With all that's going on in the world, you may want to pack up go live in a cave somewhere but before you do get a taste of what it will be like with Broken Arrow Entertainment's CaveWars. This 1996 strategy game proves that becoming an underground dweller has its own downsides that make anything the world can throw up look like sunshine and roses.
The fantasy existence detailed in CaveWars is post-apocalyptic. Numerous fighting factions have been forced to live underground after the devastated surface was claimed by the Sakathor. All other races - 8 in total - stick bicker with each other so banding together to defeat a common foe is not an option. At least, not until the others are defeated.
You take command of one of these factions and each has their pros and cons. They're not your usual suspects either. While fantasy staples like dwarves, trolls, and humans are there, you also have some decidedly strange choices such as a race of giant rats and the slug-like Advari that come straight from your nightmares.
This violent warrior species is probably the
best race to start off with. They have
incredible skill with weapons, but poor
research skills. They're also mass murderers
so any city they take over, a third of the
people will be massacred. Nice.
Specialising in magic, the Namarie are
weak in physical combat. They have a
habit of running away if they think
they're losing a battle which is a double-
edged sword. Some fighters will remain
after a bad fight, but cities can be easily
taken. For experienced players only.
Us humans get everywhere don't we?
Completely average in absolutely
everything. Makes sense.
Trolls have the best melee combat in the
game, but everything else is pretty poor.
To be fair, attacking doesn't take cost
movement points so that's a plus.
These stone creatures are average to bad
at most things, but they live off the rocks
and not food. As that's what caves are made
of, you don't have to worry about feeding
the people. On the other hand their
maximum city size is 70% smaller than
Terrible at magic but pretty good at
metalwork. They use less metal to build
weapons and armour.
These sentient rats breed like the rodents
they are. Their population growth is much
faster than anyone else's which means
new weapons will be researched faster and
units can be created quicker. If a soldier
has no armour or mount, they're also pretty
For such a nightmarish looking species,
the Advari are surprisingly average at
combat. Their body type means no mount
can accommodate them making exploration
slower. They make up for it in transport
magic and the ability of its populace to
escape a taken city to a safe one. Useful
if you want to keep up your production
rate in times of adversary.
The gameplay is a bit hit and miss, taking mechanics from both turn-based and real-time strategies which don't wholly satisfy. Exploration reminds me of the Heroes of Might & Magic series. Each group you control can move a limited amount before the day is up. Once you've done all you can, click on the 'end turn' icon to pass on to the next player, which in my playthroughs were CPU controlled. As you explore, you'll find settlements populated by either a neutral party or one of your enemies. Either way, a battle will take place should you want to control it. These battles are sadly automatic with the outcome usually decided by who has the most advanced soldiers. If you're evenly matched it becomes a mere war of attrition.
With your foes beavering away to strengthen their army in much the same way as you, you'll find that whenever you come across them you're either evenly matched or vastly outgunned. How they become outgunned is decided solely on resources. Much like any other RTS like WarCraft or Command & Conquer, you can create a mechanical engineer to gather resources such as bronze, iron and mithril. These metals are important if you want to build stronger armour and weapons. I found this process exceedingly slow. Not only do you have to build the engineer (4 turns), dig away at the rock to get the ore (5 turns), but also mine it as well (10 turns). That's 19 turns before you can get any more resources. I often found that my resources were drastically dwindling to the point where my stone keep had degraded to a wooden before I had a chance to mine just one square. Either that or I'm just extremely bad at this game.
That could be it, to be honest. I'm not an aficionado of the genre at the best of times, but I did find the learning curve to be quite steep, even before I could perform my first action. There's no single avatar to centre your actions like in Heroes of Might & Magic, or an intuitive interface as in WarCraft. Instead, all actions outside of exploration are designated from the various strongholds you control. The most important is the 'build' command. This will take you to a sub-screen where you can command your people to build things such as your warriors. You can choose the weapon and armour they have as well as a mount. Along with special builds (where the engineer comes from - and a wizard), the weapon and armour options have three tiers depending on the type of metals you have stockpiled. These all take money, metal, food and turns to produce, all of which are a bugger to collect, conserve and use wisely.
The graphically uninspired caves offer no variation. There's only one pre-designed level with most games being randomly generated. The problem with this is that no thought has gone into making it even. You could be lucky enough to have your opening city be surrounded by soil rich in food and rocks smothered with ore which means it will take fewer turns to collect. If it's within three 'squares', the townsfolk will take on the mining duties instead of your engineer meaning its free to dig somewhere else. It's the luck of the draw and it can result in a very uneven game.
With level progression not being a thing, the generated caves are huge. Each has three levels to them (each looking the same natch) and each level can take a fair few hours to fully explore depending on how open it is. You win by defeating all enemy factions, but my patience ran out long before I got there. In fact, when I first came across an enemy player I was completely obliterated. Did I mention it's a hard game?
There are some interesting moments in CaveWars. It is especially satisfying when you take over a city, discover a resource-rich area or research a weird new body armour for your rat warrior. It's heavy in time and resource management which some people will enjoy more than others. If only it had more focus, variety and balance it could've been a classic for everyone.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual Included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 108 Mb. Install Size: 152 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
CaveWars is © The Avalon Hill Game Company
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me