Game review: Caverna, Bremerhaven offer worker placement fun

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25 2014 4:30 p.m. MST

The game board from Caverna, from Mayfair Games, boasts spaces that can allow players to take special actions. There is a also room for randomly drawn cards to be added to the board.

Cody Carlson

Caverna and Bremerhaven are two new worker placement board games that have recently been released by Mayfair Games/Lookout Games. How do they play?

Caverna

Designed by prolific board game designer Uwe Rosenberg, Caverna is the spiritual successor to his earlier game, Agricola. In Caverna one to seven players take on the role of a dwarf family that must farm their land and excavate their caves in order to thrive. Each player has his or her own player board that contains farmland spaces and cave spaces which will need to be developed over the course of the game. There are also a few game boards that are fit together to create an action board, and supply boards.

Each turn random cards are drawn, adding actions to the board, and then each player takes turns placing one of his or her dwarfs (a colored wooden disc) on an action space. These actions allow players to do things like place a farm or cave tiles, gain animals, acquire specialized rooms for their cave from the supply boards, plant crops, mine for goods or acquire building materials. Players may create more dwarfs in their family through a special action. Once one player has placed his or her dwarf in one of the action spaces, however, no one else may place there.

One really cool action is to use mined ore to create weapons. The amount of ore spent creates stronger weapons, and armed dwarfs may then go on quests that can result in valuable bonuses. At the end of each round a token is revealed that may require a harvest phase. During the harvest phase crops may be reaped, animals may breed, but most importantly, players must feed their families. Different resources can be converted into food. If a player is a little short, then those resources can't be used for other actions.

At the end of 12 rounds the players tally up their scores that are based on a variety of factors. Whoever holds the most points at the end of the game wins.

The great appeal of Caverna is the myriad choices each player has each turn that slowly get whittled down over the course of the round as other players gobble up important spaces. What this means is that there are many avenues to victory and players can use very different strategies in order to win. It is a tense and thrilling mechanic that is a whole lot of fun. Also, there is a customization building mechanic that is also fun, watching a player's farm and cave evolve over the course of the game.

I would have undoubtedly included Caverna on my top 10 games of 2013 had I played it before it was written. It is just a stellar game through and through. Though there is a bit of a learning curve, the game really packs a punch and the box is overflowing with tiles, cards and wooden pieces. Recommended for ages 12 and up, plan on at least 30 minutes per player when playing Caverna.

Bremerhaven

Taking its name and theme from the German port city, Bremerhaven is a two to four player game where players attempt to construct the most efficient port and move the most goods from ships to the loading docks.

Each player has his or her own player board, a dockyard, while there is also a shipboard, a contract board and general game board. Players are initially given a deck of influence cards numbered one to five. Each turn, players will take turns bidding on actions to take with these cards, placing them face down before the action. The actions include getting one of four ships to dock in a player's port, gaining one of four contracts he or she hopes to fulfill, building new buildings in a player's dock to give he or she special advantages, improving his or her docks, gaining more powerful influence cards, or manipulating the price of goods.

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