The Ludology podcast interviews William Attia, designer of Caylus
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In honor of Caylubration III coming up this May, I reached out to William Attia to see if he would be willing to be interviewed on the Ludology podcast.

I was very pleased for him to accept the invitation. William answered the questions via text format and we discussed his responses on Episode 31 of the ludology podcast.

The episode can be heard below, on our website here or using itunes:



I wanted to provide the unabridged text here on BGG for those who would like to read William's complete responses without commentary by Geoff and myself.

If you are a Caylus fan I hope you will consider participating in this year's Caylubration, a worldwide Caylus Celebration. This year you can win a copy of Caylus Special Edition and many other prizes. Check out this thread for details.

And my sincere thanks to William for his time in responding to my questions.

In the geeklist entries, italicized text are my questions and normal text is William Attia's reposonses.




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1. Board Game: Bus [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:851]
Board Game: Bus
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What is the origin of the worker placement mechanic? Is Caylus the first game to use “worker placement” as we know it today? Where did the inspiration for this influential mechanic come from?


When I started designing Caylus, I did not have "worker placement" in mind – neither as a name nor as a concept. The name for this mechanism came later, after the game was published, and I don't think I ever used it before others did, nor did I think about Caylus as a "worker placement" game before other games using a similar mechanism made me think that yes, maybe indeed, one could describe Caylus as a "worker placement" game.

Depending on the exact definition of “worker placement” which you choose to use, I suppose some games published before Caylus could be seen as worker-placement games, such as Bus, Aladdin’s Dragons or Way Out West – and probably a few others I can’t think of right now.

Had you played any of these games prior to designing Caylus and do you think any of them inspired the “worker placement” concept?


I had played Bus once and had disliked it (I actually liked my second play, a few years ago, much more – but I still think I like the idea of the game more than the result).

I had also played Aladdin’s Dragons a few times (but it might be closer in a way to Ys, the first game published by Ystari, than to Caylus). I do not think I knew Way Out West at this time (and I have played it only once since then, and didn’t like it).

Overall, I do not think I have been directly influenced by these games, or others. The design choices for Caylus came quite naturally from the road idea which I had in mind.

But my idea when I designed Caylus was not “worker placement” for itself. Caylus came from the road along which buildings were placed and activated in a given order. From the beginning, at least as far as I can remember, there were these effects ordered in a line, and each turn, the players would choose which ones they wanted to use, keeping in mind that they should always be activated in the given order. In the following turns, there would be more effects available – the newer ones being more powerful – but these later effects would be more risky to use, before on each turn, the players could not be sure that all the effects would be activated.

So I had this idea of a game divided in turns, each of them with two main phases: first the players choose which effects they want to use, then (some of) the effects are resolved. Quite naturally, a question arose in my mind: in which order should two players activate the same effect if they both decided to use it in a given turn? Maybe I considered for a while using some kind of “turn order”, but more likely I just thought: well, I will decide that once an effect has been selected, no other player can select it again on this turn. And from this point, I never had to reconsider this rule, because it worked quite well, and playtesting revealed that it added some interesting decisions to the game.
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2. Board Game: Amun-Re [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:350]
Board Game: Amun-Re
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Can you describe some of the specific games that influenced Caylus and how they impacted its design. For example I know in an interview in 2005 with Tom Vasel you said that Caylus was inspired by Amun-Re, can you explain that and any other games that inspired the game?


As I mentioned earlier, I had this idea of getting more and more effects activated each turn, but I didn’t want the players to be certain of exactly which effects would be activated. I wanted that sometimes, risky play (on the most powerful effects) would pay off, and sometimes it would be wasted – but naturally, it shouldn’t come down to sheer luck, but should depend on the players choices, on how much they would be ready to invest to have their plans work out.

Amun-Re has this very clever mechanism of sacrifice, which determines the level of the Nile (which in turns has an influence on several things). I considered for a while using such a system, where players would be able to simultaneously spend money to affect the general “economic activity level”, or whatever I called it at that stage – but then I figured out that it would probably be more interesting to have players decide in turns, and not simultaneously, how much they wanted to spend. I just had to decide in which order players should decide, keeping in mind that it was an advantage to speak last – and from there it seemed natural to decide that this order could be correlated with how many effects you wanted to trigger on this turn, which gives the provost movement rules as they are in Caylus.

I don’t suppose that the inspiration would have been visible if I had not mentioned it earlier – but at this time, I considered it important enough to name the prototype with this Amun-Re reference, and so, the prototype of Caylus, from the beginning, was named ARPR: AR for Amun-Re, and PR for Puerto Rico.

Now, if you ask me how exactly Caylus has been inspired by Puerto Rico, I would be quite embarrassed, since I cannot exactly remember what I had in mind when I gave this name. Sure, Puerto Rico was, and still is, one of my favorite games, and it could be said that it is the same general genre of game as Caylus (which I tend to describe as “medium-heavy eurogame”, but I suppose others would argue on the relative weights). Also, both Puerto Rico and Caylus have buildings, money, victory points and resources, but the same could be said about plenty of other games, and I honestly cannot remember why I decided to give the prototype the name it got.
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3. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:66]
Board Game: Caylus
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How did the bailiff and provost mechanic come about? How early/late was it added in the design process? How much was it altered in playtesting?


The idea of a provost was an integral part of the game right from the beginning. The bailiff was added early enough, but I don’t remember when exactly.

The merchants’ guild, which allows a player to move the provost for free, but before everyone else does it, was in my original prototype, but at this time it was the same building as the trading post: you had to choose whether you wanted to get the money or move the provost. Since it was one of the most popular buildings, the effect was split into two buildings – both of which are still quite popular.

During the first playtests, there was no limit to the amount of money you could spend to bribe the provost. That was changed right after a game during which someone moved the provost more than 10 spaces up the road; it was decided that 3 was a reasonable limit.

The latest changes about the provost and bailiff were probably made in the progression speed of the bailiff, and the number of spaces on the road and between each scoring space. I made several attempts (in some of them, the bailiff was too slow and the latest buildings were never usable; in others, he was too quick and all the buildings were safe) before setting down on the current version.
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4. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:66]
Board Game: Caylus
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Where did the turn order mechanic idea come from? Did you experiment with others?


It was soon quite obvious that turn order was going to be crucial in this game, and I didn’t want that a player could benefit from a good second place in turn order just because his neighbor had decided to go first – or conversely, that a player could be last because his other neighbor wanted to go first.

In other words, your position in turn order should only be the consequence of your own actions – if you did not fight for it, you wouldn’t get a good position (apart, of course, from the beginning of the game).

That lead to the system used in Caylus, which has the drawback of being unnatural, compared to most games where you go more or less around the table. That probably makes most games of Caylus a bit longer than they should, as distracted players forget to realize it is their turn, but at least it achieves what I wanted.

The latest changes in the system were that the publisher removed the never used fourth spot in the stables, and the balancing of the starting money (which is probably not perfect as it is, but we estimated that a whole denier per position was too much).

Also, after the first playtest with 2 players, it was obvious that the system would not work there, so we just decided to have players alternate with positions in that configuration.
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5. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:66]
Board Game: Caylus
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Can you describe some of the evolution that occurred as you playtested Caylus? What were some of the most significant and important changes that happened? Are there any elements that didn’t change at all from your original design?


A very significant change occurred right after the very first playtesting session. In my original idea, the buildings with various effects were already placed on the board, and the workers were sent there to use their effects. There was a lawyer already, which allowed a player to purchase a building, marking it as his, which meant that from this point, he could use this building for free, and another player using the building would pay him money instead of paying the bank. After this game, someone suggested that the buildings could be placed by the players instead of being there already, and this idea was so obviously good that it immediately became part of the game.

There are of course many more changes which took place between the very first prototype and the final game – especially since I knew that the first prototype was not a completely playable game. I wanted to try the core idea of the road, which had been in my thoughts for several months, but of course it would have been a lot of work to balance everything properly by myself, without playing – and all this work could have been in vain, since I was not sure at all that there was a game in that idea. So it was much easier to tell my friends, who were used to playing prototypes, that I had a basic idea and that not everything was finished. The castle, for instance, did not have a proper scoring, but was more along the lines of: you can spend cubes to build a part of the castle, which will score you points in the end. How many? I don’t know, but who cares, since we are not going to play to the end anyway – just assume that it is something that you would like to do.

How did I even know that there was a castle to build? Well, at first I had this road with buildings, and that way to place workers on them. But what could these workers do? Collect various resources, maybe – and I went for a medieval theme because that was the easiest thing to do. So there were farms and sawmills and quarries, and a market, and so on, but I felt that the game needed more than just a road with buildings. I wanted some long term goal, some big building which would not be built on a given turn, but over the whole game. A big building in a medieval setting? Well, a castle, of course.

There is another important change I would like to mention – it may not seem important by itself, but it was, for the way it made me think about how to design a game. At some point, I was not sure what the owner of a building should get when his building was used by another player. It still used to be that the owner got the denier paid to place the worker, but that was a bit weak, and led to much money moving around to little effect. Someone suggested that maybe the owner could get a part of the use of the building – so when someone used my sawmill, he would get 2 wood and I would get 1 too; or when someone sold a resource cube on my market, he would get the money from the bank, but I would get the cube.

We were quite satisfied with this change for a while, and I thought it had been one of the most significant improvements which had been made at this point. However, after a few more games, we noticed a few drawbacks to the system – I don’t remember which ones exactly (maybe that it brought too many resources in play, or that it took too much time, or that it wasn’t easy to remember what the owner should get?), and I decided that a visit of a building should just give 1 prestige point to the builder – a much simpler and more uniform rule (only the stone production buildings kept the bonus cube from the previous rule). And removing this change also proved to be one of the most significant improvements to the game.

Since then, I try not to consider any improvement to a prototype as permanent – maybe something which worked well at some point is not so good anymore, once the game has changed – but still, this change remains useful as it has allowed the game to make progress.

Also, the idea of buildings with different benefits for the builder has been used in Caylus Magna Carta – and if it works much better there, it may just be because there is more room on a card than on a tile, and the benefits for both the visiting worker and the owner can be explained clearly.
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6. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:66]
Board Game: Caylus
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Knowing what you know now from the countless plays Caylus has gotten is there anything you would change about the design or rules? For example, The cube favor track is often criticized as being too weak, what are your thoughts on that track in comparison to the other three?


I have not really considered changing anything to Caylus as it is now; the publisher and I discussed whether it was a good idea to make any change at various points after the game was published (actually, every time the game was released with a new cover or new art), but we decided that it was fine as it is, and that the improvements which could be made would not be worth the confusion which would ensue about the various sets of rules.

I am not saying that Caylus is a perfect game – as every game of its weight and complexity, it could be slightly better balanced, enriched, or improved. But even the improved version would be later improvable, and so on – and in the end the players would be facing lots of different versions, with differences between slight enough so that they wouldn’t matter in most cases.

There is a lot of groupthink involved in judging how balanced a game is. It happened during playtesting, of course, but it also happens in the comments which can be read on the Internet.

More specifically, regarding the balance of the favor tracks… The cube track is definitely not as useful as the others in games with fewer players, since it is then easier to get resources (either resources in general, or a specific one, for instance gold) from the other spaces on the board. Also, players get on average more favors in games with fewer players; that makes the favor tracks with better end rewards (for instance, 5 prestige points) more valuable, since it is more likely that the end reward will be used several times.

Now, consider that a lot of players have played Caylus many times in online games on BSW (BrettSpielWelt), where it is common to play a game with fewer players. Overall, these players probably have built a significant part of their Caylus experience in 2 or 3-player games. I am not surprised that they find the cube favor track weaker than the other tracks.

That being said, the cube track might be a bit too weak to begin with, even in 4 or 5-player games. I won’t blame anyone who wants to try house fixes, I could even propose an untested one myself (replace the fourth space with: pay 1 denier to get any two cubes except gold) – but I would like it to remain an unofficial house rule, not an official variant. I do not think the possible unbalance of the favor tracks is that bad an issue in the game.
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7. Board Game: Eclipse [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:45]
Board Game: Eclipse
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What was your reaction to the many games that followed Caylus using a similar “worker placement” structure?


As I said above, I had not planned Caylus as a “worker placement” game – it just happened that this element of the game was easily reusable in other games and in different contexts (and on the other hand, so simple by itself that other designers could arrive to a similar result independently).
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8. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:7.95 Overall Rank:30]
Board Game: Agricola
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Other than Caylus, what are some of your favorite games that have incorporated the worker placement mechanic?


Let’s examine a few worker placement games which I have played.

In Agricola, the player gets the benefits of the chosen action immediately, instead of waiting till a later phase of the turn, like in Caylus. That is a significant change, which makes the turn structure much easier. However, I dislike the importance of the third family member and the scoring system.

Le Havre uses only one worker per player, but it can still lead to blocking because this worker is allowed to stay on a building for multiple turns, while the player chooses to collect resources instead (which does not require a worker). Although it may have a few resources too many for my tastes, it is probably my favorite of Uwe Rosenberg’s recent games.

Stone Age and Kingsburg both use dice in a worker placement game, and, unlike what some people seem to think, I do not dislike dice, and I actually like both these games.

As for more recent games, Hawaii can be seen as a worker placement game and it is one of my favorites from last Essen.
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9. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.00 Overall Rank:25]
Board Game: Puerto Rico
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What are some of your favorite games and designers overall?


If I am asked to name only one game as my favorite, my answer will still be Puerto Rico. Since I can add a few more, I will mention a few other “medium-heavy Eurogames”, for instance Goa, Amun-Re, Amyitis, Princes of Florence and Age of Steam. Another genre of games I like are speed observation games, such as Ricochet Robot and Ubongo. As for card games, I like Race for the Galaxy and Tichu (which are quite dissimilar).

But now I realize that I have only mentioned rather well-known games, so maybe I should add a few games I like from smaller publishers, which fewer people may know about:
- Homesteaders (Alex Rockwell, Tasty Minstrel Games)
- Peloponnes (Bernd Eisenstein, Irongames)
- Innovation (Carl Chudyk, Asmadi Games)
- Jet Set (Kris Gould, Wattsalpoag)
And only now that I have listed these four games do I notice that three of them are coming from the United States.

As for designers, the question is much more difficult. For their past games, I would name Wolfgang Kramer and Reiner Knizia – but I have found that most of their more recent releases are less to my taste. And actually, I cannot think of a designer who designed only games I like - but I suppose that is quite normal.
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10. Board Game: Egizia [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:387]
Board Game: Egizia
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Do you think there is a lot more for designers to explore using the worker placement mechanic or has the idea been overused?


Worker placement by itself is simple enough to be used with lots of different twists. It has sure been used a lot, but I am confident that there will be more games using it somehow, in one form or another.

For instance, Egizia uses a rather basic worker placement system, except that the constraint that you have to place your workers in order changes a lot the way the game is played. It is still worker placement, but at the same time it is a new beginning, and from there it is easy to imagine a lot of variations. For instance, what if the Nile, along which the workers are placed, was not a straight line, but had several branches, or maybe even loops? What about having to place workers close enough to each other, so that you couldn’t skip too many spaces at once, and had to use workers in intermediary spaces? I am not sure at all these ideas are directly usable in a game, but they may be ways to explore to make yet another worker placement game, but a different one.

The mechanism of Lancaster, which uses “workers” of different strengths, might be another way to change basic worker placement into something different.
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11. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:66]
Board Game: Caylus
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Thank you so much Mr. Attia for the creation of not only the great game of Caylus but for the important impact it has had on the board games of the present and the games of the future.
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