Monday, June 25, 2007

Review: Caylus vs. Puerto Rico


After all of the hype and the anticipation for the first printing of Caylus, we now find ourselves on the other side of the second major printing for the game, it's on BSW now, and it currently resides at the number 4 spot in the overall BGG rankings.

This review is not designed to be a thorough explanation of all of the game mechanics. Instead, it is intended purely to provide a comparison between it and the current #1 game on BGG: Puerto Rico.

In addressing this comparison, I do so mainly from the standpoint of "balance" in the game play/design for both games. I love Puerto Rico (and this is by no means and anti-Puerto Rico review), but I find Caylus to be a more balanced game and I do so for the following reasons:

The Effects of Seating Order

In Puerto Rico, the determined seating order remains a static influence on the game's strategy throughout the course of the game. Though this is true for any game where turn order remains consistent throughout, with Puerto Rico the choices of the players to your immediate right and immediate left have a profound impact on your capacity to compete. The person to your immediate right, if they decide to produce the same cash crop as you, can severely hurt you throughout the course of the game. The seating order then becomes an advantage in their favor that does not change (i.e. there are no situations where you would find yourself able to sit "to the right" of that player later on in the game). With Caylus, because seating order is something that can be directly competed for, the potential for a static advantage built in to the game's mechanic is removed.


With Puerto Rico, as often happens, there can be some consistent pseudo "alliances" that occur during the course of the game (i.e. you find yourself as a builder competing against an unspoken "alliance" of two shippers). The overall "alliances" created in such scenarios are not necessarily going to change as the role choices of shippers will tend to help each other. With Caylus, because what is important to you as a resource on one turn may not be important to you on the next and because of the continuing movement of the Baliff, player A may find himself working with player B on one turn to move the Provost such that both secure crucial resources and, on the very next round, that same player A may be working with player C to completely hose player B. Though Puerto Rico can present opportunities where you are hurting one player one turn and hurting another player the next, it isn't as dynamic as it can be in Caylus. This, in my opinion, offers more flavor and variety in the game play.


Barring seemingly random moves made by newbie players, there are four random aspects in Puerto Rico:

1. Seating order at the beginning
2. Who the Governor is on the first turn
3. The plantations that come up in the plantation draws
4. Potential plantations acquired through use of blind draws via an active Hacienda

The randomness of the plantation draws can result in some pretty drastic consequences for certain players (i.e. being denied a cash crop plantation for a signficant length of time). Also, because plantation draws continue to factor into the game for a significant length of time (potentially determining which crops specific players go for in their production), there is the potential for randomness to present a greater obstacle for one player as opposed to another for a longer period of time. This also holds true if the randomness of the blind draws made by an active Hacienda owner turn out to not be very helpful at all.

Again, barring random newbie moves, there are only two random aspects of Caylus:

1. Seating order in the first round
2. The order of the pink buildings at the beginning.

After that, it's purely what the players choose. There are no other elements that serve to continually introduce randomness into the game after the initial setup.

Kingmaking potential

Because of the role taking mechanic of Puerto Rico, one wrong role choice taken by a newer player can completely "give" the game to another player due to a sequential advantage (i.e. Crafting at the wrong time). In Caylus, though newbies can make mistakes that help other players, the potential for such drastic, inadvertant kingmaking isn't there to the same degree. Also, because the turn order sequence can change, a newbie isn't necessarily going to help the person who happens to be sitting at the table to their right or left consistently throughout the game. Don't get me wrong, there are opportunities for kingmaking in Caylus but they aren't as drastic or consistently available like they are in Puerto Rico.

Other Minor Observations:

Both games offer lots of options. With Caylus, you have a progressively larger number of buildings to choose from regarding where you can place your workers. With Puerto Rico, you can obtain more and more buildings for your city, thus giving you more options/priviliges within the different role phases of the game.

Both games also include a "multiple paths to victory" element. In Puerto Rico, there is shipping and building. With Caylus, there is working on the road or on the castle. With Puerto Rico, you usually have to pick one area (i.e. shipping or building) and focus on it above the other. With Caylus, you can either focus exclusively on the castle, exclusively on the road, or you can do reasonably well in both aspects of the game via favors.

One area in which Puerto Rico has a slight advantage over Caylus is in the overall length of the game as Puerto Rico, from my experience, tends to be shorter. However, the flip side is that, if you are playing a face-to-face game, Puerto Rico can take a longer time to set up.

Caylus seems to present a better atmosphere for learning when compared to Puerto Rico as the sequential role taking choices can have much more drastic consequences when compared to the turn by turn individual placing of workers that takes place in Caylus. In other words, it's much more likely that a mixture of experienced and newbie players in Caylus will not result in the more experienced players getting frustrated with the choices of the newbies as can happen with the choices made in the role selections of Puerto Rico.

Finally, I've found that, because of the shifting alliances aspect of Caylus, it's actually possible for a player to rally back from an early "mistake" whereas, with Puerto Rico, one early mistake seems to carry much more drastic consequences.


The points I've made here in this review are mainly intended to illustrate how, in my opinion, Caylus is a more balanced game than Puerto Rico. However, both Puerto Rico and Caylus are great games and both are fun to play.


Matt said...

Great review. I played my first game of Caylus last week, and liked it a lot. I think it is very comparable to Puerto Rico in its depth of strategy.

Mike Compton said...

I agree. However, Caylus is a little easier to teach as the functions of the various buildings are depicted graphically. Puerto Rico's buildings, on the other hand, are text based and allow privileges - the understanding of which depends on preexisting familiarity with the basic rules of the game.