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Subject: A Glimpse of Caylus rss

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Dylan Shakespeare
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[In the style of c. 1840, though not perfect]

Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted Caylus alone; and it seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. A wonder, for in its few components packs a hard punch in the cerebrum; a grandeur, for its many paths to victory elude the common surveyor, and also for its historical permeance that only the best Caylus-Agricola-Le Havre scholars can fully appreciate; and finally, a woe for the followers of games akin to Descent, Dungeons and Dragons, and others because of its seemingly tacked-on theme and aridity. But far from deserving this ignominy, Caylus is a fascinating and noble game that, if it had been invented at the time, would have been the standard intellectual board game in the court of the French kings.
Caylus is a monument in the gaming world, having spawned a whole generation in the worker placement category, especially Le Havre and, more importantly, Agricola, which is rated the best game in the world. While none of those two games have the same intellectual capacity, they are both part of the Caylus family that started from one mechanic.
Worker Placement
The Worker Placement Mechanic is by far Caylus' greatest contribution to the gaming world. The concept is simple: merely place a token of yours on the space that accommodates your wants. This idea is so simple that it has given many games an easy way to implement other mechanics. Examples include Age of Empires III, Pillars of the Earth (a very similar structure to Caylus), Stone Age, and Leonardo Da Vinci.
Caylus is really Worker Placement stripped down to its essence; almost no other mechanic exists in Caylus, and if one does, it takes on a second-hand role and barely shows itself in the light. The problem was that the mechanic gave too much freedom and not enough interaction; so, a solution was discovered.
Provost
The Provost is the only way to solve the pure Worker Placement conundrum in Caylus––I'd like to see someone come up with a better one. This was also a rather simple idea: after placing workers, there is a phase where players take turns moving the provost; during the activation phase, the workers down the road that are past the provost don't produce. Since each player takes turns paying money to move the provost, this mechanism provides a way of limiting freedom and adding interaction.
The Provost also allows the game to end faster: if the Provost is past the Bailiff––the turn counter––the Bailiff moves twice down the road instead of once at the end of the round. Beginners would do well to pay attention to the position of the Provost in relation to the Bailiff!
Buildings
Buildings are not only expansions of the playing fields––they are a great way to generate Prestige Points, hereafter referred to as PPs. Aside from the amount of immediate PPs, each building gives its owner 1 PP each time another player puts his worker there. There is a building for everything: buildings for resource production; for immediate money; for immediate PPs in exchange for money or a resource; for building other buildings; for buildings that give you income at the beginning of a round; and ultimately for Prestige Buildings, hereafter referred to as PBs, which exclusively give you a lot of PPs––and sometimes favor(s)––immediately after they are built.
Residences––the buildings for income––are needed to build PBs; a PB cannot be built except on top of a residence, and residences cannot be built unless on top of other buildings, which are built on the road stretching from the castle. This aspect opens up other tactics to generate PPs, and to remove buildings that one thinks are giving opponents too much of an advantage.
Castle Building
After activating the road, if there are any workers in the Castle, workers in the Castle can build as many houses in the Castle as he wants. Each house costs a batch of 3 resources, and gives the builder 5, 4, or 3 PPs depending on the stage of the game. The player who builds the most houses that round gets a Favor, which is kept track of on the Favor Track.
Favors
This is another innovation that makes Caylus shine. The game would be invariable arid if not for the Favors. Each time you get a favor, you move up on one of the favor tracks. There are four different Favor Tracks: the Prestige Point Track, which gives immediate PPs, and is more powerful than it sounds; the Money Track, which gives immediate money; the Resource Track, admittedly the weakest, which gives resources––very few at that––ultimately leading to getting gold every favor, gold being worth 3 PP at the game end, as well as necessary for building PB; and the Building Track, which allows you to build for a resource less, so powerful, indeed, that the first space on the track does nothing.
Different combinations of Favors create different strategies, so that every game is subtly different with each play. They also allow for tactics to squeeze out of bad situations.
Certain spaces on the road are marked to remind you of when the next stage starts. When the Bailiff reaches one of these points, a Castle Count happens. This means that all the players get Favors depending on the number of houses they each have built. They may get 0-3 or, if they have not built a house, they lose points, which is particularly bad in Caylus. Castle Count adds another element of depth.
Conclusion
All of these elements combine to constitute the marvel that is Caylus. The author will not make a formal conclusion to this showcase because of the positive bias that the author readily admits he has. But he will say that Caylus is a most balanced Euro-game, one of the most balanced that he knows of; he can find no flaw in its design. And to those who do not enjoy Caylus, to those who call it a brain-burner, the author understands that they have different tastes; but he asks those to see the Caylus Legacy and appreciate it as the father of a whole generation of board games.
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Ryan
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Nice review. I would just like to add that the road and its sequential activation of the buildings also plays a huge part in the depth and replay value of the game. It is not just enough to simply occupy the right buildings, you often need to do it in the correct order to make sure your longer-term plans succeed. For instance, you must be sure to have collected cloth before your worker at the lawyer activates. And, of course, your opponent can take the last cloth space (if you didn't secure it before taking the lawyer) to make your worker at the lawyer worthless, if he is paying attention, and vice versa. The sequential activation mechanic of the road opens up a whole new world of tactical counters.
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Dylan Shakespeare
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The author completely agrees that he should have included such a part in this imperfect sketch, and thanks the reader for his fine comment.
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Erwin Lau
Hong Kong
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Caylus brought me back to board gaming after abandoned ASL since after college. It was my eye-opener. It is occupying a special place in my heart. The 'road' is visually appealing and game functional (um..eye on the gold mine ninja) compared to 'put your buildings in front of you upside down' Le Havre shake (it is also a good game though)

A very nice review that captures the essential elements of the game and articulates them with nice touches of appreciations.
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Nathan Roberts
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Katoomba
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Please don't forget Keythedral as THE pioneer in worker placement (in addition to building medieval stuff!). Many overlook this fantastic Breese Game, though Reef Encounter is better...
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