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Caylus is, of course, the biggest thing since... well, last Essen. I went to Essen with an understanding that we're dealing with a quality game here, thanks to Rick Thornquist's raports. I wasn't originally planning to buy it, but bought it anyway, tempted by getting William Attia's signature on the box.
Components-wise Caylus is a mixed bag. Inside the big box you'll find a very pretty board, bunch of wooden cubes and other pieces, small and humble plastic coins and bunch of building tiles. The cubes are nice; some might detest the rolling cylinder pieces, but the cubes sport exciting colors. Pink and purple looks pretty together, too bad the purple and brown blend together when it gets darker.
The tiles are ok, thick enough and like the board, decorated with useful and meaningful icons. It's very simple to explain how the buildings work and the icons work well as reminders. That's good graphic design if you ask me.
The rulebook is decent. I found the game slightly terrifying when I first read the rules, but the first play made everything make sense. I suppose the rules could be better to reduce that shock, but it's not too bad for a seasoned gamer. Less experienced folks are unlikely to bump into this game unwarned.
The game is all about resource management. Money is used to place workers on buildings to produce cubes. Some buildings take cubes and give money, others might do the opposite. Some take cubes to build new buildings. Some transform money or cubes into victory points. There are plenty of interactions with the different resources.
There are also different approaches to gaining victory points. One route is to focus on building the castle (the background story of the game is one of castle-building), another is to build residential buildings and then turn them into monuments. The biggest monument is whopping 25 points, which is a lot in a game where winner has typically less than hundred points.
The game runs smoothly. There's lots of information to digest (everything is out there in open) and players can get stuck in their thoughts. The game definitely needs an experienced player brandishing the whip to keep it going at a snappy pace. The structure is pretty logical and easy to understand once you get the hang of it.
I like Caylus a lot. That's no wonder; I expect other people who enjoy games like Puerto Rico will enjoy Caylus as well. However, Caylus has one major drawback. It's too darn long. The box says 30 minutes per player (or 60-150 minutes) and that's pretty accurate. Novices or slow people will take more, fast players might be able to squeeze some off.
That means the game gets uncomfortably long with four or five players. Anything past the 90 minute mark is unpractical for me. Thus Caylus will probably be best for me as a three-player game. With five players, including even one slow player, I will probably get very cranky. Based on my experiences with two, three and five players, I think the game works equally well with three, four or five. Two-player game is not as good (I wouldn't recommend Caylus as a two-player game only), but playable.
Caylus is worth a lot of the praise it has got. I really like it, it's definitely one of my favourite games from 2005. Is it the second best game after Puerto Rico? I can't tell; probably not. In it's genre (that would be serious strategy games) it's probably in the top 10. So I think it's pretty good.
All the pictures in this review were already in the Geek. Thanks to those who provided them.