Review: Caylus

Caylus review

Worker placement games have been around for a while now. They are very popular and with good reason, it’s fun, easy to learn and can be quite clever. Caylus, while not the first worker placement game it’s the one that put worker placement games on the map.

First published in 2005 Caylus is certainly nothing new. I think that it’s stood the test of time though. While there are lots of worker placement games that bring new things to the table Caylus still plays great.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the box

Specs on the box:

  • 2-5 players
  • Ages 12+
  • 60-150 minutes

Opening the box you’re greeted by lots and lots of coloured wooden cubes. These days resource cubed have been replaced by more visually appealing wooden/plastic 3D /2D representations of the resource that it is supposed to be. While it does kind of feel nostalgic, it does not detract from the game at all.

There is a stack of cardboard chits that represent different buildings that will be built on the board. Each player has a set of wooden cylinders that would be meeples in more modern games as well as a set of tokens for marking progress on various tracks on the board.

There is also a bunch of chits for money and 2 white wooden cylinders. A thin tall one representing the Bailiff, who is the games clock and a short, fatter one that is the Provost, you will either love him or outright hate him.

I’m not a big fan of the rule book. It’s not a difficult read, it’s just got a small font and some of the buildings are referred to by name but not all of them have a picture available so you need to figure them out. Not a train smash just annoying at first.

I actually forgot about taking an insert pic. It’s really just bags and bags of tokens.

Theme

The king is building his castle. You, as an architect, naturally want to assist and to get recognition for your efforts. You will help to build various buildings in the nearby village and then use these buildings to aid you and your workers to help in the building of the castle.

Caylus review
The Bailiff (tall) and the Provost (short) you will get to know them well. Behind them is the Passing Bridge another interesting mechanic.

It’s not that simple though. The Provost will do his rounds each turn visiting all the new buildings and determining which ones are available to be used each turn. He choice is greatly influenced by how heavy the other players make his pockets…

Gameplay

To setup the game you lay out the board and everyone grabs a set of coloured player pieces. Then each player adds 1 of their tokens to the score track, the turn order track and 1 to each of the favour tracks. Finally everyone places a token on the Passing Bridge and grabs their starting cash.

The pink starting buildings are shuffled and placed in a random order on the starting positions. The Provost and the Bailiff are placed in their starting positions.

From there the game starts with each player earning income for the round and then moving on to the typical worker placement mechanism of placing a worker on an action space. There are a few permanent action spaces on the board and then more that are provided by buildings which are built as the game progresses. Unlike most WP games in Caylus you have your pay your workers before they do the work, so it costs you 1 Denier (the currency) to send them to work. On top of that, they don’t perform the action straight away.

Caylus review
The board ready to go. You can see the road along which new buildings will be built.

As players pass, they don’t want to or cannot take anymore actions in the turn then move their counter on the passing bridge onto a track just below it. The first person to pass will receive Denier and then the price of sending out workers increases by 1. This price increase occurs every time someone passes so you can find yourself paying 3-5 per working instead of just 1!

Once everyone has passed then the resolution of the actions begins. All of the actions are along a road in the countryside, start at the top and then work your way, in order down the road. This is interesting because your consume actions (constructing building from resources) might occur before the production actions (collecting resources) so you need to plan fairly carefully.

The actions are resolved 1 at a time until you reach the passing bridge. In order of passing (the person that passed their turn 1st goes 1st ect..) Players have a chance to move the Provost. They first have a chance to negotiate with other players to decide how to move him and then pay 1 Denier per space that they wish to move him. Each player can only move him up to 3 spaces though. His movement is critical to the game play. New buildings are usually added to the end of the line of buildings and as in most games the newer buildings are usually more powerful than the starting ones.

Any buildings that are to the right of the Provost do not resolve this turn. Think about that. You can prevent other players from having their actions resolve AFTER they have paid to place their workers. Sometimes you might have to cut off 1 or more of your actions. Alternatively you can push the Provost past the end of the row to allow all the actions to resolve.

Caylus review
Here the Provost is preventing the last actions from Green and Orange.

Once the passing bridge is resolved then the remainder of the actions are resolved 1 at a time until you reach the Provost. The actions usually allow for gaining money or resources or construction. New buildings provide you will victory points and additional actions in the following turns.  Any buildings that you construct, you own. If another player uses your building you get a VP. Your own buildings also only cost you 1 Denier to use, regardless of how many players have passed this round. On top of that you can demolish your own buildings to build hotels and monuments which grant you additional income and other benefits like VP and the king’s favour.

Then finally any player that sent workers to work in the castle gets to contribute to the castle construction. It costs 3 resources per contribution but that will gain you precious victory points. The person that contributes the most in any round will also gain some of the king’s favour.

Favour can move you up long the favour tracks. These provide you with 1 shot bonuses each time you advance. You could gain free resources, or building actions as well as VP’s and money. The other way to gain fame is to attend the jousting tournaments; it’s an action on the board. Don’t discount it, it’s very handy.

Then the Bailiff moves, if the Provost is ahead of him, he will move 2 spaces. Otherwise he will only move 1 space along the road. At certain points in the road he will declare the end to construction of 1 of the parts of the castle and a scoring phase occurs.  Everyone will see how much they have contributed to building that part of the castle and either gain some favour or lose VP!

Caylus review
This round only Orange will be adding to the castle.

After the Bailiff is done, the Provost is moved to his space to report on progress.

When the Bailiff reaches the 3rd scoring marker the game ends. The player with the most VP wins.

Conclusion

I can only attempt to describe the depth that this game has. There’s quite a bit to think about each turn. The order in which the actions will resolve will go towards planning what you will be doing in future turns.

Each part of the castle has a limited number of spaces that you can contribute towards building so how and when to do that will be a key to scoring extra VP’s. Do you get the #1 spot to contribute first, but then you will forgo on getting the best actions available.

What about the buildings? Do you build a lot instead so that the other players can give you points? What about scrapping buildings to get extra income so you can take more actions after people pass? What about passing early so you can try to bankrupt people?

There’s just so much to think about, it’s fantastic. Every game will be very different from each other. Sure the mechanics are the same but the board layout changes, a lot which impacts how the game will unfold.

Then there’s the Provost. He’s a b@stard. If you don’t like games with negotiations and conflict then you must give this a skip. He can be mean, very mean, but that’s dependent on your group. If everyone plays nice and move him forward all the time then the game will end quicker. For me using him to impact other players actions (and sometimes your own) adds a certain richness and interaction that’s usually lacking in more euro games.

Caylus review
4 Dfferent types of buildings. 1 Lets you build grey buildings, another grants grey and blue resources (stone and silk) while the other 2 grant money and favour. All give you victory points.

I really enjoy this game and think that it can still slug it out with the new kids on the block.

Can I play this at a braai?

You can, just make sure that the table is near the braai so that you can hear the negotiations happening during the Passing Bridge phase! Aside from that most actions are fairly automatic.

Thanks to Boardgames.co.za for the review copy of Caylus

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