We’ve all been keen to try this since I brought it back from Essen, but this was the first chance we’d had to get it to the table. The hype it’s been getting certainly heightened our anticipation and, as a result, we ended up being a little underwhelmed.
Caylus is designed by William Attia and published by Ystari Games. It is all about the construction of a castle in the Middle Ages and the development of a village infrastructure to support that project. Each player controls a number of villagers, who are put to work each turn. Some of them will engage in activities in the growing village outside the castle and some will help build the castle itself. Each village building can be occupied by one villager per turn and grants the occupier a particular action like gathering resources, constructing new buildings, gaining income etc. Several players can help build the castle, which is done in three sections: first the dungeons, then the walls and finally the tower. VPs are gained through building part of the castle or a village building and allowing another player’s villager to use the benefit of a building you have constructed. Once the castle tower has finished being built, whoever has amassed most VPs wins.
The game for five is very tight and competitive. This is quite fierce in the early part as there aren’t very many village buidings available and income to do things is scarce. Turn order is critical to enable you to do what you want and the provost is regularly used to restrict other players’ progress, particularly if you haven’t been able to do very much that turn. Mark K used this to good effect on one turn to cut out three different players’ villagers from activating their buildings. (Nige and I both lost VPs that turn as we couldn’t then build in the castle). We all seemed to be feeling our way for most of the time, unsure of what the best strategy was, and I think we all thought of things we had done wrong by the end. Phil seemed to benefit a lot from the Wood building offering a choice of cloth or two food, and he received several VPs from this. Nige and I concentrated on getting royal favours whenever we could and I think had the game continued, we may have benefitted more on reaching the end of the favour track. However, due to time constraints, we ended the game after the wall scoring, with Phil ahead on the Prestige track. By that time, we had been playing just shy of 3 hours and there would probably have been another hour to go.
I think ratings suffered due to the playing time. I also think we probably missed out on the most interesting part of the game, as we were only just getting to the stage where the prestige buildings became viable. Nobody had, up to then, bought a residential building, and very few stone buildings had been taken. All the wood buildings had gone and we felt that another stone mason would have helped progress the game a bit quicker. We also felt that the three or four player game would be more enjoyable with reduced playing time and better chance of being able to get what you wanted. Five players was just too crowded. All in all, I thought it was a good game, full of interesting things to do and think about. We must try it again soon with fewer players, as I think my rating would be sure to rise once I’d experienced the end-game.