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Subject: Citadels (w. Dark City) – Interesting but flawed rss

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Filip W.
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Bruno Faidutti is known for his quirky games, where chaos rules supreme and player interaction is king, so it was with great anticipation I awaited my copy of Citadels. Tearing open the wrapper I swooned like a medieval lady at the sight of the gorgeous artwork and fantastic quality – Citadels (in the new version) is amazingly overproduced, from the velvet cards to the butterscotch gold counters. But when it came to playing the game was a disappointment. Maybe I had too high hopes, having played other Faidutti games, but I had to struggle to muster enthusiasm for a second game. Now, having gone through some 15 games with different player groups and numbers of players, I have come to the conclusion that Citadels can be fun – but only when played with the right people.

Components
Citadels comes in gorgeous blue box the size of two clenched fists. The artwork is evocative, the surface has a classy woven texture and from personal experience I can say that the box is sturdy enough to survive being stepped upon.

The cards are also gorgeous, with a Terry Pratchetty feel to the art that fits the game like a glove (Citadels is chaotic and humorous enough to easily be adapted to a Discworld theme – something for the 10th anniversary edition perhaps?). The reverse sides are fully graphic, not just patterns, and the character cards have a different reverse from the building cards.

The game also comes with a number of funny gold markers that bear a striking resemblance to butterscotch candy to the point of it presenting a chocking hazard to play when drunk. Every new player I've sat down with has conceived of some form of nefarious scheme involving Citadels' markers and bowls of candy.
There's also a rather useless but nice "King" marker.

It is obvious that great thought had gone into presenting Citadels and it does pay off. It enhances the game's worth to the $25 asked for it when I bought it.

Gameplay
Citadels is a tactical building card game with some set collection, some deduction and a good measure of chaos thrown in. Pretty much everything one might expect from a Faidutti creation.

Each turn players secretly choose from amongst a number of roles (King, Assassin, Merchant etc.) each with a special ability. So far Citadels is reminiscent of Puerto Rico, but as two of the roles (the Assassin and the Thief) strike directly against other players, remembering which cards were available when one chose and deducting which roles the players before and after one self could have chosen play a big part. This is also where the game breaks down for new players, who either spend minutes agonizing over what role to chose or get fed up and pick one at random.

After this each player, in the order their roles dictate, gets to draw cards or collect gold, use their role's special ability and build buildings.

Four of the roles (King, Merchant, Bishop and Warlord) have special abilities that increase their income by one or a couple of gold. As gold is very dear in Citadels – the grandest buildings take only 6 gold to build and one can theoretically finish the game having spent only 8 gold – making the correct role choice is a big part of Citadels. To even out the field the remaining four roles (Assassin, Thief, Magican and Architect) have powerful special abilities. The assassin may kill an opponents role, preventing that player from taking a turn, while the thief steals gold from a role, the magican switches hands with an opponent and the architect gets to draw and build more buildings that turn.

Each building has a cost, ranging from one to six gold, and a color that increases the income of the gold generating roles. There are also special buildings that add even more chaos to the game. One card (the Ball Room) even states that players, when the king announces that it is the turn of their role to play, must loudly proclaim "Thank you, your majesty." or forfeit their turn.

The game ends once a player builds his eight building and the player whose city is worth the most gold wins.

Conclusions
Citadels is a game that appeals to a certain type of person – likely someone who reads Terry Pratchett or similar light fantasy fare, and possibly has a whoopee cushion hidden in a closet. Players interact only through what their roles allow them to do, with only four (Assassin, Thief, Mage and Warlord) allowing direct interaction. The remaining roles are more or less passive income/building roles, but as they can easily be influenced by those taking the interactive roles there is no way that a player can hunker down and plan a long term strategy. Instead Citadels changes from turn to turn and players who appreciate a slow but steady growth will be sorely disappointed.

This is Citadels main weakness. It is not a game that can be played with everybody. In fact, I've had players surrender in order to shorten the game – a very bad sign.
I've read that Citadels is a good game to get non-gamers into the hobby, but personally I've experienced quite the opposite. Only dedicated gamers have wanted to play it again, none of the non-gamers who tried it have liked it.

Another gripe is that Citadels is touted as a two to six player game. This may be but playing with two or three players is a bore. It evens out some of the randomness in the game, but the game becomes boring.

Having taken the game down a few pegs I've got to say that I've also played rounds of Citadels where all the players were bent double with laughter. But this has come not from the game itself but from the players' using the props of the game (artwork, the King etc.) to play out small semi-medieval skits like: "As your liege and lord I deem the Assassin to do his dirty deed." "Filthy ruler, you order me not, I boot you in the behind with a dagger!"
Well, it's a lot more fun when you're there.

Therefore, if you and your gaming group enjoy light games of light comedy and don't take winning and strategy too seriously then Citadels is the game for you. But if you know that you've got a group of thinkers and planners then stay away.
 
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Jim Patterson
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Nice review. A few thoughts.

filwi wrote:

Citadels comes in gorgeous blue box the size of two clenched fists.


Your fists, maybe, but mine are the size of giant sledgehammer heads.

Quote:
The game also comes with a number of funny gold markers that bear a striking resemblance to butterscotch candy to the point of it presenting a chocking hazard to play when drunk. Every new player I've sat down with has conceived of some form of nefarious scheme involving Citadels' markers and bowls of candy.


The coins are a very nice touch (except as noted above) and for me add a lot to the attractiveness of the package.

Quote:
There's also a rather useless but nice "King" marker.


Well, I'd say in a game as chaotic as this, I want a King marker to keep track of who's who.

Quote:
Citadels is a game that appeals to a certain type of person – likely someone who reads Terry Pratchett or similar light fantasy fare, and possibly has a whoopee cushion hidden in a closet. Players interact only through what their roles allow them to do, with only four (Assassin, Thief, Mage and Warlord) allowing direct interaction. The remaining roles are more or less passive income/building roles, but as they can easily be influenced by those taking the interactive roles there is no way that a player can hunker down and plan a long term strategy. Instead Citadels changes from turn to turn and players who appreciate a slow but steady growth will be sorely disappointed.


I agree that if you have no tolerance for the turn-to-turn variability, you should stay away from this game. In the few plays I've had with the game, though, I've never found it to be "funny."

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I've read that Citadels is a good game to get non-gamers into the hobby, but personally I've experienced quite the opposite. Only dedicated gamers have wanted to play it again, none of the non-gamers who tried it have liked it.


I'd agree with this. I toyed with the idea of introducing my nongaming wife to this and decided that there was just too much going on to interest her. Not that she couldn't handle it; she just probably wouldn't want to.

Quote:
Another gripe is that Citadels is touted as a two to six player game. This may be but playing with two or three players is a bore. It evens out some of the randomness in the game, but the game becomes boring.


I think some people do like the two- and three-player versions, but I found that I don't like having more than one character at a time. Maybe I'll feel differently after additional plays.
 
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Filip W.
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generalpf wrote:
This all depends on the edition. I own the 2nd edition in French and the money is tiny crappy plastic tiddlywinks and the King is just a card.

Sorry, should have stated that I've got the FFG edition.
 
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Seth Jaffee
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Interesting review. makes me wonder if you're playing the same Citadels as I am...

filwi wrote:
Citadels (in the new version) is amazingly overproduced, from the velvet cards to the butterscotch gold counters.

I have the old version. My coins are crappy cardboard. I like the butterscotch bits much better.

Quote:
Citadels can be fun – but only when played with the right people.

I definitely agree with you here. I can't stand playing Citadels with people who don't try to make good plays, or people who think it's all random. "It's a crapshoot what other people pick, so I might as well pick randmly!" What a rediculous sentiment.

Quote:
Components
Citadels comes in gorgeous blue box the size of two clenched fists. The artwork is evocative, the surface has a classy woven texture and from personal experience I can say that the box is sturdy enough to survive being stepped upon.

The cards are also gorgeous, with a Terry Pratchetty feel to the art that fits the game like a glove (Citadels is chaotic and humorous enough to easily be adapted to a Discworld theme – something for the 10th anniversary edition perhaps?). The reverse sides are fully graphic, not just patterns, and the character cards have a different reverse from the building cards.

I love the artwork in this game. I think my favorite is the picture on teh um... Market? Where a guy's got a monkey on his shoulder. All the cards are beautiful.

Quote:
The game also comes with a number of funny gold markers that bear a striking resemblance to butterscotch candy to the point of it presenting a chocking hazard to play when drunk. Every new player I've sat down with has conceived of some form of nefarious scheme involving Citadels' markers and bowls of candy.
There's also a rather useless but nice "King" marker.
I can't speak for your friends, or what they're willing to put in their mouths, but I can tell you the use for the king marker... it's to let you know who goes first next round. Sure, it's a little extraneous, but at least it's got a token purpose, as opposed to the black cylindar thingies in new England.

I'm not sure I've heard people complain about getting EXTRA bits before. the new version has that nifty painted wooden king marker, doesn't it? Mine has a tile with a stand :/

Quote:
Gameplay
Citadels is a tactical building card game with some set collection, some deduction and a good measure of chaos thrown in. Pretty much everything one might expect from a Faidutti creation.

Just to be clear, the reviewer here is equating "player decisions" to "chaos," as there's nothing really unknown except for which role your opponents have chosen. The effect of the cards you draw or what exactly is in your hand is pretty minor compared to what role you choose, and whether another role will cause you problems or not.

Quote:
Each turn players secretly choose from amongst a number of roles (King, Assassin, Merchant etc.) each with a special ability. So far Citadels is reminiscent of Puerto Rico, but as two of the roles (the Assassin and the Thief) strike directly against other players, remembering which cards were available when one chose and deducting which roles the players before and after one self could have chosen play a big part.
Right, this is the meat of the game. If you're choosing the Assassin or the Theif, it might be worthwhile to figure out which roles the other players have chosen (or will choose). If this is not something you're good at or interested in doing, you don't have to choose Theif or Assassin. Further, you don't have to play this game if you don't want to. But if you are playing this game, then it behooves you to figure out what other people have chosen. It's not entirely necessary, but it'll help you make better plays.

Quote:
This is also where the game breaks down for new players, who either spend minutes agonizing over what role to chose or get fed up and pick one at random.
As I said, I can't speak for your friends, but this is not something I've encountered.

Quote:
There are also special buildings that add even more chaos to the game. One card (the Ball Room) even states that players, when the king announces that it is the turn of their role to play, must loudly proclaim "Thank you, your majesty." or forfeit their turn.

I'm not familiar with the expansion buildings. The Ball room ability you mention sounds somewhat silly. The original buildings have abilities that have an actual impact on the game. Some are better than others, and in general they cost more. I hadn't noticed any that were severely under or overcoste, or overpowered. Underpowered is sort of OK, because you need a purple building for a set bonus, and you get points for it no matter what.

Quote:
Conclusions
Citadels is a game that appeals to a certain type of person – likely someone who reads Terry Pratchett or similar light fantasy fare, and possibly has a whoopee cushion hidden in a closet.

I've never actually seen a whoopie cushion, and I think they're silly. Who the heck is Terry Pratchett? I think it's a fantasy author.

I do on the other hand like Citadels very much, and am relatively good at it.

Quote:
Players interact only through what their roles allow them to do, with only four (Assassin, Thief, Mage and Warlord) allowing direct interaction. The remaining roles are more or less passive income/building roles, but as they can easily be influenced by those taking the interactive roles there is no way that a player can hunker down and plan a long term strategy.

Well, one could plan a strategy around concentrating on a particular color (say, green), thus getting a lot of income, and planning on choosing that role a lot. this is somewhat risky, as players might have more opportunity to jack you, knowing you're likely to take the Merchant for example. Another long term strategy might be to buil evenly, getting a scoring bonus for a set, and being relatively happy with any Income role, making it harder to figure out which character you might choose. Still another might be to use the Magician and/or Architect to find the good Purple buildings to give yourself an edge (maybe that's not too long term).

You could shoot for an early endgame, finishing your city with the Architect and cheap buildings, hoping the bonuse will putyou over the top, or you could build up cash and buy only expensive buildings, threatening to win even if someone else fills their city. But it's true, this game is very tactical in nature.

Quote:
Instead Citadels changes from turn to turn and players who appreciate a slow but steady growth will be sorely disappointed.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that or howit applies to Citadels.

Quote:
This is Citadels main weakness. It is not a game that can be played with everybody. In fact, I've had players surrender in order to shorten the game – a very bad sign.
Indeed, a bad sign. I've seen game or two like that myself. I think it has more to do with the players than the game though.
Quote:
Another gripe is that Citadels is touted as a two to six player game. This may be but playing with two or three players is a bore. It evens out some of the randomness in the game, but the game becomes boring.

this is my biggest complaint with the game as well. You can actually play it with up to 7 players, but it's pretty bad with 5 and absolutely terrible with more - if you want to have any sort of control of the game. I did have a lot of fun once with a full compliment of players, using the 9th role and everything, but it was in a more "beer and pretzels" kind of way. With 4 players the game really shines, as you have a good amount of information and just enough is hidden to make it interesting to figure out who chose what role.

3 players is also great, as you get to choose 2 different roles, and there are some roles you know for sure are out there. Don't forget, turn order is very important as well. If I have a bunch of cash, I might choose the Assassin and spend it, thereby thwarting the theif for example.

2 player is similarly good, as you choose a role and hide a role each time, so your opponent doesn' know for sure which of the 2 missing roles you have chosen. It's interesting to figure this kind of thing out, which is why Citadels is such a good game.

Quote:
Having taken the game down a few pegs I've got to say that I've also played rounds of Citadels where all the players were bent double with laughter. But this has come not from the game itself but from the players' using the props of the game (artwork, the King etc.) to play out small semi-medieval skits like: "As your liege and lord I deem the Assassin to do his dirty deed." "Filthy ruler, you order me not, I boot you in the behind with a dagger!"
Well, it's a lot more fun when you're there.
... or Drunk, I imagine. I fear you've missed all the best parts of the game, and I feel sorry for you.

Quote:
Therefore, if you and your gaming group enjoy light games of light comedy and don't take winning and strategy too seriously then Citadels is the game for you. But if you know that you've got a group of thinkers and planners then stay away.
My experience has been the opposite.
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Giles Pritchard
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Re: Citadels (w. Dark City) – Interesting but flawed
So has my experience. I've used this game a lot with non-gamers and I have never had anyone who didn't at least enjoy it.

But I guess it takes all sorts!

Cheers!

Giles.
 
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Aaron Tubb
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I just took my first look at this game, today, and I think I may like it. (Terry Pratchett is my favorite author) I'll have to look into this some more.
 
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Russ Williams
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filwi wrote:
This is also where the game breaks down for new players, who either spend minutes agonizing over what role to chose or get fed up and pick one at random.


I played it last night for the first time and saw that happen with a nongamer, who always immediately picked a random role and passed the deck immediately.

Quote:
The remaining roles are more or less passive income/building roles, but as they can easily be influenced by those taking the interactive roles there is no way that a player can hunker down and plan a long term strategy. Instead Citadels changes from turn to turn and players who appreciate a slow but steady growth will be sorely disappointed.


Definitely. It seems very "in the moment" reactive and chaotic. I don't mind that in a short game, but Citadels took longer than I'd like for a chaotic game.

Quote:
This is Citadels main weakness. It is not a game that can be played with everybody. In fact, I've had players surrender in order to shorten the game – a very bad sign.


In my second game (a 6 player game), I had the misfortune of being the one to miss a turn 4 times out of 8 rounds. I haven't played enough to know if that is typical, or a terribly unlucky statistical fluke, but being a spectator half the game was rather frustrating... in the last round, I was of course solidly in last place. Usually if I'm not able to win a game, I try to get as high a rank as I can, or at least not finish in last place. But having gotten to play only 4 turns was fatal. My score was hopelessly behind even the 5th place player. In such a situation, I could only hope someone would hurry up and win so the tedium would end. As the other players discussed how to stop the guy with 7 cards who was about to win, I realized there were a few things I could do to help stop him, and in many games I would have, but in this case I felt a strange cognitive dissonance of "Oh, if I do X, that might thwart his victory... wait, why would I want to do that?! I WANT him to hurry up and end this game!"

It's a clever system with some neat ideas, and definitely has good components, but the chaos/luck and length are not a good combination for me. As a social pastime with friends I enjoyed it. As a game, I'm not so sure. I'll try it again probably, but I don't expect it to move high up my list.
 
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James Davis
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filwi wrote:
COLOR=#FF0000]Citadels can be fun – but only when played with the right people[/COLOR].

You would say this with nearly game made.

russ wrote:
filwi wrote:
This is also where the game breaks down for new players, who either spend minutes agonizing over what role to chose or get fed up and pick one at random.


I played it last night for the first time and saw that happen with a nongamer, who always immediately picked a random role and passed the deck immediately.


I did this when I began, but thats because you learn what cards are good when its actually a way of experimenting to see what strategy you can use in later games. It is a bit much to expect a new person to automatically know what does what and when to use it.
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Russ Williams
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jamesdavis wrote:
I did this when I began, but thats because you learn what cards are good when its actually a way of experimenting to see what strategy you can use in later games. It is a bit much to expect a new person to automatically know what does what and when to use it.


Just because you don't know all the rules and strategies doesn't mean you can do nothing but randomly choose your option. There is middle ground between the extremes. When you play other games for the first time, do you also immediately make random moves without thinking at all?

In any case, I didn't say I expected a new person to automatically know what to do, nor was I condemning them for it. I was merely confirming the reviewer's statement that a new person might do this (especially a nongamer), since I had seen it happen.
 
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filwi wrote:
I've got to say that I've also played rounds of Citadels where all the players were bent double with laughter. But this has come not from the game itself but from the players' using the props of the game (artwork, the King etc.) to play out small semi-medieval skits like: "As your liege and lord I deem the Assassin to do his dirty deed." "Filthy ruler, you order me not, I boot you in the behind with a dagger!"


Tonight I had a couple friends over for dinner and we played Citadels afterwards. One guy was playing for the first time and the other I just taught the game to last weekend, so it's still relatively new to all of us.

We had a rip-roaring good time in part due to just going along with the general theme and no one getting too bent out of shape from getting robbed or assassinated. In fact I think we stumbled onto a possible house rule while laughing--that an assassinated character has to describe the manner of his demise in some way that hasn't been used before, or suffer a 1 gold penalty. "The Bishop was shoved under the dropping portcullis" or "the Warlord drank a poisoned flagon of ale" or similar.

I forgot to look up the fix for the 3 player game's 100% hit probability for the Assassin/Thief but we had a good time anyway. So really I'm just reinforcing your point that it takes the right group of gamers to get the most out of the game. Also people need to keep their pondering to a minimum to make the game flow and not bog down, as has been mentioned.
 
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Bill Stripp
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Re: Citadels (w. Dark City) – Interesting but flawed
I have played this game once, and sadly regretted the time that I played it.

The key flaws for Citadel are:
(1) Loose a turn mechanics are really bad. You are playing the game to actually play, not to sit and watch other people play. Through no fault of your own, you could end up missing most of the game. In my play I missed about a third of the game.

(2) Random play is nearly as good as considered strategy. After not playing for three rounds in the beginning, I realized that my calculated picks were just getting me no where. I pulled random roles from there out and ended up winning. This is from taking the pile, pulling a random card and moving on. If I wanted that kind of mechanic I could play LCR.

(3) The end game is determined by a kingmaker. If the game is at all close, there will likely be a player who can give the game to one or the other. Any time that mechanic is so blatantly in play, you are bound to hurt feelings and/or make people wonder why they are playing in the first place. I was handed the game, I didn't win it. It wasn't fun for me and it wasn't fun for the person who had actually worked at getting a win.

I love just about any game I have played, and there are few that I will not join in. This is one of two that I will just not bother with. When it comes up, I'll sit out and catch up on some work... or reading... or watching paint dry.
 
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bstripp wrote:
I have played this game once, and sadly regretted the time that I played it.

The key flaws for Citadel are:
(1) Loose a turn mechanics are really bad. You are playing the game to actually play, not to sit and watch other people play. Through no fault of your own, you could end up missing most of the game. In my play I missed about a third of the game.

(2) Random play is nearly as good as considered strategy. After not playing for three rounds in the beginning, I realized that my calculated picks were just getting me no where. I pulled random roles from there out and ended up winning. This is from taking the pile, pulling a random card and moving on. If I wanted that kind of mechanic I could play LCR.

(3) The end game is determined by a kingmaker. If the game is at all close, there will likely be a player who can give the game to one or the other. Any time that mechanic is so blatantly in play, you are bound to hurt feelings and/or make people wonder why they are playing in the first place. I was handed the game, I didn't win it. It wasn't fun for me and it wasn't fun for the person who had actually worked at getting a win.


(1) Do you mean loosing a turn is boring? Sure it is, but it definitely IS through your own fault if you get killed.
Or did you mean that with more players the game drags? That's true, but that depends on your players skills and if they're willing to make up their minds quickly. Citadels imo caps at six but works well with small groups too.

(2) Strange, the players who often win in our groups are the ones who can outwit their opponents and who pick efficient but not too obvious characters. Random play takes you nowhere. Might work for one turn or two but not through the entire game.

(3) Kingmaker is taken care of by not allowing the warlord to destroy districts of finished cities. You suggest a close call but in several games the winner outpaced the group by a big margin. If you hurt feelings in a game, you might consider a more mature audience.

The game's not for everyone but even my grandma like it! A pity you didn't get the hang of it.

 
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