Game Review Corner: Citadels

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Some time ago, Adam suggested that I start reviewing the games I’ve amassed over decades of being a total geek. I recall saying at the time, “that’s a terrible idea. It will take years.”

And here we are, almost a year since my first game review, and my point is essentially proven.

So, with that, I think it’s time to delve into the collection and blow the dust of another great game.

No vampires this time… but there’s assassins! Assassins are pretty neat!

Today we’re not actually looking at a “board game” per se, and that’s mainly because there’s no actual board involved in it. Instead, it’s a card game. But a card game with some depth and fun bits to play with, so it counts. After all, our goal here is to have fun with friends, and it shouldn’t matter what parts the game has – so long as it has all the parts it’s supposed to come with.

Besides, this game blows most games with boards right out of the water.

Citadels (2000)

Game Design: Bruno Faidutti
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Number of Players: 2-8
Time: 60 minutes
Ages: 10+
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com

“Citadels” is a game that has seen publication all over the damn place. In it’s current form, it’s published by those crazy awesome board game people at Fantasy Flight Games. The original version of the game came in a large, unwieldy box that I’ve actually heard people complain about. I don’t know if they thought it needed all that extra space, but it’s actually a fairly compact game with few parts.

The current edition comes in a smaller, easy-to-store-and-travel-with box, and as a bonus feature comes pre-packaged with its expansion “The Dark City.” Yeah, main set and the expansion in a smaller box than the original main set. This box also has a handy divider for keeping parts separate.

At its core, “Citadels” is a bluffing-based, city building card game. It’s about as nerdy as you think it is, and about ten times as fun. Let’s get into the guts of this thing.

Components

We’ll start by getting into the components that come in that little “Citadels” box. Compared to many other Fantasy Flight Games, “Citadels” doesn’t come with much – but that’s fine; it doesn’t need much. And frankly, a common complaint I’ve seen about Fantasy Flight is that they sometimes go a little too far with their production.

Here, we have a fairly simple, elegant, deep game.

The game comes with an instruction manual, a deck of district cards, a deck of character cards, a handful of gold counters, and a little royal meeple for the king. It also comes with some handy reference cards that run down what you can do on your turn and the reverse has the rules for scoring.

Foolishly, I didn’t snap a photo of those reference cards – but I do want to take a second and say that reference cards are a super handy tool for any game. A quick glance and the player has all the basic information they need for the turn, without have to slow down the game by reading the instructions. I wish every game came with one of these, literally. Every game.

As I mentioned above, the most recent edition of “Citadels” also comes with its “The Dark City” expansion. The expansion includes 14 new optional districts for the city, and 10 alternative character cards.

We’ll get into who the main set characters are in a minute – and I’m not going to delve too deeply into the “Citadels” expansion in this article – but I will say that the new characters do add quite a bit of new strategy to the game. The new characters are actually used instead of the main set character of the same number. They have a similar power to their main set counterpart, but different enough to give it an entirely unique spin. Very cool way to expand the game with new options.

I should also point out that the artwork in “Citadels” is really well done. The cards are all pleasing to the eye, and very colourful.

Gameplay

“Citadels” is, fundamentally, a very simply game. You are a medieval lord, and you’re trying to build the most awesome city in the land. You do that by amassing gold and spending it on districts – but the way in which you go about doing that depends on what role you play in the kingdom that round.

This is where “Citadels” moves into the realm of genius: the addition of a bluffing element. At the start of every round, the players shuffle up the deck of 8 characters. With fewer than 8 players, 1, or 2 cards are then randomly cut from the deck and revealed to all the players – the King will get put back into the deck if he’s picked, and replaced by someone new. You always have to have a King.

Now, starting with the player who was King last round, each player takes a turn going through the characters and selecting one in secret. Generally speaking this means that every player can deduce a little bit of information about which role one or more of the other players selected. But you don’t have all the information – and what you don’t know can drastically affect the way your turn unfolds.

Let’s meet our cast.

The game has 8 roles, numbered for the turn in which they act. In order, they’re the Assassin, Thief, Magician, King, Bishop, Merchant, Architect and Warlord.

The Assassin names another role to kill that round – when that role is revealed, that player’s turn immediately ends. The Thief names any role but the Assassin, or the Assassin’s target – when that role is revealed, the Thief steals all of their money. The Magician can swap hands with another player, or discard and draw new cards. The King earns extra gold for noble districts, and gets to choose their role first next turn. The Bishop earns extra gold from religious districts, and is immune to the Warlord. The Merchant earns extra gold for trade districts, and makes money for every action they take. The Architect can draw extra district cards on their turn, and build multiple districts. The Warlord earns extra gold for military districts, and can pay to destroy another player’s district.

The role you play on your turn will greatly affect your strategy – from helping you get more money, to giving you a chance to stop someone from making a final push to victory. But the trick is trying to figure out what everyone else is, so you know who you can act against, and how.

When the players aren’t working to screw each other, they’re trying to build up the best city in the land. And they do that with their district cards.

There are five types of district – noble (yellow), religious (blue), trade (green), military (red) and special (purple). The rule of thumb is you can only have one version of any card in your city – you can have any number of trade (green) district cards, but only one Market. Generally, districts give bonuses to certain roles, with the exception of special districts. They give a special power to the player who controls it.

Your goal is to build up eight districts, at which point the round ends, and everyone scores. Your score equals the total value of your city, and you get bonuses for being the first to go out, building 8 districts, and having districts in every colour.

And that’s it! Sometimes it’s the simple games that are the most fun.

Overall

“Citadels” is fast, portable, and it’s very easy to teach and play. The game has surprising depth, and there are numerous roads to victory. And with the expansion, you have even more options to play around with – some of them fairly complex.

I really can’t recommend this game enough. It’s one of my favourites, and I honestly think it should be a mainstay in the collection of anyone who considers themselves a serious board game player or collector.

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