After making his wealth by mining gold, Nasty the Dwarf turned his mountain cave into tavern, and his drinks are one of the best-kept secrets in the land. Patrons are willing to wait hours for some of his specialties. Nasty’s name is no joke, though, as his employees know: working in the Cavern Tavern will keep you on your toes.
At a glance: Cavern Tavern is a game from Final Frontier Games for 2 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, and takes 1 to 2 hours to play. It’s currently funding on Kickstarter, with a $44 pledge for a copy of the game or $5 for the print and play. (There’s also a solo play variant that will be unlocked as a stretch goal if the game reaches $40,000 in funding, which seems fairly likely at this pace.) The age rating seems about right–the game is not too difficult and although it’s about serving drinks in a bar, there’s nothing too inappropriate for kids. Experienced kids may be able to play this as young as 10 if you’re okay with the theme.
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Note that this components list is subject to change–there are additional components that may be added due to stretch goals.
- 1 game board
- 5 player boards
- 76 Ingredient cards (6 each Ambrosia, Beer, Elixir, Fruit, Herbs, Liqueur, Mead, Nectar, Rocks, Spirits, Syrup, Wine; 4 Magic Potion)
- 42 Order cards
- 20 Item cards
- 15 Nasty the Dwarf Says cards
- 8 Nasty’s Secret Task cards
- 1 Starting Player token
- 1 round marker
- 1 six-sided white die
- 5 sets of player pieces:
- 1 Meeple
- 1 scoring marker
- 4 six-sided dice
- 10 Time tokens
- 3 Reputation tokens (Nasty, Kitchen, Chores)
- 1 Reference card
So far the stretch goals that have been unlocked as of this writing are:
- 5 Character cards–these can be added for variable player powers
- 5 Special Order cards–a Kickstarter exclusive
- 5 Additional Item cards
The illustrations for this game are done by Mihajlo “The Mico” Dimitrievski, who has also illustrated the Valeria line from Daily Magic Games, so the style may look familiar to some of you. They’re nicely done, and the board helps set the mood of being in an underground tavern. There are a lot of different areas on the board where you can place dice (marked by squares, along with the dice value required). The one downside is that there is not room on the board to store the ingredient cards, despite actually having a good amount of space around the Orders–so be sure you have plenty of table space because each player also has their own small board.
The Kickstarter version will have custom dice–right now they are silkscreened, but if the stretch goal is hit, they’ll be engraved dice instead. Retail versions will have standard dice.
The Nasty the Dwarf Says cards and Nasty’s Secret Task cards have flavor text on them to help you get a sense of Nasty’s personality. I think it would be fun to have some flavor text on the drinks as well, though I know there’s a higher pledge level to name a drink in the game so I guess they couldn’t do those ahead of time.
The Time tokens can be a little fiddly–there are ten of them, printed in 24-hour time to match the time marker at the bottom of the board. (The game runs from 10pm to 1am in 20-minute increments.) They’re used to track what time you picked up a drink order so you know how long it took to deliver the drink, but I think it could be done with fewer components if you just printed the times on the player board and plopped a token on it to indicate the time. I’ve spoken to the game designer about this and there’s a chance that another system may be implemented for the final game.
How to Play
The object of the game is to score the most points by the end of 10 rounds, by serving drinks, finishing tasks, and maintaining your reputation with Nasty.
To set up, give everyone a player board, a Nasty’s Secret Task card, and a set of pieces (dice, tokens, meeples, etc.). Everyone places the scoring token on “0” on the board, and their three Reputation tokens (Nasty, Kitchen, and Chores) at the top of their player boards.
Lay out the ingredients cards next to the board, shuffle the Nasty the Dwarf Says cards and place it in the office space on the board, and shuffle the Order deck and Item deck separately and place them nearby. Pick a starting player and give them the Start Player token, and give the extra white die to the last player. Place the round marker on the “22:00” on the board to mark the first round. Each player should roll their dice and take starting ingredients based on their die rolls. (The cellar shows two ingredients for each number from 1 to 6–players can choose either of the two ingredients for each number rolled.) Finally, place 6 Order cards from the deck onto the spaces on the board.
The game takes place over 10 rounds. At the start of each round, everybody rolls their dice and places them on their player boards. Then players take turns in clockwise order taking any of these actions in a turn:
- Take an Order.
- Play any number of Items.
- Place dice in one location.
- Complete an Order.
Take an Order. If it’s the beginning of a round and you don’t have an open Order already, you must take an Order from the board. Take one of the available cards and place it on your player board, and place your meeple next to the “table” on the board. Place the Time token corresponding to the current time next to your meeple so you know when you took the Order. (Note: if you have no open orders because you already fulfilled one this round, you may take a new order but don’t have to.)
Play Items. You may play any number of Item cards on your turn. (Some items are played at different points during the round, like right after dice are rolled, but most are played during your turn.) Items may let you steal ingredients from other players, award you points, make it easier to finish a drink recipe, and so on.
Place dice. Each of the spaces on the board corresponds to a number between 1 and 18. You may place dice on one space on the board–the dice must total exactly the value printed on the board. For instance, values 1 through 6 are in the Cellar and let you take ingredients. Even values from 8 to 18 are Kitchen tasks, and Odd values from 7 to 17 are Chore tasks. Completing a task will give you points, a specific ingredient, and sometimes additional bonus effects like Items or trades. Depending on the number of players in the game, there are only so many spaces available: up to 4 spaces per Cellar spot, but only 1 space for each Kitchen and Chore task.
You may also go to Nasty’s office to kiss up to the boss: this takes 1 die (any value) and moves you back up on your Nasty Reputation track and moves another player down. You may spend 2 dice of any value to get an Item, and you may spend 3 dice of any value and discard an Item to get a Magic Potion, which is a wild ingredient.
Complete an Order. If you have all the necessary ingredients for your current Order, you may spend those ingredients to complete your Order. If you completed the order in the same Time that you picked it up, you score the total point value. Otherwise, you look at the numbers along the side of the Order card–for each round you are late, you get fewer points. If you are too late, the customer leaves and you lose points and discard the Order. Completed Orders are kept face-down on your player board, and then you retrieve your meeple and Time token from the main board and place a new Order from the deck on the empty space.
A few notes about the Reputation tracks on the player boards. The Nasty track indicates how mad Nasty is at you. You start off at “0” and it only gets worse from there. The first time you hit 3, 6, and 9 on the track, you’ll have to draw a Nasty the Dwarf Says card–you’ll lose ingredients or Reputation or maybe have to do an extra Kitchen task without getting the benefit. Also, the further down you are on the Nasty track, the more points you will lose at the end of the game.
The Kitchen and Chore tracks have some bonuses associated with them: the more tasks you do, the more points you’ll get for doing them. There are bonus points marked on the Reputation tracks–those are extra points you will get when you do a task of that type. Also, if you get to level 6 or 9 on these tracks, you will gain the ability to change a die by 1 or 2 after rolling it.
The round continues until all players have run out of actions–usually when everyone runs out of dice. At the end of the round, the round marker is moved to the next spot, and anyone who has an open order goes down 1 step on the Nasty Reputation track. (Nasty doesn’t like to keep customers waiting.) Everyone retrieves their dice, and the player who is currently in last place on the scoreboard gets the bonus white die. (Note that the first player does not change except when somebody takes the “7” Chore action: Make Lunch for Nasty.)
At the end of the last round, you do a final scoring. First, subtract points based on your position on the Nasty track. If you don’t have an open Order at the end of the game, you score 1 point per ingredient. (Otherwise, leftover ingredients aren’t worth anything.) Finally, if you have any incomplete Nasty the Dwarf Says cards on your board, you lose 10 points. Finally, you gain any bonus points for your Nasty’s Secret Task card.
The highest score wins; ties go to the player who has a better reputation with Nasty, and then to the player with the most completed Orders.
When I first broke out the Cavern Tavern components, it looked a little overwhelming and I assumed it would be a pretty heavy, complicated game, but I was pleased to discover that it’s actually not too difficult to learn. It’s a good mix of dice-placement (a twist on worker-placement games) and set collection, with a few new twists thrown in.
I do like the way that the theme and mechanics fit together for some aspects of the game–for instance, the way that you get more points the sooner you deliver a drink, and the fact that your reputation with Nasty is really important to maintain if you don’t want to get stuck with terrible chores. Of course, based on the times shown for the rounds, it does seem weird that a customer would be willing to wait over two hours for a drink–but I just compared it to waiting for brunch in Portland, which can take forever. (This is why I rarely go out for brunch in Portland.)
The set collection in itself is nothing new: grab the ingredients you need to make your drink, get points, and then start again on a new recipe. The interesting thing is that you can only grab ingredients if you have the right combination of dice. Sometimes you can add up dice to get the right ingredient, but if you want Fruit or Herbs and you didn’t roll any 1s, then you might be out of luck. That’s where the tasks come in, though: if you spend more dice to get a higher value and complete a task, you may still be able to get the ingredient you need after all. Some of the strategy comes in knowing when to use your dice for tasks and when to use them to grab ingredients. On the one hand, you do get some points and other bonuses for completing tasks–but it also means that it may take you more rounds to get all the ingredients you need, which means you’re losing points on the drink order. The earlier you complete tasks, though, the more points you’ll get for each task, and the sooner you’ll get to the levels that allow you to manipulate your dice.
I also found that you should never underestimate the power of the Items–though that’s another area that is largely luck-dependent. Some items can be incredibly powerful: for instance, the Elven Chess lets you take as much time as you want working on a drink, with no point penalty for being late. That could allow you to go around doing tasks to collect ingredients slowly, and then finish off a 28-point drink. The Book of Potions, in contrast, lets you complete a drink while missing 1 ingredient–useful, to be sure, but probably not as valuable as the Elven Chess.
Cavern Tavern is a mix of luck and strategy. You can’t control what you roll or what Items you draw or what Orders the customers are asking for. However, you can work toward boosting your Kitchen or Chore track so that you can manipulate dice, and spending low dice on Items instead of cheaper ingredients can often pay off. And, of course, you can always just visit Nasty’s office to go after players who are doing well–if they get dinged enough times, that’ll cost them points and force them to deal with Nasty the Dwarf Says card. If you’re constantly rolling 1s on all of your dice, you won’t have enough to do even the lowest tasks on the list–but there are Items that let you re-roll dice, steal ingredients from other players, and so on. I also like the fact that the player in last place gets the bonus die–it’s not usually a huge boost but it can serve as a bit of a catch-up mechanic.
The flow of the game is pretty easy to pick up once you get going–most of the turns consist of placing dice, with the occasional Item played or Order filled. As with other worker-placement games, some of the strategy comes in blocking locations that may benefit other players. I would say Cavern Tavern is a medium-weight game; it wasn’t too difficult to teach to new players and even the players who usually prefer casual games weren’t overwhelmed. We all got into the theme, ratting on each other to Nasty and fighting over ingredients and customers.
Cavern Tavern was designed by Vojkan Krstevski and Toni Toshevski, and is the first Kickstarter project from Final Frontier Games. Based on their Kickstarter page, they have relied on Kickstarter advice from Jamey Stegmaier and James Mathe, among others, and have published two games for the local market in Macedonia, where they are based. I leave it to you to decide whether they’ll be able to deliver the game on time, but I can say at least that the design is good and they invested up-front in a lot of finished artwork from an established artist.
Overall, Cavern Tavern uses a mix of familiar mechanics to create a fun, engaging experience. Although it may look a bit intimidating, it’s actually not so bad once you get to know it–unlike Nasty the Dwarf, who is every bit as unpleasant as he appears.
For more information or to make your pledge, visit the Cavern Tavern Kickstarter page.