Time for a review. Today, we look at
Thank you, Eric Summerer. Seriously though, today’s review is for
Dude. Enough. We get it. Here’s my review of
Citadels was originally published in 2000, and was designed by Bruno Faidutti. Fantasy Flight publishes this game in the US. It’s a game for 2-7 players (or up to eight with the included Dark City expansion) that plays in about 90 minutes. This is a classic role selection, and is one of the first games that incorporated that mechanism as the heart of the experience. In the game, you are trying to construct buildings in your city to bring you the most prosperity in the end.
The game comes with 66 district cards, 8 character cards, 30 gold pieces, and a wooden crown marker. The Dark City expansion adds 10 new character cards and 14 new district cards. Each player begins the game with four district cards and two gold. You’ll choose 8-9 characters from the basic and expansion sets (you’ll need numbers 1-8 or 9 all represented among the characters – more on that in a moment), and one player receives the crown, becoming the first player. You’re now ready to play a game of
**(For those of you who don’t understand the reference, Eric Summerer of The Dice Tower does not like this game. And whenever someone mentions it, he yells CITADELLLLS! So, there’s your explanation. Back to the review.)
The eight or nine character cards are shuffled up, and a certain number are removed, depending on the number of players. One card is placed face down on the table. In a four player game, two are placed face up, and in a five player game, one is placed face up. There are variant rules for 2 and 3 players that I’m not going into here. Once the characters have been removed, the player with the crown takes the remaining cards and chooses one for himself, passing the rest to the left. This will continue until the last player has made their selection. At this point, the final character (if there is one) is discarded face down.
Each player will then take their turn, in order of the numbers on the character cards. So the player who took #1 will go first, all the way up to #8 or #9. Not all numbers will be used since some cards were out at the beginning. On your turn, you first take an action. This can be to take two gold from the bank, or to draw two cards from the draw pile, keeping one. After taking your action, you may build one district card from your hand by paying its cost in gold and placing it face up in front of you. You can never have two of the same card in front of you.
During your turn, you’ll be able to use your character’s power. Here’s what they all are:
- Assassin – Name a character (not a player). If the assassinated character is in play, they lose their turn when it comes to them.
- Thief – Name a character (not a player). If that character is in play, you take all of their gold when it is their turn.
- Magician – At any time during your turn, you may either exchange your entire hand with another player’s entire hand, OR you may discard and draw an equal number of cards.
- King – For each noble district (yellow) in your city, you receive one gold. Additionally, you are the start player for the next round. If no one else takes the crown from you in subsequent rounds, you remain the King.
- Bishop – For each religious district (blue) in your city, you receive one gold. Additionally, you are protected from the Warlord.
- Merchant – For each trade district (green) in your city, you receive one gold. Additionally, you get one extra gold after taking an action.
- Architect – After you take an action, you draw two extra district cards and keep both. Additionally, you may build up to three districts in a turn instead of one.
- Warlord – For each military district (red) in your city, you receive one gold. Additionally, you may destroy one district card belonging to any player by paying one gold less than its cost.
Those are just the base cards. Here’s what you get with the Dark City expansion:
- Witch – After taking an action, name a character and end your turn. If that character is in the game, they are bewitched. They get to take an action, and then you take the rest of your turn in place of theirs, using all of their powers in your city. They do not get to take the rest of their turn.
- Tax Collector – Any player who builds a district this turn must pay you a gold if they have any left.
- Wizard – You may look at another player’s hand and take a card. This card can either go into your hand, or you can pay to build it. This doesn’t count as your one build for the turn.
- Emperor – Take one gold per noble (yellow) district. You also take the crown, plus a card and gold from the person who previously had it.
- Abbot – Take one gold per religious (blue) district. The person who has the most gold then must pay you one gold.
- Alchemist – After spending gold to build districts, you get it all back.
- Navigator – After taking an action, you either take four gold or draw four cards. You may not build any district cards.
- Diplomat – Take one gold per military (red) district. At the end of your turn, you may trade a district from your city with a district from another city, paying the difference in value.
- Artist – Put a gold on one or two districts. This card is now beautified, and the cost of destroying/exchanging is increased (as is the points you get at the end). / Queen – If sitting beside the King, you get three gold.
When one player builds their eighth district card, the game will end once all players have had a chance to play during the round. You get one point per gold symbol on your built districts, three points for having a district of each of the five colors, four points for being the first player to eight districts, and two points for everyone else who gets to eight districts. The player with the most points wins.
COMPONENTS: There’s not really a whole lot to talk about, component wise. The cards are all well illustrated. There are prestige buildings with special abilities, but these also include text so you know exactly what they do. There are a couple of controversial cards in the deck – the Prison shows a dead person being eaten by crows while another one is falling to his death overhead. Additionally, there are a couple of subtle naked people on some of the cards, so be warned. Most of the cards are fine, really – just warning you if you pay attention to that. The art overall is pretty good, though you’re not necessarily paying attention to it.
The other physical components of the game are the gold pieces and the crown. The crown is a good size, and makes it clear who the first player is. The gold pieces are plastic discs that look a little like butterscotch candies – don’t eat them. Overall, though there aren’t many components, what is there is pretty good.
THEME: This is a Eurogame, so you have to expect a bit of a disconnect with the theme. Essentially, all you need to know is that you’re trying to get cards in front of you that will build your cash supply and points for the end of the game. You can think about it as a city building game if you want, but it’s really about building a tableau. The cards are illustrated to give you some flavor, but the only bits of information you’ll really be paying attention to are the coin symbols and the color (sometimes the special powers in the case of purple districts). The roles are probably the most thematic part of the game – each character acts in a certain way, and it makes sense with who they are. The assassin assassinates. The thief steals. The merchant gets you extra money. The warlord destroys. And so on. The theme is generally pretty weak, but there are some areas where you can make it work.
MECHANICS: The conversation about Citadels has to begin with role selection. Citadels was not the first game to use the mechanism, but did refine it into the main focus of the game. It was an inspiration for later role selection games, including Puerto Rico. Still, it’s different than a lot of role selection titles. For one thing, you are selecting roles blind, and you’re never quite sure what anyone else has taken. The first player will know what the face down card is, and the last player will know something that no one took. But no one has all the information. This introduces some extra thinking elements to the process.
The roles themselves are fairly well balanced. Some seem more powerful than others – the Architect, for example, will almost always get taken when in play since it gets you extra money or cards. There are checks in place that keep everything close – the Assassin may feel like you’re taking a random shot, but you can usually make an educated guess based on what is available and what others are trying to do. Also, by having them numbered, the roles are resolved in a specific order, meaning the Assassin has no information about precisely what anyone else has, and the Warlord has all the information about what everyone has done.
Building is very straightforward – simply pay your gold. As I mentioned, there are districts that give you special powers, and these are good to use where you can. The colors also have relevance to the roles and the color bonus at the end of the game.
Citadels is a fairly simple game. Turns are easy – take an action, buy a card. It’s the roles that add some more complexity and strategy to the game.
STRATEGY LEVEL: Luck definitely plays a role in Citadels. Particularly, there is luck in the cards you get, and wild swings in the number of points each one gets. Additionally, you never know exactly what roles WON’T be available from round to round. However, these usually seem to balance themselves out – the lower point cards are cheaper, and so you can generally build more of them anyway. And, as I said, there are a number of checks in the roles, so if you can’t have exactly what you want, there’s usually something else good you can do. The biggest swing in luck is that some of the purple districts have some really devastating abilities, and if someone manages to get several of them, they’re probably going to be unstoppable. This is where the Warlord comes in handy, but I’ve found people are usually unwilling to take the bullet since it typically costs so much gold.
The biggest strategic decision to make in a round is which role to take. You are generally doing this with a combination of what you need and what you think others need. So you decide if you’re going to take this role that will get you an extra coin or two, or are you going to take this one that your neighbor would probably use on you? There’s a lot to think about, and generally, the role selection can take more time than the rest of the rounds because of it.
ACCESSIBILITY: As I’ve said, Citadels is a fairly easy game to learn. I think it’s an upper gateway game because there are a number of foreign concepts there, but I think it’s a good one for teaching people about role selection. I think non-gamers can get it, and have in fact used it with non-gamers to some success. You might want to start with something a little easier, however.
REPLAYABILITY: There’s some good replayability in the box with Citadels. There’s a wide range of available districts, and the roles really make the game change even from turn to turn. Throw in the Dark City expansion, and you get even more roles to choose from. Plus, you get a wide range of play styles from your opponents, and that helps increase the fun. So this is a game you can play a lot, and get enjoyment out of each time.
SCALABILITY: This is a 2-8 player game, but not really. The two- and three-player versions are variants that I’ve never tried. I think the game really plays best with five people (which I see is the recommendation on BGG as well). I’d rather play with six than four, but I think seven and eight is a little too much for the game – you’ll be waiting far too long as people select roles, and there’s a little too much chaos at that point.
FOOTPRINT: Citadels does not take up much space. Each player needs room for eight districts in front of them, and there needs to be a spot for the set aside roles. Other than that, you don’t need much space at all. Plus it comes in a narrow box that doesn’t take up much room.
LEGACY: Marcel-André Casasola Merkle is often credited with inventing role selection in his games Verräter and Meuterer, but it’s Citadels that really took it to the next level. And while the mechanism isn’t as popular as, say, worker placement, it’s one that I really like and would always love to see more (see my list of eleven role selection games for more). And while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea (Summerer, don’t you dare interrupt this post again), it is one that has so far stood the test of time and will be around for a while to come.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. If you like role selection, this is a great game to play. If you like trying to outthink your opponents, you’ve got it here. If you like theme, go elsewhere. But overall, I would definitely recommend this game. Thanks for reading!
Fine. One more time.