Star Scrapper: Cave In Review

I have come to the realisation that the hallmark of a great game is one when you look at your options, mull over your choices and then let out a cry of exasperation. It is that moment when you realise that to pull off that game winning moving you really should have started your plan in motion three turns ago, or that you are simply one action or one resource short of pulling off a complete blinder.

I say this because my time with Star Scrapper: Cave In has been embarrassingly short, to the point where I feel slightly dishonest in using the word review in the title, (not too I guilty mind you as an article titled first impressions never gets the traction it deserves) but I will say within my brief time with Star Scrapper Cave In there have been multiple cries of anguish, so surely it is a truly great game.

Star Scrappers Cave in kickstarter board game review

Cave In is all about mining for precious minerals, but really it's all about collecting workers and then matching them with the colour of the subterranean riches you are trying to claim.  It really is a simple game to understand, you can either recruit workers, spend workers to use their abilities or spend workers to mine for shiny crystals. However, there are a couple of little twists that increase the strategic options by an order of magnitude.

For starters, each worker played stays in your base and the last worker card played becomes your leader for the next round. Every leader fires off their special ability at the beginning of the round so ensuring you play the correct card last is really important.

Secondly it's possible for a player to forgo their normal turn and raid another player's base.  The targets leader returns to their hand but all other workers played then go into the raider’s hand. Already you can see that it's not just a simple case of collecting and spending cards; play order and keeping an eye on your opponents become vital in securing the best minerals.

Star Scrappers Cave in review miners

You may be wondering where the words Cave In actually fit into the gameplay, as Rainbow Miner may have been a better title based on my description so far.  Well one of the game’s interesting mechanics is that the game ends when the Cave In track reaches its end.  This track advances whenever a draw pile is depleted or a structurally important mineral is mined.  For the most part this is a natural method of keeping up the pace and ensuring the game ends before the choices become too slim, but it also means that by mining certain minerals the players can speed up or slow down the arrival of the final rounds.  It’s just another example of how one of Cave In’s simple mechanics can have a huge effect on how the game plays.

Certainly on the (coal) face of things, Star Scrapper: Cave In is a relatively simple game and that's what makes it so interesting to play. It feels as if a lot of effort has been made to strip down the base mechanics and leave the game to what it does best, forcing you to make difficult decisions. Thankfully the balance between the consequences and mechanics is carefully metered, so even though planning a few turns in advance will reap the greater rewards you are never straining under the weight of too many options.  The risk of an analysis paralysis tunnel collapse is slim.

Star Scrappers Cave in review minerals

It is also beautifully presented. We end up seeing a lot of Kickstarter prototypes here at Polyhedron Collider, and apart from the thickness of the card stock for our prototype being paper thin (and almost impossible to pick up due to having no nails) it looked like a finished product. Increasing the card stock to more standard dimensions will no doubt be fixed in the final version.

Cave In also suffered from the occupational hazard of an unfinished rule book, as some of the nuances of final scoring where yet to be finalised. Although this means that I can't comment on the final balance or even the ultimate strategies, I can reassure you that this is a normal aspect of the development process and although unfinished the rulebook I used was clear and easy to comprehend.

As far as I am aware this is Hexy Studios’ games first outing, although it should be noted that this is hardly designer Filip Miłuński’s first rodeo.  Judging by the quality of the prototype alone, I think we can expect a well-run campaign and a top quality product at the end. Which is great, because even though the game is called Cave In, it’s pretty darned solid. The rules are simple enough that the game flows smoothly but with plenty of options that you will be crying out in joyful frustration, a condition I am now calling Joystration.

Star Scrappers: Cave In is on Kickstarter now.

This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this preview.
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