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Subject: So What's Not To Like? rss

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Joe Grundy
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I'll play almost anything, once. How much further play the game sees is largely about how much I don't like it. When it comes down to it most games are at least playable. So this review will start with a game description, move to what I don't like, and finish with whatever I think is outstanding.

So...


Citadels
Use your gold income to build 8 districts in your citadel. The best and most varied citadel will win the game.


If you reckon you know your way around how Citadels works, you can skip the dry boring Contents and Rules Overview bits, and go down to the guts of What's Not To Like, and What Stands Out.


Contents

+ Gold" tokens (mine really look like butterscotch)
+ A king/crown meeple. (A "keeple"?)
+ 8 Character cards, number 1 to 8
+ 66 District cards
+ 8 Turn/score summary cards

My edition, the current Fantasy Flight edition, also says "Includes The Dark City Expansion" on the cover, which is:
+ 10 (more) Character cards, numbered 1 to 9. (There's two nines.)
+ 14 More District cards

All the "expansion" cards are marked with a star so you can separate them easily.



The 8 Characters are the heart of Citadels.

The cards are standard size and seem to be standard card stock. The artwork is detailed, individual to each card type, and covers all the cards in average quality colour printing.

I would have preferred the card finish to be more durable than standard, since especially with wall-to-wall colour printing after "only" a few dozen plays some of my cards are showing some scuffing. I see a lot of owners go for card sleeves, especially for the Character cards. You may want to do this too if you find yourself addicted. (Which is quite possible.)

One annoyance... the Character abilities are mostly, but not quite completely, printed on the cards themselves. There's enough there to lull you into thinking it's all there, but a few key points are only written in the rulebook.


Citadels Rules/Play Overview (You can of course skip this bit.)

Objective Have the biggest best and most varied city built when someone reaches eight districts

Setup is an easy one. Shuffle the districts and deal four to each player. Take two gold tokens each. Give the King meeple to a player.

The only time setup might take any noticeable time at all is if you have a discussion about which characters to use from the expansion.



Please don't eat my gold tokens.

A Round... consists of two steps:
In the first step one or some of the Character cards are put aside, one of which is hidden. The King player then takes (in secret) one Character card of his choice from those remaining. (The King player will know which Character card was set aside hidden.) Passing around the table, each player likewise secretly takes a Character from those remaining. Hence each round each player will usually take a different Character from previous round, according to what Characters are available and what best suits their need.
In the second step the Characters are called in numerical order. (Each character has a unique number from 1 to 9.) If a player holds that Character card they take their Turn. Hence the Characters always play in the same sequence each round. Since different players will be different Characters each round, player sequence various somewhat arbitrarily during the game.

A Player Turn...
+ EITHER take two money OR get a new district card.
+ Build one district card. Each card has a cost in gold to build it. Some cards add special abilities for the player, or add income.

During each player's turn, they will have the special ability of their chosen Character at their disposal. This may be anything from voiding another Character's turn, to getting extra gold, swapping cards, or permission to build extra districts.

This is very much one-player-at-a-time. All the Character abilities happen in your own turn... there's no reacting to other player's actions.


Rules Complexity
Citadels: 9 .. 18
I assess in order to play Citadels you need to learn about 9 basic pieces of info before you start, with about 18 in total to really get up to speed. PLUS you will eventually need to learn about 12 more rule points which describe the different Character abilities, so that you can assess what Character abilities other players might want or might have already taken.

For comparison:
Ra: 10 .. 14
Chess: 9 .. 12
Settlers of Catan: 12 .. 19
Puerto Rico: 20 .. 31
Ticket to Ride: 11 .. 11
Bohnanza: 9 .. 9
Carcassonne (H&G): 8 .. 11

One thing about Citadels though... if you have a group who can play without taking it too seriously you can skip learning the Characters and play the first couple of games in chaos. They'll figure out the Characters pretty quickly in play.



King of the hill.


So What's Not To Like?

So after all the "irrelevant" waffle above that I hope you skipped if you weren't interested, here's the juicy bits...

Down time. While each player ponders their choice of Character, others have nothing specific to do. Also while each player ponder's their choice of gold or card, works out the best use of their Character's special ability, and chooses a District card to build.
Mind you, during role selection players may try (by dialog) to provoke each other into choosing (or not choosing) a specific Character. And the actual take gold/card and build District actions are pretty self contained so usually a player can have made their decisions before it's actually their own turn. But we all know people who don't do that, don't we. (ahem... me)

The Card Art. Some of the card art may disturb some viewers, from an implied torture point of view. (One or two of the cards disturb me, if I stop to peer at them.) As a bit of a long shot from my own perspective, I've also seen objections to implied nudity or implied cavorting in the art on these cards.

It's A Matter Of Personal Taste. All games are a matter of personal taste. But Citadels in particular has key elements that may strongly polarise your opinion in either direction. (See below.)



Two cards where people have objected to the artwork.


So What Stands Out?

Plays 2P to Many P. You really can play a decent game with a wide variety of player numbers. It's quite a different game, but there's a game in there.

Role Drafting in a fairly simple / light package.

It's Portable! One of the smallest game boxes I own. I carry it around quite a lot of the time.

Doesn't Drive Away Newbies. I'm not sure I'd call it a "gateway" game, but casually suggesting a game and then pulling out a deck of (specialty) cards you happen to be carrying doesn't raise as many eyebrows as casually suggesting a game and pulling a huge game box out of your bag. Also, if you can play the first couple of games in "light chaos" mode the core rule set is pretty straight forward.

Tweakable. The optional Character cards let you tweak the mood of each game considerably. If you don't like the Assassin you can replace him with the Witch... and all down the line of Characters you have options. Not only does this add the obvious "replayability" comment, but if the game is "about right" for your enjoyment for a little poking about you can probably improve your personal fun factor.


It's A Matter of Personal Taste!

Citadels is an unusual and tricky game to present clear common basis that people like / don't like. There are aspects of Citadels, more than most games I know, which some people love and some people loathe. Here's some points where I've seen really divided taste...

Chaotic with 4 or more. With the Characters that whack other Characters, the nomination of target can be pretty arbitrary. You took the Assassin but your nominated target is out of play this round. Another player takes Thief, tries to target the leader but gets you instead. The Warlord player decides to spend huge gold to bring you down... from 2nd place, because the "winning" player was wise enough to take the Bishop. Not to mention, the King has stayed just to your left for four turns in a row now, leaving you slim pickings on Character choices. The outcome of each round really can be quite a roller coaster of surprises. It's a game where you have to bend with the immediate situation.

Second guessing with 2 or 3. With only 2 or 3 there's more sense of "control"... but now it's a rock-scissors-paper second-guessing thing. Either you are trying to figure out which Character someone actually took so you can Assassinate them, or someone else has the Assassin (or Thief or Witch) and you are trying to figure out what Character they won't guess you took. Or the same question around the Warlord and the Bishop.

Metagame / Psych-out. Citadels often includes throwing comments around trying to nudge players into choices. Indeed, psychological understanding can be the most useful skill in this game.

Stab Thy Neighbour. Out of the eight Characters, at least three and sometimes four their primary function is to screw the other players.



The "Expansion" Character cards... swap in the ones you prefer to tweak your game flavour.


Overall I've seen a lot of ratings comments describing this game as "backstabbing". I really want to highlight... there is no "backstabbing" in this game, because there's no agreements between players. There's only "stabbing", though there's plenty of opportunity for it. There are some strategical decisions to make... ultimately the winner is usually the one who got to retain and actually use the most gold, but you can push through to a quick ending of the game by building low value buildings while getting all the various bonuses for a surprise win.

My own first couple of plays I was really unsure about Citadels, but it turns out my preferred version of this game is the 2 player / 3 player head scratching tactical version, and I've enjoyed dozens of 2P and 3P plays. Your own preferred mode may turn out to be seven player chaos. YMMV.
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Marcus Fries
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Great Review of a great game.

I like the idea of counting the number of new pieces of information needed to play.
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Joe Ritter
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nice review. i dig this game (picked it up at christmas). we've played 3-5 players. the only bit of advice i can provide is to not sit next to my 9 y/o daughter if you're king (she always figures/lucks out who you are and winds up stealing or killing you). other than that it's a great game.

also - i'd like to mirror vorchan's comment on your rating - very cool idea in terms of 'new pieces of info needed to play'
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Joe Grundy
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Thanks for the feedback guys.

For those interested, the "new bits of info" idea is one I've been running in the "10 Word Review" series...
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/tag/10_word_review
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Pasta Batman
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Nice review - makes me want to give this game another chance, particularly with less than four players, which we have not tried. Based on only a few plays with four, I found the chaos, screwage, and rock-paper-scissors aspects sapped my will to win (and consequently the fun). When I lost, i felt 'oh well, not much I could have done about that', and when I won, I felt a similar 'oh well'. Maybe I need to re-calibrate my expectations.

Regarding ...
jgrundy wrote:

The Card Art. Some of the card art may disturb some viewers, from an implied torture point of view. (One or two of the cards disturb me, if I stop to peer at them.) As a bit of a long shot from my own perspective, I've also seen objections to implied nudity or implied cavorting in the art on these cards.


I read that and said 'huh?'. I just scanned the deck, and the only card I found with 'implied torture' is the Prison. It is indeed grim, if you look very closely and stop to contemplate the situation. But then again, it is a medieval prison after all, and this is certainly the tamest one I've ever seen depicted. I certainly wouldn't want anyone thinking they need to shield their children's eyes for the recommended age-range of 10+ (or even younger). As for 'implied nudity or implied cavorting' ... ??? I realize you're just passing on the concerns of others, but whoever stated that must have a different deck than I.
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jack raten
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I like this game best with either 4 or 5 players. I think it plays the best this way with just the right amount of guessing and makes things tense all the way through.

I haven't played with 6 or more, or with 2 players. I've played about the same amount of times with 3 players as with 4 or 5, and still like it a lot, but i'd rather play a 4/5 player game.
 
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jgrundy wrote:
It's A Matter Of Personal Taste. All games are a matter of personal taste. But Citadels in particular has key elements that may strongly polarise your opinion in either direction. (See below.)



Two cards where people have objected to the artwork.
meh. I don't believe what people are objecting to is THAT bad.

We have family games such as...

Mayfair's 3rd edition of Settlers Of Catan features some cleavage


Mayfair's 3rd edition of Seafarers Of Catan features some scantidly clad locals


The classic head in a wicker basket


.... and beyond

These games are all pegged with the same age group (10 or above), and Citadels on BSW (BreitSpeilWelt, online site to play eurogames and other games) has this listed under "Ohne Furcht und Adel", its German name under the category of Famielle-----. Forgot exactly what the German word was, but it looked like "family".
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John Clark
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Nice review. I also agree that it is best with 2-3 players. The biggest problem with 5 or 6 players is that there always seems to be at least one person in the group who (a) will take FOREVER to have their turns (sometimes I start just picking a random role if its dragging) or (b) will get REALLY upset at being assassinated or robbed, and that wrecks the game for everyone.

With the right group I am sure it could work well, but that right group needs to be very carefully chosen - we are not talking about 6 random gamers.
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johnclark wrote:
Nice review. I also agree that it is best with 2-3 players. The biggest problem with 5 or 6 players is that there always seems to be at least one person in the group who (a) will take FOREVER to have their turns (sometimes I start just picking a random role if its dragging) or (b) will get REALLY upset at being assassinated or robbed, and that wrecks the game for everyone.

With the right group I am sure it could work well, but that right group needs to be very carefully chosen - we are not talking about 6 random gamers.
For our 5-7p games, we make everyone take a "scout's promise" that they'll do everything they can to keep the game moving along. It has kept the game from lagging too horribly long
 
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Mark Reich
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To speed the game along, you can also use expansion characters conducive to making the game progress quicker (to somone building their 8th district). Here's my current combination of characters and the rationale for using them:

1) Witch (as opposed to the Assassin, the bewitched player still gets to perform a basic action so are not completely devestated (keeps everyone progressing in the game, which improves game tension)).
2) Tax Collector (if other players choose not to build their turn to prevent giving you money, it allows you to build one more building than them during the round, thus getting ahead in the race to complete 8 districts first i.e. it's a good choice when you know you have the cash to build on your turn. As opposed to the Thief, I prefer that the Tax Collector has the potential to affect all other players, rather than just one other player. The Witch/Assassin are also not immune to the Tax Collector, which makes them less routine picks).
3) Magician (the swapping hands ability encourages other players to build rather than hoard cards/money thus works well with the Tax Collector. I don't like the idea of the Wizard being able to look at another player's entire hand - takes some suspense/guesswork out of the game, and slows the game down whilst they make their choice).
4) Emperor (extra choice in who to give the crown; can take cards/money from another player; stops a player from being King multiple turns in a row, which mixes it up a bit).
5) Bishop (protection against the Diplomat, which the Abbot does not have. The Abbot's ability to take gold from the player who has the most may also not come into effect).
6) Merchant
7) Architect
8) Diplomat (using the Warlord ability not only helps you, it helps other players not targetted by the Warlord (and you're the only one who has to pay to do the destroying!). The Warlord is only worth considering including in preference to the Diplomat in a 2-player game, where it is only you who gets the advantage. In contrast, the Diplomat always gives you an advantage relative to the other players not targetted by the Warlord. Buildings not being destroyed also quickens the game and also makes the Tax Collector more effective, as missing a build to deprive the Tax Collector of income might put you permanently behind in the race to 8 districts, if the Architect never avails himself).
9) Queen (the Diplomat can be considered as beautifying his district, so the Artist is a little redundant. Only use the Queen in a game where the players only receive one card each, or else the Emperor used with the Queen is a too powerful combo!).

The above is disregarding the one or two limit for replacement characters (I don't see the point of this rule).
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David Stephenson
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Just want to say, this is the best review of a game I've ever read. Short, direct, clear and relatively objective. Excellent system of explaining difficulty to learn and whether or not you'll like the game. Great job.
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