Shannon A. (shannon_a) wrote,
Shannon A.
shannon_a

Caylus: A First Impression

I played Caylus for the first time last night. I purchased it last week with the very-last-honest-to-god of my recent eBay sales money, and I wanted to get in a play before the year end. I was not disappointed, though it was the only game I got to play.

Caylus has been paraded as the next big thing, the clear successor to Puerto Rico. It's underlying game design does allow for a certain richness. You mix strategic decisions (which buildings do I build? do I grab a short term gain at the cost of not having on-board presence later?) with brinkmanship (do I use put people in buildings that could become useless? do I take a chance that someone else will man a building I want to use?) with a ton of tactics.

And I do mean a ton of tactics. I was actually somewhat disappointed with how tactical the game felt. I like tactical games, usually a lot, but this game really felt to be like it was intended to be strategic, and at least on a first play, it wasn't. The main issue is that that your on-board, continued presence isn't that meaningful. Sure, you have buildings on the board, and they give you some advantages (VPs if other people use them, cheap cost if you use them late in a turn), but those advantages don't amount to a lot. Basically, if you build a less useful building you're going to get some VPs, but that's just payback for a lower VP earning when you built it, and thus you'll rarely get to take advantage of the reduced cost for the building. Conversely if you build a less useful building you may get to use it on the cheap, but not want to. Don't get me wrong, your buildings that you build do matter, but not nearly as much as you'd think.

A lot of the other potentially strategic stuff, like the goods you have and the buildings you've built in the castle, is purely transitory. It'll matter for a little bit, but in a turn, or in several turns, that'll go away. The one thing that did feel truly strategic was how you advanced on the favor tracks. The player who came in second smoked me through an entirely clever use of the goods and building tracks right at the end of the game, which let him drop out two prestige buildings in an unexpected (to newbie me) manner.

The other strike that Caylus has against it is time. Our 3-player, fast-paced game took a bit over two hours. Five player games will probably run 1-2 hours more than that. The downtime is pretty low and so, as with Railroad Tycoon, this is in no way a gamebreaker, but it still is going to prevent this game from coming out at most game nights, because I'm not convinced that it could regularly be better than 2 games of Puerto Rico or 2-4 games of Tigris & Euphrates

Overall assessment of one game: I like it, especially when compared to other indie games. They're often fatally flawed, but this one isn't. Nonetheless I think outside development could have raised this up to being a truly superior game. I'm going to play it again and I'm eager to see if I can push for a more strategic basis rather than going where the tactical winds blow. But I'm unconvinced.
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