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Subject: Caylus: Beyond the hype rss

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I played a 4 player game of Caylus this past weekend with a few co-workers, it was not my first experience with the game but I fear it may be the last for a little while.

The gaming world seemed afire with anticipation a few months ago as we ached for the long awaited release of Ystari's second title. I remember being as excited as any other gamer when I first set eyes upon the opened game. Left undaunted by the game's apparent complexity and armed with the excellent illustrated examples of the instruction manual, my group and I set out to build the city of Caylus.

The game was enjoyable but as it came to an end I felt slightly unsatisfied by my first experience. Nevertheless I hoped on, blaming my disappointment on the oft-encountered sluggishness of the first times playing a new game. Little did I know, hidden under the intricate mechanics of the game, there lay a fundamental problem that would continue to plague Caylus -at least in my opinion: the players.

In theory, Caylus works like a charm, unfortunately it depends on decisions that can take long, silent minutes to resolve and can leave the idle players half-asleep, occupied elsewhere, at best completely distracted by the lapse between the players' individual turns.

Amidst the gathering darkness there is however a speck of light: the provost phase offers you precious seconds of negociation to introduce yourself to your fellow players who otherwise remain completely isolated from your game. The deals you make here don't hold you to anything and the resolution of everyone's choices during this phase can cause occasional surprises (often instances of frustrated spite on behalf of the player getting the rawer end of the deal[s]) that make the game more dynamic.

Despite offering moments of interesting uncertainty, elegant gameplay and the quality components Ystari gave us in Ys, Caylus falls short of its anticipated high-water mark by a considerable margin of drawn out hesitations and sporadic snoring.

 
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Matthew Fisk
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Interesting. All my plays have been four player and we have not had this problem. I am sure it probably has to do with the players that you are playing WITH and how prone they are to analysis, but for the most part worker placement was pretty quick and dirty. Yes there was the OCCASIONAL time when someone had to stop and think a minute but those were few and far between.

Being as how worker placement is the only part of the game that can be prone to the paralysis the rest of it seemed to move rapidly and keep people satisfied.

Sorry yours seemed to get bogged down, but at least with my gaming group things moved along at a satisfying clip. Even if I have yet to win :)
 
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mike tauman

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Of the 3 games I have played, all were just 2 player and not a one was under 2 hours. And my first game, with my girlfriend, despite being the first time we played the game should really have been faster because we did not overthink our moves and we did not screw each other with the provost... and it still lasted quite awhile.

I really enjoy Caylus but I have to admit even my last game toward the end my mind was slowly turning to sludge. I can imagine a 4-way game of competitive players, with each player analyzing each move to death, could really drag things out.

The key is, however, to do your thinking on other people's turns. What I find is that many people unfortunately make a move on their turn and then look at the television for a minute or two and have to be "woken up" when its their turn to go. If everyone would do their counting of cubes and production and money and analysis while other people are taking their turns, the game should move at a decent pace.

Serious gamers do tend to be able to do that. My group is more a casual group, with competitive spirit mind you, but not real hardcore gamers. Maybe that is why the games can go on for awhile.
 
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Brian Newman
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I've played once so far, with five players, and it took an hour and a half.

But then, this is a regular gaming group who already know and enjoy Puerto Rico and Keythedral, so we've seen these kinds of mechanics before and got into it pretty quickly.

But yes, Caylus, like lots of games, will bog down if your group has serious analysis paralysis. Is that the game's fault?
 
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mike tauman

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Blackberry wrote:
I've played once so far, with five players, and it took an hour and a half.

But then, this is a regular gaming group who already know and enjoy Puerto Rico and Keythedral, so we've seen these kinds of mechanics before and got into it pretty quickly.

But yes, Caylus, like lots of games, will bog down if your group has serious analysis paralysis. Is that the game's fault?


That is an interesting question. IS it the game's fault?

Would the game flow quicker if you could not see:

a) your opponents cubes
b) your opponents deniers
c) your opponents score

My group had this discussion concerning Puerto Rico. My feeling was, if I am always allowed to see your playboard and occupied plantations and buildings, your barrels of goods held, and your money, and the # of VP chips (some are 5s and some are 1s though) wouldn't it just be better to leave the chips face up? My dad was vehemently against this idea. I said... ok in 3-way there are 10 5-point chips... so all I really do is keep track of who has traded up for those 5-pointers - not very hard to figure out, so may as well save a few brain cells and leave them face up.

So how would it impact Caylus if, instead of a scoretrack on the outside, people had PP chips that they could keep hidden? What if players held their cubes and deniers secretly behind a small cardboard box? Would this speed up or slow down the game?

My feeling is that in most cases it would speed the game up. Unless you had a really, really hard core group of players, who would sit there and either jot down when everyone got a PP or coin or cube and every time they spent it, or had an EXCELLENT memory, for the most part players would have to go with their gut feeling... like... I think I am not in the lead but I am probably ahead of Player C by a couple points and behind Player A by a couple points, so maybe I should try to prolong the game by moving the provost back so I can catch up. With everything out in the open, toward the end the AP can become crippling where a player can figure the EXACT amount of points he has, how many he can get, how many his opponent can get, what buildings he will produce with favors in the tower scoring, what buildings will be left for his opponents with tower scoring, etc... even mid-game someone can calculate the EXACT amount of batches another player might be able to make, so they know if they should even bother going into the castle that turn or not.

Its funny because in Puerto Rico I think EVERYTHING including VP chips should be out in the open - it is a better strategic game that way and less taxing to the brain.

However in Caylus I think EVERYTHING should be hidden. The game is not as pure and not as strategic this way, true, but I definitely think for most gamers it would speed things up.

 
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Philip Thomas
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Choosing where to place your worker takes about 10 seconds in my group. No one even looks at other players' money and cubes, or score, when doing so... Provost movement is a bit longer, and the big pauses are for what building people want. Oh well...laugh
 
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mike tauman

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I guess part of it for me is my inexperience with the game, but sometimes my worker placement takes a bit longer. Usually my first couple of workers are straight forward - joust or trading post early in the game, but then later in the game when I am deciding whether or not to go to the castle (or the gate so I can sneak in at the end of the castle) I have to start figuring out how many cubes of each kind I will have, how many batches can I make, can my opponent make more than me if behind me or the same as me if in front of me since, if I get the favor will I have an extra cube to build with it or will I have to take a different track, will I have money next turn etc.

I guess once I have played a couple dozen games instead of the 3 games I played so far, a lot of this will come more naturally to me.
 
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Philip Thomas
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Oh, I have played 2 games, and all the other players in those games were completely new to the game. Possibly we just didn't see the ramifications...they were 3 player games though so that might have been a factor.

You do have plenty of time during the other phases to work out what you want from worker placement...
 
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Alex Rockwell
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Almost all games suck when played against people with Analysis paralysis...
 
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All your base are belong to us
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I agree with some of you that the placement phase begins quickly and is rather vicious but the problem lies with each passing turn becoming charged with a gathering number of elements that must be considered before workers are added on the gameboard. During your opponent(s)' turn you will be considering your best options, however these choices, which may seem so obviously beneficial to your game, are likely to seem just as interesting to your opponents. Especially when sitting back at the bottom of the turn order, you will have all the time in the world to scratch off opportunity after opportunity on your list of choices as they are selected by other players. When your turn comes around, you sometimes have no choice but to consider your few options for long, drab minutes causing the gameplay to grind and halt more than occasionally.

My group and I a perfectly comfortable with titles ranging from Puerto Rico to Goa to Princes of Florence. We love management-inclined European games and most of the titles we enjoy play out in the same amount of time as Caylus.

I think a misconception about my initial post has some thinking my session of Caylus lasted a rather long while: it lasted an hour and a half. The difference between Caylus and say... Ys is that the latter's hour and a half length is filled with more gameplay than sitting around and I'm very sorry to disagree with the over-excited masses, but Caylus gives too much time to look at flies on the wall and not enough fun.
 
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Alex Rockwell
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If you dont like waiting for a number of players to take their turn, why not try 2 player?
 
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Ian MacInnes
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Caylus is actually best with 2 in my opinion. With more players the time will decrease as people get to know the game. Almost all of my worker decisions are complete within 2 seconds.

Caylus is not ideal for casual play - it is brilliant however when all of the players have experience. As well, some games are just designed for quiet analysis rather than raucus negotiation and table talk. If you dislike the former Caylus is probably not for you. It is the only game that I rate a 10 but that is due to my personal taste. I know that most people will never appreciate it in the same way that I do just as I may not understand their favourite game. I sometimes mind, however, when people imply that I have somehow been hoodwinked by "hype".
 
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mike tauman

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Every game is received differently by different people. There are going to be people that love it, hate it, and usually a bunch of people in between. So I wouldn't say that someone was sucked in by the hype of a game and doesn't really like it but says he/she does because the masses say that they do.

That being said, however, I see that Caylus ranks #2 behind Puerto Rico. Caylus is newer and may take more time to climb the last rung of the ladder, but personally I have to think that this is the proper order, mostly due to the time it takes to play the game.

I see many posters above that are having 90 minutes playsessions with multiple opponents, and I think that is great. I wish my sessions were as fast because I really enjoy the game and I would have more opportunity to play if we didn't feel that each game would last an eternity (speaking of which played 3-way Runebound yesterday. Love the game but its 4-5 hours of my life I won't get back!)

Partially it is my fault as well as my opponents for thinking every possible move and overanalyzing every possible play to death. Usually my first couple of worker placements each turn are fairly simple. I go for the favors - if the joust is open and I have cloth, you can find me on the joust field. If its taken, show me the nearest stone production building. But after that, especially in 2-way where both players will likely place 6 workers, it gets confusing for me. Maybe I am getting old (33 but almost 34!) but by the time I have placed 4 workers I have to recount to myself how many cubes I have, remember I will lose one at the joust and a coin, and with the favor I want to build a building maybe with a food, but I will get 3 cubes from Stone Prod. Bldg A and 2 from Wood Prod. Bldg B but I was low on cash and I am selling a cube... maybe stone... wait do I have enough stone or will I need that later this turn during the walls scoring to make a prestige building with that favor... wait will I get the favor if I spend cloth at the joust and food with the joust-favor and... well you can see where I am going here.

Perhaps my next game I will play it more casually. I have a rough idea of what I want to do and which buildings I like, and if I make the occasional mistake, and even if I lose the game because of that mistake... does it really matter? If I can get the game completed in 90 minutes instead of 150 minutes, heck I might even have a chance to play 2 games in one night!
 
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Ian MacInnes
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Nice response Mike. I know other people who feel the same way. I think you will enjoy the game more if you focus on cubes first and then what you can do with them after you have figured out how many and which ones you are going to get in the round. Cubes are far and away the most valuable choices with 2 or 3 cube buildings usually picked before joust, castle, and gold unless circumstances require you to behave otherwise. For example you use an early pick to joust if it enables you to build a stone production building. It is more common to go to the castle early. You might do so if it guarantees you a favour or, more importantly, to avoid being shut out in end of phase turns (i.e. when the bailiff reaches dungeon, walls, or tower or the openings for those will be exhausted). If there are many double cube buildings available you might choose gold to give you enough to consider a prestige building at the end (a nice bonus if you can get it but unlike PR you shouldn't plan your game around it). If you like Caylus I recommend you try the excellent BSW implementation. It will give you the practice you need to make quick decisions.
 
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mike tauman

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I only went to BSW once (maybe I will check it out here at the office during lunch) and I was a little confused on where to go and what to do. I keep telling myself I will give it another shot and I just haven't gotten around to it, but I would love to give it a shot and get some play experience in.

Maybe I do focus too much on the Joust. I guess once all the stone production buildings are on the board I should focus more on taking them rather than building other stone buildings. Thing is, if my opponent occupies my building, I get a PP and a cube anyway, so I felt like I was not losing much and at the same time I am getting 6 PP from a stone production building fairly cheap with the joust favor (1 cube since no stone cube required.. actually need the cloth and a coin for joust as well now that I think about it). Maybe it was just my opponent's inexperience as well that he did not want to use my buildings unless he really had to, especially the stone prod bldgs. So I was able to take the joust and still get at least 1 of my 2 3-cube buildings later on anyway.

One of these days I will get on BSW and take a few beatings and then I will see what I am doing wrong. You learn so much more from losing than winning.
 
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