The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

2,500 more words about Caylus, and “Strategy”

Rather than post it (which is a pain), I’ve just started adding to a document. New sections on timing, more about the opening/midgame/endgame, number of players, ‘building chains’, flexibility, resources. And other thoughts that I’ve had.

Is Caylus Strategic? More so than PR. There are “positional” affects (things that aren’t immediately tactical, but that affect play). Larry brought up an example of “If I’m doing the shipping strategy, I’m going to want a harbor, or If I’m doing the factory, it will change my builds.” Well, that’s certainly true, and you can see “I want this, then this, then this.” But I’m not sure it’s positional. You could model the same effects as ‘evaluation of future values’. If I have the factory, it’s better if I have lots of good types. Ditto Harbor, but the Wharf wants specialization. My current position makes those better (or worse), and I don’t have to look ahead to see it. If I get them, they make future plays better (or worse). Also, other players can’t really affect this (except by buying buildings before I can). These buildings have effects in the future, but they local to me. There are second order effects, to be sure. If I know that other players are building or shipping, I can expect them to pick the appropriate roles more often.

On the other hand, if everyone builds resource buildings (or doesn’t) then the Caylus landscape changes for everyone. I think it’s strategic (over my last several games, I’ve thought about ‘board position’ issues, and these form quite a bit of my new verbiage). I still consider PR mainly evaluational + tactical. I think about the future in both games, but my thoughts are more definite, and more complex in Caylus. In PR, I just come up with a plan (I’ll buy A, intending B, C & D) and then look at the tactics.

I think this may be due to the competition for buildings (actions), unlike PR where the roles (actions) are shared by all player. But I’m not sure.

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Written by taogaming

January 6, 2006 at 6:24 pm

Posted in Caylus

Tagged with ,

5 Responses

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  1. I wonder if a game with completely open information and no random elements must be purely tactical by definition. I’ve talked about it with the folks I’ve played it with, and nobody thought it was anything more than a highly tactical game.

    A game can appear strategic because we just don’t understand it. If there are lots of factors I haven’t grasped yet, I’ll attack them by making a generalized strategic choice (“OK, I’ll focus on building castle bricks”) because making all the tactical decisions is too burdensome. But that doesn’t *generally* make the game itself any less tactical.

    Take the example of which building to build, which has the effect of changing the gaming landscape and the texture of the game and, you argue, introduces strategy. That may be, but give that everything is open as I mention, I strongly suspect eventually the “correct” plays will become apparent. A strategic play might trade off risk vs. reward or take advantage of your sense of other players’ tolerance for risk vs. reward. But in Caylus, there is no element of chance, no undetermined factors (not even hidding scoring), and thus no real risk – just an ability or willingness to calculate.

    I think ultimately the odds are that the calculations and analysis required for Caylus will be done and be more tractible than those required for Puerto Rico. I really don’t see any way that real strategic thought is going to get into the game.

    Now, like I said about Puerto Rico, this isn’t *bad*. Most people rather like tactical games. I’m saying, that’s all.

    Chris Farrell

    January 6, 2006 at 7:05 pm

  2. I wonder if a game with completely open information and no random elements must be purely tactical by definition. I’ve talked about it with the folks I’ve played it with, and nobody thought it was anything more than a highly tactical game.

    A game can appear strategic because we just don’t understand it. If there are lots of factors I haven’t grasped yet, I’ll attack them by making a generalized strategic choice (“OK, I’ll focus on building castle bricks”) because making all the tactical decisions is too burdensome. But that doesn’t *generally* make the game itself any less tactical.

    I agree that Chess could be argued as pure tactics and “positional” or “strategic” play means “What do you do when you have no obvious combination or best move?” Right now for Caylus, I think that the “straegic” plays mean. “Looking beyond worker placement, how can I make the board more to my liking?” [Hence the comparision with open vs closed positions].

    I wonder how the best computers play chess. Even they can’t calculate everything out, so they probably just use heuristics if they have no crushing move. [Even my old program Sargon II had a quiescence search, where it deeply calculated tactical lines as far as possible, but just followed rules of thumb when they didn’t apply.]

    Brian

    January 6, 2006 at 10:02 pm

  3. Interesting, Brian. I haven’t read your strategy article yet, but after a few games of Caylus I’ve actually come to the opposite conclusion. I’d put the tactics to strategy ratio for Puerto Rico at about 2 to 1, but Caylus appears to me to be close to 100% tactics. There is much more opportunity to build an infrastructure in Puerto Rico, which produces meaningfully different strategic positions among the players. I’m not convinced that Caylus achieves this.

    Josh Miller

    January 7, 2006 at 5:02 am

  4. I wonder if a game with completely open information and no random elements must be purely tactical by definition.

    I’m sorry, Chris, but this just sounds crazy. Are you (and Brian) saying that Chess is purely tactical? Sure, it can be played that way–ANY game can be played tactically (just play by the seat of your pants). But IS it normally played that way? Should it be? I mean, several jillion books have been written about countless Chess openings; those are strategies, aren’t they? I don’t know how else to define them.

    I also don’t understand why a game needs to have random elements in order to be strategic. In fact, it would seem as if the opposite might be true–if a game has many random elements, you’d think it would be highly tactical, since players can’t foresee what the game position will be more than one move ahead.

    Maybe you two and I have different definitions of strategy and tactics, but I’m struggling to figure out what yours might be.

    Larry Levy

    January 7, 2006 at 7:33 pm

  5. A couple of comments, primarily on your Caylus article, not the strategy issue (I have more comments on *that* than the time to type them! ;-).

    First, your estimate of the theoretical average game length is flawed. 18 spaces, 50% move 2, 50% move 1, yields a 12 turn average game length, not 13-14 turns.

    Empirically — but this is from a fairly small sample size and subject to groupthink — the baliff seems to move two spaces more often than one, so game lengths of 10-11 turns seem pretty common.

    Part of what can drive this is a player who wants to use a building beyond the Bailiff and grabs the Merchants Guild early and then arranges to pass late. It takes concerted effort from multiple players in this situation to bring the Provost back which will often not occur since doing so will then render their workers (placed in buildings behind the Bailiff) vulnerable to retaliation by the late passing player…

    Game length matters big time for planning purposes depending on the number of players in the game. In a 3-player game, a player can try to get 6-9 favors from building/scoring by visiting 1-2 times and building two sections of the castle in each of the three phases (and, yes, the trick of arriving first capable of building two sections but then only building one and visiting again on a later turn to try and get extra favors can work). If one player is mostly ignoring the Castle, the other two players can easily get 3-6 first Castle builds in. This is not true in a 5-player 11 turn game (unless most players decide to ignore the Castle). There just aren’t enough first Castle builds to go around.

    Second, I would stress “transformational efficiency” more.

    I view Caylus as the players are building this shared Rube Goldberg device that converts income streams into VPs. $ go in, VPs come out. Cubes are mostly just the intermediate means to this end (gold can be an exception).

    Over the course of a game (depending on length and groupthink), some 30-40 $ (and a few starting cubes) turn into 60-100 VPs. That means you want to be looking for good $->cube->VP transformations. Anything with multipliers of more than 2x along the way is quite nice.

    The neutral buildings present us with mostly 1:1 transformations. For a $, I get a pink cube here, a brown cube there, and a wooden building (2 or 4 VPs) there. 3 $ in; and, on average, 3 VPs out.

    This runs counter to the building as VP investments and opportunity cost ways of thinking about Caylus. Yes, my Trattoria yields me 1 VP if you use it; but you get 2 purple cubes instead of 1 from a neutral building. This is mostly a wash (just both of us climbing from 1x to 2x transformations) and, if everyone is using each other’s buildings to the same extent (which if you’re all competent in choosing decent buildings to buy, should occur), a complete wash. Yes, you need to not choose a building that no one will want to use, but to regard buildings as VP investments over time is wrong, IMO. Doing this assumes that this wash effect is asymmetrical (it is slightly asymmetrical between players who build in the Castle frequently versus those who mostly build the board).

    However, building Residences early (so that they have time to return) as $ investments can be a viable strategy. Pumping your income stream from $2 to $5 quickly by building Residences on turns 3-5 introduces a 2.5x multiplier right off the bat…

    Third, I would discuss the pros and cons of building Prestige buildings in more detail.

    One currently popular strategy in our group is to hoard gold and speed the game along (which puts pressure on the would-be Prestige builders and contending Castle builders (less favors to split)), and build lots of stone buildings for efficient VPs (but building architects last so that they are vulnerable to the Provost).

    Most Prestige buildings are only just barely 1.5x efficient to build (when factoring in the gold spent in them and the gold that could be obtained at the Alchemist, say, for their other cubes).

    How much effort should you put into building them versus, say, jousting to get 5 VP favors? Or, turning 3 cloth and $1 into 6 VPs at the Tailor?

    Lots more thoughts and examples, but I’m out of time…

    Tom Lehmann

    January 10, 2006 at 12:15 am


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