The Cave: A Review

By: Kristen McCarty

Since ancient times humans have explored the Earth and beyond.  Our curiosity has sent us to sandy deserts, deep jungles, mountain peaks, Antarctic ice, and outside the boundaries of our planet.  Now we will travel to the depths and explore deep into a newly discovered cave.  What wonders await our discovery?  All will be revealed as players prepare their supplies and set out into the dark depths of The Cave.

Goal of the Game

Players are leading a team of speleologists exploring a newly discovered cave.  All team starts at home base, where they equip their backpacks with equipment to survive underground and overcome any obstacles meet along the way.  The speleologists will set out on a series of expeditions to discover what secrets the cave holds.  They will need to return to Home Base to re-equip and plan for the next expedition.  They can also build a camp to help in their exploration.  The game ends when the cave is completely explored.  The team that contributes the most spectacularly to the underground exploration wins the game and gains respect and worldwide game.


The Cave’s artwork is beautiful and the components are good quality, however they are small.  This is a game you will want to keep organized during play and in the box.  There are 80 Cave tiles that are divided into four groups (I, II, III, IV).  There are also 16 boulder choke point tiles.  There are five types of equipment tokens:  50 consumable tokens, 40 rope tokens, 20 oxygen tokens, 5 camera tokens and 5 raft tokens.  Each player will get one camera and raft.  The players each receive one of the 5 player boards, 5 speleologist wooden team pawns, and 5 wooden camp pawns.

There are also five types of exploration tokens.  There are 25 water exploration, 40 traverse line exploration tokens, and 30 photo exploration tokens, 27 squeeze exploration tokens and 40 depth exploration tokens.  There are also 40 depth markers.

There are also two double-sided player boards.


First choose the correct player board based on the number of players.  The boards indicate the number of players in the corner.  The central space of the starting board is the speleologist’s home base.  Teams will begin exploring the cave from here and will return here to reequip.

Prepare four stacks of cave tiles.  Each stack of tiles should have the same symbol on the back.  For each stack, shuffle the 20 tiles and then discard the correct number of tiles (depending on the number of players) without revealing the discarded tiles.  Four two players place 11 tiles, 13 with 3, 15 with 4, and 17 with 5.   All four prepared stacks should be face down on the table.  Next to placed boulder choke tiles.

Set up the tokens in a bank to the side, leaving room in the center

for the cave to grow during play.  Sort the tokens into groups so it will be easy to access them during play.

Each player receives 1 speleologist team pawn and 1 camp pawn in the selected color, 1 player board in the selected color.

Player boards have two areas on which players will keep their equipment tokens.  In the backpack  there are 8 equipment slots.  Speleologist te3ams always have a backpack and its equipment is always available.   In the Camp there are 4 equipment slots.  During the game, each team can place a camp and then use its equipment.  Each player places their pawn onto the center space (the home base) and their camp pawn next to their player board.

Then all players simultaneously choose equipment tokens to fill their backpacks.  Players have free choice of equipment.  In the first game it it suggested that player take: 4 consumables, 1 rope, 1 oxygen, their camera, and their raft.

After players pack their equipment, they determine the starting player.

Game Play

Players take turns in clockwise order.

At the start of the player’s turn, the player must discard 1 of their consumables, unless the player is at the home base.  Each player spends up to five action points (AP).

Discovering New Cave Tiles

A player can reveal a new cave tile for 1 AP.  The player’s team pawn must be on a tile with at last one unexplored exit (leading to an empty space on the table.)  The player draws a tile from the top of the current stack of tiles.  first the stack of tiles marked I is used until they run out, then II, then III, and then IV.  After drawing a tile, the player chooses which is unexplored exit to place it next to.  Cave tiles must be placed such tat all adjacent tiles sides match (opening to opening or rock t rock).  Note the new tiles does not have to match with adjacent boulder chokes.  Given that restriction, the player has free choice as to orientation and location of newly explored tile.

If the tile has no legal placement, then it is discarded instead and instead a boulder choke point must be placed adjacent to the team pawn.  The boulder choke point does not have to match the sides of the adjacent tiles.  (In an unlikely case that the tiles run out, improvise with some other marker.)  The player chooses which unexplored exit will receive the boulder choke next to it.

Boulder choke tiles may be entered, but no new tiles may be discovered from them!

After placing a new tile, the player places an applicable exploration token next to it.

Water tile:  place a water exploration token, worth 3 victory points at the end of the game.

Underground Wonder tile:  place a photo exploration token worth 2 victory points at the end of the game.

Squeeze Tile: place a squeeze exploration token with the same number as shown on the tile.  Squeeze tile I – worth 2 victory points, squeeze tile II – worth three victory points, and squeeze tile III – worth 4 victory points at the end of the game.

Descent Tiles:  descent tiles work in a slightly different way.  Instead of a exploration token, decent tiles receive a depth marker with a value of 25 deeper than the depth of the level from which the decent tiles was discovered.  The starting board depth is at a depth of 0 and does not require a depth marker.

Depth Marker:  these are used to mark the depth of a tile.  Depth markers are always placed onto a descent tile so that players easily see what the tile’s depth is.  Each descent is 25 meters deeper than the tile from which it is discovered.  all non-descent tiles discovered (directly or later) from a descent tile are at the same level as that descent tile.  It is also good to place depth markers on non-descent tiles which are adjacent but have different depths, to make the situation clear.  Depth markers are purely informational to help players visualize the cave levels.  They have no other game function.  The home base and non-descent tiles discovered from it are at a depth of zero and don’t need to be marked.  Depth changes only by discovery of new tiles.

Movement and Exploration

Players pay action points to enter tiles.  More than one player may occupy a tile.  Players will collect exploration token during movement; collected tokens are publicly visible.  The player can normally move to an adjacent tile for 1 AP, except for certain situations requiring more AP:

Descent Tiles

To enter a descent (or any other) tile at a different level (climbing up or down), there must be a rope leading from the current tile to the other tile.  If a rope is already present, the team can use it (regardless of who has placed it) to move to the other tile for I AP.  Otherwise the team must place a rope, which is a team must have in their backpack.  To place a rope, a team spends 1 AP and puts the rope from their backpack onto the border between the tiles to connect them, and then spends 1 AP to move onto the other tile.

IF the depth difference between the tiles is more than one level, then multiple ropes are needed to connect the tiles.  The team must place one rope and spend 1 AP for every 25 meters of depth difference between the connected tiles.  They must also spend 1 AP to enter the tile.

This cannot be done partially: a team must have enough rope and AP to complete the movement in a single turn.  For example, with a depth difference of 50 meters, a team must use two ropes and spend 3 AP.  The team could not place 1 rope in one turn and the 2nd rope in the next turn, nor place ropes in one turn and move in the next turn.

If tiles are already connected by rope, the team need not and cannot place additional rope.  Tile movement between tiles connected by rope always cost 1 AP.  For each rope a team places the teams owner receives a traverse line exploration token.

The first time a player moves up or down to a new depth by placing a rope, the player takes a corresponding depth reached token with depth equal to the depth of the tile just entered.  A player may only have 1 depth reached token for a given depth.  Thus a player can have only have one 25 token, one 50, and one 75, etc.  Depth reached token are gained only by entering the new level wit the player’s own just-placed rope, not by using an opponent’s rope.

Depth reached token give victory points at the end of the game:  25 tokens – 3 victory points, 50 token -4 victory points, 75 and deeper – 5 victory points.

Water Tiles

  There are two different ways to enter water tiles:

1.  Using Oxygen – The player must spend 2 AP and 1 oxygen.  Oxygen tiles are double-sided with 2 full tanks on one side and 1 full tank on the other side.  When spending an oxygen, turn a 2-tank oxygen token to its partially used 1 tank side or discard a 1 tank oxygen token.  When entering a water tile which still has a water exploration token, the player takes the token and places it next to their player board.  Each water exploration token is worth 3 victory points at the end of the game.

2.  Using a raft – The team must spend 1 AP and have a raft in their backpack.  Entering a water tile with a raft does not permit a team to take a water exploration token!  After use, the raft stays in the team’s backpack and can be use again.

Note:  If a team has entered a water tiles with a rat, they can later spend 1 AP and 1 oxygen to explore the water tile and take the water exploration token (if it is still on the tile).  This is useful when a team has only 1 AP left their turn.

Underground Wonder Tiles

Entering an underground wonder costs 1 AP.  If an underground wonder tile still has a photo exploration token and a team has a camera in their backpack, the team can spend 1 AP to explore the tile, taking a photo exploration token and placing it near their player board.  After use, the camera stays in the team’s backpack and can be used again.  Each photo exploration token is worth 2 victory points at the end of the game.

Squeeze Tiles

Entering a squeeze tile costs 1 AP plus as many AP as the difficulty level of the squeeze.  A squeeze’s difficulty is indicated on the tile and can range from 1 to 3.  If the squeeze tile is entered for the first time in the game, the player takes the squeeze exploration token from the tile.

Each squeeze exploration token at the end of the game is worth: difficulty 1 – 2 victory points, difficulty 2 – 3 victory points, difficulty – 4 victory points.  The AP cost to enter a squeeze point must be paid in full regardless of whether the exploration token is still there or not.

Placing Equipment at the Home Base

A team at the home base can pack their backpack.  Packing costs 2 AP.  The team can freely exchange resources between their backpack and the bank. If the team still has their camp in their backpack they may also exchange equipment between the camp and the bank while packing.


Each team of speleologists has one camp to use.  The camp has 4 equipment slots and occupies 2 backpack slots.

A player is not obliged to pack their camp in the backpack.  When the player wants to take their camp with them, they must pack the 4 slots of the camp and put it into their backpack.  When packing the camp into the backpack at the home base, the camp pawn is placed to cover 2 backpack slots.  The first time the camp is packed into the backpack at the home base there is no additional cost, but later times it costs 1 AP to pack the camp into the backpack.

While the camp is still packed in the backpack, the team can not access the equipment packed in the 4 camp slots.  A team on any type of tile can unpack their camp from their backpack and place it on their current tile by spending 2 AP.  Form that point on, the team can freely exchange equipment between their backpack and their camp on the tile without spending AP.

When a team returns to home base with the camp in their backpack, they can:

– Leave the camp at the home base, spending 0 AP.  In this case,a the camp is abandoned and the team will no longer be able to use it in the game.

– Pack It – to do this, the team must place the camp for 2 AP, pack the backpack and camp for 2 AP, and then pack the camp into 2 slots of the backpack for 1 AP (not all necessarily in the same turn).

– Do Nothing – simply leaving the backpack and camp packed as they are.  The camp can be placed and packed any number of times in the course of the game.

Note:  unused AP from a turn are lost. 

End of Game and Scoring

The game ends when the last tile form the IV stack is placed (or, if unplaceable, a boulder choke is placed).  Play continues until the player before the start player, so that all players have now had played the same number of turns.  Then play continues for 3 more rounds, continuing from the start Player, so that each player will take 3 more turns.  A team which does not return to home base automatically loses and receives no points.  Any exploration tokens of such eliminated teams are not taken into account when allocating bonus points.

Bonus points are awarded to teams fro exploration tokens collected: traverse line tokens, water exploration tokens, photo exploration tokens, squeeze exploration tokens (regardless of the difficulty levels of the collected tokens).  Each category is evaluated separately.  The team which collected the most tokens receives 8 bonus points.  The team which collected the second largest number of tokens receives 4 bonus points.

If two players tie for first the tying players each receive the second place points (4 points) and the second place players receive nothing.  If there are more than 2 typing players for first place, no bonus points are awarded.  If there is a tie for second place, they tying players receive nothing.

After distributing bonus points, the players all sum their victory points.

– 2 Victory Points for each – traverse line token, photo exploration token, squeeze exploration token with difficulty 1

– 3 Victory Points for each – water exploration token, squeeze exploration token with difficulty 2, depth reached token with value 25

– 4 Victory Points for each – squeeze exploration token with difficulty 3, depth reached token with value 50

– 5 Victory Points for each – depth reached token with value 75 or deeper

The winner is the player who scored the most victory points.  Ties are possible but there are no tie breakers.

My Thoughts

A game that enables a player to sit at their kitchen table and feel like they are exploring and discovering hidden wonders is rare.  To have this depth of theme is even rarer for a Eurogame.  The combination of tile laying, resource management, and components creates the mystery, tension, and awe speleologists must encounter as they set out to research and explore.

No two games of “The Cave” have been the same, it offers a lot of re-playability.  Each game offers unique challenges and obstacles to be overcome.  One game I may find many underground wonders and lakes without ever needing to use my repelling skills.  Another game may be filled with tight squeeze points and long descents.  Because you never know what you may encounter, smart packing and use of action points is critical.

There are a lot of tokens and they are small.  When we punched them out and started to sort them out, I admit that I was a little intimidated.  I wondered what they were going to be used for and how we would keep track of them.  But after reading the rules and playing the first game, their purposes became clear.  I would strongly suggest keeping them organized both in the box and on the game table.  We have used both a Plano Box and silicon muffin cups.  It keeps the tokens organized and easily accessible.

While I love the artwork on the tokens it would have been nice if the tokens had their victory point value on one side.  This would make end game end scoring easier.

 The components of The Cave are language independent and the iconography works nicely.   It is easy to tell them apart and see where they should go on the tiles.  The player board also has a nice player aide for action points.  At first glance this can also seem intimidating but after a few turns it is nice as a quick reference when you need to remember how much a certain action costs.  There isn’t a a VP scoring aid other than in the rulebook and I wish there had been one included.  I think the back of the player board would have been a good place for it.

The game plays quickly and there is minimal downtime between player turns.  During your opponent’s turn you need to pay attention to what they discover, the number of tiles that are left, and what tokens they have collected.  The game is all about resource and action point maximization.  You don’t want to be stuck out in the cave without consumables, but you also don’t want to finish a turn without using all your action points.  The player who can best use their resources and action points is not certain of victory, however.  Tile draws put an element of luck into the game.  One player may draw most of the high scoring tiles while another gets stuck with boulder choke points.  Some players will be turned off by this luck in an otherwise strategic game.

There is a good balance between how long an action takes, its needed resources, and its victory point value.  It may take you longer to go through a difficulty 3 squeeze point but it does give you four victory points.  Of course I never like going back through the squeeze point because of all the actions it takes.  It also takes a lot fewer actions and a camera in your backpack to take a picture and its reward is only two victory points.

There is tension in “The Cave,” as you use your resources, feed your people (consumables), and decide to pack or leave your camp.  I enjoy the exploring and discovering the cave, wondering if I will find a wonder around the next corner or  meet with a dead end.  I don’t always enjoy the game end, as we get closer to the last tile.  If you don’t make it back to home base you automatically lose.  I don’t feel like I can take any risks and the game forces you back to Home Base.  I’m not sure I like that rule and I’m not opposed creating a house rule to ignore it.  At the same time I feel like it makes sense as the game is a race to do the best job exploring the cave and returning to the finish line.

Overall, I really enjoyed the game.  I love tile laying games because of the new world that is created each play.  “The Cave’s” artwork is beautiful and the game plays well.  The math, tension, and end game race back to home base aren’t my favorite parts, but they are needed to make the game work.  I even like the luck, because if you were actually exploring a new cave you wouldn’t know what is around the bend and one group may discover an amazing wonder, while others find dead ends and boulders.

Quick Stats

Designer: Adam Kałuża
Artists: Jarek Nocoń
Publisher: MYBG Co., Ltd., Pegasus Spiele,, edizioni
Number of Players: 2 – 5
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Mechanics:  Set Collection, Tile Placement, Action Point Allowance System, Modular Board

Review Overview

Final Rating

Liked It

I love tile laying and exploration of The Cave. I don't like the race to home at he game end, but overall it is a fun game to play.

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Steve "Megatron"

Co-Creator @GeekCastRadio | Creator @AlteredGeek | Voice Actor | Podcaster, Husband | Father | Web/Graphic Design | A/V Editor | Geek of Games, Tech, Film, TV.

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