When I was first getting into gaming, my group started with Catan, then Carcassonne, and then Caylus. It took us a long time to understand how to play Caylus. The concept of worker placement was completely foreign to us, and it was the first game we were learning from a rulebook. It did not go well, at least not at first. We struggled to get the rules right and even more so to get the strategy down. But we stuck with it. It was obvious that Caylus was a great game and when we got the hang of it, it became one of our favourites. Winning one of our Caylus matches was always a badge of honour.
I hadn’t played Caylus for a few years, when I heard about the upcoming Caylus 1303. I wasn’t sure at first if this was a sequel or a second edition. The truth is, it’s a little bit of both.
The original Caylus was set in 1289 in France. Over the following 14 years, the war with England has come to an end, but the city of Caylus is still perilously close to the English front line. The city castle must be reinforced and modernized if it is to resist the British forces.
Over the course of nine rounds, you send your workers out to gather resources, construct new buildings, and deliver sets of goods to the castle construction site. If that sounds a lot like the original Caylus, you’re not wrong. The overall feel and goal of the game remain largely the same as the original, but there have been significant changes to the set up and rules.
The board might be the first thing you’ll notice changed. Instead of developing buildings in a road going from the top of the board to the bottom, you’re doing the reverse. It’s really minor, but if you’re used to the first Caylus, it’s notable. The next big difference is the addition of Characters with special abilities. The last big difference, is the way Favours are dealt with in the year 1303.
During set up, a Starting building, a Brown building, and a Grey building are placed at the construction site, and the eight remaining Starting buildings are put out randomly on the first empty spaces on the road. The Provost is placed after the eighth Starting building and right after that a random Brown building is placed out. A little further down the road, a Grey building is placed out on the indicated space.
Draw the same number of characters as there are players, plus three and in reverse turn order, each player gets to select one. The remaining three are placed on the board near the construction area. Players start with some resources and a number of workers depending on the number of players. In this game, they’ve done away with coins, and workers are spent whenever a coin might’ve been in the original. This seems like a small thing, but it works so well. In a game with a fair amount of currency (wood, food, stone, cloth, gold, and workers) getting rid of one of them makes it all a bit more manageable.
The characters have different powers which I don’t think are super balanced. Some are definitely more helpful than others. That’s not a huge problem though, since you have a chance to steal them away from one another. Characters like the Architect and the Day Labourer provide automatic bonuses, like an extra point when you construct a building or an extra worker each round. The Journeyman allows you to place a worker on a building where another player has placed once per round. The Thief allows you to place on other player’s buildings without them earning a point. The Chamberlain, Deliveryman, and Foreman all have to do with how you delivers lots to the construction site. Having multiple Characters can chain bonuses together and make for some very powerful turns.
During the Planning phase, you send your workers to the various buildings that line the road on the way to the castle, or you send a worker to the construction site, or you pass. Once one player has passed, it costs everyone an extra worker to place on the buildings (unless you have the Night Worker who allows you to continue to place for no extra workers). The first player to pass also gets the first player marker for the next round which can be super important.
After everyone has passed, the Activation phase begins. Starting from the bottom of the board and following the road, buildings are activated in order, providing their benefit or activation. The Provost rides on horseback up and down the road, and any buildings past it do not get activated in the round. You can play a dangerous game by placing close to or even past the Provost, but you get a chance to spend up to three workers to move it forward or back at the bridge space.
After all the buildings have been activated, the construction site is resolved. You must make a lot of one food and two other different resources at the site. This is resolved in the order people placed there. The player who places the most lots at the construction site earns a Favour. You can also earn a Favour at one of the first buildings on the road. A Favour in Caylus 1303 allows you to either activate one of the buildings that was placed at the construction site (the brown and grey buildings unlock in the fourth and seventh rounds) and take one of the Characters on the main board (the ones that were passed on during set up), OR you can steal one of the Characters from another player. That can be necessary when one player starts to acquire a bunch of them.
Caylus 1303 ends after nine rounds, rather than when the Bailiff reaches the end of the road or the towers section of the castle are filled. You can see the end coming with a lot more accuracy in this version.
I have to say that I am an incredible fan of Caylus 1303. I loved the original game, and it will always hold a special place in my gaming heart, but this new version just feels better in every possible way. The rules are by no means simplified, but they are streamlined. Little things, like getting rid of coins and the actual castle construction makes the game run better and feel way less fiddly. The addition of Characters is really cool and starting with a Brown building already out on the board is a cool idea for accelerating what you can do. William Attia and Space Cowboys have done a great job breathing new life to one of the most respected games of the early 2000s. I can highly recommend this game if you don’t already own Caylus, but I also going to go ahead and recommend it even if you have Caylus. You’ll rediscover your love for the game and you’ll feel like you’re playing Caylus…just better.