After my dissapointingly disrespectful attempt at 'Gutter Journalism' lurking over on the Agricola review forums, I've decided at a further attempt at redemption. Please understand this is a review as to not only why I am enamoured with Caylus, but particularly with the Premium Edition.
I have been following the Caylus saga since its inception, and must admit was drawn into its promised brain-burning nirvana of worker placement, minimal randomness, increasing tension, and scalability.
However, these draws were ultimately overwhelmed by my personal distaste for the original board and artwork. It just didn't 'Gel' for me. Unfortunately, I couldn't overcome my hesitation over presentation for the gameplay enough to buy and play this wonderful game.
When pictures and rumours surfaced revealing the 'Premium Ed.' of Caylus, I was piqued. Mike Doyle's art whispered seductively of my years wrapped in musty, stonewalled university study of medieval civilisation. The art was evocative, in a manner that reminded me of illuminated manuscripts, narrative tapestries and painted frescos of the era. As Mr. Doyle surmises; 'the intricate, complicated composition is reflective of the intricate gameplay...'
I had to wait a LONG time for the re-print and placed a pre-order with baited breath. Would my tightly wound anticipation shatter once the object of a long held desire arrived?
Yes, it did implore me to pore over the details on the box cover, and once opened to that enchanting 'new' game smell, I was somewhat disappointed that the game didn't have the ancient tang of velum-leafed scrolls in its well organised box. The rules initially beckoned, but after a quick perusal, (i had read, reread and scoured the forums on the rules prior) I had to inspect the magnificent board.
It has to be noted that the printed linen is much darker than the photos on Mike Doyle's Blog. That being said, it encourages one to squint and trace lines with a fine-detailed visual comb. Another advantage is that once in play, the 'bright', heavy card building tiles take precedence over the less saturated background of the board. As previously mentioned by other geeks, this serves to reinforce the metaphor of the road in the game, ingeniously wrapped around the central fixture of the castle, as medieval towns are wont to do...
The iconography is subtle, easy to read yet complementary to the playful, illuminated illustrations of the 'buildings'. Peasants till soil, wild boars snuffle under apple trees, knights jilt each other at the lists.
The rules are beautifully presented, the cover emulating contemporary chansonnier. The gothic script details within like laisses from an old manuscript. This actually makes the simple rules quite easy to read and subsequently digest as you don't get lost in wordy paragraphs.
Then comes the coins...
Ah, one cannot overestimate the saucy glee of tinkling antimony deniers in one's greedy little hands whilst debating the placement (and thus payment) of a worker. The poker face has returned for Caylus!
Speaking of workers, the pawns are a welcome 'neutral' piece. Reminiscent of traditional playing pieces used through millennia. Little, anatomically correct miniatures would have been too 'busy' for my taste.
The cubes on first inspection gave cause for some concern. The cloth, wood and gold merged into a muddy mix, yet after repeated plays they do visually separate themselves in your supply. Ironically, my initial chagrin at this perceived inadequacy was overturned when I played a game with 'understudy' cubes from other games and found their garish colour an unwelcome distraction to the rest of the game.
For the premier showing, we dressed in renaissance historical re-enactment threads, lit the table with dozens of scented tea-lights and drank pear cider... Oh, how atmospheric. If you haven't deduced, I stem from a long line of gaudy role-players!
Although the gameplay seems complex, I believe this is due to the unusual synergistic nature of the flow of play. If you break each turn into succinct phases as detailed, each decision becomes an agonised action. Rather, think of your whole turn as one action, with all the decisions made in each phase working toward what you want to achieve that turn. The 'gestalt' moment occurs for most players during their first or second game. Despite anticipating this experience, the actual Eureka grin was quite satisfying...
The first few plays revel in their period-ness (sic). If you are searching for a modern take on an age-old concept of tactical strategy, then Caylus wraps this up in a gratuitous medieval tableau. You delight in the potential variety of buildings and castle structures, snicker at the possibility of bribing the royal provost to hamper opponents, and curiously sample the potential routes to success inherent within the system of royal favours.
Subsequent delving into the potential foray of an innocuous 'worker placement game' rewards deep and developing thought. Herein lies the right-brain conundrum of Caylus: The 'building blocks' of gameplay pluck at your analytical left-brain process, lulling you with the 'humdrum' daily grind of the master-builder's lot. Yet, once the meta-game emerges, the complex threads of entwining strategies, reactive development and downright skullduggery evoke a milieu more enticing than any Trouvère's chanson. Your right-brain takes over, time seemingly vanishes into the heady smoke of total immersion.
Truly a gamer's game, the whole Caylus gaming experience being far greater than the sum of its parts.
Each play of the game revels in the overall 'jongleur' of the players and romancing of the story to be told. Personality pervades play. By infusing the Premium edition with art contemporary with medieval Europe, the result is an experience that is iconic, memorable and contributes to the ambience of our very own 'chansons de geste' of the French noblese oblige.
I can only finish with a quote by Mr. Doyle himself:
'Functional board game art balances the needs of information design, thematic detailing, pleasing aesthetics and a memorable product... One must take into account all of these – weighing the tugs and pulls of the needs of all of these functions – in order to understand art's proper role in games. In the end, it is a balance between all four functions that allows for the realization of art's full potential as a catalyst for a fantastic gaming experience.'
As you may have garnered, I'm a devotee of this particular gaming experience, and believe this state of affairs will stay the same for some time to come.
Go Spend your Deniers, herein lies a great game.
I own the Premium edition as well. Your remarks about the rule book is spot on. The formating, the color coding and the general layout is so much easier to read that it actually made understanding the rules easier. The wording is identical to the original game. It is just easier to read.
I had to wait a LONG time for the re-print and placed a pre-order with baited breath.Really? What did you use for bait?
Cheap shot, I know, but I just couldn't bate it.
I dunno Tim, mayhap the proverbial 'shrimp thrown on the barbie', baited my fishy breath? Mate, I just love Caylus and am happy to admit to my anticipation, regardless of the nomenclature.