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Designer Diary: Dej, or A Citadel in Persia

Board Game: Citadels
Board Game: Citadels
A first version of this designer diary was originally posted on my website on August 7, 2018, in both French and English.

Citadels was first published in 2000 by a small French publisher that didn't really believe in it and that saved money by recycling art originally used in an occult-themed CCG set in Renaissance Europe. That's why the original art is more Renaissance than medieval and is sometimes relatively dark for a game about city building. This strange and beautiful art helped a lot towards the game's success.

In 2016, when Fantasy Flight Games decided to publish a big box with many new building and character cards, they also ordered new art by several U.S. fantasy artists (a story previously told on my website), the result being much lighter and more in line with standard American fantasy. Two complete sets of art for Citadels — one very European, one very American — was already a lot, and now there's also an oriental version, one that might be harder to get, especially in the U.S. where it theoretically cannot be sold.

Board Game: Citadels

Ten years ago, an Indonesian publisher started working on "Kraton", a localization of Citadels illustrated by local artists. Eventually this project was cancelled, and all that's left is a few graphic files on my computer; in the end, the Indonesian edition of the game is identical to the western ones. I regret this a lot because I would have liked to own a few copies of this very exotic Citadels. You can read more about this story in an older blogpost on my website.

More or less at the same time, a Mormon version was also considered, which would have qualified as extremely exotic in Europe, but not so much in the U.S.

From gallery of faidutti
Cards from "Kraton", the Indonesian Citadels that was never published

The oriental Citadels is finally coming from another, and much nearer, East. In 2015, I was contacted by Alireza Lolagar from Houpaa, who wanted to publish Citadels in Persian.

Modern boardgames are becoming popular in Iran, at least in big cities. Game cafés, such as cafeboard, are also on the rise. Those interested might read, or at least like me have a look, at the main Iranian board game website: Roomiz Games. The main local publishers are Houpaa, which is doing Citadels, and lbmind, which mostly imports games from Europe.

From gallery of faidutti

As I do every time I am contacted by someone willing to publish Citadels in some country where it isn't available yet, I first forwarded Alireza to Fantasy Flight Games, which already deals with localization of the game in twenty or thirty languages. This time, things were more complicated than they are usually, and my friends at FFG answered that U.S. commercial sanctions against Iran forbid them from dealing with an Iranian publisher. Yes, it looks like board games are that strategic.

On the other hand, there was no problem with me dealing directly with Iranians, providing that they didn't use the art owned by FFG. All the best for me, I was going to be one of the few people to benefit from the United States' inconsistent foreign policy and to have an oriental Citadels — and a completely different one than what I nearly got in Indonesia. I must also thank Maryam, a friend of Alireza who was living in Paris at that time and who helped a lot with this project.

From gallery of faidutti

All the art for Dej, a.k.a. دژ, the Persian edition of Citadels, is by Iranian artist Hassan Nozadian, whose Instagram feed features illustrations from the game. I appreciate the way he managed to make something both different from and very true to the original. Places and characters are not that different from the orientalist clichés I discussed on my short essay on this topic: desert landscapes with the occasional cedar or cypress, massive temples or caravanserais with wide arcades. Colors, on the other hand, are bright and fresh, quite different from the browns and beiges that western game illustrators always use when depicting the Middle East, as if forgetting that while there's indeed desert there, there's also sea.

From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
From gallery of faidutti
Sketches and final result for the King card

Even the crown has been redesigned, with a bulb inspired by Sasanian models.

From gallery of faidutti
Western and Eastern crown

The card mix in Dej is the same as in the first basic edition of Citadels, which has now become the small square box. The box of the Persian edition is clearly oversized, but this will leave room for a possible future expansion with the cards added in the U.S. fourth edition should this game ever become a classic in Iran.

From gallery of faidutti

Citadels fans have already asked me how they can find a copy of this specific version of the game. Alireza plans to be at the 2018 SPIEL game fair in Essen — he obviously can't go to Gen Con — and will have a small booth there to sell a few games. The Irianian rial has collapsed these last months after the U.S. sanctions, so I bet even a few sales in strong currencies will help a lot. The game will also be sold online by nicegameshop, a German game shop that specializes in seriously exotic stuff. U.S. buyers, however, will probably have to ask for discreet packaging...

From gallery of faidutti
The publisher team and the illustrator of Dej; I'd like to visit them some day,
but I just got a new passport and don't want to lose my ESTA
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