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Subject: 10 reasons I'll choose Lords of Waterdeep over Caylus rss

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Jeff Hannes
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The subject says it all, but let me preface this with a couple important points:

* For those who haven't played Lords of Waterdeep before, it's absolutely Caylus-lite. The fundamental mechanics are very close to those of Caylus... Worker placement with one worker per action space, players build buildings to add more action spaces as the game progresses, the owner of a building gets a benefit when others use his or her building, points are mainly acquired by putting together sets of cubes and trading them in… You can compare Lords of Waterdeep to a lot of popular Euro games, but there's no question in my mind it most closely compares to Caylus. Lords of Waterdeep even has a similar long-term game flow to Caylus, where actions that felt precious early on later play second fiddle to much more efficient and effective actions.

* Since its release Caylus has been a fixture in my top 20 games of all-time. I think it's one of the best-designed board games to come out in the past decade. So I am by no means a Caylus basher. I think it's an amazing game, an opinion which should hopefully add a little weight to this review. Agricola is my #3 all-time game, Age of Empires is in my top 20... Let it be said that I am no stranger to worker placement games.

* Between Caylus and Lords of Waterdeep, Caylus is the better all-around game. Let's just get that out of the way right now. It's deeper, more complex and has a lot more going on.

All that said, there are ten reasons I will almost always choose to play Lords of Waterdeep over Caylus:

1. The other players at the gaming table don't fall asleep while I'm teaching the rules.
Seriously, this almost happened last time I tried to teach Caylus. Caylus is just not a very playable game to me when one or more players have never played before. There are so many different thing going on, and it's very hard to conceptualize how it all fits together the first few times. With Lords of Waterdeep, I can do the rules explanation in about five minutes and new players pick up on the mechanics very quickly. By the second round there's really no question as to what anything does or how the game is supposed to work.

2. Not only is Lords of Waterdeep easier to teach and learn, but it's easier to get back to the table after you have learned how to play.
Unless you've got a weekly Caylus game or something (never going to happen in my circle), there's a repeated learning curve. From time to time I STILL get confused about under which circumstances you can and can't take the same favor more than once in a turn. Now that I've read Lords of Waterdeep, played a few games and read the rules again, I'll never have to go back. There's an FAQ, but it's mostly common sense answers, with a few minor (uncommon) points that weren't explicitly mentioned in the rules. (Most notably that you can build more buildings than the pre-printed game board has space for.) Caylus' rules are complete, but good luck finding a specific rule in a reasonable of time in the middle of the game.

3. Trading cubes to complete quests is much more interesting to me than putting together "batches" to help build the castle.
Yes, for a quest in Lords of Waterdeep ultimately you're just assembling 1 purple cube, 1 white cube, 4 black cubes and 6 orange cubes, and most of the time it feels exactly that abstracted. But it's still fun to pick up your pile of cubes and declare that you're slaying the Beholder that's been menacing the dungeons beneath the city. You can play Lords of Waterdeep dry if you want to, but the opportunity to get in to the flavor of the game is there in spades IF you want it. And though it's all abstracted, every quest and the makeup of cubes you need to complete it makes thematic sense. With Lords of Waterdeep you get exactly as much theme out of it as you're willing to put in. The more you let yourself buy into the theme, reading the flavor text on the quests and pretending you are a powerful lord manipulating adventurers for hire to take care of jobs you have no interest in doing yourself, the more you'll FEEL the theme. The theme is easily ignored, and LoW can absolutely be played as an abstract. (And this will be the default for most people.) But the theme is there if you want it. By contrast, there's pretty much no circumstance in Caylus that makes me feel like I'm doing anything other than acquiring and trading in cubes to increase my score.

4. You always have choices, but they're never overwhelming.
One of my biggest drawbacks to Caylus is that at a certain point in the game, any building can be built at any time. Even just once the second tier (stone buildings) open up, there are a lot of choices. Of course, experienced Caylus players will know that only a handful of buildings should get immediate attention, but this isn't going to be at all apparent to newer players. Newer players can easily get overwhelmed with options. In Lords of Waterdeep, you've got three buildings to choose from to build at any given time. Just enough to offer some choice, but not so much as to weight the game down with long decision time.

5. Completing quests (or set collection tasks, if you want to abstract it) does more than just give you points.
While the baseline quest in Lords of Waterdeep is "trade in these many resources for these many points", there is a wide range of variety in the rewards. Some give you intrigue cards, some let you get a building for free. Some give you cubes back (I particularly enjoy the thematic feel of my rogues and clerics taming a bear which I can later use as a warrior), wihle others give you permanent benefits and/or special abilities until the end of the game. The closest thing Caylus has to offer are the buildings which grant immediate favors. These buildings are my favorite ones to build, not necessarily because they're the most powerful, but because they create a more enjoyable result where you feel like you get to do more things. I like the chain-reaction-one-thing-leads-to-another, because it's like a reward on top of a reward. These types of rewards are far more prevalent in Lords of Waterdeep -- and much more varied -- which makes earning points in LoW much more satisfying than in Caylus.

6. The "take that" player interaction is far less crippling, more predictable, and more likely to actually take place.
The provost concept in Caylus is a fantastic and innovative mechanic, but it's replete with issues. Not the least of which is that getting screwed out of one or more actions simply isn't fun. Strategic and tactical, something to carefully consider, sure. But fun? Not so much. In Lords of Waterdeep you can certainly mess with other players, by giving them an extra quest to complete or forcing them to lose a cube here and there, but these interactions cause inconveniences -- not debilitating losses. And in Lords of Waterdeep, there's a much more reasonable expectation of retaliation. If you make me lose a cube, I might strike back later by forcing you to undertake a Mandatory Quest. But in Caylus, if you move the Provost back and cost me an action, I may never get the chance to do the same to you. (In fact, a smart and skilled player WON'T give me that opportunity.) Player interaction in Caylus is far more about avoidance. The provost is sort of like a nuclear weapon... no one REALLY wants to have to fire it. And in true Euro fashion, which tends to frown upon direct attacks, avoidance of attacks altogether is the optimal strategy. In Lords of Waterdeep, playing an Intrigue card costs very little (since you get the action back) so you'll often see a fair amount of back and forth with players causing minor nicks to one another.

7. I can actually play Lords of Waterdeep with my weekly gaming crew.
My current gaming buddies are too Cult of the New to take the time investment necessary to put us all on reasonably equal footing for a game of Caylus. These days I'm limited to playing Caylus against the computer on my iPad or at conventions. (I suppose I could play it online, but games that heavy I prefer to play in person.) What good is a game that you never get to play? Sad, but true. And no, I'm not going to find other gamers just to play certain games. Although I am breeding my own gamers, which leads me to...

8. I can actually play Lords of Waterdeep with my seven-year old daughter.
Now, this may seem an unfair point, to say I prefer a game because it's 7-year-old friendly, but to me it's a valid one. My daughter's a pretty advanced gamer for her age... We play many of the games in my collection (including more complcated ones like Agricola) and I'm sure she could even get her head around Caylus if I wanted to push it. Except, she'd never be that interested in it. Too much going on and the lack of theme would turn her off. Not that theme is all important to her... In Lords of Waterdeep she pretty much ignores the theme -- for her it's all about getting the right sets of cubes and turning them in for reward -- but she loves it. And there is enough of a theme within the mechanics that it grabs her interest. For example, she may not get into the roleplay aspect of a lord who needs Warfare and Commerce quests, but what it does do is give her the focus to know that she wants to go after those types of quests whenever possible. She's still got plenty of choices, but the base level structure right from the start of the game helps guide her strategy. Also, she loves the instant gratification that comes from completing quest after quest. A game like Caylus, where you're really building up for the end game and the major Prestige buildings, you just can't get that frequent feeling of accomplishment.

9. Every game of Lords of Waterdeep has the capability of having a different flavor from the last.
This is hard to explain if you haven't played it yet, but I'll try. There are 24 different buildings in LoW. Each adds a new action space to the game. A typical game will only see about 10 of these come into play, and the order they come out is significant. Some buildings are amazing if they show up in the early rounds, nearly worthless if they come out late. By contrast, other buildings will be more desirable in the later stages. Which buildings come out and in which order can have a huge impact on the game. For example, my crew recently had a game where we didn't see a building capable of producing a Mage until the second-to-last round. This made the basic mage spot one of the most heavily-contested spaces in the game. Another game we had several buildings that awarded Intrigue cards, either to the occupier, the owner or both. In that game the Waterdeep Harbor spaces (where you play Intrigue cards) were almost always the first to fill up. In another game, intrigue cards were much harder to come by, so those spots often languished for several passes. The two games had a very different feel, and required different approaches and strategies. In Caylus there is SOME variety to how the buildings come out, but not enough to significantly change the flow of the game. Yes, every game isn't exactly the same, but in general the common strategies will prevail. In Lords of Waterdeep, the building order can have a great effect on strategy, and even if it doesn't, the games still *feel* different.

10. Lords of Waterdeep is more fun.
There, I said it. Caylus is challenging and interesting, but it's not always fun. You're short one cube, or short a few coins, or didn't quite plan your turn leading up to the castle building correctly. Someone passes when you didn't think they would, or takes the spot you were sure no one else wanted. And then your entire turn is thrown off. There's a lesser potential for this to happen in Lords of Waterdeep, but missing out on an action you needed is never as punishing. You can call Lords of Waterdeep easy, basic, simplistic or any number of other not-quite-platitudes, but you'll never call it stressful.

====

The bottom line is that Lords of Waterdeep works. Is it a streamlined version of Caylus with simpler rules and a less complex decision-making tree? Why yes, but why is that a bad thing? Caylus is a fantastic game. I love it. But it's harder to get to the table, it takes longer to play and it's not always rewarding or fun during the mid-game. For now Lords of Waterdeep scratches my Caylus itch, giving me a solid and interesting worker-placement/resource collection/building game with just the amount of "take that" and varied game experiences to keep me coming back for more.
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Wayne Harding
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Love it thank you
My wife's new favorite, because of half of what you just wrote.
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Jorge B
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Thanks, this is exactly the kind of review I was looking for!
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Gary Querns
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Great review Jeff. Just bought the game and just removed Caylus from my wish list. Never liked that creepy guy on the box front anywaylaugh
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Arthur Rutyna
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How about comparing it to other worker placement titles, that are "more fun" than Caylus, and have a "take that" factor (i.e. Age of Empires III or Carson City)?

Don't know that I really need this game if I already have the above mentioned titles. The D&D theme doesn't do anyhting special for me.
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Jeff Hannes
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Neo_1 wrote:
How about comparing it to other worker placement titles, that are "more fun" than Caylus, and have a "take that" factor (i.e. Age of Empires III or Carson City)?

Don't know that I really need this game if I already have the above mentioned titles. The D&D theme doesn't do anyhting special for me.


Hard to compare it directly with Age of Empires III, since AoE's worker placement is a mechanism for what's really an area control game, while Lords of Waterdeep is resource collection and turn-ins. The games don't play similar at all, so it really depends what you're looking for. If I were teaching several new people how to play -- especially if they weren't seasoned euro gamers -- I'd probably go with Lords of Waterdeep. But if you put me at a table with my gaming crew and tell me I get to pick what we're playing, I'll probably choose AoE more often than LoW. Of course, this assumes you've got 4-5 players. I don't think I'd play Age of Empires with less than four, while I've found Lords of Waterdeep works well with two or three.

Carson City I've only played a few times. I like it, but it's also got a very different feel since the direct conflict is much more overt. The few games I've played definitely had an arms race feel, though unlike Caylus, coming to blows (and putting those guns to use) was inevitable. So I think all three games fill a different niche -- Lords of Waterdeep is best more for the lighter fare. In that regard I'd compare it closer to Stone Age of Pillars of the Earth. If I could only own one of those three? I'd ditch Stone Age and it'd be a toss-up between Lords of Waterdeep and Pillars of the Earth, and in that case I might give the slight nod to Lords of Waterdeep because of how it plays with two players.
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Blake Stetson
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Wonderful review! thanks.
 
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Arthur Rutyna
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xanalor wrote:
Neo_1 wrote:
How about comparing it to other worker placement titles, that are "more fun" than Caylus, and have a "take that" factor (i.e. Age of Empires III or Carson City)?

Don't know that I really need this game if I already have the above mentioned titles. The D&D theme doesn't do anyhting special for me.


Hard to compare it directly with Age of Empires III, since AoE's worker placement is a mechanism for what's really an area control game, while Lords of Waterdeep is resource collection and turn-ins. The games don't play similar at all, so it really depends what you're looking for. If I were teaching several new people how to play -- especially if they weren't seasoned euro gamers -- I'd probably go with Lords of Waterdeep. But if you put me at a table with my gaming crew and tell me I get to pick what we're playing, I'll probably choose AoE more often than LoW. Of course, this assumes you've got 4-5 players. I don't think I'd play Age of Empires with less than four, while I've found Lords of Waterdeep works well with two or three.

Carson City I've only played a few times. I like it, but it's also got a very different feel since the direct conflict is much more overt. The few games I've played definitely had an arms race feel, though unlike Caylus, coming to blows (and putting those guns to use) was inevitable. So I think all three games fill a different niche -- Lords of Waterdeep is best more for the lighter fare. In that regard I'd compare it closer to Stone Age of Pillars of the Earth. If I could only own one of those three? I'd ditch Stone Age and it'd be a toss-up between Lords of Waterdeep and Pillars of the Earth, and in that case I might give the slight nod to Lords of Waterdeep because of how it plays with two players.


Thanks a bunch for the additional comparisons!!! Very helpful. All the games you mentioned above I own. And I need a reason NOT to buy LoW. So even though I can tell it's a fun game that I would enjoy, I will just have to pass on it. Thanks!!!
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Fippy Darkpaw
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Agree with all 10 points.
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Big Head Zach
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LoW is the game I had hoped Belfort was going to be, but ended up not being. I may revisit Caylus after a self-imposed moratorium, but this game's definitely got the sweet spot for both hardcore Euroists and more casual D&D roleplayers (read: not lootmongers).
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Tim Royal
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Great, another Caylus hater... shake



Kidding. Great great poignant write-up.
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Mr Dove
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Most of these reasons rings true to me. The biggest one is the initial learning curve and the repeated learning curve. My wife and I played Caylus a few times but at some point I didn't want to pull it out because I didn't want to re-learn all the rules.

Great Review.
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Mike Stevens
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Thank you for your very informative review. Reviews like this are just one of the MANY reasons that I am hooked on BGG
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Kris Ardianto
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Wow..wonderful review... Just ordered it from bookdepository.com and waiting anxiously for my own copy.

Really like the 10 reasons why...
 
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Paul Harmon
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Great job!
Great game!
Im not a Caylus hater but agree with all your points.
Thanks
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S K
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waynea wrote:
Love it thank you
My wife's new favorite, because of half of what you just wrote.


Same here, and that's the only reason that I need!
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Francis Cermak
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bhz1 wrote:
LoW is the game I had hoped Belfort was going to be, but ended up not being.


Could you expand on that comment? I haven't played Blefort but am interested in it. Thanks!
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Greg Blickley
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Very nice review, LoW is definitely on my 'must have' list. I'm new-ish to worker placement games (we usually do a lot of dungeon crawls in our gaming group), so this sounds like it would be a pretty good starting point to 'bridge' our way up to heavier games like Caylus & Agricola.
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Dwight Powell
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Excellent review! I have never played Caylus, but I have been trying to choose a new game to purchase for about a week and the comparisons and arguments you make for LoW apply to MANY of the games I've been considering (Agricola was at the top of my list until I gave LoW a try). It's also refreshing to see that I'm not the only Dad who considers his pre-teen daughter's tastes when he makes a gaming decision.

Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed analysis!
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Agree 100%. Cannot...ever...get Caylus to the table. My group loves Agricola and 7 Wonders so this game hits the sweet spot in so many ways.
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A. B. West
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Really great review and helps tremendously in distinguishing this game from those strikingly similar around it. Well done!
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Chris Bender
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A fantastic review. I own Lords of Waterdeep, but it's just one of many new games I need to punch, learn, and play. Your review just put it at the top of my list of games to get to the table. I think I'll try and get it played this weekend.
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Oliver Cheng
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To me, it feels as though you've buried the important part. I read the intro and I like my games complex, so when I started reading the pros for LoW, they didn't feel like strong pros to me. But that number 9 is huge. I have to take big notice of what's going on and how the economy is changing with each new building? That's a strategy game!

Right now I'm just worrying if this game is too simple. The fact that you can play with 7 year olds is of no help to me at this point.
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The Galaxy is Just Packed!
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Absolutely agree on all ten points. It's currently my "game I want to play now."

plaguewielder wrote:
Right now I'm just worrying if this game is too simple. The fact that you can play with 7 year olds is of no help to me at this point.


Yes, it is "simple" - at least in terms of Caylus - but it is not "simplistic." The rules are easy and the gameplay is light, but the game is incredibly engaging and fun. I;ve played 2-player games and 5-player games, still fun. I've played with my kids and I've played with adults. Still fun.

I really love this game. A perfect gateway with enough bite that the old diehards will still love it.

If you want a brain burn with fellow brainiacs, then there are many other options. But if you want a pleasant gaming experience with all types of players, go for this one.
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Chris Bender
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I played this game tonight and thought it was fantastic. I want to play it again tomorrow.
 
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