Introducing the Battle of the Boards! This is a series of articles that will feature two or more similar games, compare and contrast them, and hopefully help you find the best fit for you and your game collection. First up we have two heavy weight classics. In one corner we’ve got the traditional, the punishing, Agricola. In the other corner the younger brother, the free flowing, Caverna. Two games, one designer, which game is right for you?
Designer Uwe Rosenberg has earned the right of being household name within the board gaming hobby. As of late he’s been putting out some lighter weight tile placement games, but back in the day, man, he was the king of worker placement games. Two of those such games are Agricola, released in 2007, and Caverna, released in 2013. These games are both darlings of the hobby, but interestingly enough, they often get compared with gamers siding with either one or the other. So let’s go ahead and evaluate each one separately before coming to any sort of decision.
Agricola is a farming simulator. You begin the game with two worker pawns/meeples. Throughout the game you will be sending your presumed husband and wife out to perform various tasks. On the main board there will be locations either containing resources or allowing specific actions. You will need these various resources, like wood, stone, clay and reed, to help build out your farm as well as your living space. Also, you’ll need to carefully manage your starting hand of occupation cards and minor improvements. These will give you added benefits or abilities. But be wary, lest you forget that you must also eat.
As far as I can tell, Agricola was one of the first games to feature the infamous “feed your people” mechanic. Traditionally euro games where about optimization and timing, but apparently Uwe didn’t think that put enough pressure on players and decided it best to throw a wrench in gamers well thought out plans. You see, at the end of every round you must be able to provide food for each of your workers or else suffer a point penalty. At times this may be easy, but at others it will inevitably make your life miserable as you and your family of workers are ineffectively scrambling, trying to come up with just enough food to get your through the end of the round. You’ll undoubtably let out a sigh of relief as you return the necessary food to the supply, only to be stricken with horror as you realize in a matter of turns you’re going to be forced to pay all over again.
Agricola isn’t a game for faint of heart. The theme may seem cute and charming, being this happy little farming family, but don’t be fooled. This game is one of the most stressful euros I’ve ever played. Did I mention that there are like a dozen different requirements to score points at the end of the game, and ignoring any of them will result in negative points? For some people this is great. I didn’t use to be in this camp, but now I feel like I am. The occupation cards and minor improvements will vary from game to game to help it feel fresh but the scoring won’t change leaving you feeling like you need to do everything to be successful.
Now, what if being a traditional farmer just doesn’t appeal to you? Well, maybe you would change your mind if you were a family of dwarves…farming. So, what do dwarves have that regular humans don’t? Well for one, caves. Many of the same concepts from Agricola are found in Caverna. You have a small family of workers at the beginning of the game that will be using various locations on the board to both collect resources and build out your farm. But you don’t live on a regular farm, you live inside the depths of a massive cave network.
Also, are you tired of collecting your resources the old fashioned way? Well you can use some ore to equip your dwarf to go out and raid nearby villages, bringing back a wealth of resources and even leveling up in the process. The game definitely goes the extra mile to make you feel more in control of your path to victory, and less railroaded into following the games path for you. This is vary much evident in the fact that you have no cards like in Agricola, but rather a supply of room tiles that when build into your cave will provide you with either instant benefits, ongoing benefits, or endgame scoring.
Oh and speaking of scoring, there are a lot less negative points to be avoided in this one. Feeding your family only happens every couple of rounds and there are many more ways to acquire food from round to round. Overall this game is just a lot less punishing and more sandboxy than Agricola.
So what game is right for you? Well I’d say it depends. Agricola is the more punishing game, with a more approachable theme. Caverna is much more easy going, but may seem off putting to new gamers. Agricola will set you back about $30-$40 less, but doesn’t feature nearly half the fancy pieces found in Caverna. In the end my advice I guess would be to get A Feast for Odin. It is literally the best of both worlds. From Agricola it features a real world setting, Vikings, and also a massive number of occupation cards to keep games feeling varied. From Caverna it adopted a more forgiving “feed your people” mechanic, and a plethora of avenues to score points before the end of the game.