The age-old classic that offers role selection in it's purest form.
Style of Game: Family, Strategy
Play Time: 20 to 60 minutes (60 minutes is generous at higher player counts)
Theme: Medieval City Building
Number of Players: 2-8 (2 player alters rules)
Main Mechanics: Card Drafting, Set Collection, Variable Phase Order, Variable Player Powers
Weight: Low end of medium weight
THEME AND MECHANISMS:
- When I think of this question for Citadels I kind of think of a game that wasn't trying to build mechanisms around a theme, as much as I think of a game that threw a theme onto a set of mechanisms.
- When this is the case it doesn't always mean the game works against the theme and that's probably not the case for Citadels, but you don't get immersed in the theme.
- This game boils down the theme and atmosphere at the table to a pure mechanical experience which then often creates more of a tense race that could be named "2 Step Forward, 1 Step Back" because your progression is seldom safe and your progression, and only your progression, is the only end game trigger.
GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW (In five sentences or less):
Players take on a multitude of different roles (one at a time in most player counts) in an attempt to build their medieval city. Each round of the game will offer players an opportunity to secretly secure the special ability of one of the 9 roles/characters. Over the course of several rounds players will be attempting to build 8 buildings in their city by spending gold they have obtained for various things on previous ruonds. While the 8th building constructed by the first player triggers the end of the game, all players will have an opportunity to build 8 buildings by the end of that round. Once a player or players have constructed 8 buildings the players will total up points that are earned through multiple scoring opportunities.
- Ways to score: points on buildings, having at least one of each color of the buildings, constructing 8 buildings 1st provides more than constructing 8 buildings 2nd, 3rd or so on.
My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Depth of Strategy, Replayability, and Quality of Design.
Citadels offers both tactics and strategy and draws a very crisp black line down the middle of the game and says be strategical here and tactical there. Then with one smooth integration of the characters roles the two are encouraged, but not forced, to work together to be as efficient and effective as possible in the race to 8.
The strategical portion of the game lies in the blueprints of your city. There are two visible routes to take when constructing buildings at first glance. You can focus primarily on getting to 8 first which will often allow you to buy multiple colors of buildings but will not be the primary focus (thus, impacting the possibility of gaining a few bonus points for having all five colors in your city) or you may spend your turns trying to get all five colors as quickly as possible and then filling in the final spots with anything you can afford.
What I have noticed is that this mirage of two different routes muddies up the otherwise clear waters that is the objective of Citadels. I often see players spend a lot of precious time trying to get 5 colors of buildings and finish the turn with 5 or 6 buildings... each of different colors... for an astounding 3 bonus points. This time and effort spent on having the resources ready to fill out the rainbow when the opportunity to arises leaves players 1 or sometimes 2 buildings behind in what should be a pretty standard progression of one building per round (or close to it). I think players are best serve to say on par with the progression of their opponents and take the 5 different colors bonus if it presents itself, instead of making it the top priority.
The tactical portion of the game lies in the role selection mechanism. The beauty in these particular roles is how well they fit what you want to be able to do. If you took a gamer that had never played Citadels before and explained the game to him or her, then let them pick the variable powers available on the characters they would likely pick the 9 available effects. Some may feel this means the roles are too simplistic, and I can see that, because they are very simplistic, but sometimes brilliantly designed simplicity can transcend into elegance and when that happens you find yourself beholding a fantastic sight.
Due to the perfection of the character's effects, it leaves everyone wanting to do something very specific every round. The true beauty of the psychological element of this game is that everyone as the table can typically spot each other player's best move or potential intentions, but to do anything about it often means you can't do much for yourself, and your opponent will still have something to do with an alternate option.
The two areas of the game create two different modes of mind. The first time or two around the table players see these clearly defined focuses and engage in the psychology of the role selection, then disengage their opponents and focus on constructing their city intelligently. Then a few rounds into the game the two worlds blend because players realize that the roles can make their efforts in their city more efficient and then the whole game because a "I know you know that I know he knows that you know and he wants the Merchant".
Then to top it all off there is a Warlord that does his best to slow this game down to a halt but I won't get into that.
Depth of Strategy:
3.5 = I think the best word in tactical, but between working together with teammates and planning your moves in advance, I'd say there is strategy in this game.
When games offer a clear psychological, reverse psychology, whatever you want to refer to it as, characteristic I tend to think they have a better level of replayability because much of the game relies on what the players are thinking and how they can manipulate their opponents rather than just the mechanisms stimulating interesting moments. Since Citadels offers this I was intrigued by it, I enjoyed it, and I suggested it on several occasions... at first. What I came to realize is that all the glory I gave the game in the depth of strategy, while true, was attached to a ball and chain. More accurately, it had a cement block around its ankles that quickly caused it to sink to the bottom of the ocean-sized library of games out there.
The first time you play this game you see the good that it offers and it makes you want to play it again here and there. Unfortunately, the more you play it the more you realize the time investment you put into this game at middle to high player counts (5-8) isn't really worth the fun you get out of it. There is just a strange phenomenon in this game in terms of length. There is an invisible brick wall that creates a nearly insurmountable obstacle that sits between building number 7 in your city and building number 8. Then, in an ironic twist, the Warlord (used to demolish things in the game), like the jerk that he is, knocks down building number 7 instead of the invisible wall and slows your progression down even more.
I know the game is often house-ruled to 7 buildings instead of 8 to shorten the game and I'm not against house-ruling something like that to help a game, but I have other role selection games that don't need a house-rule and simply offer more "fun" in the amount of time it takes to play them.
3.0 = Short-term replayability MAY be high but it will likely quickly.
Card Drafting: Definitely the most fun aspect of the game. The way the roles can help your city helps organize your thoughts but can also put a neon light over your head telling the other players what you'll like pick. Timing your obvious moves with your unexpected moves is really an art form in this game and is the only thing that keeps me want simply disliking the game.
Set Collection: I am assuming this is referring to the 8 buildings you are trying to construct in your city. If so, it is a different take on set collection because each building feels more like an individual than the buildings do as a whole but I understand it is a set collection mechanism. The issue is, it becomes clear it is mainly a necessary mechanism put in the game to move the game forward. Unfortunately, the game also has a way to hinder the progression so the set collection becomes rather bland and more of a daunting task than an interested one.
Variable Phase Order: This mechanism has an impact on the game in two ways, both pretty important, but one is subtle and of is pretty obvious. First, the subtle, the roles that are not played in any given round alter the game play because certain tasks are not performed, the second, and more obvious impact, is that you are sweating bullets are the phase order is revealed. Did someone take the Assassin, knowing I need the Architect? Did someone take the Warlord to screw me? This is pretty fun and is a redeeming quality in the game because it is a direct offspring of the role selection.
Variable Player Powers: I have touched on how well these powers are designed, and can appreciate all of them, even the Warlord. I don't dislike the Warlord, as much as view him as the poor sap that takes the blame for a game that disappoints just slightly too much.
Quality of Design:
3.0 = No major break but the gameplay is hindered by a minor flaw or two.
I'll keep my final thoughts brief. Citadels was the first role selection game I ever played and it introduced what I considered to be a very fun and interesting mechanisms. Unfortunately, it seems as though Citadels was a child prodigy in the genre and while a child prodigy is brilliant, they are still just a kid and there are now other options that seem to have really polished the mechanisms and the gameplay you can surround it with.
Overall Rating -
Citadels did it's job in the hobby, but other games have surpassed it in the genre.
Overall Opinion: Rather Neutral at this point, I'll play it if you want but won't suggest it.
One Positive / One Negative:
- (P) Citadels does the role selection mechanism in it's purest form as well as any other game.
- (N) The game just doesn't offer a high enough fun factor to make it worth the time investment at most player counts.
Mission: Red Planet
| | | | | | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | Libertalia
= Citadels leans a little closer to Libertalia. While both games shares Citadel's role selection, Mission Red Planet adds an area control mechanism while Libertalia simply alters the objective driving your selections of roles and adds several more roles and a more entertaining theme.
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Great review and thanks for sharing
The kindness is always greatly appreciated!
It looks like the new edition has tinkered with the cards rules a bit. I look forward to seeing comparisons to see if this updated version is an improvement.
I am not sure I will be picking up the new copy but I am interested to see if any of the changes are truly noteworthy.