2 Chits, 3 Giggles
I recently packed my (cardboard) backpack and set off on my first solo board game adventure. I am one of those people who has always held board games up as a great social experience, and superior to video games as they are much more solitary. I have been a fool though; I take it all back. Board games can be just as lonely as video games... in a good way.
‘The Cave’ is a fantastic board game by Adam Kałuża, who created K2. Usually, it is played with two to five players and is an intense exploration game which I couldn't recommend more. So, when I discovered it had a solo variant, created by Lines42 for the Board Game Geek community, I had to try it for myself.
The game works very similarly to the main game. It is pure, atmospheric exploration. I even downloaded the official ‘The Cave’ soundtrack from rebel games which really adds to the experience. More games should have soundtracks! There is a track for each of the 4 phases of the game, and the sections get trickier to deal with as you explore further. The music reflects this.
In the main game you are a speleologist exploring a newly discovered cave. The player who contributes 'most spectacularly' to the underworld exploration wins the game. This is a fantastic sounding win condition but actually comes down to collecting tokens which are counted up for victory points. The game still feels exciting though, and you genuinely enjoy the exploration and finding out what is beyond the next cave tunnel.
This is carried over well to the solo adventure. Instead of collecting points, you are looking for the lost treasure of the pirates who used the cave to hide their loot. You must descend into the depths of the cave before searching underwater lakes in an attempt to find your reward. How much gold you find determines how 'spectacularly' you win (or lose) the game by; four and above is a glorious win, zero is a huge loss. My personal favourite is the statement for when you win by two gold, which reads 'You have enough money to take a year off and spend your time designing board games about cave explorations and mountain climbing.' Nice!
Lines42 does a pretty good job of converting the game to a solo adventure. There are some nice rule changes that alter the purpose of tiles, for example the photography tiles, my favourite from the standard game, usually let you snap a picture of the incredible views, scoring you some victory points at the end of the game. In the solo version, you can collect camera tokens and search through the top of the tile stack to find that descent tile you've been looking for. You need to get to a depth of 125 metres before you can start finding treasure. That's pretty darn deep. You really have to think about how you place each tile to maximise your chances of finding gold. You can get screwed on the tile draw and in some unlucky games it may not even be possible to make it to the required depth to find the treasure. This is rare though, and as you get better at playing you’ll find clever ways to lower the chances of this happening.
I lost horrendously in my first solo game, I didn't even make it to below 100 metres. It was my own fault, I am a rubbish speleologist. As I have played more games, I found myself getting better and better at it. This is a game you can enjoy losing though. Just like in a video game, I am completely engrossed in it. The atmospheric music playing, the tension building as I push deeper into the unknown... And the death. Let's not forget the death. Just like in a video game however, all you have to do is restart. The game only takes about thirty to forty minutes to play and is a great experience that you'll want to have again.
If you don't own ‘The Cave’ and you like a bit of atmosphere and adventure in your games, then you should go and pick it up. It's fantastic! Is the solo game perfect? I'm afraid not, but it is a really interesting and unique take on an already great game. There are better solo games out there and playing the ‘The Cave’ has given me a bit more motivation to try these games out. Still, I will be having another treasure hunt soon. This is not the last time I'll be delving into the darkness alone...
Review by David Murcutt