Monday, January 09, 2006

So, I played Caylus on BSW...

I need to congratulate Ystari Games, the new French publishing house with two games to its name, for allowing online gaming places and to put its red hot title, Caylus, on the web. I think the reasoning is sound - games of this weight are desired by a small niche market, and that's the niche that's got a good chance to trying the game on those sites.

I've had my misgivings about Caylus purely due to its parentage - a game from a first-time designer and a two-game publisher. After disappointing experiences with titles from small publishers and designers with much more experience (F2F and Friedemann Friese's Power Grid, and R&D and Richard Breese's Reef Encounter) I approached Caylus with apprehension. Coupled with massive Boardgamegeek hype, it was destined to be a let down.

So, I played Caylus on BSW.

It was about what I expected it to be based on its lineage and rules reading. My four main gripes about the game follow in reverse order of significance. (Yes, I'm a curmudgeon. ;-) )

1. Caylus is fiddly. The BSW interface emphasizes this by showing the coins and cubes flying around the screen. Combined with the workers, tiles and house-markers, there are a lot of moving parts each and every turn. If the game was better, though, I could live with this (see Puerto Rico).

2. Caylus is long and slow. Before the the only BSW game I've played that took longer than 60 minutes was a game of Intrige. (Oh, that was painful.) Even the longish Power Grid never took 90 minutes, which Caylus did. This was with everyone taking turns briskly, with little or no downtime. I can imagine how long it will take with just one slow, deliberate player, the need to administer the game (see #1), and the need to consult the rules periodically. Again, I can live with this - Die Macher is even longer but I don't feel the time fly by. I felt Caylus being to drag after 60 minutes... online.

3. Caylus is underdeveloped. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the clean lines of the Knizia and Kramer titles, and by the development that HiG and alea put into their games. The little stock segment of Reef Encounter bothers me as an extraneous mechanism, as does the player-changing and power plant-manipulating mechanisms of Power Grid. I get the same grating feeling from the Bridge/Stable mechanism of Caylus, as well as the ill-fitting majority subgame in the Castle and the favor track. Finally, the multiple currencies (masquerading as "goods") are an element that I rarely like in a game. This is perhaps the thing that most says "needs additional development" because playing the game to collect various currencies then buying stuff with those currency "sets" is tremendously unappealing to me. This, I find very hard to play through.

4. Caylus is processional, a game on rails. Just as Power Grid uses its clunky "stepping" mechanism to control the game's throttle, so does Caylus rely on the three castle segments and the carpenter-mason-lawyer-architect sequence to control game flow. A player cannot decide to start the game off building prestige buildings straightaway, oh no, because you need to build the mason, then the lawyer, which needs to create a residence before you can make that monument. Oh, and you need gold (aka most scarce currency #6) which isn't available until the mid to late game due to similar constraints. This I find hardest to play through as it gives that good ol' cliched "the game is playing me" feeling. So, do I build something that produces two food and one wood, or two wood and one food? Oooh. That's an interesting decision. Not.

I can see how people can like Caylus. Hell, I still don't get the love for Power Grid (still inexplicably #4 on BGG). Caylus just doesn't have the things that I look for in a good Euro.


Jasen said...

So reverse order of significance means that #1 is most significant or #4 is most significant? What's the order you've used (most-to-least or least-to-most)?

Comments on your gripes:

1. Fiddliness
No arguments here. Lots of moving pieces. Not sure I'd claim that there are more moving parts than PR. Over the course of a Caylus game, you'll be moving more stuff than a game of PR but I get the feeling that there is more or at least an equivalent amount of stuff moving in PR (roles, 5 goods, money, buildings, plantations, VPs) compared to Caylus (5 goods, money, favors, buildings, VPs). Regardless, I agree the game is fiddly.

2. I was involved in the game of Intrige and I agree Rick - it was mindnumbingly painful. I refuse to play Intrige on BSW ever again. The problem with our Intrige game on BSW was that many people were having private chat conversations. This just dragged the game down, as those of us not principally not involved in those conversations, had nothing to do while all of this happened behind our backs. That game took 3 hrs if I recall, and most of that was dead time.

In Caylus, there is not much dead time. Occasionally you'll have to think carefully about a move (like a build or a favor) but most of the time you can think about your options during other peoples turns, and play quickly when it comes back to you. The potential for analysis paralysis is certainly there as in all open information games, I'll concede. But among a tight group, play should be speedy and downtime is really minimal. Administering the game is quick and the need to look up rules should be minimal after 3-4 plays - no worse (I'd say better) than a game of PR.

Now having said that, I have heard sveral people say that it's too long for what it is. Quite possible and I can't deny you that opinion as it's likely valid. However, I very much enjoy it, perhaps in spite of its length.

3. Underdevelopped eh? I don't see this personally: the game seems balanced to me, it works, it has some degree of innovation (stable, provost). It doesn't fit the typical Eurogame model of being extremly streamlined but I don't think that makes it inherently "bad" or "underdevelopped" as you put it. I think this is really about the "multiple goods for rewards" mechanic that you dislike. If you dislike the mechanic, how could further development make it any better? Removing the goods in the game would make it an entirely different game, not a "properly developped" game. I like Caylus for its pieces and the sum of its pieces. I'd say you dislike Caylus for some of its pieces more so than how the pieces are put together.

4. Processional design... Some of the comments above also apply to this gripe. I think most games are in fact processional. You can't build the factory or the guild hall in PR on your 1st turn. You can't produce coffee in PR until you build a coffee roaster and a coffee plantation and that'll likely take you a couple turns. You can't build up to floor 4 in Torres until you have a base of 4. You can't successfully go for the 12 colony in Goa until late in the game. Does this make these games flawed as well?

So I can see where you're coming from, especially for #1 and #2. Those are my most significant concerns with the game right now. Arguments #3 and #4, may require further elaboration to clarify your position.

ekted said...

Rick was too gracious to say, but in the game he mentioned (his first) he beat me (a seasoned veteran with 3 games under my belt). :)