The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Caylus

The way to win

In response to my comments regarding Le Havre, Larry wrote:

I can’t believe a game can reach the Top 10 on the Geek (right behind Dominion, and with a higher average rating) if there’s only one path to victory.

As others pointed out, games with a single way to win can have a large following. You could argue (with some conviction and merit) that classics like Chess and Go have only one way to win. (“Mobilize your pieces better” and “Make efficient moves.”) But in those cases, the devil is in the details, and these aren’t particularly helpful discussions (which is why I don’t think these games apply …)

For definition, my single path to victory is a simple hueristic that will defeat someone who shuns (or is unaware of) that path.

If everyone groks the strategy and plays accordingly. then tactics and second level efficiencies dominate. I’m sure Le Havre contains levels I haven’t explored (for efficiency), but I can feel like I could summarize the first level strategies … (and ignoring them will cost you the game against competent opponents). [The fact that Alex Rockwell explicitly stated said strategy cemented my conviction. If he’s recanted I’d certainly have to re-evaluate.]

In the BGG Top 100, games that have a single path that I feel confident I could (or have) stated are:

  • Puerto Rico
  • Le Havre
  • Caylus
  • St. Pete (without expansion)

Games where I suspect a strategy exists, but I’m not confident I can state it:

  • Through the Ages (I’ve followed the strategy articles, and I think they are right, but the variance in that provides a lot of tactical exceptions)
  • Brass (I don’t like Brass enough to find out, and I may have had a rule wrong) …
  • Age of Steam (several maps, anyway)
  • War of the Ring (base game)
  • Automobile
  • Ingenious seems like a candidate

I bet most of the (non-fluffy) tournament games at WBC probably have a guideline you can’t violate … that doesn’t mean they have a single way to win; that depends on the guideline.

And yes, you get lots of Coal, make a huge coke conversion and ship it. To be fair, there are details you need to consider (avoiding loans isn’t one of them). “Be efficient” and “Coal is most efficient” are your watchwords.

Written by taogaming

September 27, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with , ,

“Solving” Caylus

There’s a BGG thread about solving Caylus. While I doubt it will be solved anytime soon (Chess shows no signs of giving up its secrets), I do think a reasonable computer opponent could be developed.

My own technique would be to use some basic genetic algorithms for some decisions, and then use some recent advances in computer Go as a jumping off point.

For example, during worker placement you’ll typically have 15 options (Pass, Castle, Gate, Guild, Joust, Stables, Inn, Pass, Spaces 1-n). You mainly can’t take occupied spaces, and you can eliminate some obviously bad moves (spaces you won’t be able to use, or lose money). Now, if your genetic algorithm (or hardcoded rules) point to a clear decision … take it. You can also have a clear evaluation function (money, favor, goods are positive … wasted workers negative, etc etc).

But if you’ve got 2-3 candidate moves, consider each one. Simulate the turn out, then play out rest of the game 100 (or 200, or 1000) times using random moves for all players. (Possibly keeping the smarts that eliminate completely boneheaded moves). Whichever candidate gives you the best average outcome, take it.

Given how well this works for Go, I think it would be generally applicable.

You’d want to avoid randomly moving the provost (that would probably be hardcoded, and possibly genetic).

My Computer Science theory isn’t quite strong enough for me to set up this framework myself (nor do I feel like spending the time) but if a project got started (say, on SourceForge) I may contribute.

Written by taogaming

March 23, 2007 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Artificial Opponents, Caylus

Tagged with ,

Random Web Stuff de Jour

I really like this War of the Ring Variant. Should mix things up nicely, and changes almost nothing. Of course, the actual expansion should be out soon.

The latest dicetower has over-rated games. People still play Wongar? This game is rated about 6.6, and not in the Top 500. That may make it over-rated, but not grossly so. Tom’s #10 is a game I’ve never even heard of, so whoever is praising it needs a better PR rep. Ah, I see it has multiple names. I have heard one of them. You can argue that some games on the list are over-rated, but as always, there are head scratchers.

I declined to pre-order Here I Stand, but I got interested last week and read the rules. (Warning — it’s not light reading). Chris’s review confirms that I have to try this.

Caylus has apparently started showing up. But not locally. Grr. Right now it’s unclear if I’ll own a copy before my 100th game.

Update: 100th game by a nose! Soon after the century mark I get the call that my copy had arrived …

Written by taogaming

March 22, 2006 at 5:34 pm

Posted in Misc

Tagged with , ,


Valeria Putnam writes about games being “Solved.
For the most part, I don’t disagree that the solving is the interesting part, but there’s the following:

But as soon as my fellow players start commenting that I haven’t made the “right” play—my interest in a game plummets. So I enjoy solving a game, but I don’t enjoy playing games that my opponents perceive as solved. Just the other evening a Caylus opponent commented that he was “surprised” by a move someone made and my heart sank. It looked like a reasonable play to me.

A surprising move hardly indicates a game is solved. The commenter may be wrong. Novice chess players are often surprsied by knight forks, discovered checks and the like. Now, assuming that the speaker is a strong player, it could mean that you’ve missed a much better play. Surprised is a euphemism for “Wow, what a boneheaded blunder.” I was surprised by a player earlier today (in Caylus) when an opponent brutally punished my mistake.

But leaving aside all of that, there’s plenty of surprise in unsolved games. Many chess games have surprising moves, even at the highest levels (grandmasters get caught, just like novices). I was also surprised (kibittzing) when one player with a known style switched styles midgame. (I was also intrigued by one particular building choice he made, when another seemed obvious to me). In this case, surprise indicates that the game is still an open issue.

Now, I’m not saying Caylus is as deep as chess, but I think the same things hold.

But overall I agree with Valerie. Some games are solved, and once I understand the solution my interest plummets. One worrying aspect (for Caylus) is that after my close game my opponent called it “kinda boring.” We both played a main-line game, with a few mistakes on either side. We were both using the same style, and I suspect we could have predicted 90+% of our opp’s moves.

Written by taogaming

March 5, 2006 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with

Sit down, we’re rocking the boat

Alfred worries he’s too late for Caylus:

By the time I get another chance to play Caylus, it’ll probably be with people who have become Caylus adepts, who look at me trying to play the game in my clumsy, ham-handed way with the same kind of indulgent, patronizing gaze people give small children playing with toy power tools.

First of all, anyone dissing Bob the Builder will answer to legions of disgruntled three year olds. Trust me. That being said, this reflects more poorly on the adepts than anyone else. I’m hardly without sin here, as I recently got angry at an online game. [I would have done better face-to-face, part of the problem is the limited communication bandwidth of typed text.] The stories of rude Puerto Rico players are legion, and almost all online. It’s not the game, it’s the medium.

Now, some people don’t enjoy games where they have little to no chance to win. Many people don’t enjoy games they have no chance to lose. So it’s fair for the adepts to (politely) refuse to play, or to mentally adjust. Personally, I like playing with adepts. I’ve played Grandmasters at Chess, World Champions in Bridge, and Peter Sarrett in damn near everything else. I had an enjoyable game last night against Alex Rockwell (the Jedi of 2 player Caylus), and kibbitzed another. Alex is an enjoyable opponent, and providesr interesting insights and analysis. He’s not out to crush his opponent (although thats the typical outcome). It’s the opponent, not the game.

Let’s turn to the Hideous Hog, bridge expert. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it’s something like “And we must think of our duties to the expert! For crushing the weak is not enough of a reward.” [He was talking, of course, about raising the stakes]. An adept should have a reason for playing with novices … raising the game’s profile (proseltyzing), teaching, being a gracious host, they want to try a wonky line against unsuspecting people, whatever. If you don’t have a good reason, don’t play. The strong players are a game’s public face, so if they play with random players (or novice players), snide remarks should be kept in reserve. I sometimes fail, but it’s my failure.

I’ve spent two months playing Caylus against whoever showed up. I still do that, but I’m also seeking opponents out, and doing some screening.

So I encourage Alfred (and everyone) to play the game, but make sure everyone knows what the status is. Perhaps the adept will take a handicap.

Written by taogaming

February 24, 2006 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with

Sticky Web

Things of note around this inter-web:

I think everyone knows I like Caylus, but it’s not deeper than Chess.

Incidentally, I’ve played several Padawans recently [it’s early to be crowning Jedi] and had reasonable success. I’ll probably write up some more thoughts in a few weeks.

Ekted argues that Simultaneous decisions equals randomness. I don’t prefer to call it random, but that’s really just semantics. Game Theory (sweet, sweet game theory) posits that optimal play usually involves picking the selections randomly with proper odds. In most interesting systems. So the system isn’t strictly random, but it’s effectively random, which is what counts.

I’ve always wanted to try Ardennes ’44, but 10 hours? Pass.

Someone’s got an alternate dice tower advocating Advanced Squad Leader. For a second I thought I’d entered Bizarro-land.

Barnes & Noble’s 75% sale got me a few games. OK, a spare War of the Ring set (which I could sell or trade, or keep in case I ever decide to paint a set, or need spare parts). And several games too terrible to mention on a family site. Or even here. Too bad there were no copies of Doom or Descent left. I’d buy them at $15….

I have weird conversations with my daughter, too. None like this, though.

Personally, I think a bright 6 year old can handle Ticket to Ride.

Written by taogaming

February 17, 2006 at 11:56 pm

Posted in Misc

Tagged with , ,

Who can take a rainbow … wrap it in a sigh?

Caylus can.
Now that I’m not so busy playing Caylus, I find more time to kibitz games. Things I’ve learned:

  • Strong players have definite styles, and often disagree about moves. This is more likely in a 4-5 player game, though, where you can take the safest move, or take a better move that risks you position and hope that your best move waits a turn. [This often happens on a turn there should be a rush on the castle to finish the 2nd section. If everyone waits, you are golden. If the rush starts without you …]
  • Don’t take the riskier play when you are clearly winning.
  • You can go half the game without a favor. If you set things up correctly, you are behind, but it’s not insurmountable.
  • You can also win without scoring in the first section (no buildings, no walls).
  • Perfect storms happen. I won a lost game when the leader misjudged the position and waited one round too long to go to the castle. I just witnessed a won game lost when one player grabbed enough cubes to win the castle, but then a pass’s chain reaction left him short of cash.
  • Noticing a theme? — “Hey, have you considered that you may get blocked out of the castle?”
  • Going last is it’s own reward. I’m getting comfortable with placing workers never intending to use the tiles. (If I can get a cube out of it, though, great!). Just to go last. A player who goes first and grabs the merchant’s quarter often can’t back him up, because you may continue the journey backwards.
  • Mo’ Money. Seriously, any turn with the exception of the final turn, the money may be a lifesaver. I’ve only seen one game where anyone took a money favor and I thought “That was a waste”. [It was a 2 player game, and that pushed him over $20 … with an income of $4 or $5].
  • I don’t remember anyone starting a turn with $2 and winning without gross negligence on the opponent’s part. In 2er, $4 or less is a problem. (It may be ok with more players, because the spaces will fill up faster).
  • That being said, know when you can spend everything during a turn. (To win the castle. Before a sectional scoring where you have a favor or three).
  • In 2er, $3 and the merchants quarter are often equivalent.
  • I’m fond of building the market or the peddler as my first building (depending on if I’m winning or losing the money situation). The 2 extra VP are nice, and I want to exploit the monetary advantage. I’ll only build the lawyer first if I have a leftover clothe (which happens). If the lawyer appears early, the resource track become viable. Only then.
  • Sometimes you take a resource cube during the sectional scoring, but just to build a grey building.
  • If you aren’t sure whose winning, see who leads on stone production buildings. They’re that good. However, once you’ve passed the mine, consider taking the extra 3 VP. And don’t forget the church! That favor is usually 3VP, at least. [If you build the church via the mason, you can then build again with the favor.]

Written by taogaming

February 12, 2006 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Caylus

Tagged with

Post Groundhog Gaming

Last night we had guests over for brownies and gaming. Lot’s of blasts from the pasts. Power Grid, Puerto Rico, Fearsome Floors and Ricochet Robots.

That means I’ve played Puerto Rico fifty times (face to face).

I’m also played Ticket to Ride with my daughter today. She wins about 1/3rd of the time using the monomaniacal powers of youth, by drawing lots of cards (mystery, especially) playing long routes, and connecting her starting tickets, no more. It works fairly well.

Online, Caylus rules with an iron fist. I’m definitely starting to respect the “VP + Money track” and just give up on blue buildings unless it’s easy. One thing I do know is that if one player builds the mason/lawyer/architect, the players who ignore the blue track and don’t build said buildings can run away with the game. Remember, any sufficiently complex system invites parasites. Damn VP track running parasites. There are several players online, the Jedi of Caylus, and I’m not sure if they’re just using the strategy guide better (fewer mistakes, etc) or if they see something I don’t. I’ve started watching quite a few games. Perhaps I’ll figure it out.

Written by taogaming

February 4, 2006 at 6:37 pm

More Caylus Strategy

I’ve uploaded v1.2 of my strategy file, and added in Tom’s concept of Transformational Efficiency, a more detailed look at prestige buildings, and what not. (I actually wrote a bit over the weekend, so I’m not entirely sure what’s new). I also added links to various BGG threads of note.

Now that I’ve played 25 games (finished #25 an hour ago), I may start playing some other games on BSW again.

Update: I could have titled this “Almost 10,000 words about Caylus”.

Written by taogaming

January 19, 2006 at 11:41 pm

Posted in Caylus

Tagged with ,

Caylus replies

There’s a provocative post on BGG about Caylus pacing that includes the following: “If you elect the castle building strategy, you prefer a slower game.

I don’t know if I agree (it certainly flips conventional wisdom, but everyone has played so few games.) I can see several arguements in its favor.

Tom mentions the following points (paraphrased):

  1. Mathematically, a game is 12 turns average (not 13-14), and will likely be fewer.
  2. I need to stress transformational efficiency.
  3. I need to discuss prestige buildings in more detail.

Taking the last point first, “I kaenna change the laws of typing!” But I’ll probably add onto it, later.

Mathematically, yes, I messed up. On the other hand. In my games (against different opponents, so a reasonable sample for anecdotes) I’ve seen one game where the provost moved one every turn except ~2 or 3, I’ve seen one where it moved two almost every turn. Groupthink.

But most games the provost seems to take one step for the first few turns.

As for transformational efficiency, that deserves more detail. Tom says:

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.

A few rebuttal points:

  • If we assume I’m building more often, it isn’t a complete wash.
  • The 1:1 only matters if you spend $1 per action. This is probably true for most actions, but not all. Buildings provide some flexibility.

But I’ll concede this are both minor points. The major points are that the extra VP you get from building no longer cost you an action. We’re costing actions at $1, but that discounts the timing impact. My opponents get their ‘extra’ VP by taking their action. I get it in addition to my action, and can presumably get an extra VP somewhere, too.

In any case, I don’t think a pure strategy (build and ignore the castle) would work. It may be that building is worse than the castle, but if I dont’ go first, the option isn’t to win the castle on turn one. It’s to build the first building or hoard (cubes or money). You take what you can.

By the strict transformational efficiency (I like that phrase), building 1 section at the castle costs $4 and earns 3-5 VP (1:1) plus a favor, so it’s a winner. [And it earns 1/2 a favor, approximately, for when you score. And it avoids the VP penalties].

Jousting can certainly compete well with that ($3 for 5 VP if you max the favor track, or $4 for 6 VP via a stone building).

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…

Yes, that should be tough to beat. (I’ve won down 3 residences, but it didn’t occur that early. A residence costs $3 for $1/turn. $2 for 6 now (via the wooden marketplace) is worse, but not horribly so.

But I think that, in general, I’m leaning towards the castle myself. Transformational efficiency does clarify quite a bit. It means I should strongly consider hoarding on turn one, and letting others rush the buildings.

Written by taogaming

January 11, 2006 at 7:34 pm

Posted in Caylus

Tagged with