I need to congratulate Ystari Games, the new French publishing house with two games to its name, for allowing online gaming places Brettspielwelt.de and Spielbyweb.com 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.