Following over two months of anticipation, Caylus finally arrived!
Opening and examining the game
I lifted the lid by the corners and enjoyed the slow graceful decent of the game box and the quick whoosh of air as it came free. Ah, there’s nothing quite like the smell of a new game. I removed the rules which I was already quite familiar with since I had downloaded them two months ago and read them multiple times. I then removed and opened the game board and was pleased with its size and sturdiness. I had seen images of the board in the rules and here on the Geek, but they don’t quite compare to having it in front of you. The painted background is very well done – it even appears to have the texture of a canvas -- and most of the symbols and indicators on the board are very readable but a few of the smaller ones are not. For example, in the area that shows how to score the castle sections, the penalty for not building is clearly 2, 3, and 4 prestige points, but you have to get close to see the minus sign in front of the number. It’s a minor issue since the indicators are simply reminders of the rules.
I next opened the bags containing all the pieces. I was unimpressed with the money, but I had read about it here so knew what to expect. It’ll be a definite improvement to put some decent money tiles in future productions. For now, I’ll just grab the money from Puerto Rico. I also read here about missing pieces so I counted out all the parts. The only thing I was missing was one stone cube – 29 instead of 30 – but otherwise all parts were present and accounted for. I noticed that the wooden bits are very slippery, partly because they’re new. I wondered how far they would scatter following an accidental bump of the game board. If that does happen, it should be pretty easy to reconstruct the board as long as you know where the scoring markers go. I put all the player pieces in their own baggies to help keep things organized.
I’d been keeping my game group up to date on the delivery schedule of Caylus so they were all expecting to play this weekend. I then called around to set a specific day, but since it’s a busy time of year, we couldn’t get everyone together on either Friday or Saturday. My solution, naturally, was to play on both nights. Most of the group could come on Saturday, but my friend Brent couldn’t so I invited him to bring his family over for dinner on Friday. I figured we could try out 2-player Caylus, but it turned out we were able to talk our wives into playing.
First Game: Natalie, Brent, Teresa, and Mark
We got things set up as I gave a quick overview of the game. As I got into the details of the worker phase, it was becoming overwhelming so we just forged ahead with placing workers. The first couple turns went slow as expected, but we soon caught on to the routine except we all had trouble remembering to pay for our workers. Fortunately, I was familiar enough with the rules that I didn’t have to keep flipping through them for clarifications.
There was a little nastiness with the provost on the opening turn when I placed a worker in the fixed carpenter and used the guild to move him one spot beyond it. Brent, who was last to pass, paid 2 deniers to back him up and negate my worker. Another time, I had a worker close to the end of the road and the provost was 1 beyond it. Brent paid to bring the provost back two spots to a space he occupied figuring I’d pay to move it forward one. Partly out of spite, I instead moved it back it two more spaces to my next closest worker. Afterwards, neither of us thought our moves were worth the cost and just helped the unaffected players. There were other opportunities for moving the provost to hurt another player, but threats from our wives of having to spend the night on the couch – open negotiations during the provost phase are discussed in the rule book – prevented most of it.
Natalie was the first to construct and built the mason which paid off well in the final third of the game as 6 stone buildings were constructed. Brent was the first one into the castle and the 5 points he earned plus the royal favor woke us all up to the value of building there. The provost was ahead of the bailiff on two of the early turns so we ended up scoring the dungeon on the fourth turn and each had 1 house in it – no penalty, but also no bonus favor awarded.
Of the first four buildings constructed, there was one by each of us. In addition to the mason, we built the 2F/1C farm, marketplace, and peddler. Then Natalie went on a blitz and added the next three before the gold mine: sawmill, quarry, and the 2C/1F farm. Even though the mason was the first building, we only added wood buildings up to this point and I’m not really sure why. The stone farm (2F1C) and the park (2W1F) don’t cost any more to construct (2 cubes), they are worth an additional point, they produce more, and there is a bonus for the builder. I guess we were just focusing on the wooden buildings to get started. Natalie’s investment in buildings paid off as she collected a point each time we utilized one and her early lead grew.
Teresa had started the building the walls, but then Brent moved in for three consecutive turns aiming for the 2-favor bonus. The provost was constantly being moved ahead so the bailiff was moving 2 spaces each turn. Therefore we only had 3 turns to build in the walls section. This is when I made a major mistake. I had been amassing resources to build in the walls, but each turn someone got a worker there before me so I held off because I wanted to earn the favor of being first or having the most. On the third turn in the walls I had enough resources to build two sections, and would collect enough this turn to build a third and get the 2-favor bonus when they were scored. I had bumped Brent out of the inn the turn before and had enough money to place all my workers. I knew no one else could build 3 in the walls so I wasn’t worried about turn order in the castle and instead focused on placing my workers in useful buildings. As everyone passed I continued to pay 1 denier per worker because of the inn. As I grabbed my money to place my last one in the castle, Brent pointed out that I didn’t have any workers left. Drat! Since I had one in the inn, I was only left with 5 and wasn’t paying attention. The provost was moved ahead of the bailiff through the use of the guild, and I only had 1 denier left so couldn’t bring him back far enough. This meant the bailiff would advance to the walls scoring space that turn. I would have earned 12 points for the 3 walls, plus the favor for the most that turn, plus the 2-favor bonus, but instead lost 3 points for not having built the walls. Needless to say, that was a major point swing and I was solidly in last place.
Having learned from my mistake, I lead the way in towers building and I figured the Cathedral (25 point prestige building) was my ticket back into the game. I had picked up a gold cube at the goldmine and a couple more from the bank. However, the lawyer was not yet out, so I built it that turn. Brent, who was near Natalie for the lead, was pushing the provost ahead each turn to hurry the game along and I was too short on cash to bring him back. Also, I was blocked from using the mason that turn so I couldn’t get the architect into the game. I realized there was no way for me to get a prestige building constructed in time so I focused on the towers and on converting my gold into points using the jeweler (bonus tile from Essen).
The buildings we created after the gold mine where the workshop (2S1C), bank, jeweler, stone farm (2F1C), lawyer, tailor, and church. My build of the lawyer was way too late and no one ever used it. Also, no one took a favor on the build row, so the residences and prestige buildings sat unused.
And the winner is…
In the final tally, it was extremely close as Natalie finished with 64, Brent 63, me 62, and Teresa with 51. Teresa enjoys social games and word games and knew that an analysis/planning game like Caylus would not play to her strengths. Natalie liked the game, and may play with us again, but similar to Teresa enjoys more social games. Brent and I both enjoyed Caylus and can see it becoming a regular in our game group. We recognized that it’s more about reacting to the situation at hand and planning just one or two turns ahead than other games that required long-term planning. But I have a sense there’s more long-term aspects to it that we’re not able to see yet.
Favor track usage (points/denier/cube/build):
Brent: 6/3/0/0 (he used the 5-point space twice)
Construction (number of buildings/total building point value/castle sections):
Mark 3/9/1,0,5 -- that 0 in the walls really hurt
Total playing time was just under 3 hours, and this included several delays and interruptions to deal with our kids so I suspect we were under 2.5 hours – not bad for a first game. Hopefully any increase in time spent analyzing moves will be made up for by quicker handling of the mechanics of the game.
Special building usage:
Gate - never used.
Trading Post (+3 denier) - used almost every turn.
Merchant's guild (move the provost) - used almost every turn so buildings at the end of the road could be used.
Jousting field - used a couple times by Brent and me.
Stables - used frequently, often by the person in 4th position.
Inn - used the whole game. Brent put a worker there early, then I bumped him out around mid-game and left my worker there for the remainder.
Thoughts and final analysis
The game progressed faster than I expected. The same thing happened the first couple times I played Puerto Rico. I get big plans in my head and then find there isn’t enough time in the game to execute those plans. There appear to be several strategies to follow: Natalie focused on buildings, I was balanced between buildings and castle, and Brent focused on the castle and the prestige point favor track, but we all finished very close. I originally discounted the points awarded for the buildings you construct, but Natalie’s blitz gave her an early lead, and she continued to climb as we put workers in her buildings.
Despite my fear of being disappointed because my anticipation was high and the hype over Caylus has been so extensive, I truly enjoyed the game and I can’t wait for our next session tonight. I think this game has great long-term potential with our group and I’m looking forward to exploring the nuances of the various strategies. I rated the game an 8, but I expect that will increase as I get more familiar with the game and learn more of the intricacies. Maybe some day I’ll rate it a 10 along with Puerto Rico.
PS: Sorry for the length…as you can see, I’m a detail person.
PS: Sorry for the length…as you can see, I’m a detail person
No need to apologize, detail is good. Even more in a new game like this. If it were Puerto Rico and you had written a long analysis of each building, that would be bad, but in the case of Caylus, your detailed insight into the game is really welcome.