18 June 2020
If it ain't broke, give it a polish
Way back in the dark ages (of board gaming) worker placement didn’t exist. Sure, there were workers but they had nowhere to be. They bumbled about aimlessly on stumpy, rigid legs – usually around the French hilltop town of Carcassonne – or lay hopelessly in fields, leading lives without purpose. But elsewhere in France something was stirring. At the border of English occupied Guyenne, a castle stood in a vulnerable state of disrepair. Master builders called out across the nation for help. Come the year 2005, hoards of eager workers rose from their fields to march upon…Caylus. Worker placement was born.
There may be some discrepancies between that story and fact, but nonetheless, here we are fifteen years later revisiting the grandaddy of worker placement games in the form of Caylus 1303, a refined and modernised descendant of its elder.
French designer William Attia has stepped up to rebuild the foundations of his classic 2005 game, tearing down the bloated and unnecessary details and replacing them with slick new features. Despite the makeover, fans of the original will be pleased to find that the core gameplay remains the same, with players competing to score the most points by delivering resources to the castle and constructing buildings. Each new building constructed along the winding road to the castle opens up a new worker placement spot, broadening the players’ options as the game progresses.
Aside from the updated art direction, one of the most notable changes from the original is the streamlining of currency. Money is no longer included as a resource in the game, with players now surrendering precious extra workers to pay for particular actions. This exercise in efficiency not only quickens the pace of each round but also introduces some new, interesting resource management decisions.
Also new is the introduction of characters. These new faces offer powerful bonuses such as extra victory points when constructing buildings or additional workers every round. Aside from giving players a sense of strategic direction, Caylus 1303 also uses characters as a means of player interaction. Snatching up The Chamberlain character might offer some flexibility when providing goods to the castle, but like it or not, it has also painted a target on your head.
You see, despite its serene Euro stylings, Caylus 1303 is not a kind game; characters can be swiped from your hands quite easily, leaving you seething for revenge. Fortunately revenge is never too far away. Each turn, players will have the option of moving the universally maligned Provost meeple. This meddlesome crook trots up and down the road, blocking any actions that lay between him and the castle, regardless of whether a worker has been placed there or not. This mechanic prevents Caylus 1303 from becoming a multiplayer solitaire game.
At lower player counts it is possible to enjoy the game without resorting to dirty tactics. Enjoyment can come from simply watching the town grow and flourish upon the board, helped by the improved chunky building tiles and hoards of miniature meeples. The original game’s resources have also received an upgrade, evolving from measly cubes to more thematic, shapely forms – although I can only describe the food tokens as looking distinctly testicular.
With such influential heritage and renown casting its shadow over the game, one might expect Caylus 1303 to reinvent the worker placement genre. But thankfully it hasn’t.
I look forward to Caylus 2303.
Words by Chad Wilkinson
PLAY IT? Yes
Modern titles in the worker placement genre might be flashier and more original but they cannot contend with Caylus 1303’s hark back to more brutally competitive times. Its bullyish nature might not appeal to everyone, but for those who fancy a scrap in the deceptively pastoral French countryside, it’s a treat.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED… Caylus
It might seem obvious but for fans of the long out of print 2005 original, this is a no-brainer.
Designer: William Attia
Artist: Andrew Bosley
Time: 60-90 minutes
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
- 1 Game board
- 90 Wooden resources
- 34 Building tiles
- 12 Character tiles
- 75 Worker meeples
- 50 Houses
- 1 Provost meeple
- 1 Round Marker token
- 1 First Player tile
- 120 Prestige Point tokens
This review originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products