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CAYLUS MAGNA CARTA

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Ystari Games/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 45-75 minutes; $29.95)

 

Over the last few years, game designers who have managed to come up with a successful and challenging gamer’s game have challenged themselves to come up with a slimmed down version of it without sacrificing the essence of the original. Andreas Seyfarth followed up his Puerto Rico (Spring 2002 GA REPORT) with San Juan (Spring 2004 GA REPORT) while Reiner Knizia scaled down both his Euphrat & Tigris (Spring 1998 GA REPORT) and Medici (Fall 1998 GA REPORT) with Euphrat & Tigris: Contest of Kings (Spring 2006 GA REPORT) and Medici vs. Strozzi (Winter 2007 GA REPORT). The trend continues. This time, game designer William Attia cuts Caylus (Winter 2006 GA REPORT) down to size with his new game, Caylus Magna Carta.

While the basic game play has been retained, in Caylus Magna Carta the entire process has been streamlined to reduce playing time by narrowing the focus. For those unfamiliar with Caylus, a brief read of our review would be helpful as we concentrate on some of the key differences between this game and its older sibling.caylusmagnabox

First of all, there is no board. Caylus Magna Carta could actually be named Caylus: The Card Game. Here cards played create the path players follow to obtain necessary resources to construct buildings and the all-important castle.

The 63 card deck consists of 4 sets of 12 cards (one set per player, in green, red, orange and blue), 5 cards representing “neutral” buildings (pink), 7 prestige buildings (blue), a first player card, a bridge card and a castle card. The pink “Peddler” card along with 1, 2 or 3 randomly selected pink cards (depending on the number of players) serve as the start of the “road” of the kingdom, thus replacing the standard “neutral buildings” found on the Caylus board. (Excess pink cards are removed from play.) The provost token begins on the Peddler card. Each player shuffles his set of cards to form a personal draw pile from which each player draws three cards. Along with the 4 matching pawns (his workers), each player begins with some initial resources: 2 food cubes, 2 wood cubes and, unlike the original, all players begin with 4 derniers (the currency of the game).

The game procedure of Caylus Magna Carta closely follows the play of Caylus. In the first phase, all players collect 2 derniers from the bank. The second phase, allows a player to choose an action from a familiar Caylus menu:

A player may:
1. Draw another card from his draw pile (at the cost of 1 dernier)
2. Replace ALL cards in his hand (at the cost of 1 dernier)
3. Place a worker on a building card along the road (also at a cost of 1 dernier)
4. Construct a building from his hand by paying the required resources and adding the new building (card) to the end of the road. (He may opt to construct a prestige building provided he has already built a residential building.)
5. Or simply pass. Upon passing, that player places his marker on the bridge card indicating that he is done for this turn. (The first player to pass receives 1 dernier as compensation.)

Phase 3 allows players, in the order that they passed, to affect the provost’s move. That token may be moved backwards or forwards from 1 to 3 cards (at the cost of 1 dernier per card). Phase 4 is where players reap benefits from activated buildings and this is where the Provost’s position becomes extremely important, important because, as in the original, the effects of the buildings only happen IF the Provost is on or has passed that particular building.

Buildings generate resources when activated both for the player activating them and for the player who had built and owns the card. These resources, in turn, are used to construct more buildings, including those big Prestige buildings as well as the resources necessary to build the Castle. Buildings generate resources to both the player who constructed the building and the person placing a worker there to activate it. However, in this game, some of these buildings provide limited return for their owners; on some cards, once a specified number of resources have been collected by their builder, there is no further bonus. Also, since to build a Prestige building, you need to reduce the PP value of a previously constructed building, it’s a good idea, if you plan to use Prestige buildings as a main source of PP, you do it as soon as you can, BEFORE time runs out.

One of the significant differences here is the absence of a King’s Favors table. Here, emphasis shifts to the castle and Prestige building construction. As in the original, the castle is built in three sections (dungeon, walls and tower) and, as in Caylus, castle sections are built by exchanging a set of resources (one wood, food and stone cube) for a castle chit. However, no penalty is incurred for NOT building a castle piece. There are three types of castle chits (worth 4, 3 and 2 Prestige Points respectively) so you are encouraged to build early and often. The Prestige buildings are another source of considerable PP as they generate anywhere from a sizable six to a whopping 14 PP once built.

As turns continue, the provost continues to move along the path, 2 more spaces ahead (provided there ARE 2 cards ahead of it) but in Caylus Magna Carta, there is no bailiff piece to mark the game’s end. Instead, the game ends with the completion of the Castle. When the final chit is claimed, the game is over and Prestige Points tallied.

Each castle chit is worth its total in Prestige Points. Buildings (Prestige buildings or “regular” buildings) generate additional PP. The return on gold is not as great as in the original. Here, each gold cube scores only 1 PP per cube as does ANY group of three other resource cubes. Finally, every 3 derniers in a player’s holdings earns him 1 PP. The player with the most Prestige Points wins the game!

As in the original, there are multiple paths to victory. We’ve seen players win by gathering lots of castle chits, by/ having fewer chits but a key Prestige building or two to offset that deficiency, and by squeezing out a victory by having a few extra gold cubes. Graphically, it would have been nice if it was easier to distinguish the ownership colors on player cards made difficult because 1) background colors tend to obscure the thin ownership “color frame” used on the cards and 2) the same color background is used on the same types of cards belonging to different owners. But this is a minor quibble. The game, in its card form, has maintained its strong appeal.

By paring down a few choices, Caylus Magna Carta manages to successfully retain the character and intricacies of Caylus in a reduced time frame without losing the challenge of resource management and timing which is the essence of the award winning game. Players who wish to immerse themselves in the full experience will still find themselves drawn to Caylus. But for those who like the flavor of the original in a smaller package, Caylus Magna Carta comes up a winner. – — – – – – – – — – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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