and most important here is the fact that a newly placed tile must match with the exists of all already placed adjacent tiles. If this condition cannot be met, the newly drawn tile is discarded and instead a generic boulder choke tile is placed, meaning that the player has run into a dead end. In addition, on some tiles tokens for the scoring of victory points are placed, and these tokens may be collected by a player who first succeeds in entering the tile with the equipment needed to claim the token. Thus, a token featuring an underground wonder only can be claimed if the player is in possession of a camera, whereas a lake needs oxygen for its exploration and the claiming of its token.

Some of the cave tiles also may feature a descent, and as a rule a descent means that all further tiles now are 25 meters deeper than the tile which led to the descent. The new depth will be marked with a corresponding depth marker, and a player may claim a corresponding depth token whenever he was able to reach a new depth with his team pawn. However, once again going deeper requires special kind of equipment, and so each 25 meters of depth which need to be climbed require the use of one rope.

The players choose their equipment at the beginning of the game when they may pack the eight available slots of their backpack with equipment of their choice. They can choose between a foldable raft, a camera, oxygen flasks and lengths of rope, but they will also need some slots where they will store food rations. Food is important in the game because each player has to spend one food token each turn to keep his team strong and mobile, and so only a team which has been nourished may spend this turn's five action points for different actions. If a team must remain hungry because it has run out of food, the player must use his whole turn just to move the his team pawn to the next adjacent tile, thus going stepwise back to the base camp where the backpack may be re-packed and new rations may be taken.

As indicated, the players reveal new Cave tiles and move their pawns on a mechanism based on action points, and during his turn a player will need to balance which actions he wants to take. Some actions even consume more than one action point (like the exploration of a lake which takes two points, or the squeezing through a narrow passage which may take up to four action points depending on the type of passage discovered). Thus, the main tactical element of The Cave lies in the relation between food and actions, because a player needs to calculate carefully whether he should still continue his current trip, or whether he should return to the base camp in order to re-stock with rations. As most victory point tokens may be claimed only by the first player who enters a tile, there is always a bit of pressure on the players, and so they will sometimes feel compelled to push further even though food is running low. However, as the game bears no random element of surprise apart from the revealing of the Cave tiles, careful calculation usually will help to solve all tight situations.

Quite interesting is the not yet mentioned option of the players to add a mobile camp to their backpack. This camp takes two packing slots, but it contains four additional packing slots in which even more equipment may be stored. However, this equipment only may be accessed when the mobile camp has been mounted, and this once again takes some action points. However, by use of this camp the players may extend their range of operations, and it may even pay off to spend some action points for moving back and forth between the base camp and the mobile camp, thus transferring additional rations and other equipment from the base camp to the mobile camp in order to maintain a well-stocked outpost deep in the cave.

Some additional competition is felt by the players due to the fact that bonus victor points will be rewarded to players who collected most victory point tokens in each category (lake exploration, photography etc.), and so the players get an even higher incentive to beat other teams to certain Cave tiles. This competition will deepen when the players have gotten familiar with the composition of the different decks of Cave tiles, because this will enable them to speculate which tiles still may appear and whether their lead in certain categories is still in danger.

As can be seen, The Cave is absolutely no dungeon-type game where the players roll dice and face unknown dangers, but instead it's a brainteaser which requires distinct calculation skills. There exist some games where such a pronounced element of calculation leads to a considerable slowing of the gameflow, but this problem is reduced in The Cave by the fact that the players only can spend up to five action points each turn and by the stepwise discovery of new cave tiles. Calculating a way through already discovered parts of the cave where all victory point tokens have been removed goes much quicker than might be expected, and so the players mainly need to focus on new tiles and their contents.

Once again Adam Kaluza has not only managed to create a new game on an unusual topic, but he also succeeded in creating a convincing set of rules which gives the players a quite interesting challenge. The Cave is absolutely no "underground-clone" of K2, but instead the game operates on a rather different set of mechanisms, drawing the players into the arduous but rewarding task of becoming successful speleologists (I love this word) right from the beginning!

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany