Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
There's just one kind of favor I'll ask for you - you can see that my grave is kept clean
I am assuming that by now most people know what Caylus contains, the quality of the pieces (I’ve just picked up my replacement coins, so I’m happy) and the general aims and gameplay of the game. There are lots of reviews to cover this. The aim of this review is to draw out some of the differences between a 2 player and the 5 player games. I have played Caylus with 2 players more times than any other number, although I have played it with every combination of players. I think, but not everyone agrees, that it plays equally well with 2 as with 5. The gameplay is very different but both are enjoyable experiences.
Placement of workers
The most noticeable difference between 2 and 5 players is the number of things you can do each round. This is obvious and certainly not rocket science. However it needs to be said, because this fact has the biggest impact on the way the game is played and won. My experience shows that with 2 players it is very easy to get five or six workers down on the track each turn. This means you can gather resources, build and replenish your finances each turn without too much hindrance.
With 5 players you really are fortunate to get four workers down, even towards the end of the game. Usually two or three workers are out there for you. This means inevitably you are fighting for resources and building spots. Money is scarce, you have to have a very clear focus on what you want to do each turn and be assertive in your drive to fulfil that aim.
Income vs. Outgoings
Another big difference between the two gameplays is the amount of resources sitting in front of you. In a 2 player game you can afford to be fairly blasé about what you build and when. Generally the stockpile of resources and your money is never under too much pressure. If you have an aim of building something in particular it is not difficult to grab the right resources when you need them.
The table in front of you during a 5 player game tells a very different story. Resource management suddenly becomes of ultimate importance. Instead of deciding what to do with your resources each turn, you need to be thinking at least one, preferably two or three turns ahead. Trying to predict when other people will want to build, either buildings or in the castle, is a very useful tactic. You maximise prestige points by being one step ahead of the other players building plans. In a 5 player game you need to play much closer to the knuckle in these three areas of resources, money and building. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary, as in a 2 player game, but it is going to hurt much more.
Paths to victory
By this I mean, the route you take to amass more prestige points than anyone else. What are you going to do to get all those points? Possible routes include heavy dominance in the Castle and also the Royal Favour tracks, building lots of regular buildings, or pushing hard for lots of high scoring prestige buildings and generating resources to convert into victory points (e.g. cloth at the Tailor or Gold at the Jeweller)
The obvious conclusion of the differences outlined above is that there is a very different trick to winning a 5 player game as opposed to a 2 player. In a 2 player game all the paths to victory are open to both players. In fact, if you do not concentrate on several tracks at once, you will soon be left behind. However in a 5 player game that changes and whilst you may need to keep certain things ticking over (e.g. building in the Castle) you have to take one track and make it your own.
Each track is probably as valid as any other although I think gold is the key to a 5 player game. Inevitably there will be much less gold around. Player do not get as far on the Royal Favours and may not reach the end of the resource favour track. There are fewer chances to get on the mine, the bank or the alchemist in order to produce gold. And yet gold is the most useful resource as it lets you build the prestige buildings (this could be a deciding factor when not everyone will get the chance to build them) and it converts most efficiently into victory points both during and at the end of the game.
A 5 player game is a much more tactical game than a 2 player. There are several tactics that become very important. Here are just a few.
Using the Pub is more important. Because money is scarcer in a 5 player game being able to continue placing workers for 1 denier is crucial. Getting a resource monopoly is a good tactic. If you can control all the output of stone or food because you have built all the quarries or farms and then put residences over the neutral ones, not only will you pick up lots of extra prestige points, but you will have a steady income of that resource too once the stone building is built.
Another great tactic is draining money. By stopping worker placement early one turn you can preserve your own money whilst forcing other people to spend theirs or disrupt their plans. If you combine this with use of the stables to jump to the top of the starting order, you seize the initiative from the others. Certain combinations of tiles work very well with 5 players, since they give you a victory route that is easily dominated. (E.g. bank or alchemist with Jeweller).
Playing with either 2 or 5 players is an enjoyable experience. However the game is very different to play. Interestingly I think that the amount of provost movement to hinder other people’s progress is similar, that is not a huge amount. In 3 and 4 player games this is a very different and much more dominant factor. But however many you play with Caylus is still a fantastic game and time well spent.
Don't make me bust out the drama!!
Panda is a Werewolf. The Village wins!
People always balk in a 2 player game when I play 2 workers in a round and then end my turn. Yes, they may be able to get a few more workers down, but then they have to pay for it. It creates an interesting tension and tests their understanding of opporunity cost.
You have some great thoughts about the difference.
[quote]The table in front of you during a 5 player game tells a very different story. Resource management suddenly becomes of ultimate importance. Instead of deciding what to do with your resources each turn, you need to be thinking at least one, preferably two or three turns ahead. Trying to predict when other people will want to build, either buildings or in the castle, is a very useful tactic.[/quote]
I actually disagree. I find it is far more important to look far ahead in a 2P game. Though possibly this is because it extremely difficult to look that far ahead in a 5P game due to the increased chaos.