Friday, February 24, 2006

Caylus, the new Addiction!

Hi again everyone.

Brian asked me if I could do an article again, so I am going to post about Caylus.

As everyone knows, lots of people think Caylus is an excellent game. I am obviously among them. I also, in my tradition of preferring 2 player (or 2 sided) games to games with 3 or more separate parties, love 2 player Caylus.

I was talking with the game's designer on BSW, and he mentioned that he designed the game for multiplayer, and 2 player was kindof added on. I was amazed by this, because the 2 player game works so well!

In multiplayer games, with reasonable players, the provost is rarely used to screw someone, unless it is very low cost (the last guy paying $1 to screw him out of an important space, or whatever). This is especially true in 3 player, where there isnt the gangup potential, of someone passing, and then three players after him agreeing to move it back 1 each, or something like that.

In multiplayer, playing at the edge of town adds this vague risk. You have to pass late, and there is a chance that some random other guy might pay money to try and screw you. Or maybe they might be reasonable and not spend their money hurting one opponent.

But in 2 player, the provost creates tremendous tactical opportunities, as now, hurting your only opponent is a direct gain for yourself!

I was talking to a local player in our Saturday game group, Sean McCarthy, who is SevenSpirits on BGG, about 2 player Caylus. Previously, he had played mostly 3-4 player, and was very good at it, while I had played mostly 2 player. We played two games of 3 player in our Saturday game group, and he beat me by 4 and by 1, each time teaching me critical things that were different about 2 player and multiplayer. For example, in 2 player, you will have enough favors to go strong in two favor tracks, and should go Build and Points or Build and Money. In multiplayer, you have enough favors to go strong in only one, with a few favors in another. Thus, you should probably go strong in Build with a bit in Money, or strong in Points with a bit in Money. (Because the Build track and Points track have the big rewards in the middle/end, and thus need concentration to be good, while Money is fairly good even if you only dabble).

Anyway, he mentioned that he had started playing 2 player games. I asked what he thought. He said they were awesome, and they were even more fun!

There you have it! Both of us had the same reaction to 2 player. It's more fun than with more players, though certainly the game is great for multiplayer as well. Of course, we both tend to prefer 2 player games anyway, so if you dislike all 2 player games, it probably isn't for you. Personally, I like partnership games, team games, 1 vs X games, and 2 player games best.

Now on to the strategy! I've analyzed the 2 player opening strategy a fair amount, so here is what I posted on BGG, about the 2 player Caylus Opening:

The Basics:

First of all, you need to know the strengths of the different favor tracks. Of the three non-points tracks, the build track is best, followed by money, then cubes. The points track is great in longer games that aren't highly resource short. It is only bad if the game goes very short, or its very resource light due to almost no production buildings. (More on that later).

You generally have enough favors in the game to go heavily on two tracks. Build + Points is usually best, and Build + Money is second best.

You use the build track to make buildings, mostly stone buildings and some residences. You make one wood building early, and you might use a later favor or two on prestige buildings, or more wood buildings for points if the stone buildings run out. But mostly its stone buildings and residences.

The first time you have the opportunity to make these buildings is once the second phase of the game begins. Thus, you want to end the opening phase with 2 favors placed in the building track, to be ready asap. You don't need more than this in the building track, because the extra wood building for the cost of a favor plus a cube isn't really worth it, and harms your ability to make stone buildings fast at the start of the middle phase of the game.

Thus you need 2 early favors to go to the build track.

The best way to get these early favors is castle builds, when you go first to the castle, and the bonus favor for making 2 batches. Ideally, you want to make 2 batches in the castle, getting a favor each time, plus a bonus favor. This is three favors. The excess third favor should be spent on either the money track or points track. Money if you are hurting on money at any time, points otherwise.

Alternately, if you build 2 batches at once on a turn your opponent build one first, that is ok as well, but it results in one less favor per person. You still need 2 build favors in this case, so be careful. Building another batch in the castle is ok, and get you a 4th total favor, which can be the second money or points track favor, however, this is only worth it if you still have some cubes to start the second game phase, so that you are not harmed in your ability to score favors and make stone buildings there.

Thus your goal in the opening:

Make 2 castle batches, each at a time when the opponent isn't in the castle (or maybe 2 at once when he is there before you). Take two build track favors and spend excess in money or points.

Additionally, end the opening with as much excess money and cubes as possible, hopefully more than your opponent. The best excess cubes to have are food and cloth, to be able to buy favors in joust, and build production buildings (and residences with cloth).

The opportunity cost of placing a worker in the opening

I did an opening analysis with SevenSpirits where we played the first couple turns several times, talked about every move, and then restarted.

We found several things:

The opportunity cost of a cube is $3. That is, when you play to a cube square, you are giving up a net $3 to do so.

This comes from: You either could've played to the $3 space if it is available, which would give you +$2 net. While playing to the cube yields -$1, for a change of -$3. Alternately, you could've passed. If so, you get $1, you don't pay $1, and your opponent doesn't get $1 for passing, for a net change of $3.

So it 'costs' $3 to make a placement.

Another example of this, is that once your opponent has passed, you can safely go to a space by paying $3. Again, you're paying $3 for a cube.

Thus, if you go to the gain $3 space, you are effectively saving yourself the opportunity to buy a cube on a future turn. Say, the cloth space is unsafe (near the provost). But one turn you take the $3 and get plenty of money, the next after your opponent passes you pay $3 to go onto it.

The expected gain of the person going first in the turn

Early in the game, the player going first in a turn should get a net gain of $1 over the other player. (Or a cube and -$2). This is because you can do an equivalent number of things as your opponent and then pass for a buck. Thus, if you gain more than this in a turn you go first, its good, if less, it was not good. The person going first on turn 1 gets this gain first, but then the opponent gets it next. I find the first player to have a small advantage in the game, but I think it is worth less than $1.

Provost Wars:

A provost war is where both players don't want to pass, because at least one player has placed in a 'risky' position, and the players want to move the provost last to control its final position. A 'risky' space is one that is less than 3 spaces behind the provost. The closer it is to the provost, the riskier.

Getting into provost wars is good for the player with more money and not the player with less money. (Counting who will be getting the $3 as part of their money). Once a provost war is initiated, if players wish to follow it to the end, then they find themselves (early on), with no good spaces left, and they start wasting money. Going to the castle is very good (if you will be able to guarantee you can do it), since thats a hard thing to fit in. Making a building is ok (if safe), if you have plenty of cubes. Trading a cube for $4 is breakeven, since a cube is worth 3 and the worker is 1 for a total of 4, but this sale of a cube for its purchase price might be important due to the provost war money drain. The inn is good if you are going to break your opponent in the war but still have some money.

I find that the person who has less money (unless both have a ton) should not continue the provost war. However, initiating a provost war is a great way to enable yourself to get an action in the castle or on the builder square if you want to.

For example, I have a reasonable amount of money, as does my opponent. I can build in the castle, but my opponent wont be able to. So after we take the safe cubes and $3, I take a riskier cube. My opponent takes provost mover (so as not to allow me to pass and get the safe cube without him being able to take the mover). Now I go to the castle. Normally, going to the castle has a cost of $3, since its 1 to go, loss of 1 for not passing, opponent gain of 1 for passing (because you did an extra thing). However, now my opponent cant pass without handing me back my cube placement. So he goes somewhere else. Now I pass.

Net: I spent $1 on the unsafe cube spot, $1 on the castle, I got a $ for passing, cost of $1. I get to go to the castle.

Opponent spent $1 on the provost mover, and $1 on the 'waste of time space'. He spends $2! I had a loss of $1 and get into the castle. Realistically, his waste of time play is probably valued at $1, so it's a net loss of $1 each, so we break even there. This was a way to get into the castle for free! (i.e. without the standard opportunity cost of $3).

Because the opportunity cost of getting the opportunity to build in the castle is generally $3, you want to look for chances to get in more cheaply.

My general valuation of things in the opening is:

Cloth or Stone: better than $3.

Other cube: probably worse than $3, but if you are getting no cubes you are screwed. So once you have plenty of money, you need to do this trade. You don't want to let your opponent get all the cubes, because then he easily gets castle favors and its hard for you. So often the cube is actually better than $3, if you have plenty of money. So if you would be starting the next turn at $6-8, the cube is probably not better, but if you would be starting with $10+, if probably is. (Note that if your opponent is really poor, its still better to take the money gaining opportunity, just to screw him).

Getting into the castle: In a normal circumstance, it costs $3 to be able to go build there. But what you want is to find opportunities to get in cheaper.

Opportunity to build with the Carpenter: In a normal circumstance, it costs $3, plus the two cubes for the build, and is not worth it. However, in a provost war, if the carpenter is safe, and thus your opportunity cost is $0 (just the two cubes), it is good if you have enough cubes to do this and still end up with 2 castle builds in the first scoring section. Put another way, if I could pay two early cubes for a building, with no loss of money or tempo, I would probably do it once. But its not usually worth it because you also give up money and tempo (the ability to get more money via passing first), to get the opportunity.

Inn: You would only go here if it was during a provost war, and your opponent was going to break or nearly break themself in the war.

Sell cube for $4: Its really a break even trade. Only go here in a provost war, if safe, where it is better than simply wasting $1.

Note that the existence of a 2 cube production building devalues the single cube spaces and makes money better. It suddenly makes the $3 better than the cube, in most cases (though the rare cube still could be better). This is because there is now a space that costs the standard $3 to go to, but yields 2 cubes not 1. However, it will be unsafe throughout the first scoring section. This means that if you have a money lead, but not a cube lead, you want to build a production building. Then you can convert money into cubes at a better rate, and devalue your opponents cubes. So if you passed up a cube earlier to take the $3, and you have $3 more than your opponent and he has +1 cube, it's great to build a production building. Conversely, the player with the cube lead and money disadvantage wants to build the sell cube for 6 building, as it allows a reverse sale back into money at a good gain.

Specific Opening Moves:

Since cloth and stone are better than $3 very early, if you can, place your worker on the safest cloth or stone space which is at least 3 back from the provost (i.e. it is safe).

If this is not available, place on the $3 space. (This is actually better than getting a food or wood cube, if those are the only safe cubes, because you can convert the $3 into a better cloth or stone cube later, in a turn the opponent passes first, by paying $3 to play to the space (and they move the provost first).

If all safe cubes and $3 space are taken, your options are to pass and gain money, or initiate a provost war. (If you are getting desperate, you can play to the castle, but you prefer to find a time when this doesn't cost you $3 to do)

The reason to initiate a provost war is because you want to make plays like castle or builder, at a time when your opponent is wasting moves, so you don't have to give up a $3 swing to do it.

Also, a provost war is good if you have more money than the opponent, because it can break him and amplify the money disadvantage. (Don't get into provost wars with less money, unless you still have plenty and your goal is to get into the castle cheap).

Once the provost war has begun, it now no longer is a $2 gain for your opponent to pass (they get $1 and you don't), and thus you can play to things like the castle or carpenter for a lower opportunity cost.

To initiate a provost war, play a worker to the unsafe cube that is the most safe. If you do this, you do not want to also be on the second most unsafe cube, because then you risk both cubes. For example, if you are on the safest and 3rd safest cubes, with your opponent on the 2nd safest, you are fine. They can only screw you out of the 3rd safest, without hurting themself. But if you are on the 2nd and 3rd safest both, you risk losing both in a war, so you don't want to do this unless you have more money and will win the war and that is your goal.

Now, your opponent can accept the war or decline. They decline by passing, thus gaining $1, denying you the $1 for passing, and you spent $1 on the cube. Thus, they get a net gain of $3 while you get a cube. They should do this if they are lower on money, but many won't. Another thing they can do is play on a cube more unsafe than you. Now, they are putting it back in your court, to make a provost war or decline.

They accept the war by going onto the provost-mover, threatening to deny you your space by pushing it back past your space, and then passing later than you to guarantee they can screw you.

Now you can go to the castle. If your opponent passes, then you gain a cube on them by winning the war, they get some money, but you get into the castle cheap. If they keep fighting, by making a 'wasted' (or mildly beneficial) move, then you pass. You lose the war, lose the cube, but don't break yourself, and you got into the castle cheap. If you have a money lead, you can keep fighting the war to drain their cash.

Look to initiate a provost war to get cheap entrance to the castle. Weaker opponents won't figure out what you are really doing, and will feel good that they 'screwed' you out of a cube, when in reality you gained on them. Also be on the watch for your opponent doing this tactic against you. If the war allows them cheap entrance into the castle, you should probably just pass, let them get a cube lead but get a corresponding money lead, and then look to convert the money to a cube later.

If a provost war drags on, the next best spaces after the castle are the carpenter (if safe, i.e. behind the cubes in question), the inn (if the war will break your opponent), and the sell cube for 4 space (if safe).

There is another way the war can go. Say that you and your opponent start by going on the two safest cubes. Next, you go on an unsafe cube, which is 2 back from the provost. Your opponent goes on the $3 square. You could now pass. Now, during the turn you spend $2, get $1 and will get 2 cubes, net $-1 and 2 cubes. Your opponent spends $2, gets $3 and a cube, net $1 and a cube.

You: -$1 and 2 cubes.
Opp: +$1 and 1 cube.

Total: You: 1 cube, Opp: $2. (Your cube is $1 better than his $2 gain, but you went first, so a $1 gain is expected)

Now, it comes to moving the provost. If you move it out 1 space, to ensure your cube, your net gain becomes -$2 and a cube, to his $1. Now, you are at breakeven for the turn, which is BAD when you went first!

If you don't move out the provost, your opponent can leave it as is, or spend $3 to deny the cube. If they spend $3, then the next result is a gain of $1 for you over them, the expected result.

Thus, you should NOT move out the provost in this case. The only time when you should is if you really need that cube, and/or you want the opening to move faster. But remember, that you are essentially losing $1 to your opponent in doing this.


Playing to a cube square 2 back from the provost is fine, provided that you do not also have the second most risky cube. If you play right, it is at worst breakeven for you. It also might initiate a provost war which could benefit you.

Now, if you play to a cube space only one back from your opponent, it costs him only $2 to screw you if you pass first (if the provost war is declined). Thus, you result in a loss of $1, and thus this is bad.

Therefore, to successfully initiate a provost war without penalty to yourself, place a worker on a cube space 2 back from the provost, when you do not also have a worker on the second most risky cube.

You can also initiate a provost war against your opponent to try to deny his worker.

When not to initiate a provost war:

1) When you are significantly ($2 or more) poorer, and it might threaten to put you below a decent amount of money (below $7 to start a turn).

2) When your opponent has guaranteed cubes to build in the castle, and can use the war to get in there cheaply.

When to initiate a provost war:

1) When you wish to go to the castle cheaply, and have guaranteed cubes.

2) When you are richer (counting money to be gained this turn)

Best ways to initiate a provost war:

1) Place a worker on a cube space 2 back from the provost, while you do not also have the second most risky cube. 3 back is good also. 1 back probably isn't.

2) Take the provost mover when your opponent has placed onto a risky square, ESPECIALLY if he has the two riskiest workers.

What building to build:

When building an early building, build the one whose presence gives the most value to your current resources and the least value to your opponent's resources.

Factors of who will use the building aren't as relevant in 2er. You want the building whose EXISTENCE is better for you than them.

If you have more buildings, you'll end up getting more points off them than the other guy.

It's also important to have buildings you want, because a significant factor in their advantage is that you can pay $1 to go there if your opponent passes, so it makes it so your opponent cant pass and needs to keep doing things and then you pass and get $1 and they don't get $1, leading to advantage. Alternately, they can play to your (usually unsafe) building to deny this, and then you fight a provost battle (usually with even costs to each party) and get an advantage of 1 point.

Examples of what to build, to maximize the value of your resources and minimize your opponents:

You are ahead on cubes, but not ahead on money (or behind on money):
Build the sell a cube for 6 building. This increases the value of cubes and decreases the value of money.

You are behind on cubes of type X, and possibly behind on cubes in general, and are ahead on money: Build production building of type X. You want to be up on money because the existence of better production buildings changes the 'it costs $3 for a cube' dynamic. Also, this very good space in an unsafe space generates provost wars, which benefit whoever is richer.
Alternately, its good if you are behind on cubes, not ahead on money, but you both have plenty of money: you need the opportunity to regain the cubes you are down.

You are WAY ahead on money, but not way ahead on cubes: Build the buy 2 cubes of your choice for $2. Here you just make a space that is unusable to your opponent, but not to you. This is often worse than just a production building, however it has the advantage of taking any cube to build (that can matter, and is often the reason you do this), and it generates 2 more points initially.

You are way ahead on stone (at least 2, and they have 0), and not behind on cubes overall, and you are not behind on money, and your opponent has committed favors to the build track (you might have also) : Build the stone mason. Though in this case, sell cube for 6 may still be better. If you for some reason are failing to get 2 favors on the build track in the opening, while your opponent is getting them, then this becomes better.

You are way ahead on cloth (at least 2, and they have 0), not behind on cubes, and you have a reasonable amount of money to be able to pay extra for this and to get into provost battles for it: Build the lawyer. However, sell a cube for $6 may still be better. If you for some reason are failing to get 2 favors on the build track in the opening, while your opponent is getting them, then this becomes better.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy it and improve your 2 player Caylus play!


Anonymous said...

A very interesting read indeed.

Anonymous said...

I can understand that people love this game. But I don't like it. There's no true interaction. You just sit and watch the other guys making moves that will affect your capacities. Worse than a dice roll. Too long. Boring.