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.
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.
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.