In 2005, a game called Caylus was released. While it didn’t necessarily invent the worker placement genre (games like Bus, Way Out West, and Antiquity preceded it), it definitely defined the genre and sparked a revolution in game design. Oddly enough, however, the designer didn’t come out with anything else, other than a card game version of Caylus. But now, there’s
Spyrium is a new game from designer William Attia that is being published by Ystari (Asmodee in the US). It’s a 2-5 player game that takes 75 minutes to play. The game has a steampunk theme (which is all the rage these days), and is about building factories to produce the element Spyrium. When I first heard the name, I thought it was going to be some kind of weird spy game. Nope.
Spyirum comes with 35 workers (meeples), 20 colored discs, 50 Spyrium crystals, 24 tokens numbered 1-3, 36 £1 coins, 10 £5 coins, 10 bonus tokens, a first player card, 5 start cards, 7 event cards, 7 technique cards, 17 character cards, 35 building cards, and a board. The technique, character, and building cards each have a back that shows periods A, B, or C – they are divided and shuffled into three separate decks. The event cards become another deck, this one face up. Players get a start card, 3 workers of their color, 2 Spyrium crystals, £8, and four discs of their color – one disc goes on the score track, one goes on the residence track, one goes on the Phase I space, and the other is used to indicate if you’ve used the event for the turn. The numbered tokens are placed face down next to the board.
The game lasts for six turns. Period A lasts from turns 1-3, period B lasts from turns 4-5, and period C is turn 6. At the beginning of a turn, players get revenue based on their position on the residence track (£2 to start – so really, you begin with £10). The top card from the events deck is placed on the space for this turn’s event. Since these cards are face up, you’ll be able to see the next turn’s event coming. Events could get you points, coins, crystals, advance on the residence track, use buildings again, gain new workers, or put workers in the market. The top nine cards of the current period deck are placed in a 3×3 grid, with tokens on cards that call for them.
Next, players take turns performing actions until everyone has passed. There are two phases here – placement and activation. Once you move on to the activation phase, you can’t move back to placement. It is entirely possible that some players will be in the activation phase while others are still in placement. Each phase has different actions. For placement:
- Place a worker: Take a worker from the start card and put it between two adjacent cards, or a card and an empty space. Any number of workers can be placed between cards.
- Use the turn’s event: Take the effect of the current turn. You’ll then place the disc of your color on the event to indicate that you have used it this turn.
- Start the activation phase: You can choose to move on to the next phase by moving your disc from Phase I to Phase II. You may then immediately take an activation action.
Activation actions are:
- Earn money: Choose one of your workers in the market, then choose a card next to that worker. Take £1 for each other worker adjacent to that card, remove your worker, and place it next to your start card.
- Activate a card: Choose a worker in the market, and choose an adjacent card. You’ll have to pay the price on the card, plus £1 per other worker adjacent to the card. Depending on the type of card, you do different things.
- If it’s a character, you call upon it. You get that character’s effect – gain Spyrium crystals, points, or advance on the residence track. It’s a one time effect, after which you remove your worker and leave the character in place.
- If it’s a building, you construct it. Place the card to the right of your start card and either buy a new space (£1 per building you already have) OR replace a building you already have. Again, you’ll remove your worker.
- If it’s a technique, you patent it. Place the card to the left of your start card. They don’t require spaces, and give you advantages throughout the game.
- Use the turn’s event: As in the placement phase, you can use the current event. However, you can’t do it now if you did it then.
- Use one of your buildings: Choose a building that has not been used yet and activate it. Again, this can get you points, Spyrium, workers, or advance you on the residence track. Once you’ve used the building, you incline it. Rotate it 90 degrees. Tap it, if that’s the language you understand.
- Pass: Once you pass, you can’t take any more actions for the remainder of the turn.
Once all players have passed, the turn is over. All buildings are straightened, the turn’s event is discard, the market cards are discarded, and the first player passes to the left. After the sixth turn, the game is over. Your final score is based on the points you earned in the game, plus VPs on buildings, plus VPs on techniques. The player with the most points wins.
When a designer has a hobby-changing hit with their first game, their next effort is going to be scrutinized to death. It happened to Donald X. Vaccarino, who did pretty well with the polarizing, yet still Spiel des Jahres winning Kingdom Builder. I would imagine that the name of Caylus will be invoked every time this game is mentioned. And while I doubt this will be as revolutionary as its older cousin, I think it looks like a solid game that people will be happy with. The worker placement method is a little reminiscent of Keyflower, though this is completely differen.t Joel Eddy and Tom Vasel (both linked at the bottom of this post) both used the term “chicken” when talking about the worker placement. It seems fairly apt – you’re trying to wait to get a card at its cheapest, but you don’t want to wait too long or someone will snatch it from you.
The game doesn’t have a lot of components – only 59 cards make up the possible market stock. You’d think that would limit replayability, but I think the method of the laying out the market will help with that. Plus, you always have to factor in the human factor – different people are going to play different ways, and I think that will make the game very replayable. I think one of my problems with Caylus is, despite the variability of how the road gets laid out, the game is just so long. This one looks to be a lot quicker, and looks to give you a good worker placement experience without being overly complex. So it’s definitely one I want to check out – I don’t know if someone in my group picked it up at GenCon, but hopefully I’ll get to play it soon. Thanks for reading!