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Subject: Citadels - Game of the Month Review rss

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Chris Norwood
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Citadels


Designer: Bruno Faidutti (2000)
Publisher: Millenium, Fantasy Flight Games (and others in different languages)
# of Players: 2-7 (2-8 with the Dark City expansion)
Play Time: 60 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #91/7.29
Weight: Medium Light

(This review originally appeared on www.gamerchris.com)

Citadels is a very popular role-selection game in which players seek to build the best and most expensive city. It is simple to learn and involves a great level of social interaction amongst its players. I was very pleased when it was chosen as the Hypermind BoardGamers Game of the Month! for July, both because I have enjoyed the game in the past and because I wanted an opportunity to explore both the expansion characters as well as some basic strategy. Overall, I still enjoy the game quite a bit, but have come to see some flaws that kept my personal opinion of the game from increasing appreciably.

Components and Setup

Personally, I own the second US edition, printed in 2005, which includes the Dark City expansion. The cards are perhaps a bit on the flimsy side, but the gorgeous artwork covering them front and back more than makes up for any slight cardstock weakness (the character cards are used so much that Bruno Faidutti himself recommends placing them in sleeves). It also includes several plastic "butterscotch candy" looking pieces that are used to represent gold in the game, as well as a simple wooden crown piece to indicate which player is the current king. The rules are well-written and illustrated, and for the basic game are very clear and easy to understand.


Left: The crown marker, gold coins, and cards
Right: Typical district cards in play


My version of the game came in a box that was probably 2-3 times larger than it needed to be, so the cards and pieces tend to slide all around and make a mess when you move the box too much. They corrected this in the latest US version (meaning they used a smaller and nicver box), but also made the gold pieces smaller and less asthetically pleasing (IMHO). The earliest versions of the game used cardboard punch-out pieces for the gold and crown.

Setup for the game is very simple. Each player is dealt four district cards and given 2 gold. The rest of the district cards are placed in the middle of the table to form a draw deck, and the oldest player is give the crown and named the first "King". Each round, the character cards are then shuffled and one is randomly set aside face-down in the middle of the table. Depending on the number of players in the game, a number of other character cards may then be set aside face-up as well. These characters are unavailable during the current round.

Basic Gameplay

The end of the game is triggered when someone builds the eigth district in their city, but it is important to remember that the goal of Citadels is to build the city with the greatest value (in gold). Therefore, the person who causes the end of the game may not necessarily win the game if they built districts that are condierably cheaper than other players'.

This goal is achieved through the building of district cards. It costs a certain amount of gold (between 1 and 8) to build a district, which is most always also the value that the district will be worth at the end of the game. Districts come in five different colors:

Yellow = Noble (provides income to the King)
Blue = Religious (provides income to the Bishop)
Green = Trade (provides income to the Merchant)
Red = Military (provides income to the Warlord)
Purple = Special (provides special benefits described on the cards themselves)

Players may not build more than one of the same district (you can't build two "Tavern" cards), but they may build any number of any one particular color. If a player manages to build one district of each color district by the end of the game, their city will be worth an extra three gold in value. The purple district cards all unique and have some special ability which is explained on the card itself.

Each round, after setting aside the appropriate number of character cards (see setup above), the king takes the remaining characters and chooses which one to take for that round. The characters are passed to the left, each player choosing one, until the last players takes one of the remaining two character cards and places the last, unchosen card face-down with the others set aside for that round. Players then begin to take their turn, which is determined by the initiative number on the character that they picked. The characters in the basic game (along with their special ability) are:

1) Assassin: Announces which character gets murdered. That player does nothing when called (they miss their entire turn).
2) Thief: Announces which character to rob. That player, if called, gives the Thief all gold in their possession at the beginning of their turn.
3) Magician: May trade their entire hand with any other player (players do not have to have the same number of cards in hand), or may discard any number of cards and draw the same number.
4) King: Gets 1 gold for each noble (gold) district in their city. Receives crown token immediately and chooses first in the next turn.
5) Bishop: Gets 1 gold for each religious (blue) district in their city. Districts cannot be targeted by the Warlord.
6) Merchant: Gets 1 gold when taking an action. Also gets 1 gold for each trade (green) district in their city.
7) Architect: Draws 2 district cards when taking an action. May build up to 3 districts on their turn.
8) Warlord: Gets 1 gold for each military (red) district in their city. May destroy 1 district in play by paying one less gold than the build cost.

On each player's turn, they do the following:
- First, they must take one action (either take 2 gold from the bank or draw 2 cards and keep 1)
- Then they may build one district.
- At any point in their turn, they may also perform their character's special ability.

So, after all the characters are either chosen or set aside, the current King begins to call out the names of the characters, starting with the Assassin. If someone chose the Assassin this round, they reveal themselves and take their turn, announcing which other character (not player) they will assassinate. The Assassin then takes one action (either taking 2 gold or drawing 2 cards and keeping one of them) and can build one district not already present in their city. Then the King would call out the Thief, Magician, and King, etc. who all take their turns just as the Assassin did. After the new King takes their turn, they take over calling out the rest of the characters that round (unless there is no new king because it was not chosen, in which case the "old" king keeps the crown). When the name of the assassinated character is called, the player who chose it remains silent and should not reveal that they have been murdered (dead men tell no tales, you know). Note that while an assassinated King misses their turn, they do claim the crown at the end of the round (as an "heir") and therefore will still get to choose first in the next character selection phase.

Note that special abilities may be played at any time during the turn, so the Merchant could, for example, either get his extra gold for green districts before he built a new district (if he needed the gold to build it) or after he built the new district (if he was building another green district and wanted to get even more gold). But also note that they can still only use the ability once a turn, so they could not take gold before building and then also get another gold for building a green district.

After all the characters have been called and the players have taken their turns, the character cards are collected and prepared for another round. When someone builds their eighth district in a round, however, that round is finished out and then each player calculates their final score. The player who was first to build 8 districts scores an additional 4 points, while any other player that managed to build their eighth (or more) district on that round scores an additional 2 points.

Therefore, scoring looks like this:
1) Total of all the gold values of all their districts
2) +3 if they have built all five colors of districts
3) +4 if they were the first to build 8 districts
4) +2 if they managed to build 8 districts before the end of the game

And the winner is whoever has the most points! Note that no actual tie-breaker is given in the rules, but we used remaining gold as a tie-breaker in one game during the month.

What I think…

What I really like about this game is that it requires a whole different set of skills than most other games. Instead of logic, processing, planning, or even persuasion, this game rewards players who can read other people well. It does you no good to know that you need to assassinate a certain player if you can't get in their head and figure out which character they will choose. And in the converse, all the great planning and positioning in the world won't do you any good if someone else can predict your selections and somehow thwart you.

On the other hand, what I have come to like less and less about the game is the amount of chaos involved. I am altogether not convinced that there is any way to have a reliable strategy or plan in this game at all. And in fact, I am beginning to doubt that skill and practice with the game itself (once you are generally familiar with it anyway) really make much of a difference either. There are so many factors of luck and player choice involved that to me who wins seems pretty random most of the time.

That being said, there are a few points of strategy that I am rather certain of:

1) The "rush" doesn't work. Trying to race to building 8 districts before other people can get there is almost impossible to pull off. First of all, even 2-3 "big" districts will often total up to more than 8 of the smaller (1-3 gold) districts. Plus, and probably more importantly, the Architect (who is essential to this strategy) is one of the most assassinated/robbed characters. Because of his obvious power (both in drawing more cards and in building more districts), players that really aren't tryng to target a particular player often just choose the Architect on general principle. If you try this, you almost have to have all five colors ans you must build more than one district on 2-3 turns.

2) Pay attention to all the information you have. Keep track of all the character cards that you pass along, because this gives you an idea of what the players before and after you may have. If you go first, you are the only person that knows for certain what the initial face-down card is, so make a mental note of that. Watch people and try to find "tells" that give away what they are doing. With all the chaos in the game, take as much control as you can.

3) Be unpredictable. In general, don't choose the character that would be "perfect" for you to take. If you've got 2-3 green districts and you know someone is gunning for you, don't take the Merchant character. Instead choose another character that you can still get some benefit from but that will be harder to guess. But sometimes, just to keep them guessing, go ahead and take that Merchant anyway. Yes, I agree that it can sometimes feel like a Vizzini vs. the Dread Pirate Roberts battle of wits, but that's what makes the game fun and unique.

4) Work on your poker face. It may only be needed two or three times a game, but then you absolutely need to make that great bluff, you need to pull it off well.

I'll also speak a little to the Dark City expansion. Through the month, we finally had the chance to try out all the characters and a few of the districts from Dark City. Overall, using them dramatically increased the number of rules questions that we had. In some cases, it was worth it, in most it was not. By the end of the month, we had decided that our "favorite" character mix was to replace the Assassin with the Witch (because her ability to bewitch an opponent was not as brutal to the target as pure assassination while it also gave an additional ability to the Witch player) and the Magician with the Wizard (because we liked his ability to steal a card and then immediately build it). We also frequently used the Queen, which is initiative 9 and can be added to the regular cards with little difficulty (you just need to turn one additional card face-up at the begining of each round).

The Verdict!

Rules: The rules are simple and easy to understand, and with the base characters the abilities are pretty simple to get as well.
Downtime: Once players know the abilities well, very little. Some people can be prone to analysis paralysis, however, and take forever. Once roles are chosen, the rest of the round goes very quickly.
Length: Our average play time was about 73 minutes for 5-6 players. Play time goes up dramatically with the more people that play.
Player Interaction: I've already talked a lot about this, but generally it has tons of interaction in pretty unique ways.
Weight: Simple rules + moderate strategy + significant luck and chaos = Medium Light
GamerChris’ Rating: Despite its weaknesses, it's still a heck of a lot of fun to play, so I give it an 8.


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Justin
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Great review Chris. Hopefully I can pick this game up when it gets reprinted this August.
 
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Chris Norwood
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Thanks. It's definitely one game that I would consider a "must own".
 
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ronald lee
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Just got my set a few weeks ago and it's my current favourite game. I like it because the new smaller box makes it portable and easy to carry around.

It also works pretty ok with 2-3 players and great with 4-7. Some other games like Bang! and Saboteur can only be played with 4 or more players and that makes them less "flexible" in terms of number of players. It's not always easy to find a group of 4 players or more all the time.
 
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Ian R
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Superb review!
 
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Chris Norwood
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Thanks!

Yeah, the "sweet spot" for citadels seems to be 5 players (which Bruno Faidutti himself also acknowledges). But what is cool is that it is still very playable with as few as 2 or as many as 8 (even though you're going to be in for a long evening with 8).
 
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Andrey Velkov
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I manage to bye the game a month ago and so far I have played three times with two friends. The game plays great and thanks to it short time (it took us something like 40 mins for a game) it is quite possible to play after work.

If possible I would try the game with more than 3 players, but I think that I preffer the 3 players variant because this allows you to play two characters, so the game gets a "tactic" side. And if by any chance one of your characters is assassinated you still have another character to play.
 
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Brian Cherry
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I agree that I like the 2-player variant of picking 2 characters each. Its great fun to let a character think you are following a strategy with character 1 when really you are planning on using the suprise of character 2. That being said, I cant wait to play with 4 or more players.
 
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Pete McCartney
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This waS one of the first games i ever bought, Since it has become a staple in my gaming groups, Pretty much everyone i've played with has loved it, and a few of them have bought their own copies.
There is also two expansions with new charector and building cards.
 
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Stephen Groves
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Like everyone else I agree you can't go wrong with this one. It is chaotic and it is hard to strategise as you can't rely on anyone to do what they "should" as if they did what they "should" they would be too predictable. I do find, after playing it several times, that it is near impossible to construct a victory and the random draw of character is often just as effective as choosing.
 
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Richard Glassco
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I definitely agree about replacing the Assassin with the Witch. It's more interesting and less nasty. We have always played it that way.
 
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Eddy B
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Good luck trying to get a copy. I've been looking everywhere.

Great review by the way.
 
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Ocssalg wrote:
I definitely agree about replacing the Assassin with the Witch. It's more interesting and less nasty. We have always played it that way.


I despize the witch for she's omnipotent. Why would you pick any other character if you simply can rob someone else from his favorite power. Sure you have a chance to bewitch a character who's out of play, but this chance is minimal. The assassin doesn't get anything back in return, the witch has it all.

For three player games you need a 9th character because the 1st player always knows what the other players picked. This makes it possible to kill or rob a character with absolute certainty each turn. To correct this flaw we add the artist and have the 3rd player place one card face down in each of his turns when picking a char.

 
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Eddy B
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I just finally purchased and received this game in the mail last Thursday. Great review, I cannot wait to play it.
 
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Gary Bradley
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I'd just like to add that the Rush most certainly does work, if you do it correctly. Remember that the first person to build his 8th district (which will be you) gets 4 bonus points, and everyone else with 8 districts (which will be NO ONE, if you rushed correctly) gets 2. This is usually enough to make up for their more expensive buildings.

- Obviously you need a hand with a ton of cheap (2 gold or less) buildings for the rush to come of; you can't just go for it on a whim. If I see 4 buildings in my hand that cost 2 or less, I ALWAYS go for a rush, and I usually win. But you need this type of hand to pull it off, and it's pretty rare to be honest.

- Obviously you need the Architect to build multiple buildings in at least one turn, probably more. This gives your rush away, so be prepared to defend from this point on.

- Never grab the Architect like this if you know the Assassin is in play and he knows you are rushing. Also, if the Thief is in play only go for the Architect if you have 1 or zero cash (which will be most of the time if you are rushing).
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Chris Norwood
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Yeah, I'll give you that. The "Rush" can work, but it's just not as easy as most people (particularly new players) think. For me, I've been burned by failing at it too many times to try it again. It's just too easy to disrupt with the Assassin and the Warlord, because the person with the most districts always seems to attract the "bash the leader" mentality in the rest of the group, even if they don't have as great a value as other players. Plus, a lot of times when I have several low-cost district cards, at least one or two are duplicates (which do you no good either), and you're too vulnerable to the threat of even one person managing to get out either the University or the Dragon's Gate (which could be worth 4-6 or your districts alone) and that really ruins your day.

But on the other hand, those 4 bonus points are pretty powerful, and I would whole-heartedly recommend a "push" strategy, where you always try to stay at or near the lead in number of districts. That gives you the initiative and makes other people play on your timetable, which can get the out of their strategy and give you an advantage.
 
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This is a great game that I enjoy more with each play. Plus, I love the art.

I have yet to play it with less than 5. At 7+, and with a certain player prone to analysis paralysis, it can take a while.

One of the things that I love about this game is that the characters are fairly balanced against one another. The Assassin can try to prevent the King or Architect from running away with a turn (or the Bishop or Merchant). The Thief can try to prevent the big buildings from being built. The Wizard can ruin a perfect strategy by taking a card (especially from the Architect). The King's only real power is picking characters first in the next round. The Bishop counters the Warlord. The Warlord counters everyone else (especially the Architect) and should prevent the Rush strategy. The Architect is more useful, I find, at building up a hand of districts; he tends to get killed and/or robbed if someone has 5-6 districts in play.
 
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Chris Norwood
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Actually, I find that the Architect tends to get picked on pretty much throughout the whole game. Early in the game, people aren't gunning for any particular person. So what do they do? From what I've seen, they usually just choose to kill/steal from either the Architect (who gives more cards) or the Merchant (who gives more money). Frankly, this arbitrary picking on certain characters is one of the reasons that we started using the Witch instead of the Assassin, because it at least doesn't rob the person of their whole turn.
 
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