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Subject: Deceptively Simple Mind Game! rss

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Richard Young
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The English version of this German card game by Bruno Faidutti is from FFG's Silver Line of games. This version comes with the original plus a number of optional extra character cards that were originally published in Europe as an expansion.

The contents include: the character cards (8 original plus 10 optional); the district deck, consisting of various types of structures in five colors or suits (the different colors provide income advantages to certain associated characters and a victory point bonus is awarded to players who build at least one district of each color); and, also in the box are gold pieces and counters to assist in game play. The cards are playing card quality, the artwork on them is colorful and evocative, and, in general, all the bits are of uniform high qualilty.

In this game 2 to 7 players compete to be the first to play 8 "district" cards which comprise his "city." The district cards cost varying amounts of gold to play and some will confer special advantages to the player once built. Once one player completes his city the current round concludes and then everyone totals their victory points. Being first to complete a city gets a bonus, building one of each of the different colors confers a bonus, and each district itself is worth VPs (generally equivalent to the building cost).


To start an initial gold "stake" is issued and cards from the district deck are dealt to each player. It will be from these "hands" that district cards are played ("built") by paying its cost in gold during the player's turn. Each player's turn in the round consists of either taking income or drawing additional cards from the district deck. The player's turn also consists of exercising his character's "special action" and concludes by building/playing one district card if he wishes to and can afford it.

There are eight different character "roles" which are chosen at the start of each round of play with each role having a special characteristic and a specific place in the turn order. The auctioning of the roles might remind some of the way faction cards are distributed in History of the World. One character card is placed face down to start and the remaining cards are passed from player to player (starting with the King) in a pre-determined order with the players choosing their character card from the ones available. If you are the last to get the character cards you will have only two to choose from and the unchosen card is also placed face down out of play. Who has chosen what card, based on the characteristics, player fortunes, and range of possible interactions, is the essence of the game.


The part of the game which involves trying to guess which role card players have chosen each round can get very psychological as each participant bluffs and counter-bluffs as to which card he's picked. Once all the players have their character cards, each is called in a specific order with the player having that role performing his available actions when called upon. Although all roles will be called out in order, only the ones chosen by the players will be activated (two will always remain unchosen). Some characters' special advantage involves targeting another character card, while others target another player irrespective of the character card he holds.

The Assassin, for example, will cause the targeted character to skip a turn. Whether the Assassin targets the player intended, or whether the targeted character is even in play that round is one of the delicious "hooks" the game provides. The Thief works in a similar fashion but steals the targeted character's gold in this case. A player who hordes a lot of gold hoping to build one of the special (but expensive) district cards has cause to fear the Thief, but may escape unscathed by picking his character card judiciously (one way is to take the Assassin character, if available, and target the Thief). The Warlord can target another player's district cards for destruction but cannot target the player holding the Bishop character card. The Magician can look about the table and switch "hands" with a player who has a mitful of cards he's been holding, and can be especially annoying if the Magician player's hand happens to be empty. The Architect gets to draw extra cards as well as draw income and may build up to three districts instead of the usual limit of one. The Merchant receives extra gold whether he chooses income or cards. Finally, the King as his reward gets to be the first player to choose from the role cards next round.

This a great game that plays well with 5-7 players...and there are not a lot of games for that many players that don't suffer from a lot of downtime or take a long time to play (unless they are pretty trivial to begin with). This game moves quickly yet rewards players who think about what they are doing rather than playing impulsively. The tension that arises from the process of selecting the character from the ones you have to choose from when the deck gets to you (and how to influence where you are in the pick order); and, knowing which characters to pick under different circumstances is really what this game is all about.


A typical game, even up to the seven player limit, will rarely last much more than an hour or so. The time factor can be easily adjusted by varying the number of districts needed to end the game.

A point to stress here is that this game may not be for everyone. If you have folks in your group that don't like "mind games," or who are prone to "analysis paralysis," you may not want to inflict this on them. Some others have complained about the length of time required to finish a game; yet, how many decent seven player games are out there that take a little over an hour to play? Another complaint is that the game "punishes" a player for trying to follow a coherent strategy. However, what I think I'm really hearing is that they don't like that they get whacked by playing in a straight forward (read predictable) fashion. This game is all about being sly, cunning, inscrutable and unpredictable. A good part of the social aspect of this game involves kibitzing the actions of the other players and is among the tactics of misdirection central to effective game play.

There is a lot of fun here for the right group of friends with the proper attitude!
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