A card-game version of classic worker-placement game, Caylus, this was recently a bargain-bin game in The Works, a discount bookstore in the UK, and as such it started cropping up for sale or trade at a low price on BGG. You can probably still pick it up very cheap from various parties here on the Geek.
With thanks to BGG user Kllgore for use of image.
It appealed to me because of the Worker Placement mechanic, which always seems to satisfy me, and also because of the resources involved: Gold, Food, Stone, and Wood. I have wooden tokens for each of those in my Mayday Euro-game token-set so this seemed like a good opportunity to get those tokens out again to replace the wooden cubes which come with the game.
Very Brief Summary of the Rules
I have never played Caylus, but my understanding is that this is a slightly simplified and shorter version of that game. Caylus Magna Carta hence involves building a series of buildings (placing cards) along a road, using resources such as stone, wood, and food (wooden cubes or tokens). Workers can then be placed on these buildings to produce further resources, to enable further building etc. Further, if a player places a worker on a building owned by his opponent, the player receives the relevant resources, but the opponent receives some sort of benefit too, mentioned on the card. At the end of each round, players offer batches of three resources to help "build the castle"; essentially you are set-collecting to gain victory point tokens.
With thanks to BGG user Lana Dove for use of image.
There is also a "Provost", a token which can be moved back and forth along the path of buildings by paying coins to the bank. Only buildings placed behind the provost's current position can be utilised, so there is a big opportunity for messing up other players' plans here. Ultimately, victory points can be gained by building a variety of buildings of various values, offering batches to the castle and gathering gold tokens and coins.
With thanks to BGG user Tall_Wait for use of image.
The components are functional. It is a medium/small boxed card game with wooden cubes and cardboard coins. The cards are an unusual size (hard to find sleeves to fit without cutting them to size) and the graphics are a little small to really notice. The iconography is clear though, and it is easy enough to figure out what each card does from the icons. It would be nicer if the buildings had a title clearly written on them (it is faintly written in the background) because no-one ever really learns the names of the cards and hence the theme never really materialises. This is not a thematic game, but it is nice to know you are building a mine, a library, a market, or whatever, rather than just placing a card which will give you a pink cube. As mentioned before, I use shaped wooden tokens from Mayday Games to replace the cubes, but this is hardly necessary.
One thing that is worth mentioning is the rulebook. It is very unclear, and without searching the BGG forums for rules advice I would have been lost completely. I got several rules wrong in the first couple of games as a result.
With thanks to BGG user -=Dani=- for use of image.
How well does the theme hold up?
Not very well. Building things to produce items, or generate income; that's about as thematic as it gets. But the game mechanics will feel very familiar to gamers who are well acquainted with other worker-placement games. It is dry and feels more like a puzzle than a story.
It is surprisingly complex, although the rules are quite simple to explain. (I don't know why the rulebook made such a mess of it). Each game I have played has brought a new strategy to the fore, and this has driven me to want to play again each time, to try out the new tactics. There is considerable scope for group-think in the game, especially relating to the movement of the provost to deny other players their resources. Some games will become quite cut-throat as players try to avenge earlier denials made by other players: Many coins are spent on moving the provost back-and-forth, and as a result money becomes tight and the resources, limited. Another game will see no-one wanting to be "that guy", the first player to screw the others over, so the provost moves little, and as a result resources are fairly free-flowing.
The Luck factor
There is minimal luck in the game. Your initial card draw can be immediately replaced with a new hand if you are unhappy with it, and there are opportunities to draw new cards throughout the game. I think the game is better when information is kept hidden (number of coins, resources, victory points in a player's area) so you can never be sure whether the player can afford to move the provost to deny you a vital move, and you can never be sure that you will be the one with enough resources available to give the biggest donation to the castle, thus earning yourself an extra gold token. But the rules do not demand that you play it like this, and open information works well too, albeit with rather less bravery and pushing-your-luck involved.
With thanks to BGG user Hate Machine for use of image.
Playing Time (in my experience).
2 player - 30 minutes
3 player - 45 mins to 1 hour
4 player - 60-90 minutes
The time is limited because the game ends when the castle victory point tokens run out. If no player takes one during a turn, two are discarded from the supply; hence, the game can never go on indefinitely and time pressure is a factor.
Number of players
This game feels very different with different player-counts. Four player is a deep game with much strategy and planning involved. Group-think becomes a factor, as described above. Many more high-value buildings will be played with higher player-counts, due to the increased availability of resources. A two player game can be extremely cut-throat and very tight in resources/economy if one player chooses to take that path. If this happens, there is very little scope for building high-value buildings, and scores will be low; You just need to make sure that your low-score is higher than your opponent's low-score. It is reminiscent of a game of Dominion in which everyone chooses to curse each other - the game slows down and everyone scores low as a result. It is a battle of attrition. Alternatively, both players may choose to rarely deny their opponent. The game will be more productive as a result, but the threat of the provost being played is always there. Indeed, several threads on BGG say that certain groups leave out the provost altogether in their games, according to their preference. There are beginners' rules in the box which advise something similar.
Will my non-gamer partner enjoy it?
If he/she's a gamer, there's no problem. If not, then this isn't the game to start them on. It is simply too cut-throat, and fairly complex in the strategies involved. The two-player game is a real head-to-head battle for resources, and doesn't lend itself to casual play.
What other games is it like?
Not having played Caylus, I cannot comment on its resemblance to its bigger brother. It shares some aspects of San Juan: building production facilities by laying cards on the table, which are subsequently worth victory points. The secondary benefit given to your opponent when you take an action is also reminiscent. But, added to this, is the worker-placement mechanic which is similar to any number of games. Glen More is an example, where your chosen buildings/tiles generate resources to allow you to build more facilities later. The provost adds a level of interaction which is absent in both of these games. You are not simply denying your opponents by blocking action space, as in Agricola, you are actually able to deny your opponents benefiting from an action they have successfully claimed as their own.
With thanks to BGG user RMontemor for use of image.
- Steep learning curve
- Unexciting components (but it is a cheap game, so shouldn't complain!)
- May be too aggressive for some
- Theme is very thin and game can seem a little dry
- Very unclear rulebook
Is it a keeper?
This genre of game is right up my street, so I will definitely be hanging on to this one. For a low price, this is actually one of the deepest strategy games I own. I am terrible at it, but always see new ways to improve, and the game changes with every play. I don't like aggressive games so the wrong type of opponent could ruin this for me, but so far group-think has kept this in check. Aggressive players soon see that their tactic doesn't yield much, and the balance is restored. But I like the tension of knowing that the provost can be used if really needed.
See my other reviews at http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/146115/europhile-reviews-a...
- Last edited Mon Oct 8, 2012 6:30 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Sep 26, 2012 8:04 pm
Such a fantastic game. Short, tense, very re-playable. My favorite coffee shop game along with Jambo.
Do you recall which rules you missed early on...which ones others might want to pay special attention to?
Nice to see this game being reviewed again as it doesn't get much love - probably because it is a little bit dry compared to the boardgame.
I've played this once and loved it. Thanks for the review.
This a great game that my wife and I very much enjoy playing. It has awesome replay ability. We play this with and without the provost... it actually plays quite nicely even without the provost (makes the game less cut-throat and it means deniers are not as scarce).
This is actually a very good under-rated game!
P.S. I didn't find the rule book to be all that bad... no real problems with understanding the rules.