David McMillan
United States
Madison
Tennessee
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Lords, ladies, wizards, knights, and kings…

It’s a heady time to be alive and it’s an even better time to be a noble with a lot of land that is sitting around doing nothing. City building is all the rage and you’ve never been one to fall behind on whatever trend is most fashionable. So, growing bored with the everyday humdrum of running an estate and keeping your own finances in order, you’ve gathered together a few like minded nobles for a spirited contest. It’s a no holds barred contest of civil expansion. The first person to complete their eighth city district wins the contest and wins the pot. Delighted with yourself, you leave the meeting with thoughts of treachery, deceit, and fountains of coin floating through your head.

This is going to be fun!

In the game of Citadels, each player will take on the role of a medieval ruler trying to complete their city before their opponents can build theirs. This is accomplished using a clever card drawing and hidden player mechanic. Each player chooses one of eight possible character cards from a shared pool and keeps that character hidden from the other players until everyone has chosen one. As the characters are revealed, they will interact with each other and with the game environment in various ways. In this ever shifting, unpredictable environment only one ruler can emerge as the winner. Will it be you?

CONTENT

Citadels comes in a sturdy, oblong, rectangular blue box. On the front of the box we can see a bustling scene of a busy township. The darkening sky in the background and the stars appearing in the sky suggests it is dusk. Front and center we see a few street musicians performing while a small merchant vessel floats in the canal behind them in the process of being unloaded. Nearby, on some steps the lead up to a walkway that spans the waterway is a few of the peasantry resting their weary feet after a hard day’s labor and enjoying the musicians’ efforts. Off in the distance, across the channel, sits a beautiful palace atop a hill. The scene and the smiles on the people’s faces suggest peace and tranquility and an overall sense of well-being. One could rightfully assume from the tableau that here sits a hamlet that is lorded over by a wise and fair ruler that does right by his people. Floating above this scene, we see the game’s title with its creator’s name just above that. On the back of the box, there is a description of the game as well as an illustration of the game’s layout.

Inside of the box, we find a small collection of circular plastic pieces that are slightly smaller than a dime in circumference. Colored a marbled honey color, these pieces represent coins within the game space. Along with these is a wooden, yellow figurine that resembles the upper torso of a clown with a strange triangular hairdo in profile. This is the wooden crown marker and is used to keep track of which player is currently the first player. The name “wooden crown marker” is a bit of a misnomer because any way that you look at it, this thing does not resemble a crown in any shape, form, or fashion.

Also included inside of the box are three sets of cards. Firstly, there are several double-sided player aid cards. One side of the card features a turn sequence summary and the opposite side features a scoring summary that comes in handy at the end of the game. Then there is another small set of cards that feature the likenesses of several characters. These cards are numbered with a single number within a colored circle in the upper right hand corner and the numbers range between 1 and 8. Directly to the right of this number, in a small banner, is the name of the character that is depicted on the card. Beneath this title is an illustration of the character in question. These illustrations are amazing and do an amazing job of adding flavor to the game. The Assassin card, for instance, features the image of the inside of an assassin’s den. All around are standing grizzled, scarred men with looks of fierce determination on their faces. Beneath this illustration is a small text box that contains a description of what the card in question actually does. The reverse side of each of these cards contains the image that is found on the King card. Surrounded by an intricate border decoration, we see the image of a proud king. He stands nobly, one hand resting on a wooden staff and exudes an aura of wealth and strength.

The last set of cards is the actual districts that the players will be adding to their cities. Along the left edge of each of these cards is a collection of coin images. The total number of coin images represents both how much coin it costs to add this district to your city from your hand and also the total number of victory points that the district will be worth at the end of the game. In the lower left corner of the card is a colored circle. This circle represents the type of district that this building belongs to. There are four different types in all. To the right of this, in a small banner, is the name of the building (i.e. – citadel, church, harbor, watchtower, etc.). The entire rest of the card is taken up by a very detailed illustration of the building in question. Each of the scenes is redolent of the art work on the front of the box. On the backside of the cards, in a decorated border similar to the one on the character cards, is the scene from the front of the box.

Also included in the box is a very well written and highly detailed rule book. The image on the front of the rule book should, by this time, feel very familiar. It is the image from the front of the box. Inside of the rule book are fifteen pages of information that lay out the game and explain how it is played. There are a lot of illustrations included, but none of these really help to describe how the game is played. However, game play illustrations are not really needed. After reading through the rule book one single time, I did not have to refer back to it even once for any rules issues.

SET UP

Each player is handed a reference card and then the character cards are shuffled together into a deck and set aside. Then, the district cards are shuffled together into a deck and placed face down onto the table. Next, each player is dealt four cards from the district card deck and they will also receive two gold from the bank.

Finally, the oldest player receives the crown token and you are ready to begin playing. Play will continue clockwise from that player.

ROUNDS

This game is played in a series of rounds until someone meets the end game objective. Each round consists of several steps. These steps are:

1. One character is drawn from the character card deck and placed face down onto the table. This card will not be used this round. Then, depending upon the number of people playing, a number of character cards will be drawn from the character card deck and placed face up next to this face down card. These will also not be used this round.
2. Beginning with the first player, each player will take the deck of character cards and select a card from it which they will keep hidden face down from the other players. Then they will pass the remaining cards to their left. This will continue until all players have chosen a character card. The last remaining character card is then placed face down into the middle of the table.
3. Each player takes their turn which will be discussed in more detail later.
4. As each character is called, the players return their character card to the character card deck. Once each card has been returned, all of the character cards are shuffled together and a new round begins.

TURNS

Once every player has chosen a character card, the person holding the crown token will begin calling out each character one at a time according to their rank (the number in the upper left hand corner of each character card). If a player’s character is called, they will reveal their character card.

First, the character will resolve any actions that have been played against their character by other players. The Assassin, for instance, allows a player to name a target for assassination. If your character is the one that was targeted, then your character would die when you revealed the card.

Secondly, each player is then allowed to take one of two actions. They may either take 2 coins from the general supply and add those coins to their own personal supply OR they may draw two cards from the district deck, choose one to keep, and then place the other at the bottom of the district deck. A player may NOT choose to do nothing at all. They MUST perform one of these two actions.

Once that player has taken their action for the turn, then they may build one district card from their hands. They will pay the amount of gold shown on the card into the general supply and then place that card face up in front of them. A player may never have two identical districts in play.

Also, at any time during their turn, a player may use their character card’s special ability, but only once. Each of the eight character cards has a unique ability. It is through the use of these powers that players will earn extra coin as well as attempt to harm their opponents.

VARIANTS

This game plays best with 4 to 6 players. However, this game also includes several variants for two, three, and seven players. Having played the two player variant, I can personally attest that it is just as challenging as the base game is.

END GAME and WINNING

Once any player builds their eighth district, the end game begins. The current round is finished out and then the victory points are totaled up according to the rules set out on the scoring card player aid. The person with the most victory points wins.

THOUGHTS

Citadels is a deceptively easy game. On paper, it seems so straightforward and, as you begin playing, you’re able to see three out of the eight characters right away. Having so many characters known and revealed makes it easy to deduce which cards everyone else probably has. At first glance, it seems like this game is going to be a breeze to play. And then you start playing it.

The advantage goes to the first person in line and the last person in line. The King knows all of the players in the game. Nothing is hidden from him. But, the last player also has an advantage. Only they know what the second face down card is. Suddenly, you’re not just playing to build up your own districts, but you’re trying to guess what your opponents are going to do and having to plan accordingly. Having to make these deductions every turn helps to keep the game fresh and exciting. It’s not enough to just guess what your opponent is going to do, but you have to guess what they MIGHT do and that will sometimes force you to have to second guess yourself. As my wife put it so succinctly, “It feels like I’m playing out the game of wits scene from The Princess Bride.”

This isn’t too far off the mark either. I love the way these interactions play out. It’s sometimes frustrating when you’ve been out thought, but it is oh so gratifying when you are able to put yourself into your opponents’ shoes and figure out what they’re going to do and then prevent them from doing it before they even know that they were going to do it. This is what makes this game great. The city building is just a back drop.

Citadels is a game that forces you to use your wits, your common sense, and your deductive reasoning skills to great effect. It is a game that never plays the same twice and there is never a clear path to victory. A game of Citadels can turn against you in a heartbeat or find you soaring up from the bottom of the pack into the winner’s circle in the blink of an eye. It is all of this combined with the visual aesthetic that draws me to this game and keeps me playing. If you’ve never played this game before, then it is definitely one that you’re going to want to take for a spin. If you have played it, then you know what I’m talking about. Or so you think… I could be pulling a fast one on you.


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dj sabor
United States
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One of my favorite games that, as you say, is deceptively simple. Yet each time I play it, I marvel anew at its mechanics and sheer fun. Love it!
 
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Randolph Bookman
United States
Los Angeles
California
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How about a game that I want to trade away. Good review either way. Nice job.
 
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Ian Allen
United States
Madison
Alabama
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Nicely written review!

I loved it for a few years, then I noticed that many times when I played, that luck was wiping me out no matter what I did, then I started really hating it and the last 5 times I played, I got assassinated at least 3 times per game (4 out of those 5 games), which meant I had zero chance to win. When you know that you have zero chance to catch back up, and still have to play for another hour anyway, it becomes very grueling.

I finally sold my copy and don't ever need to play this again.

And yes I tried the variant assassin (witch) and folks at the table were not a big fan of her. Whoever went first - seemed like they would be stupid NOT to choose her, so she was kind of an auto-choice, which they didn't like.

In that game (with another player's copy) I chose my roles randomly and while I didn't win, at least I didn't lose as badly as I usually do when I get assassinated or stolen from a dis-proportionate amount of times, so the experience was only bad instead of awful.
 
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Smilin' Stan
United Kingdom
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CarcassonneFreak wrote:

This game plays best with 4 to 6 players.

Personally I think it plays best with 2-3 players. With more players there's too much downtime, and not that much to think about during the downtime. With 2-3 players having 2 roles per round makes for a more tactical choice. Assassin and Thief are less random and there's a fun element of bluff as you can calculate which cards your opponent(s) might have chosen.
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George I.
Switzerland
Zurich
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CarcassonneFreak wrote:
Lords, ladies, wizards, knights, and kings…

You're infringing the Royal Protocol... the "Kings" last???

Nice write-up, thanks. meeple
 
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