Now, here's a game I would normally avoid like bird-flu - lots of cards with no words, little coloured cubes and an old-timey European feel. Yes, Caylus: Magna Carta oozes Eurogame (a silly way to define a game these days, but it gets the message across). Magna Carta is a card game remake of the boardgame, Caylus. I'm here to kick ass and place little coloured cubes.
|Caylus: Magna Carta (Image source: Boardgamegeek.com)|
At its heart, Caylus: Magna Carta is a worker placement and resource management game. Like many other worker-placement Eurogames (more lingo, I know), you play as some kind of land developer/big baron of business, constructing buildings to earn resources and sending your minions off to work. If other players send their little men to toil in the factories that you own, you end up with bonus resources to reinvest in your empire. Ultimately you need to spend your hard earned resources on bits of a castle or other prestige buildings (I don't know why) in order to win victory points.
The Deeper Stuff
One really cool feature of Caylus: Magna Carta, is way cards (buildings) are ordered on the table and how their function is governed by a non-player character known as the proctor. Each building is placed in a snaking line, in the order in which they are built, essentially forming a time-line of the game. The proctor moves between rounds, activating increasing amounts of buildings on this time-line. If your new building hasn't been activated yet, then tough shit, it won't do any work until the next round or two. And if you placed a worker on there to do some collecting, then double-tough shit: that worker spends the whole day twiddling their thumbs and still getting their wage of one gold from your coffers. Now, players can control the proctor to a degree, by spending credits (bribing) to move him or utilising their royal favours (these are a feature in the expansion), meaning there is a wonderful element of sabotage in the game - if you're the last player to bribe the proctor, it's a satisfying feeling to cut another player out by deactivating their quarry or lumber-yard.
There isn't a whole lot else setting this game out as unique. The worker placement mechanic works as many other worker placement mechanics -- characters and placed one-by-one and only one character is allowed per unique action space. Resource collection is pretty straightforward -- once everyone has placed their characters, you gather in your wood, food, stone and gold. All of this isn't bad, but it's not special.
How it Plays Out
Caylus: Magna Carta is a long-ass game for such a small set of mechanics. We're talking up to three hours! In part, this is because there are always a ton of options available to you and players often need time to figure out their priorities. The game can be a bit of a brow-beater at times, as players calculate current resources, what they will earn, what they will need for the next round and so on. This is probably the game's strongest point -- it really will force you to stop and think! Whether you think that sounds like fun is up to you!
The components are fine. Card tokens for money and castle parts, stacks of your standard wooden cubes representing resources and small-size cards for the buildings. It's all fine. The expansion that I was able to play with is a little odd, with strange colouration to the cards and tokens. It didn't bother me but other players at the table did feel the need to comment on how bizarre this was.
Unfortunately, this is where Caylus: Magna Carta totally falls on its ass. Like many Eurogames, in an effort to use simple iconography in place of text and symbol, Caylus: Magna Carta is utterly inaccessible to colour-blind players. Food resources are pink and stone resources are grey, both of which look the same to me. And the chosen player colours are red, green (first problem set), blue, purple (second problem set) and orange. This means that in game I'm:
1. Relying on other players to help keep track of my resources
2. Relying on other players to repeatedly identify their worker tokens
3. Relying on other players to identify their favour tokens (represented by player colours)
And because I need to communicate the basics so much, I cannot secretly plot against others and I cannot keep my plans under wraps so easily. When playing, I often made repeated stupid mistakes that could all have been avoided.
If you are a colour-blind player, you have a big job ahead of you with a sharpie-pen, fixing all of those cubes, cards and player tokens. Good luck with that.
Caylus: Magna Carta is pretty simple at its core, from which complexity can quickly emerge. At times there are a LOT of options open to you. This is really cool, but it doesn't make any sense that this game should last for two or three hours with only four players. But it does. It goes on and on, despite a timer mechanic imposed by the building of the castle. It goes on and on. Eventually you build your resource machine, which streamlines things, but people are constantly throwing spanners into the cogs, making unexpected moves, sabotaging with the proctor, and the simple game gets dragged out again. And again and again.
And Caylus: Magna Carta doesn't really do a lot of interesting things with the tools that it has -- even though the mechanics are solid and well balanced. It all ends up a little lackluster and a little dry. I'm sorry, but I can't really recommend it. Even if you're into Eurogames and tiny wooden cubes, there are better Eurogames with tiny wooden cubes.