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Subject: Session Report rss

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Yehuda Berlinger
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Jon 58, Adam 54, Elijah 51, Gili 43, Guy

Guy had to leave a few rounds before the end. One of the good things about Caylus is that someone leaving doesn't necessarily stop the game for everyone else, although it sure makes securing the items and houses that you want easier.

Caylus is brilliantly tense and painful. The vast majority of this pain comes during the building selection phase, with the remainder of the game simply coloring around this part. The whole thing simply works, and it works well. Being as this is my second play, I was able to not only follow the game with much more ease, but I was also able to teach the game fairly easily as well, which gave the new players (all but Guy) an advantage that I didn't have the first time that I played.

Unlike Puerto Rico, each building does not have to be explained before play begins. Unlike a lot of other games, no single dramatic action can throw you out of contention. But repeated bad play will definitely hurt. It almost solves that paradoxical problem between better play being rewarded vs new players having a chance.

The game is constantly involving, and it does that without resorting to an auction, although the selection phase could be considered an auction to some extent.

However, it does have its problems.

The first problem is kind of a philosophical one. The essential side-effect of the selection phase is that of analysis paralysis. In some games, you can sit and over-analyze without any good reason to do so. More thinking about things that you can't control, such as possible picks from the deck or what your opponent's will do after your turn is over and you can no longer respond, is generally a case of diminishing returns. Think to a certain level and then get on with it.

In Caylus, however, in addition to what your opponents are going to do, you have the real problem of keeping track of everything on the board and in order. More thinking, or I should say more methodical thinking, will serve you well.

Before every single selection, you need to methodically go over in your head the cost of the items that you want to do, the number you have, and the result of each building as it will produce what you need in specific order. Failing to do that will result in many cries of "Oh, damn, I forgot that I wouldn't be able to do that because I first needed this."

Perhaps this will become second nature to the better players as they learn the game, and then this problem will disappear. Right now it seems to be a detraction from the game. Pain is good up until a point, and then you wonder why you're playing a game that seems more to be about who forgets the least rather than who foresees the most.

I experienced a similar type of pain playing Die Macher, and if I had to compare Caylus to any other game, I would probably choose Die Macher.

The second problem is the jockeying for position of the provost. It's not that there is really a problem with this, it's just not my favorite mechanic; actually, I don't really like it much at all. Furthermore, in many games as the game progresses the provost starts well after the buildings end and this phase just isn't going to happen at all. For the most part, this jockeying will happen only at the beginning of the game where it is least wanted, because it contributes to vastly slowing the game down.

Having said that, in this particular game this mechanic does add a lot to the game. The tense problem of selecting building near the edge of the board, and the necessity of wasting a selection in choosing the provost movement building, are interesting.

Furthermore, an abstract analysis of what is the optimal play for the provost is also interesting. Most of us played or payed for the provost to move to where we wanted it. After only one game, it is clear that this is shortsighted thinking. It is not painful for people to spend one coin to move the provost, which will wreck your plans. Yet everyone seems to hope that this won't happen!

Two coins is already the pain point for other people. By spending one, you make it generally not worthwhile for someone else to move it, unless two of them conspire. And no one is going to bother using three coins, and if they do, they have lost as much or more than they cost you, so who cares?

The third problem is the Gate, which is really a very underpowered building. While useful in a few rare cases, such as wanting to go last in the castle, or being able to convince someone to place nearer the provost and still leave you room to move there, these occurrences are too rare to warrant the building.

A far more useful, yet still balanced, building would be one that places its worker after the provost has moved. You still sacrifice all of the better buildings, but at least you have a better chance of obtaining something with him. I've only played 1.75 games now, but I think I will try this variant the next time we play.

Another problem which I mentioned last time is the overuse of colors, confusing back and forth of the game board, overstacking of pieces, and so on. There's not much I can do about it until Mike Doyle makes a better board, so we'll skip this.

The last problem is the length of the game. The game is so nicely balanced, that I don't think that I can figure out a shorter version after only these few playings, but it would behoove someone to try.

If you need a shorter version, however, my tentative initial thoughts would be to eliminate the first castle portion of the game. Randomly select the player order and give out cash as it says in the book. Place n+1 number of brown tiles randomly on the board. Each player, working from the last player backwards, has the option of doing one of the following: place a house on a brown building, take five VP, move two favor markers, or take 2 gold. Each player does this once, and then do it again two more times, for three complete rounds.

This roughly simulates the first portion of the game. Naturally, this will have to be playtested and rebalanced as necessary.

On to the game.

Last time we played, we all fought over the castle. No green or blue buildings were built, and only one gray one. This time I was determined to follow the building route and basically ignore the castle, although I dumped one into the first part just for appearance's sake. I ended up building three blue buildings, which, with my castle losses, was just enough to keep me in first place. Timing here, like everywhere else, is critical, because you don't want to lose the income from the green buildings until you have to.

Elijah was the castle king, and he racked up multiple favors whenever possible, with 7 houses in the last part of the castle. Elijah was the last one of any of us to try to screw people up by jockeying the provost, after he spent his last coin to prevent me from using a building, which prevented him from using his own building for which needed that coin, which prevented him from building in the castle, which not only lost him the points but the favor. After that he felt it was safer just to pass on the provost.

Adam played a weaker game of catch-up to my buildings, but never got to build any blue ones. He earned many victory points from my using his buildings, however.

Every single turn, you could hear people going, "Oops, damn, I forgot about that". Everyone of us overlooked what we needed, when we needed it, several times during the game. Aside from the pain I mentioned before, this was a fairly unique experience for us. Usually, if Binyamin is playing, he will tell you what you overlooked. And if Nadine is playing, she will insist that we roll everything back so that the players can replay it. Without either of them, we were left to suffer our misfortunes.

Gili also played the castle route, with less success.
 
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