Adventures in Cardboard Spelunking – A Review of The Cave

A lot of little pieces
A lot of little pieces

What could be more fun than embarking on an adventure into the unknown and exploring environments never touched by other humans?  Squeezing in tight spaces, descending into new depths, or mapping new caverns sounds like a remarkable adventure.  What about making sure you brought enough food, getting lost, or being caved in?  In the real world, these are the things that a claustrophobe like me would worry about.  I’ll stay above ground, thank you very much.

The Cave doesn’t exactly replace real-life adventures with its little cardboard tiles, but if you’re a homebody, it’s still an entertaining board game.  Each player takes on the role of a group of speleologists exploring a new cave system.  This isn’t a horror game; there are no monsters lurking inside.  You are discovering new areas of the cave and collecting tokens for completing certain actions, such as descending to a new depth or taking a photo of a cave formation.   While there is some tension in managing your resources, such as food, we found that it’s a fairly easy-going game.  This is unlike K-2, another game by Adam Kaluza that we enjoy.  K-2 is more intense, as player compete for spots on the mountain as they risk the elements and potentially die from exposure.  Inside the cave, you must manage your food.  If you happen to run out of food, you just have to crawl back to base camp.  No meeples will be left to die in the cave.

One of the things we enjoyed about The Cave is the randomness.  After all, players are exploring an unknown cave system.  The game board consists of tiles, grouped into levels I – IV.  As each player takes their turn, if they choose to explore a new section of the cave, they take a tile from the top of the pile, beginning with level I, and place it adjacent to the tile they are currently in.  Sometimes the tile will not match up along the borders.  If that happens, a boulder choke tile is placed.   There are also expansion tiles that we later bought to make it a bit more difficult.

At the beginning of the game, the player start at the center tile—base camp.  Here there are seemingly infinite resources.  Each player must fill their packs with items they are going to need while in the cave.  Food tokens are most important.  A player may also choose to take items needed to gather tokens for points at the end of the game.  For example, if a player moves into a newly discovered tile where they may get a token for diving, but they didn’t pack an oxygen tank, they can’t take that token.  That is a down side to this game.  There are a lot of little pieces and a lot to remember as you lay tiles.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget to put a token down on a tile that you could later pick up for completing that action.

Exploring the cave
Exploring the cave

As each player takes their turn, they can take up to 5 action points (APs).  Different actions can require multiple action points to complete.  Before taking any APs, a player must use a food token, unless they are back at base camp.  If the player is has no food, they only action they may take is to move one tile towards base camp.  Each player has a reference card that will tell them how many APs an action is worth.  Laying a new tile is one AP.  Moving into that tile is another AP.  A tile with a tight squeeze III is 4 AP’s.   As you complete certain actions on tiles, you collect the token.  Sometimes, the board can become a bit confusing when it comes to the depth tokens.  The instructions were a bit unclear, and we ultimately just made house rules that seemed intuitive to us as we reached new depths.

We did ultimately house rule a few things that seemed unrealistic or to aid with the game’s playability and flow.  The instructions were a bit confusing for us, and as I am writing this I realize we were playing the boulder choke tiles wrong.  However, the game is easily adaptable and our house rules don’t interfere with the overall game.  Again, it’s a rather relaxing way to spend an evening.  Players aren’t directly competing with each other, but off exploring different areas.  The game ends once the last tile is played from level IV and the players have 3 turns to return to base camp.  If the player doesn’t return within 3 turns, they forfeit all their points, and I suppose, the meeple is lost or dies in the cave.  We house-ruled that the player would simply lose points for additional turns needed.  It would be frustrating to spend the whole game gathering points, only to lose everything at the very end.

photo 3(1)Overall, it’s not a bad game to play.  It comes with a link to download theme music to set the mood while spelunking.  It’s not too intense.  Given a choice, I prefer K-2 from Adam Kaluza.  I’m competitive, and I find some morbid joy in watching my opponent race to the top of the mountain, only to run out of steam and die at the top.  While our friends didn’t seem to enjoy it, The Cave is something that Cam and I can play together, without directly competing with each other on the board, but when we’re not in the mood for a co-op game.  So, while we may play K-2 first, we’ll finish off our game night with a chill game of The Cave.


K2 – Climbing the Deadliest Cardboard Mountain


It’s been a while, but Cam and I got this game out again the other day.  This is our go-to game when we want to play something fun, challenging yet simple, and not too terribly time-consuming.  This was the first board game we played together.  Cam says he’s pretty sure that first game we played together was the first time he ever lost.

K2 is easy to learn.  The game mechanics are fairly simple.  It can be played from 1-5 players.  The goal is to use your two little men to climb up the mountain.  Each little guy, fondly known by Cam and I as Round Man and Squiggly Man, move independently from each other.  A score is kept for each man and by the end of 18 turns, or days in the game, the player with the highest combined score wins.

Movements are determined by cards.  There are movement cards and acclimatization cards.  Each have a numerical value.  As you move up the mountain, movement becomes harder and requires more points from your playing cards.  The acclimatization cards are also needed.  Each climber’s health is monitored on a card and some spaces or bad weather days on the board take away acclimatization points.  You’ll use the cards to maintain health and not die from “exposure.”

Climbing the mountain is only half the fun.  The weather plays a major factor in how you are able to move up the board.  Each turn is one day.  The days are played out on shuffled cards with that day’s weather on it.  Some days the weather is clear.  Other days a blizzard moves in.  Usually the blizzards only affect certain altitudes on the board.  Each player must be careful to move out of that area before a blizzard hit and makes movement or oxygen more difficult.

I usually gun it straight for the peak, only to die at the top without being able to get back down to safer ground.  Cam is usually slower in his ascent, utilizing his little men as a team.  Each little man has a tent that you can drop if needed to help battle the weather.  Never let it go to waste though, you only have one tent per little guy and you can only use each one once.

This is a game we both highly recommend.  If you’re up for a challenge, the game board has two sides, and the weather can be summer or winter.  With so many variations, it’s very different each time.  All Cam and I need now is the expansion – K2: Broad Peak!