Monday, January 02, 2006

GameCount 2006 begins with a tough one: Caylus

Today's games played: Caylus (x1). This is a new game for me.

I have 364 games to play and 363 days to play 'em in. Bah, behind already.

I have 51 games to learn and 363 days to learn 'em in. Excellent, ahead already.

Where do I start? Caylus is the hot new designer boardgame. I can see why. It's got considerable depth, lots of replayability, resistance to scripted openings, and is pretty. There's a number of threads devoted to it on Boardgamegeek right now. My favorite is this one, full of non sequiturs. For a few years, Puerto Rico has been #1 over at Boardgamegeek; now many geeks like Caylus better. I have played Puerto Rico upwards of a hundred times, and taught it to no fewer than a dozen people. When the 'geek says a game is great, it's at least good enough to try once.

So when Larry called and said he got Caylus for Christmas, I told him to bring it over.

Lordy. Each player is a bad-ass artisan attempting to get the most prestige by making a really nice castle for Philip the Fair. In actual practice, it means managing money to put your flunkies on little buildings, all in a row. Since the buildings are small, only one flunky can be in each one. After arranging all the flunkies, each building triggers in order. This is all laid out on a sumptuous gameboard and thick cardboard building counters. The money, unfortunately, is slippery little plastic disks suitable for Tiddly-Winks. We shot one under the edge of the board and had to lift it to retrieve the errant coinage.

As there are a huge stack of buildings requiring different combinations of goods, no game includes them all, and no game will see them built in the same order. Blah blah, need for money, commodities, opportunities to build, and victory points must be evaluated endlessly. Very clever, indeed. I can see why the geeks are impressed.

Larry came over and we started right at noon, having just put Alex down for her nap. Larry had only played once himself, and did a great job of teaching Lee and I how to play. Alex then woke up an hour later, instead of the two or three hours we usually get. Given our inexperience, I was figuring we'd finish in about 3 hours. As it developed, it took 6 hours due to frequent Alex breaks. We finally powered through the end, and Larry finished up ahead, probably due to our failure to rein him in on using a couple of certain buildings.

So, what do I think? Well, too soon to tell. Lee and I are arranging another game with Larry in the near future, which is positive.

Since money is constantly expended to place flunkies, there's a certain amount of 'running in place' that players must do. If they fall behind in cash, it's hard to place flunkies to GET cash, either. Victory points come from all over the place, and it's a constant balancing act between generating easy points versus making money, building needed structures, etc. etc. Tough decisions abound.

Caylus also reminds me of Goa, another game with advancement tracks (oh, yeah, Caylus has advancement tracks...) that clocks in at 2.5 to 3.5 hours. At first glance, any option seems as good as any other. It requires a lot of work to figure out what you can do to get ahead. As the tagline from Goa says: "Will you make your ships more efficient? Enhance your plantations? Recruit more colonists?" Aaaargh. Puerto Rico didn't make me work this hard. Caylus has perfect information, so the analysis-paralysis crowd is going to DIE as soon as the opening set-up is randomly determined.

I'm going to make the wild guess that it's an 8 out of 10 for me. It's good, sure. But even counting today's freakish session, I figure we'll get 3-player games trimmed down only to the 2 hour mark. Adding a new player means adding an extra hour or more to their first game. It's long enough that unless you've got all day, there's no way to play a learning game, then play a second. I'll never be able to get my parents or Lee's parents to slog through the explanation, let alone grind through 3+ hours of the first game.

My bottom line: Like Goa, Caylus is too long for me to get to the table regularly, so unless my situation changes, I won't buy it. I'll still try and get in on games when I make it out to the Houston Gamers, though.


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