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Subject: Review: Caylus rss

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Caylus

I first heard of Caylus a few years ago when it started getting rave reviews at the Boardgame Geek. My game shelves were already packed tight, so I wasn’t too inclined to expand my collection much further no matter how good a new game might be. After finally getting around to buying Caylus just a few weeks ago, I regret waiting so long.

The theme is tried and true: the players are architects contributing to the building of a castle and its nearby environs. This is done by assigning workers to various craft shops, markets, and other buildings along the road to the castle, which gives the players resources, money, and other building opportunities. By buying, selling, and building, the players are out to make the most impressive contribution to the King’s castle and gain his eternal gratitude.

As the game is heavy and a bit complex, I’m going to do this review differently from my usual style. I’ll do my best to break the game down into parts and phases, and then wrap it all up with some final comments.

The Game Itself

I’ll start with the bare components:

• Bag o’ bits: Each player receives a bag of wooden bits in his own color. These bits include Workers, Houses (ala Settlers), and 7 markers for various tracks on the board.
• Deniers: Used as money for the game.
• The resources: As the game goes on, players will accumulate different types of cubes/resources that allow for various build actions. The 5 resources are Gold, Wood, Food, Stone, and Cloth.
• The buildings: These are the buildings that players can build during the course of the game. There are 5 distinct types: the pink buildings, which start the game on the game board; the brown buildings, which are built with Wood; the grey buildings, which are built with stone; the blue prestige buildings; and the green residential buildings. There are also several permanent buildings that are printed on the board.
• The white markers: There are two white markers for the game which represent the Provost, and his taller friend the Bailiff. I’ll explain how they function later.

The Caylus board is a pretty one and has 6 different areas:

• The Castle: the castle is divided into 3 parts, the dungeon, the walls, and the towers. These 3 sections are scored at different points in the game. Players can send Workers here to contribute to the construction. To the right of the castle is a simple turn order track.
• The Scoring Track: this wraps around the perimeter of the board and show how many Prestige Points (PP) each player has.
• The Favor Tracks: these show the various favors a player can earn from the king by helping him move into his new castle sooner rather than later. There are 4 different favors that can be earned. Very briefly, players can use the tracks to get a PP bump, Deniers, resources, or building bonuses. Each track goes up 5 levels.
• The special buildings: closest to the castle’s entrance, these buildings have various functions and are a permanent part of the game. They provide a number of benefits such as changing the turn order, giving a player a Denier infusion, and buying Favors.
• The Bridge: the Bridge serves as the boundary between the special buildings and the rest of the buildings. It is also used as a track for showing the order in which players drop out of the Worker Placement phase.
• The Road: there is a lonely dirt road that snakes along from the bridge to the bottom left of the board. As the game goes on, more and more people will be attracted to the castle and will set up a market or shop along the road. The first 6 places marked along the road are for the randomly-placed pink buildings, while the remainder are for player-built buildings. These buildings are bought by the players (thus changing every game) and do a variety of different things, such as providing resources and allowing players to sell resources for Deniers, to build other buildings, and to use resources or Deniers to buy Prestige points. The road is also marked by icons indicating different scoring phases (see the Castle note above).

Gameplay

Compared to other heavy games, setting-up Caylus is a breeze.

• Players choose colors and place markers on the Prestige Track, the Favor Tracks, and the Bridge.
• The 6 pink buildings are shuffled and placed on the first 6 spots on the road. The remaining buildings are separated bv color and put to the side.
• Shuffle remaining player markers and place them randomly on the turn order track to determine initial turn order.
• Each player receives Deniers (a variable amount that depends on turn order) and 1Wood and 2 Food Resources to start the game.
• Place the Bailiff and Provost markers on the last pink tile.

Once that is done, play can begin.

Each game turn consists of 6 phases:

• Collect Income: Each player collects 2 Deniers to start (and more later with the help of certain buildings).
• Place Workers: Each player plays the game with 6 workers. In this phase, players take turns placing these wooden working men on any of the buildings to trigger its benefit for that player later in the turn. They can also be placed on the castle to indicate that the player will contribute to its construction. At any time, a player can pass and place his marker on the bridge (the first person to pass gets a free Denier). This phase goes on until all players have passed.
• Activate special buildings: Now, any special buildings with a worker on it are triggered.
• Move the Provost: This is an interesting phase. In order that the players passed (not turn order; this is an important point), players may pay to move the Provost up to 3 spaces up or down the road at a cost of 1 Denier per space. This is hugely influential because the Provost determines the outer boundary of the town; any workers on the road beyond the Provost don’t work and the building is not activated (as a side note, one of the special buildings allows a player to move the Provost for free). This is where a player can seriously muck up the plans of other players and is a neat mechanic for allowing the players to influence the length and pace of the game.
• Activate the regular buildings: Now, the regular buildings with workers on them are triggered (but remember, this phase stops at the Provost).
• Build the Castle: Now, any player with workers in the castle can uses “Batches” of resources to help build the castle. A batch is any collection of three different resources, with at least one of them a food resource. A player can submit any number of batches, and for each one is allowed to place a house (the houses are also used to mark ownership of other buildings) in the current section of the castle. Each house provides a certain number of prestige points, and the best builder (the player who submits the most batches) receives 1 Favor as a bonus.
• End of Turn: Once all of the above is complete, the turn ends with the Bailiff moving forward along the road. The Bailiff is moved forward 2 spaces if the Provost is ahead of him; but moved only one space otherwise. When the Bailiff reaches one of three scoring icons, that triggers another scoring round in the castle, with player receiving Favors for having houses in the castle, or a PP penalty if he or she hasn’t contributed to that castle section (this scoring round is also triggered by completely filling in one of the castle sections with houses). Once the final castle section, the Tower, is scored, the game is over.

Once the game is finished, the players can trade in their resources and Deniers for Prestige Points. Scores are then calculated and the player with the most PP is the winner.

To Victory!

One of the joys of Caylus is the surfeit of paths to victory. The options are:

• Favors: the first favor on the PP favor track is only 1 PP. This may not seem like much compared to the other Favors at level one, but it goes up to 5 later on and can provide several nice bumps if used quickly and often.
• Gold: You can trade Gold in for 3 PP per cube at the end of the game. There’s also a building that allows for a similar trade.
• Money: Money can also be converted over to PP at the end of the game. It also has great utility as a means towards other PP bonuses (buying resources, etc.)
• Buildings: Players get a variable PP bonus whenever they build a building, with the blue prestige buildings providing some enormous bonuses. Players also get a single PP whenever another player uses one of their buildings.
• The Castle: As mentioned above, players get PP from building the castle.
• Resources: Resources other than Gold can also be traded in at the end of the game for PP. Cloth is especially noteworthy as there is a building that allows a player to sell cloth for PP.

On Strategy

I’ve only played three games, but here are some things I’ve noticed:

• Focus on 2, maybe 3 PP sources. I doubt very much a scattershot approach to accumulating PP is going to work.
• More than most games of its type, Caylus requires the players to start the game with a plan in mind. The Bailiff is no Carl Lewis, but he doesn’t exactly saunter down the road looking at the beautiful spring scenery while sipping lemonade. There just isn’t a lot of time to let things develop before settling on what to do. The early game is critical.
• The number of players playing has a big impact on the game. I’ve only played with three, but I can already see how I would do things differently with more players. Turn order and passing order would be much more important, and some of the special buildings become far more valuable. Know the situation.
• Stay focused. Do what you need to do, not whatever the hell comes to mind when your turn comes around. And avoid the silly mistakes that could seriously hamper your plans. I’ve been burned more than once by not having that 1 Denier or resource I need to complete the deal.

Comparisons

Caylus is often compared to Puerto Rico, another excellent game with similar use-workers-to-make-resources mechanics and multiple paths to victory. The comparisons aren’t entirely superficial, and I would definitely suggest Caylus to any gamer that liked PR. One salient difference is that the players share the same board, making it more of a “real” multi-player game rather than an exercise in multi-player solitaire, as I’ve heard PR described sometimes. Compared to PR, where players only occasionally bump heads, ompetition will be hot and heavy for some of the more valuable buildings on the Caylus board.

Problems

One complaint I have about the game (and I’ve heard other people make the same criticism) is that the buildings aren’t summarized in the rulebook and there’s no reference sheet for them. Reading the rules, there were many references to buildings that I had no clue about without rummaging through the box to find that exact tile. Some sort of summary would have been nice. Of course, the BGG has several such files on tap and I encourage new Caylus players to use them.

There’s also been some grumbling about the game going down the same unfortunate path as PR with players taking advantage of scripted plays that suck the fun out of it. This could happen, I suppose, as the game suits that sort of player well, but should be easy enough to avoid. I’ve intentionally gone out of my way to stay clear of Caylus strategy guides so I can figure out things on my own.

In terms of gameplay issues, I really can’t think of any shortcomings.

Final Word

My one paragraph review of Caylus is that it is a tremendous game that is very deserving of the praise heaped upon it. It’s challenging, but fun, and should have an amazing amount of replay potential.

To expand on that, I find the genius in the game to be the many choices it allows, both tactically and strategically. An experienced player will need to consider the number and skill level of the other players in the game and settle on a strategy to guide his decision making for the game. Tactically, he has many options open to him, such as how to go about acquiring the needed resources and finding the right balance between furthering his own goals and thwarting the plans of others via the Provost or cagey Worker placement. These are tough questions that each player must answer on his or her own, and the number of different ways to answer is what makes Caylus really shine.

For players who really like to think about their games, Caylus is a gem; but for others, it might be too overwhelming. As one of the former group, I’m giving Caylus a solid 9 and just might promote it to my elite 10 club after a few more plays.
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David Chapman
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bwridge wrote:
There’s also been some grumbling about the game going down the same unfortunate path as PR with players taking advantage of scripted plays that suck the fun out of it.

I'd love to see someone try scripting the Caylus opening game. Their ass would be kicked so hard that their grandchildren would be playing standing up.
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Todd McCorkle
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Jedit wrote:
bwridge wrote:
There’s also been some grumbling about the game going down the same unfortunate path as PR with players taking advantage of scripted plays that suck the fun out of it.
I'd love to see someone try scripting the Caylus opening game. Their ass would be kicked so hard that their grandchildren would be playing standing up.
Not exactly sure what is meant by "scripting" here. Do you mean "telling other people what to do" or "this move is obviously superior to other choices" (1st turn settler->quarry in PR for example).

If it's the 2nd choice, I can see a little of it. Often the first 2 players will grab the cloth and stone on the first turn (need cloth to buy favors in later turns or add a cloth or stone to the food + wood you start with to build in the castle). Some players have their favorite wood buildings that they try to build 1st turn. I think a lot of that though is just because the choices are more limited in the early game, but the choices quickly expand once new tiles get built and the provost/bailiff move further down the road.

Some people do favor a certain play style, prefering castle building to building more tiles (or vice versus), intent on controlling the provost either to hurt other players or to help reach new tiles and speed the game up, or intent on buying favors, etc. I'm known for "always going after the gold". However, if you get yourself locked into that mental state, you'll miss some opportunities or other players can predict what you're doing better and maybe take advantage of it somehow.

Nice review! Especially for a game that's rather hard to explain (rules wise anyways). This is one of those games that you really just have to play until a lightbulb goes off "oh, now I get it".
 
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What I meant by "scripted plays" was the creation, distribution, and exploitation of strat guides full of clever tactics and killer combinations that could make the game less spontaneous and fun.

As I mentioned in my review, I've actively avoided reading Caylus strat guides because I want to uncover the secrets of the game on my own. Also, I don't want to give myself a huge advantage over the guys I game with.

Brian
 
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Cody Guindon
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yar, can never understand why anyone would use a strat they didn't come up with themselves for a board game. Anyway, luckily my group wouldn't play as such so the game is always a pleasure
 
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Bruno Valerio
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Verbalcody wrote:
yar, can never understand why anyone would use a strat they didn't come up with themselves for a board game. Anyway, luckily my group wouldn't play as such so the game is always a pleasure

I couldn't agree more!
 
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pɹɐɥɔᴉɹ
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Verbalcody wrote:
yar, can never understand why anyone would use a strat they didn't come up with themselves ...
... because they want to win at any cost?
 
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