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I got Caylus for Christmas this year (by request - well, OK, I went out and bought it myself with my wife's permission) and was drooling over it for a week before my first good chance to play a full game of it. I was thoroughly familiar with the rules already, and it was obvious that it would be a lot of fun. What I wasn't sure about was how long it would take to explain the rules to our Christmas guests (a couple of brothers and their wives) who were happy to try it with me.
While explaining the rules, I only mentioned what they needed to know to start playing, and then explained other stuff when it had a chance of impacting their decisions. For example, there was no need to explain the joust field in the first round when nobody had cloth, or to explain the favor tracks until a couple of rounds in. I should have probably explained the lawyer before I did several rounds in, but oh well. I think it only took 10 minutes of explaining or less before we could start, and I was surprised at how quickly everyone caught on. I thought it was actually easier than teaching Puerto Rico.
I would have to say that the game exceeded my already high expectations. It was a LOT of fun, and everyone was very into it right from the start. I should mention that none of my opponents have played many Euro-games before, and they did not find it too overwhelming (they're pretty smart though so it's hard to know how others might fare). The game is highly interactive, and every round is packed full of meaningful decisions.
Our scores were pretty close for the first 2/3 of the game or so. Cameron and Lisa concentrated on building in the castle early on, and were usually at the front of the pack. Almost every time someone built in the castle, another player would place the same number of houses in it, meaning that whoever put the first worker into the castle was usually the one to get the favor - and that was often Cameron. He aggressively pursued going down the prestige points favor track the entire game. There were a couple of times where one of us had a worker in the castle, but didn't have enough resources in the end to place a house due to bad planning. I was gaining several favors by the last half of the game due to building in the castle and the handy church I built, but since I was always strapped for money, I went down the favor track that gave me more of that. Once I had enough money, I found myself running out of enough workers to do what I wanted to do, a fact that wasn't helped by having one of my workers in the inn, which Lisa and I battled over for the last several rounds.
We all built 2-3 buildings during the course of the game, except for Rebecca who built a fourth in the last round. All of the wood buildings were placed before the first stone building came on the scene. Cameron built the mason as the second last wood building, and that proved very popular for the rest of the game. No one used the last building favor track, so the mason and lawyer were highly sought after. When I realized how difficult it would be to get to use the lawyer in a five-person game, I started going down the building favor track, but of course, it would take 3 moves down that track to get to anything useful, and I started too late. By the time the lawyer was placed, the game was already moving swiftly to its conclusion - faster than any of us perceived. Andrew used the lawyer twice to turn a neutral building into a residence, and Rebecca used it once. This didn't seem to be all that useful to them, although Andrew had plans to build a prestige building later. By using the stables to go first, I was able to put a worker on the lawyer in the last couple of rounds, but both times I was forced to make a choice of either using the lawyer or building in the castle, and both times thought it was better to build in the castle in the end. Those wasted workers cost me big-time, and I surprised myself with how bad at planning I can be.
In the last round, before we understood that it would be the last round, Rebecca finally laid the architect tile. Andrew had his eye on the most valuable prestige building right from the start (the cathedral) and used the gold mine and stone-producing buildings enough so that he actually had enough to build it - if the game had only gone one more round. With five spots remaining in the towers section of the castle, I placed two houses, Cameron placed two more, and Lisa filled the last spot. Rebecca also had a worker waiting in the castle, but there was no room left for her. We had all been watching the movement of the bailiff and hadn't noticed how fast the castle was filling up.
For most of the game, the provost was well ahead of the bailiff by the end of each round. We were usually strapped enough for cash that moving the provost back would hurt the one moving it more than help - except for one time where Cameron and I collaborated to keep buildings Rebecca's and Lisa's workers were in from being activated. If it weren't for that, I think Lisa would have beaten my score, as we ended up being one point apart.
We never really saw how the gate would be useful - in our five player game, almost all of the buildings were given workers by the end of the worker placement phase, so there would have been few places to put a worker in the special buildings activation phase. The stables were used quite a bit as it only took a couple of rounds to see the benefit of taking one's turn first. The merchants guild was used 2 or 3 times, mainly to keep the provost further down the road than the furthest building on the road that someone had just put a worker on. The inn proved very useful, but only a few of us took advantage of it. Lisa used the trading house for what seemed like at least half of the rounds.
In the end, Cameron's frequent use of the prestige points favor track ended up winning the game for him. I think he was able to use the 5 points bonus three times. During the game, I had thought his use of that favor track to the exclusion of others was somewhat shortsighted, but his short-term strategies ended up being long-term enough as he was 20 points ahead of the nearest competitor. I think the rest of us had plans for overtaking him, but we didn't have enough time to execute them in the end. I especially felt sorry for Andrew being one turn away from a 25-prestige point building. Rebecca seemed to be doing well enough in the first half of the game, but she didn't build in the castle as much as the rest of us, and gained very few favors (she sure had a good attitude about it all though). Andrew's gold in his cache at the end of the game allowed him to jump from last place with Rebecca to the middle of the pack with Lisa and I, and my one gold allowed me to end the game one space ahead of Lisa who had none.
It took only 2 and a half hours to play with 5 first-time players.
When we were done playing, it felt to me like I had just eaten a rich, juicy, thick steak - very satisfying, healthy, and delicious. We all really enjoyed it, and now I can't wait until the next time. I would give this game 10 out of 10 without the slightest hesitation. I can see that it will have a lot of replay value, and it has already passed Euphrates and Tigris and Puerto Rico as my all-time favorite game.
Cameron (orange): 81
James (blue): 61
Lisa (red): 60
Andrew (black): 58
Rebecca (green): 48
Nice report. Your game is like several we’ve played. When the lawyer and architect come out late, the castle-favor player wins.