Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Ystari Games/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 12 and up, about 60-150 minutes; $49.95)


The French company, Ystari Games, has only been around a short time. Still, it created quite a stir with its initial release, Ys (Winter 2005 GA REPORT), an impressive game of partially hidden knowledge and influence. Beginner’s luck? Apparently not as Caylus, the second release from this company, has qualities of a classic gamer’s game.

Caylus, designed by William Attia, comes bookshelf boxed with a host of components: building tiles, wooden houses, wooden cubes, wooden disks (timber-r-r-r-), plastic coins and a large board.caylus

The board depicts the village of Caylus, the site of a new castle for the King. There is the designated castle area, the road through the village dotted with buildings, and open spaces available for more construction. As the game progresses, Caylus transforms from village to town as players assume the roles of master builders to win the King’s favor by completing the castle and amassing large quantities of Prestige Points.

Each player chooses his own set of colored pieces. The round pieces mark turn order, various “favors” won and track scores. Cylinders represent workers to be placed on the board in the hope of gathering resources or building the castle. Houses identify structures built by a particular player.

The main building tiles of the game are separated into types – wood (brown), stone (gray), prestige (blue) and residential (green) – and stacked by the board for all to see and reference. The six pink building tiles are mixed and randomly placed on the six “neutral” spaces designated on the board, next to two “permanent” buildings which are always present and in play.

Player markers are randomly mixed and placed on the turn order track. The player going first receives 5 derniers (the currency of the game). Players in the second and third positions receive 6 derniers. Fourth and five position players begin with 7. Colored cubes represent the various resources of the game (food, wood, stone, cloth and gold). Each player gets one wood and two food cubes. Remaining cubes are separated to create a stock. Finally, two white pieces, called the “bailiff” and the “provost”, begin on the last neutral space on the board.

Each turn, players collect 2 derniers from the bank (plus additional funds for special buildings they may have constructed). Now, in turn order, players place a worker at the castle site or on a building with the following restrictions: there may NOT be more than one worker on a building (EXCEPT for the castle, stable and inn), may NOT occupy a blue or green building (but these types won’t appear until much later in the game) or occupy an un-built space.

Placement costs money. Initially, each placement costs 1 dernier. Of course, a player may always decide to save money and pass. As players pass, one of their markers is placed on the “bridge” that links the first group of permanent buildings with the pink “neutral” buildings. The first player to pass receives 1 dernier as compensation but passing causes costs for active players to rise, +1 dernier for each passing player. So, when one player passes, worker placement now costs 2 derniers. When the second player passes, the cost rises to 3 and so on. Once all players finally pass, it’s time to “activate” buildings.caylusbrd

All buildings have special “powers”. Occupied buildings are activated in order starting from the beginning of the path. (Should you place a worker on a building built by someone else, your opponent will get 1 Prestige Point as a bonus.) Specific buildings allow you to do certain things such as moving a worker from his space to any other vacant area, gaining extra derniers, enabling you to move the provost 1 to 3 spaces (which can be very important as will be seen), purchase a “favor” from the king and more. Of interest to multiple players is the stable (where turn order for the next round changes based on which players are occupying the first, second and third spaces there) and the inn (a space open for two workers where the player in control there need only pay 1 dernier to place a worker no matter how many players have passed). And now we come to the bridge.

As mentioned, the bridge is where players who pass place their markers. Now, in that passing order, players may move the provost 1 to 3 spaces forward or backward on the road at the cost of 1 dernier per space. This can be a critical decision since buildings can only be activated if they are behind or equal to where the provost stands! Buildings ahead of the provost’s position CANNOT be activated! Activation continues past the bridge, in order, up to the provost.

Some buildings yield resources to the player occupying the structure. (Sometimes, the owner of the building will also reap a reward.) Resource cubes earned are drawn from the stock. Once each building has used its “power”, the player takes his worker back, ready for future placement on a following turn. Construction buildings allow you to use your resources to build and place new structures on the board. Still other buildings allow neutral buildings to be transformed into residential buildings you control while others act as “exchanges” – trading resources for money or money for Prestige Points and so on. Once all buildings able to be activated have been activated, attention turns towards the castle.

The castle is divided into three parts: the dungeons, the walls and the tower. Players with workers at the castle may now build there. All players may only build in one section at a time. (Only when a section is completed is the next opened up for building). Building is done in “batches”. A batch consists of three different cubes, one of which, must be a food cube. Each batch “build” is tracked by placing one of your houses in that castle section. If you commit a worker to the castle and are unable to build (e.g. needed resources expected from buildings did not materialize), you LOSE 2 Prestige Points. Otherwise, Prestige Points are earned and, if you have placed the most houses once a section is completed, you are rewarded with a favor from the King.

Players earn King’s favors through castle building and construction of certain buildings. Favors won are charted on the “favors” chart on the board. Such favors can result in additional Prestige Points, money, resource cubes and exclusive use of some buildings. All of these are beneficial. Meanwhile, the bailiff is constantly on the move, traveling down the road (away from the castle) with the provost keeping up. And then, the next turn starts.

The game ends when the third section of the Castle (the Tower) is scored or the bailiff has reached the end of the road. In addition to Prestige Points already earned, players get 3 points per gold cube in their possession, 1 point per 3 non-gold cubes they have left and 1 point for each set of 4 deniers they have on hand. At that point, the player with the most Prestige Points wins!

Caylus presents players with plenty to ponder. Take money, for example. You never seem to have enough of it so knowing when to spend and when to bow out gracefully is an important consideration. The power of buildings offers a perspective not generally present in other games. Here, buildings are NOT exclusive! Other players may use and benefit from your building – but it’s all good. Choosing what to build and which buildings to use can affect more than one player. The owner of the building receives 1 Prestige Point each time someone else uses it. One point may not seem like much but they can really add up.

The multiplicity of viable paths to victory make Caylus engaging and engrossing. Winning favors can tip the balance in your favor. But so can residential construction and those powerful prestige buildings. Even strong production in gold can snatch victory for a player. Interactivity between players is high since an opponent’s actions can intimately affect YOUR plans, forcing you to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate your strategy. One of the game’s strengths is that it ALLOWS you to shift your approach during the game and still keep victory in reach, an uncommon and welcome design touch. But this strength can be its Achilles Heel. Although the Ystari box lists an hour to 2½ hours time frame, analysis paralysis is a real danger. If you are unlucky enough to have one or two “over-analyzer” types at your table, you’ll start to experience the law of “diminishing returns” as the effort expended will yield less enjoyment than expected. In short, add 30 minutes per analyzer to your game time.

While the box artwork is functional, capturing the theme of building, it is hardly eye-catching or awe-inspiring. (The builder actually has his back to you!) And will someone please explain why the type in the rules book has to be so small? The writing looks like chicken scratches! Since the buildings are of critical importance, a player aid neatly detailing what the buildings are, what they do, what they cost and what are the benefits (if any) of ownership would seem an obvious inclusion which is not present. (Fortunately, the gaming community has, once again, filled the gap. This information can be had and downloaded at BoardGameGeek (

A variety of factors that demand tough decisions coupled with a number of equally valid and balanced paths to victory make Caylus a game of remarkable texture. None of the game mechanisms found here are difficult. Yet their carefully balanced and interwoven nature results in a formidable game. Recommended. – – Herb Levy


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