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Nov 15

Citadels: Description and Review

Citadels, by Bruno Faidutti, is game in which 2-7 players attempt to build the most impressive city by drafting a character each turn to aid them in their goals of constructing city districts, acquiring gold, and sabotaging their opponents.  The game is played until the end of the game turn in which one or more of the players have completed their 8th city district.  The points for each player’s city are tallied and the player with the most points wins.  Sounds simple right?  There are a great many intrigues in which one must engage, in order to construct a legendary city, and that is what Citadels is really all about!

In Citadels, the players are competing to build the highest scoring city by game’s end.  This is done by building districts from their hands and putting them into play.  Each district card has a gold cost associated with it and it is equal to the number of circles on the upper left hand side of all cards.  This also represents the number of victory points that a district is worth at the end of the game.  Each player begins the game with four random district cards and two gold.  The rules suggest having the oldest player start the game with the crown (Starting Player) but a group is certainly free to choose any method they wish for determining who will begin the game as the King.

The are five different types of districts:

Noble: Provides income for the King.

Religious:  Provides income to the Bishop. 

Trade:  Provides income for the Merchant.

Military:  Provides income for the Warlord.

Special:  Provides a special ability.

The player who is currently in possession of the crown starts the game, and each new round, by preparing the character cards for selection.  This is done by removing one character card at random and placing it face down in front of his play area.  The player then draws two (Number differs based on the amount of players) more character cards at random and places them face-up next to the face-down card previously selected.  These characters are not available for drafting during the current round.  If one of the face up cards happens to be the King the process must be repeated.  If not, the player selects a character in secret from those remaining and passes the others to the player on his left.  That player selects a character from those remaining and passes rest to the next player.  This continues until each player has selected a character from those available this round.  The characters are as follows:

#1 Assassin:  Announce a character that you wish to murder.  The murdered character misses his entire turn.  The Assassin goes first each round and must make this choice without knowing for sure if that character has been selected or not.

#2 Thief:  Announce a character from whom you wish to steal.  When the player with that card is revealed, take his gold.  Obviously, you may not target the Assassin, because he has already been revealed.

#3 Magician:  You may either exchange your cards with another player or discard any number of cards and draw an equal number of cards.  Notice, the magician targets the player instead of the character, allowing for the choice of whatever victim you desire.

#4 King:  Your receive one gold for each noble (Yellow) district in your city.  When the King is called you immediately receive the crown. 

#5 Bishop:  You receive one gold for each religious (Blue) district in your city.  Your districts may not be destroyed by the Warlord.

#6 Merchant:  Your receive one gold for each trade (Green) district in your city.  When you take an action, you receive one extra gold.

#7 Architect:  After you take an action, draw two extra cards and put both in your hand.  You may build up to three districts during your turn.

#8 Warlord:  Your receive one gold for each Military district i your city.  You may pay to destroy one district of your choice.  The cost of this ability is one gold less than the cost of building the district.

Once everyone has chosen a character, the player currently in possession of the crown calls out the characters in numerical order.  When a character is announced by the King, it is revealed and that player then takes his turn.  A player’s turn consists of the following:

1)  Take an Action:  At the beginning of a player’s turn he must perform one of the following:

Take two gold from the bank.

Draw two cards from the deck, choosing one to keep in your hand and placing the other on the bottom of the district deck.

2) Build a District:  After you have chosen and performed one of the two actions from above, you may choose build one district and add it to your city.  A player may not build two districts of exactly the same name.  Simply pay the gold cost shown on the card and place it face up in front of you.

*) Character Ability:  Each character has a special ability that may be used once per time that it is played.  This power may be used at anytime after you have performed and action, either before or after building a district.

*)  District Ability:  All of the purple colored districts have some sort of ability.  Some are static or triggered effects that are either constantly in effect or activated by a certain set of circumstances.  However, some have abilities that the player may choose to use during his turn after having chosen an action.

After all players have a had a turn the character cards are turned into the current King and the process is repeated. If any player or players completed  their 8th or more districts during the previous turn the game ends.

Game End

At the end of the game each player tallies his score by doing the following:

Adding up the total value of all districts that he has in play. (Including any extra end game points from purple buildings)

If a player has at least one district of each color he scores 3 extra points.

The first player who reached 8 districts during the turn earns 4 points.

All other players that managed to build at least 8 districts receives 2 points.

The player with the most points is declared the winner!

My Review

Citadels is a very interesting game.  It comes in one of the smallest boxes that I have ever seen, the rules are very simple, and the components consist of some cards and gold pieces that look like butterscotch candies, but Citadels is truly dynamite in a small package!  While the rules are straight forward the decisions are most certainly not!  Rarely have I played a game that has induced such paranoia, but Citadels does exactly that by making your most obvious choice also the most dangerous…or is it?  When it is your turn to pick a character and the Assassin is not face up or in the cards from which you are choosing there are many factors to consider such as:  Should I take the character that is most helpful to me?  Is that exactly what my opponent would expect?  Will he anticipate me choosing the second best choice and should I therefore choose the best choice instead?  Clearly, I can not choose the wine in front of you!  As you can see, this makes every choice exciting, because all players begin essentially equal one can ill afford to be set back at all.  The numerous cat and mouse decisions that one is forced to make ensure that Citadels a truly exciting game!

Citadels offers me a terrific opportunity to show my integrity as a reviewer of games, because I rate it an 8.0 out of a possible 10.0 while apparently sucking at the game!  That is right, your dear writer seems to lack whatever magical combination of skills that are required to consistently win Citadels!  I have won a game or two of Citadels, but I generally do not fair well, and yet I never fail to have great time playing it.  I am not sure why I do so miserably at Citadels, as I strongly believe that I understand the strategies and possess the needed set of skills in great quantities!  I am a propaganda machine that specializes in deflecting the ire of my opponents on to someone else.  I am excellent at predicting what people will choose due to my years as a serious poker player.  I understand the dangers presented by certain actions such as hoarding money (Target of the Thief), building numerous cheap districts (Target of the Warlord), and holding several cards (Target of the Magician), and yet somehow I seem to lose no matter what I do.  Truly a mystery for the ages, but one that keeps me coming back for more entertaining games of Citadels!

While I truly enjoy Citadels, I do have a few criticisms of the game.  There is without a doubt a tremendous amount of luck as to what districts players draw.  It can be impossible at times to get a district of each color regardless of how aggressively one uses the Magician or attempts to draw extra cards.  Sometimes they just do not come to you and there is nothing that can be done about it.  Not all of the purple districts are created equal,  some have almost game breaking abilities and given that it is the luck of the draw a player can be frustrated by this aspect of the game.  There are also occasions where there character distribution hampers you greatly.  If the King is continuously buried and you are stuck going last for numerous turns it can have a very adverse effect on your game through no fault of your own.  It is most certainly a strategy game, but there are several elements that are beyond a player’s control, and if you can not embrace a game that plays like barely controlled chaos Citadels may not be for you.

In conclusion, my gamer friends, non-gamer friends, and I have had many hours of great fun playing Citadels and I highly recommend adding it to your collection.  It manages to walk that fine line between being a “gamer game” and a family game.  For this Bruno Faidutti is to be commended as there are far too few games that manage this feat.  Citadels is a great game to break out as relatively quick filler on board game night, or something exciting and new for the family at Thanksgiving or other holidays!  Just remember when you are thinking about taking the last piece of pizza or pumpkin pie, that it is exactly what they would expect you to do!

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