Star Scrappers: Cave-in, from Hexy Studio, launched as the first of three games in their sci-fi Star Scrappers Universe. This somewhat unique card game comes from designers Filip Miłuński and Jan Zalewski, and posits 2-4 players as rival clans vying for colorful minerals. I would categorize Cave-in if I could, but it doesn’t quite fit into any card game archetype I’ve come across. Hexy Studio uses “discard building.” To their credit, creating a new type of card game for the first product of a series is a bold move. I’m not sure if it paid off, but it was bold.
Cave-in, with a thin rulebook and hour long max playtime, presents as relatively small and accessible. Players choose from a few actions each turn with the aim of collecting crystals for points. Highest points wins. The overall layout splits into three groups. The miner cards, which are taken into hand and played to take actions, artifacts for various advantages, and crystals. All three are purchased with miner cards in hand, which must be discarded into the player’s base. Importantly, the order of the discards matters, thus the discard building.
Players start with no miners in their base and three miners in hand, two of value one and one of value two. Miner values vary from one to four and function as the game’s currency. On a player’s turn, they take two actions from a choice of four: recruit, mine, collect artifacts, and use a special skill. To recruit a miner, a player must discard a value of miners from hand equal to one less than the value of the miner they wish to recruit. To mine, players must discard an equal value of miners to the desired crystal, and all miners used must match the color of the crystal. Artifacts cost an equal value of any color of miners. Lastly, each tier of each color of miner has a unique ability which can activate when discarded to the base.
When players run low on cards, they can forego their actions to instead raid a player’s base. Upon doing so, the raided player takes the miner on the top of their discard line, their leader, into their hand. The raider takes cards until they fill their hand or the base empties. The raider also takes the raided clan’s totem, which provides a one cost discount towards matching crystals.
After their first turn, when they have cards in their base and thus a leader, players activate the special ability of their leader before taking actions or raiding. As a general rule, the leader is always safe. An efficient player would use a high value card to take an expensive action while ensuring the high value miner is their leader and safe from raiding. Then, if they are not raided, they get to activate their leader’s ability for free.
The importance of ordering discards and raiding creates an interesting dynamic of finding the right timing to play big cards to maximize value, or raiding at the right time to maximize pain, but, unfortunately, the unique aspects of the discard building is smothered by Cave-in’s simplicity. Cave-in badly wants to supply players with interesting decisions, and there are a few occasionally, but every game I’ve experienced boiled down to a mind numbing formula. Play cards until you run out, raid to get more cards, repeat. Raiding has by far the highest value potential as an action. Compared to recruiting, which gives a single card at the cost of more cards, raiding can give a max hand of seven cards for free. If none of the cards gained work for a particular strategy, say, you are collecting blue and have a hand of greens, you could just use them to buy some expensive powerful artifacts, then raid again as soon as you can.
The idea of needing to puzzle out not just which actions to take, but in which order to maximize value isn’t a new idea, but Cave-in does provide a new take, one with real potential. Discard building needs a much bigger game to thrive, where no actions are big enough to render the consequences of discard order and timing largely obsolete.
Star Scrappers: Cave-in
Star Scrappers: Cave-in functions as an adequate game and hidden inside lies an uncut gem begging for refinement. Discard building could become a well loved mechanic one day, but not by the hands of this game.
- Unique card mechanic
- No game-breaking oversights
- Monotonous meta strategy
- No outstanding qualities