Daleks stole my lunch box
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Cover of the magazine edition

Though SPI is famous for its numerous wargames, they also published a lot of good science-fiction and fantasy games. Citadel of Blood was included in issue #5 of Ares, SPI's fantasy gaming magazine. It is a re-themed version of Deathmaze, an earlier "Magic Capsule Game" designed by Greg Costikyan. While Deathmaze is a generic heroic fantasy dungeon crawl, CoB is set in the world of Swords & Sorcery, a tongue-in-cheek fantasy wargame also designed by Greg Costykian. The goal of the player(s) is to explore the maze below the infamous Citadel of Blood, and locate and destroy the Hellgate, source of the powers of the evil wizard X the Unknown. It's a "players versus game system" game, so it's either solitaire or cooperative (just distribute the heroes among the players).

A few words about components:

This is an SPI game so don't expect anything too fancy. You get a magazine with the rules and a bit of background story, and a countersheet. The counter art is nothing to write home about, black silhouettes on a coloured background. I'm guessing the rather bland components might be a turn-off to some fantasy gamers, but it works fine as a support for imagination.

The rules are written in the usual SPI legalese wording but they are short and well-written (not like, say, Demons).


Counters

How does it play ?

The rules are quite easy. Choose 3 heroes randomly, generate 3 initiates (also known as henchmen to the d&d crowd), choose spells for the wizards, fill up character sheets, choose a marching order, put the dungeon counters in a bag/cup and off you go.

The game alternate between exploration, where you move your party around the dungeon, drawing dungeon counters for the new rooms and rolling for events (traps, monsters, special rooms) and encounters.

Events are resolved by rolling a d6 and consulting a table. You roll for traps, monsters, treasure, and also when you draw a special room counter (there are fountains to drink from, altars to pray to, statues to examine, all with random effects - Nethack players will enjoy that bit).

Encounters do not always result in violence and bloodshed: you can try to negotiate with the denizens of the dungeon or offer them a bribe to leave you alone (roll on the monster reaction table to see if it works). If negotiations fail, or if you just want the monsters' shiny baubles, the fighting starts. Combat is resolved in a series of rounds: characters able to attack in melee or with ranged weapons do so (by rolling 1d6, adding their skill bonus and cross-referencing the result with their weapon on the weapons chart to find out the amount of damage they deal), spellcasters cast their spells, then monsters attack and another round start. Repeat until one side is dead.

The game is won by finding the Hellgate, destroying it and getting out. Sometimes a single expedition is not enough, but fear not, there are rules for improving your character by expanding experience points and treasure (if you can get out of the maze, that is).


Game in progress

Is this game any good ?

Yes, I find it quite good actually. It can be played in under an hour, takes almost no space on the table and has enough randomized features and different heroes to be replayed at least several times. Sure, it's not DungeonQuest or Descent: Journeys in the Dark but there's enough theme in it to scratch the dungeoncrawl itch, it is a good solitaire game design, and it can be played almost everywhere.

If you're like me, try it and chances are you'll have fun. If you can find a copy that is...

NB: thanks to the users who uploaded the pictures I used in this review. Give'em thumbs, people.
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Dave Gamer
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Thanks for the review. I've always liked this game. Played it a lot solo in my pre-computer days. I even toyed with using it as the basis of a full blown RPG,
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Jonathon Ebonsword
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So, how does this compare to Death Maze? Specifically, is it any easier?

I tried Death Maze recently, and got slaughtered both times I tried to play before half a dozen chits were laid out (stupid vampires).
 
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Ray
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I would say its a hair easier than DeathMaze., -- but otherwise the two games are extremely similar.
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navajas
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Ebonsword wrote:
So, how does this compare to Death Maze? Specifically, is it any easier?

I tried Death Maze recently, and got slaughtered both times I tried to play before half a dozen chits were laid out (stupid vampires).


In today's market Citadel would have been released as an expansion to DeathMaze as a marketing tie in with Swords and Sorcery. In Citadel half of the party can be comprised of established heroes pulled from the above mentioned S&S. The rest of the party is made up of rolled characters, initiates, as in DeathMaze. The established heroes can be extremely powerful, a few almost game breakingly so.

I would say that the monsters and room features in Citadel may be slightly more "difficult" than in DeathMaze, but the host of characters and weapons offsets this. That said, if you get unlucky and roll up a couple of vampires, you're just as dead.

I think Citadel is by far more fun, mostly by way of just being so much bigger, and having the definite "goal" of destroying X and his Hellgate (again, pulled from Swords and Sorcery). It will take a number of trips into the Citadel, and people will probably die. I think that adds to the fun. If the game is too easy, use fewer, or no, heroes. You'll need to gradually build yourselves up over a few trips in order to have a prayer on Level 3, or get lucky with your Mirror rolls, but it's a fun little challenge.

Me and my nerdherd have played the shit out of this game for the past 25 years. I have been playing it or DeathMaze off and on since I was in early gradeschool. Hell, I even wrote a big expansion, imaginatively called, "Advanced Citadel of Blood". Hey, it worked for Avalon Hill. It added special abilities for most of the enemies, brought some things back from DeathMaze that Citadel had left out, had rules for each weapon skill to make them relevant in the face of Combat Bonus, etc...

Apart from the copy in Ares, they also made a short print run in their flat box format. For whatever reason, you can often find that for cheaper than an unpunched copy in the magazine. They are the same game.
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