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Okay, I'm a little behind here when talking about Caylus, as it already has over 1,000 ratings at www.boardgamegeek.com and shot up to the number three ranked game in the database. But, due to some mail slowness and other unforeseen problems, it seems like I was one of the last to finally procure a copy of this highly proclaimed game. Some claimed that the game was over-hyped, while others proclaimed it one of the best games ever to be made; so I certainly was interested in getting to play it.
And after several playings, I'm going to side with the group who proclaim it a great game. Very few games have gripped me while playing, as I sat enthralled during my first game and have enjoyed every game after. Two player games really don't impress me much in the game, but with three or more players, Caylus keeps me engaged the entire game. It is a long game, to be sure, but one that I'm willing to find the time to play.
Let's dive right into my comments on the game, as I'm sure the rules have been explained multiple times all over the 'net.
1.) Components: Upon opening the box, Caylus really doesn't look like anything spectacular. That's not to say the components are poor quality, as they are really quite well done - it's just that they don't look much different than other games. Each player gets a pile of houses and cylinders of their colors, and there are a pile of cubes that are used for resources. The most striking part of the game are the tiles that players build, with some pictures that look good against the backdrop of the beautiful board. Everything looks nice, is of high quality, and fits easily in the large box. It's just that the theme, which is the rebuilding of the castle, doesn't really come through the components. I can see it in the gameplay (despite opposing howls to the contrary), but not in the way the game looks. This doesn't really detract from my appreciation of the game, but it will have some effect on newcomers to the game who might depend heavily on a thematic hook.
2.) Rules: The rulebook, like the other Ystari rulebooks, is printed in full color and shows many examples and illustrations of how the game works. I did not have the opportunity to learn the game from the rules, but they do a good job explaining everything. Caylus is not an easy game to learn, however - I have to spend about twenty or so minutes explaining it to new folk; and while I'm getting this explanation tighter and more refined, I still have to explain things as we go along. For many people, the best way to learn Caylus is simply to play it, as things become clear as the game goes along.
3.) Script: I've seen, but not completely read, posts on the internet that supposedly give the ultimate strategies for Caylus and discuss optimal moves, etc. The same sort of thing happened with Puerto Rico, in which some "expert" players would criticize others for making a suboptimal play on their turn. Personally, I don't have time for this nonsense and feel that it's best left for the tournament floor, if anywhere. I enjoy the multiple strategies that Caylus offers and find some refreshment in the fact that a tactic that I've come up with does well (or not). To me, there are dozens of options available each turn, and I enjoy attempting to find the one that's best for me, not having it already determined by a script.
4.) Interaction: In many of the great, deep Eurogames, interaction is often something that's not there, or only in a sideways manner. And there's a bit of that here, in which players will take an action just to keep an opponent from taking it. Later on in the game, this becomes even more critical, because some of the spaces can be the hinge for a player's victory and loss, and another player taking them - even at no help to themselves - can really be a pain in the neck. There are ways around this, and one of them is by being the first player - and this is what runs the game, and keeps it exciting for me.
5.) Provost: The other way players have interaction is through the Provost. Now, I've played nice games of Caylus, in which players haven't moved the provost very far, but I've also seen games in which players were constantly paying money out of their own pocket, just to cause other players to not complete all of their actions. This can occasionally get a little too mean for some, and I will admit it's not a good feeling when the provost passes your markers on the board. At the same time, this is usually a risk that player's knowingly take. By placing one of your markers near the provost, you are giving the other players a reason to move it. However, groupthink can help here, because the more players with markers near the provost, the less likely it is to move. The provost stands there during a game, like a big ugly thug, and keeps players wary as they place their pieces. Perhaps he won't move, and the stress was for naught. But the threat is always there, keeping tension in the game high.
6.) Time: I hear that some folk have gotten games played in an hour or two, but all of my games have lasted three or four hours. This isn't a bad thing, as I am totally enthralled throughout that time with very little downtime; but it does mean that Caylus isn't played as often as I'd like.
7.) Royal Favors: When explaining the game, I tend to talk about the Royal Favors last. They are dependant on many of the other actions in the game, and they simply fall into the final place when going over the game, especially as I've seen many new players not completely understand them. But it seems to me that taking the correct Royal Favor is often the key to winning the game. I'm still not sure of the value of the resource Royal Favor path (maybe someone can explain this to me), but the others are tremendous and often give a huge boost to the players taking them.
8.) Two-players: I've seen many people expound on how wonderful the two-player game of Caylus is. I've attempted this and am really not impressed by it - Caylus just seems as if it was meant for a multi-player audience, and many of the exciting features (turn order, passing, the provost, etc.) aren't there in the two-player version. I'd rather simply play a game that's meant solely for two players.
9.) Passing: I think it's great when the simple action of passing in Caylus affects the game so much, effectively raising the prices for other players. This makes the inn space rather valuable, as the player with a worker there always plays one gold to place a worker. When playing with five players and the other four players pass, it's a bit annoying to have to pay five gold for that one space you really wanted to put something on. Passing is not simply something you do when there's nothing else, it can be a crucial part of your strategy to really hinder your opponents and suck their money away for future turns.
10.) Buildings: The sheer variety of buildings that can be built may initially be overwhelming, especially to a new player. Should you build the stone building, allowing the building of more powerful buildings, or build one that gives more resources? Gaining a victory point whenever someone uses your building is a nice touch, as players have to weigh the initial victory point reward from a building against the possible benefits it will pay off in the future. I've seen games decided by the points given by other players, and it's a very unique, fun feature. Placing the residential buildings is also fun; as you can get rid of one of the neutral buildings, helping you gain a monopoly on a specific resource.
11.) Analysis Paralysis: This term, which can be very scary in many games, doesn't cause too many problems in Caylus, except at the beginning of each turn. Players have a dizzying array of choices before them, but this amount of choices decreases each turn, causing the time spent on choices to speed up each turn. Still, I have played the game with slow folk, and it can be a bit of a pain.
12.) Theme: The theme of building a castle is a bit thin - I will admit, but the building of a castle does come through slightly through the mechanics. For folks looking for a game that is much more than a pile of mechanics, they might be disappointed with Caylus, however. I will say that this "pile" of mechanics is very finely tuned, and I'm impressed at how well they work together to produce a wonderful game. Caylus isn't simply a game that is "thrown together"; it's a work of art and a well-oiled machine.
13.) Fun Factor: For me, the fun in the game comes from the multiple paths to victory. Knowing whether to build buildings to gain points from them, also gaining resources for future turns, or going for the palace and Royal Favors, or to find some sort of balance, is a key to the game. In one game, one person did extremely well simply because they saved a lot of money for the end game! Every game I've played has turned out differently, with the winner taking another path. This, for me, has proved to be immense fun. I do realize, however, that Caylus is not for everyone - it's not a party game that you quickly whip out and play at the drop of a hat, and some folk might be overwhelmed at the massive choices involved.
And that is my final recommendation. If you have a group of die-hard gamers, I can think of few other games that have the depth, variety, and sheer fun of Caylus. It's a bit deep, but it's tremendously rewarding and has a satisfying feeling after a game - even a long one. Casual gamers may not be as excited; and while I have taught the game to a few newcomers to the hobby with success, it's obvious that Caylus won't be everybody's cup of tea. Caylus isn't in my top ten games, because the theme is a bit loose, and the game may take a little longer than I'd like (hard to fit in), but it is still one of the best games I've ever played. People on the internet like to wax eloquent about the evils of "hype" on new games. Well, Caylus is more than hype, folks - because the game is every bit as good as its fans declare.
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The 2-player game is actually very good in my opinion, once both players know some basic strategies. Through a few interesting mechanisms such as the gate and building favour track, it nicely avoids one of those all-to-common problems with 2-player games - the initiative chase - where one player always has the upper hand in the turn. Also, as you note, there are multiple paths to victory which means even when you are blocked from one route, you can find another that changes the path of the game. It's more dynamic yet remains relatively stable compared to many other multiplayer-played-with-2 games.
I agree that there are plenty of designed-for-2-player games that are better, however.
- Last edited Sun Aug 13, 2006 8:59 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Aug 13, 2006 8:39 pm
Thanks for your review. I agree with your sentiments and love the game as well.
I am new to these more heavy strategy games. I own but Caylus and Puerto Rico but would appreciate suggestions for other games that
match the strategic depth and fun of Caylus.
There are a lot of wargames with heavy strategy. Outside that category, you might take a look at Goa.