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Author: William Attia

Ystari Games 2005

Awards: none



G@mebox author Doug Adams writes about the game

Caylus is a village in France, not too far from Carcassonne. It's also the title of the game that was the talk of Messe Essen, 2005. The game is themed on the village of Caylus. Players represent master builders, and each master builder employs a team of workers. The master builders have been commissioned by royalty to construct a castle at Caylus. However, Caylus presently cannot cope with such a request. To build the castle, the village infrastructure has to be developed in order to cope with the influx of labour. The player who best exploits the opportunities presented, and converts them into prestige points, will win the game.

The players set up the game board in the centre of the table. The board depicts the castle construction site, with a winding road leading out of the city gate and across the rest of the playing area. The road is divided into approximately 35 construction locations, where building tiles can be placed. Some of these locations already have their buildings printed, and are fixed for the game, while other locations can be redeveloped by replacing buildings already there.

Players take a set of coloured playing pieces. These consist of wooden houses to signify building ownership, and six workers - hard working chaps who toil all day for you. Players also begin with some denier (money), and a few coloured cubes. The cubes in the game represent food, wood, cloth, stone and gold, these along with deniers, are resources that are acquired, traded, and spent during the game.

Game play in Caylus is quite straightforward. Each turn, players receive their income in cash, deploy their workers, and then resolve the worker's actions.

Income is fixed at two denier per turn, plus a little more if the player owns certain buildings. Money in Caylus is very tight - you never seem to have enough, and always want more.

After collecting income, the players in turn order send one of their workers out into the village. Workers are placed on building locations along the road, typically one worker per location. The buildings in Caylus each have a specific function, which the workers exploit for their masters. The buildings are broadly divided into:

  • resource buildings (workers collect denier or resource cubes)
  • construction buildings (workers build further buildings)
  • trade buildings (workers exchange resources for other resources)

Workers that are employed during the turn have to be paid their salary, which places a constant strain on a player's finances. If you send workers out to your own buildings, it's relatively inexpensive. However, sending workers to work in another player's building means higher salaries, and the payment of a prestige point to the owner of that building.

Once all the players have passed, or placed all their workers, the building locations are resolved. Beginning at the castle and working down the road, any locations that contain a worker are activated. The first six spaces contain special fixed locations that grant players special abilities, such as change the player order, grab a few denier extra, etc. Then the road reaches the bridge...

The bridge records the order in which players dropped out of the worker placement round. This is very important, as it determines the player order for the movement of the Provost. The Provost is a tough character, represented by a wooden cylinder on the board. The position of the Provost determines which workers actually work, and which workers are sent home unemployed. Players get a chance to move the Provost up and down the road, to try and keep their workers employed. The earlier you pass out of worker placement, the less influence you have on the final position of the Provost.

After the Provost has dithered up and down the road, the building locations containing workers continue to be resolved. Cubes are gathered, bought, and sold; prestige points are earned; and new buildings are constructed. When the tile containing the Provost is reached, buildings further on down the road are not resolved - this can be quite nasty, and wreck a carefully planned turn.

Building construction is prestigious, and interesting. At the beginning of the game, only brown "wood" buildings can be constructed via placing a worker on the Carpenter. As the game progresses, the Mason building will be built, allowing grey "stone" buildings to be constructed. One of the stone buildings is the Architect, which allows blue "prestige" buildings to be constructed. However, the prestige buildings can only replace previously buildings, some of which require a lawyer to construct. The hierarchy of building construction is clever, and has a nice tempo during game play. It requires careful worker placement and resource management to get it right.

Several paragraphs ago, construction of a castle was mentioned. At the end of the turn, any workers who were placed on the castle construction site now get a chance to construct a piece of the castle. The castle is divided into three areas - the dungeon is constructed first, followed by the walls and finally the tower. To construct a piece of the castle, a set of three different cubes has to be handed in. There is prestige to be gained for contributing, and prestige to be lost if you haven't contributed when a section is completed. If you were the greatest contributor during this turn, you are granted a royal favour...

At various points during the game, players are granted royal favours - a fancy way of saying "free stuff". Favours are granted for constructing huge chunks of castle, competing in tournaments, building prestige buildings, etc. For each favour received, players slide a marker along one of four favour tracks. When a track is advanced, the player receives one of the benefits on that track, which can be prestige, denier, resource cubes, or the ability to construct a building. Royal favours are very nice, and can lead to some power plays late in the game, especially via the construction of a prestige building.

The game ends on the turn during which either the castle was completed, or the Bailiff moves off the end of the road. I haven't talked about the Bailiff, a pawn who is essentially a game "clock" that advances down the road by one or two spaces per turn. Player's cash in unspent resources for final prestige points, and the highest prestige wins the game.

Caylus is a game with very little luck. This is due to the fact that there is no hidden information. To do well in the game you have to watch your opponents very carefully, try to anticipate their worker placements, and react if they adversely impact your plans for the turn. You also have to be very careful planning your worker placement along the road - if you plan to construct a building that requires cloth, there is not much point trying to build it before you obtain the cloth! In short, there is a lot to think about here.

Caylus is a very good game, and I can see why it has become so popular so quickly. It seems to hit that sweet spot of rich theme, intuitive mechanics, and engrossing game play. The components are very good, especially the game board which clearly presents all the information via language neutral symbols.

The only concern I have with Caylus is the game length, which seems to be around 40 minutes per player. Two player games rattle by in 75 minutes, while a five-player game will be close to 3 hours. The four and five player games tend to be a mixture of long-term planning combined with short-term opportunism, as the players are continually getting in each other's way via the worker placement. Two and three player games feel more rewarding to me, as the denier and cubes are more abundant, and turn goals can be accomplished.

I strongly recommend you consider Caylus, especially if you enjoy games with little luck, and plenty to think about. It is not a difficult game to learn to play. However, if the two-hour plus playing time is a concern, perhaps look elsewhere.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany