Underground lake seemed to be really deep. He looked around once more, as it really shined under the water and looked at the way tunnel is turning away. Indicator of oxygen was in quarter of its capacity, which meant around twenty minutes. Just one last peek and he will have to return. This is place, no one has ever explored before him and was not even marked on the map. Adrenaline was pumping blood to his brain, but he had to concentrate. If he got stuck somewhere in this narrow tunnel with his oxygen bomb, it would be his end..
We are used to fact, where in most caves, there are some monsters hiding. At least in board games. And in fact, they are full of traps. Each yard can bring unpleasant surprises. But not always, when you go into the underground rock world, you must be worried. Sometimes, there is more beauty ready for you, than you might think.
Narrow spaces for people, who are not claustrophobic. Board game The Cave is filled with them to the brim. Some corridors are wider than others, but they are all undiscovered caves, far in the deep, away from known from hiking trails and tours. This unusual theme was chosen by desinger Adam Kaluza for his new game. But we do not wonder, because he is attracted to extreme sports. He not only created a desktop simulator for climbing K2 (review), but also game about ski-jumping.
So this time we will have a trip in the opposite direction. Not on the peaks, but in the bowels of the earth. That’s, why we must properly equip ourselves. This fact is indicated also by spelunker on the game box, which is standing in front of stalagmite growing up from the floor of the cave. Around the other beautiful formations. But we are interested more in his gear – there’s a flashlight, rope, and proper clothing.
We will learn quickly, if that is all, after putting the lid aside. This gives us a glimpse of a few cardboard sheets with a bunch of components. The most important and the largest are two double-sided starting boards with the base camp. Punching into the ground is no fun and just as when you are climbing the mountain, you must have a base. Each side of these two tiles is designed for one out of four possible player numbers in The Cave.
These large panels seamlessly connect with eighty small tiles of spiral cave passages. On their rear side, there are Roman numerals from I to IV, which divides caves into four groups in time. On some of them, there are symbols in the upper right corner. Among them, there are sixteen other tiles of landslide, that will make it impossible for you to go on and explore further in that direction.
Leftover cardboard pieces are small, but the more there are. We have fifty triangular chips of food, forty longitudinal rope, twenty oxygen bombs, but also cameras and rafts – one for each player. Then there are explorer’s tokens, altogether 162 (!) of them. These will be collected by players and are wearing symbols of various special locations, that are below ground. And this leaves us just with forty small yellow depth tokens, which will mark hallways in caves.
But we have here also five basic game boards for players. Six squares on these describe positions in the bag, where you can save your spelunkers equipment. In the lower part, there is still a place for hanging a tent, through which you can establish another camp deeper in the cave maze.
And then there are, of course, pawns of heroes themselves, who will go under ground, into solitude, silence and cold. You will find five teams – one figure for each player. These pawns are the same as we encountered in the aforementioned game K2. These wooden components include also one semicircular tent in each of available colors – red, purple, blue, yellow and green.
It is these colors players have to split among them and take not only two wooden figures (spelunker and his tent), but also game board. In addition to the board, you must create stocks of different tokens, which will be necessary in the course of the game. At the beginning, you can fill backpacks for free with equipment to your liking. They can (and even should) be crammed with food, but remember to take also camera, rope or air bomb with you. But the place is just for a few objects and organization is one of the major challenges, all players will be facing in The Cave.
According to the number of players, you choose correct starting board and put your figure on it. Tent is lying in base, until you take it with you on a trip. Now it is only important to categorize tiles by Roman numerals and according to number of players, you set aside a certain number of them. You can regulate length of the game yourself by changing their number. At the beginning of the game, each player chooses one of the exits from base came and put his pawn on it.
Game is divided into rounds, with each player always having exactly five action points, that can be spend on various actions. The main and most important for each spelunker is movement. But before that, you must feed your character, so it has more energy. That means taking one food token from your bag and eat it. It is not worth nothing, but you have to watch carefully supply of food.
Then it’s time to start moving. Each step on ordinary terrain costs one action point. To discover new one, you have to spend one extra point. Your figure will, however, with discovering of a new tile not move, you need to use another rare action point to go there.
But it is up to you, how you rotate the new tile. And because your spelunker explores a corridor, the new tile must be connected to one of the open ends of the paths leading from the room, where you are located. All corridors must be correctly connected, so you can not make path leading into the wall. But sometimes, it happens that you find a piece, that is not placeable according to the rules. In this case, your hero dodged at the last minute, as stones went down with a roar. The way just collapsed and passing is blocked.
Many pieces have an icon in their upper right corner. Upon the appearance of such a tile, you must place appropriate token with corresponding picture to corner of this room. First player, who reaches this route and meets its conditions, receives this token. And these chips are source of victory points at end of the game.
What are their requirements? For example, to gain camera, you must carry this device with you and stop for a second (1 action point) to take a picture of your surroundings. These pieces usually come with some subterranean beauty, such as stalactites and similar formations. Then there are water divisions worth checking, which can be visited only with breathing apparatus, which you also must have in your backpack. Water level can be overcome with a raft, but this way, you do not get a token for it.
And then there are bottlenecks, which fill such caves. They have three levels again marked with Roman numerals and color – yellow, orange and red. This order leads from least difficult to most difficult places reachable, where you will not be able to even breathe.
These pieces get you a chip, when you overcome them. But you will not pay only one action point for squeezing through them. Instead of the traditional single point spent, their cost is increased by the difficulty of the piece by another one to three points (up to incredible four points for coming through). Sometimes, as in the narrow neck, you need to spend the whole move in this tight place, trying to get yourself through. And do not forget, you have to go back and still make do with supplies!
If you run out of food anywhere on the road, you have a real problem. You do not have to worry, that your spelunker dies down, as it would happen in real life. Instead, he will move very slowly due to fatigue and each tile advance lasts you one turn. Before you return to base camp to make up supplies, you can be far of behind your opponents.
Before we talk about end of the game, we will look at two more important concepts around which The Cave revolves. They are ropes and depth. Lots of pieces is offering descents or climbs, that can be overcome only, if you are carrying a rope. For two action points, you simply put a rope over the abyss beteween two adjacent pieces. You can then take chip of a rope, if there is one on the tile.
In this game a lot of things also revolves about depth. Whenever you go down, you should put on the lower level a chip with the value in meters – 25 less, than was your original position. This will get you deeper into the bowels of the earth.
Why would you do that? Because then, when two paths meet, where is the difference more than 25 meters, expect a tougher climb (or descent). To do this, you need a longer rope = more tokens. Players will also get a token for reaching new depths, which will again reward them with points on the end of the game.
Clash ends, when cave tiles supply runs out. Players add up their victory points accumulated for all the collected chips. The most successful discoverer then becomes the winner. But beware, you have to return to base camp, before game ends, otherwise you lose, no matter what!
The Cave is built around a very interesting theme and idea. Players become speleologists, who are trying to explore an underground labyrinth and discover the most interesting places. At the same time, you compete for the most successful explorer. This would probably not work in reality, because in terms of rock crawling, you take care for your life not for speed.This makes for a thematic hiccup.
In the description of the rules, we skipped some tweaks, as already mentioned tents or management of backpack. But their incorporation into the game is logical, though sometimes contain a little more demanding rules. Fortunately, you do not have to remember them, because they are written on right side of your game board. With a backpack, you will find most of the important information clearly shown using language independent icons.
The game has an interesting atmosphere. It’s most likely in constant discovering of new pieces and especially the always present threat of food shortage. Food supplies is holding a knife to your neck and you have to really plan carefully and correctly. Five actions per round may seem like a lot, but even if you backpack is stuffed to bursting, you are not able to hold out there for more than five or six rounds. Fortunately, places you (or your opponent) have been through, will not slow you down, you can fly them through as they do not cost you any extra points for further action. Exceptions are of course bottlenecks, which are difficult to overcome every time.
We most liked the game concept of depth, which is excellently thought-out. Thanks to this fact, there only exceptionally happen confusing situations, where tiles with heterogeneous surface meet. But this is really an exception and need not to be taken into account.
The problem with The Cave lies somewhere else. Supplies of food have to be handled strategically and when planning new routes, its impossible to get everything you need inside backpack, so you must properly prepare for each trip. But then luck stands in your way. Piece, you discovere, are determined only by your destiny. Sometimes, you lose a whole turn or have to go find a way elsewhere, because of a blockade.
It would not be so bad, but this coincidence decides the whole game. If you draw only empty tiles, while your rival is connecting segments with victory points, its impossible to get those points elsewhere. The truth is, that there are enough ways to collect points. In addition, you can try to change route and go to the opponent’s side, there are no restrictions in this. You can collect points for his undiscovered pieces.
Players compete with each other usually more from a distance. Although you may occasionally take each other tokens, they have discovered, there is no direct conflict. But it would not be so bad, because the feeling of claustrophobia quite adequately compensates it.
Processing is great, although a large number of tokens is forcing you to constantly rearrange something. This juggling may bother some players, though otherwise game is really done to last detail.
The Cave was well poised to become the successor of K2, in terms of success. But then everything was completely ruined by coincidence, that decides, who gets what options to discovery. And then it spoils all the fun, that the game will otherwise bring you.
+ original topic
+ you are exploring underground and its beauties
+ you must manage your backpack and its contents
+ excellent deep mechanic
+ nice illustrations
+ each match is different
+ most rules are summed up on player boards
- too many tokens to be moved here and there, which prolongs the game
- enormous luck influence
- some difficult rules to maintain