About a year and a half ago, I spent quite some time blogging about Agricola, which at the time had quickly become one of my favorite board games thanks not only to its excellent design but also its availability as a game app for IOS devices. Caverna is a spiritual successor to that game, created by the same designer, and utilizing a lot of the same mechanics.
Caverna belongs firmly in the worker-placement style of board games, where each turn each player chooses from one of several options by placing one of their tokens on that action space and following the instructions. Like Agricola, your goal is to create the best farm possible through growing wheat and vegetables, acquiring livestock, and establishing and feeding your growing family. Harvests come much more often now, allowing you to produce crops more quickly and breed even more animals, but at the cost of having to also feed your people more often as well. Gone too are the requirements to cook your food; now, you can easily convert either crops or livestock into food at full value right from the start.
The biggest difference in Caverna, however, is that you are also expected to expand a network of caverns, which serve as your base of operations for not only mining and housing your family but also forging weapons and going on expeditions to gather more supplies and resources. As you go on more of these expeditions, your family members become more experienced, and are thus able to gain even better loot from these quests. In fact, these expeditions serve almost as a wildcard, minimizing the ability of your opponent to keep you from achieving success in one area or another.
Caverna has the same high production values as its predecessor, but has a significantly higher number of pieces. Between all of the meeples, different game boards that vary by the number of players, and the individual farm boards for each player, the box weighs in at over 5 pounds. That may not sound like much - but believe me, after carrying it around all day during GenCon, it's quite heavy, even compared to other games like it! Just take a look at all the components!
All in all I would rate Caverna as being more balanced and newbie friendly than Agricola. Since you have more options and multiple ways to achieve the same goals, you don't have to worry nearly as much about your opponent intentionally blocking you and cutting you off from a valuable resource just when you need it most. And since Caverna doesn't include any of the occupation or minor improvement cards from Agricola, the gameplay is much more straightforward. As such, if you had to choose between them, for most gaming groups I would recommend choosing Caverna.
If you're interested in more detailed information about Caverna, check out the video below. And thanks for reading!