Caylus [$4.99] is an outstanding game, consistently ranking in Board Game Geek's top 10. It plays like Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth as you take on the role of a master builder tasked with winning the favor of a ruler and building something great. Your world revolves around struggles for resources, money, favor and opportunity. Big Daddy's Creations, the folks behind Neuroshima Hex [$4.99 / Lite], have put together an equally outstanding port - as long as you're prepared to play locally.
It's becoming a bit of a running joke that Big Daddy's Creations puts out great board game ports with shoddy (or no) multiplayer, and Caylus is no exception. You can't play over Game Center, you can't invite friends, and trying to play asynchronously will extend the game length to near-infinite. But if you're down with fighting AI or playing locally against friends, this is a must-buy for any board game fan.
Here's how a typical game of Caylus goes: there is a castle, there are buildings, there is a road. Each players has six workers, and takes turns each round placing them in the various buildings. The provost and bailiff (essentially progress markers) make their way down the road at the end of each round and each worker gets his due. Some buildings provide resources, others provide gold or change the turn order, and some let you trade your resources around.
The ultimate goal is to build up more favor from France's King Philip the Fair than any of your competition. The king is generous with favor in a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' sort of way. If you use your resources to help build up his castle, he'll bestow favor upon you - especially if you're the most productive builder of the round. If you collect resources, you can turn them in at the end of the game for more favor. Building monuments, shops and landmarks like churches will make you very popular, and sometimes you can ship off extra money or resources to earn a little extra mid-game. Though I wouldn't say Caylus is incredibly strategically deep, these methods of building up points give players a few different tactics to use to defeat their foes.
Going deeper, there are a number of rules and strategies that can affect your success in a big way. For example, each worker you place costs you money. Generally, the further along the road you place a worker, the better the reward. If the provost hasn't passed the building he's in, though, it won't be counted in the round's final tally. You can pay the provost to move him back toward the castle or further along the road - but so can everyone else. So sending a worker to a far out shop can be a massive risk, especially if you've already earmarked unearned resources to help build the castle at the round's end.
There are five different resources to manage and a huge list of buildings to erect. There are also a slew of conditional rules to keep track of. So here's where I applaud Big Daddy's Creations the most: Caylus's tutorial is outstanding. With the tutorial messages on through my first playthrough, I figured out maybe three quarters of the game. After one more match to polish up on the details I understood nearly everything. I'm still working on strategy, but such a thorough and straightforward introduction is pretty impressive for a game with Caylus's complexity.
I've run into one or two cases that weren't explained by anything in the rules, and it's possible they were bugs. A couple crash bugs have been found, as has a miscommunication with Apple about translations (the game is only available in English but lists several other languages in its App Store listing). Big Daddy's Creations has covered their plans to solve these problems in a blog post already, so I'm confident any other issues that crop up should be handled in a timely fashion.
Otherwise, the big sticking point is multiplayer. Caylus is universal, so you can play with friends on an iPad or pass-and-play on smaller devices. But online play should be a big part of the game, and playing with random unranked strangers that you can't chat with takes a lot of the fun out of it. Also, you really have to poke around the interface to quit a game once it's done, or to leave one for another part way. The interface is mostly extremely usable, but that's an unintuitive task. And there's a serious lack of stat tracking.
But for pure entertainment dollar by dollar, I'll take Caylus over most board games in the App Store. It's an obscenely good game, which makes its flaws all the more frustrating. If you also want to gripe about that, there's support to be found in our discussion thread. Me? I've said my piece, so now I can go back to playing. It will take more than awkward multiplayer to keep me from having this much fun.
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