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Thinking Out Loud

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Caylus >> First Impressions & Observations

Played my first game and a half of Caylus last night (2nd game stopped due to player illness). I deliberately kept from reading ANY of the hype -- no articles, reviews, session reports or even GeekList comments about the game. I didn't want the fervent hype to completely overwhelm me and create a situation where a game couldn't possibly live up to my expectations (such as War of the Ring, which I feel is, at best, a mediocre game, made worse by my unbridled enthusiasm to try it, only to be sorely crushed at how mundane the game itself was).

I ended up really enjoying my first game, and we talked about it quite a bit afterward, spurring us to start up a second game. But oddly enough, I failed to use any of the knowledge gained from our first game in the second, and made serious strategic blunders in each of the first four turns, firmly cementing myself a good 20 points behind the leaders once the Tower was scored. Thankfully the game was called, as it was wholly embarrassing to make such terribly (and obviously) poor moves.

One thing that came up in discussion after our game is that we felt the game may eventually start to feel like Goa... The first few games of Goa were amazing, then each one after that slightly less so, as a sort of "been there, done that" feeling emerged. Eventually, the experience began to follow roughly the same course from game to game.

Since everything is essentially available from the get-go in Caylus, I can't help but wonder (and it's purely speculation at this point) if this game will eventually have Puerto Rico/Goa-esque opening moves and strategies, to the point that a good portion of the opening sequences feel scripted, and the only reason to stray from a pre-ordained plan is the unforeseen moves by your opponents.

Certainly some actions and buildings are better than others, and the value of actions varies based on player goals and strategies, but there's something I can't quite put my finger on that makes me think Caylus may end up following suit and eventually stop feeling like I'm playing the game, but rather the game is playing itself, with me as the observer. Fortunately, I think that will be a good, long time down the road.

Oh, my biggest beef with the game is currently the length. Our first game, a three player game, took 3.5 hours, which is incredibly long given the "game experience yield" that we took away from it. It was a rewarding game the first time, but if we can't shave at least an hour off the game with familiarity, I don't know how often I'd be up for playing it... For the take away experience, it "feels" like it should wrap up in about 2 hours.

So after pondering it a bit, and finally breaking down and looking at some comments and reviews, I've formed my own rating so far... My BGG Comment:

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I can see why this game is so well received, and while I've enjoyed the games so far, I'm not completely sold on the game. I love the build-as-you-go path of actions, and there are a lot of options available to the players. The value of the actions also seems to vary quite a bit depending on how far into the game you are.

The biggest downside is that the turns get excessively long the further into the game you are -- more tiles and options open up, dragging the game to a slow grind as more and more calculations are required. The brisk pace at the beginning is soon replaced by a plodding finale.

Also, the game can get especially nasty, as players get targeted and hurt by actions meant to target the leader. The bridge/vizier/whatever-his-name-is movement (any actions after that counter are not taken) can be especially vicious... If someone wants to target the leader and the current last place person happens to be in the way, that last place person suffers even more. In fact, someone who feels "out" of the game early can heavily influence the game simply by jockeying that token around and threatening to play the kingmaker -- an element so easily abusable that it must certainly be intentional, which seems odd.

The game features many excellent strategic options and sports some very interesting and game elements. With more play, and better skills to evaluate the worth of buildings and actions, I could see this becoming an 8 or so... Still, Puerto Rico and Aladdin's Dragons provide some of the same experience, but in half the time or less.

Current Rating: 7/10

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