Citadels – A Card Game Of Buildings And Backstabbery

I love social tabletop games where you are forced to interact with your friends because my philosophy is that videogaming is for “solo gaming” and tabletop games exist to give adults an excuse to get together without a live band and alcohol.  Citadels, by Fantasy Flight Games, is the perfect game when a group of friends need that excuse. The game has all the social interaction any group of buddies should have – theivery, backstabbery, and all out cut-throatery. Well, my friends, anyhow.

Citadels, in short, is a well illustrated small box game in the “Silver Line” family of games by FFG.  It comes with a ton of cards, a bunch of little plastic “gold” pieces which look to be designed to look like tiny butterscotch choking hazards for small children, a neat little concise and well laid-out rulebook, and finally, a wonderful little “Crown” which denotes the player who is King at the time.  For the MSRP of 20-ish bones, this game is an awesome investment in a dump truck full of fun.  I, being a cheap bastard, really appreciate that FFG has made games like this, Drakon, and Cave Troll accessible for such a low entry price.  I figure that this type of game is well worth the price of a couple of movie tickets, and as a bonus the game doesn’t suck like most of the movies I’ve seen recently.

The game’s premise is that each player takes the role of one of the eight principal character in the game, and you collect and spend gold in order to build eight “districts” in your own little city, and each district has it’s own price to build with the price being the victory points awarded for that district at the end of the game. Speaking of that, the game ends on the round when a player builds their eighth district, where players tally their gold, the cost of their districts, and then add in a couple of bonus points if applicable. One of the coolest aspects of this game is that until your character’s card is called into play by the king, in numerical order, you do not know which players are holding which cards, which allows a ton of bluffing and misdirection. 

Each player, on their turn, can use their power, take a district card or take gold, and finally build one district if they so desire.  The gameplay is quite simple, but the choices are quite varied and make for some very tough choices at some crossroads.  There is quite a bit of “Kill The Leader” in this game where the person who has either the most districts or the highest potential victory points generally bears the brunt of the really nasty stuff like assassination, robbery, and having their districts torn to the ground.  The upside of this is that due to the hidden character selection the Assassin and Thief do not know what character is in your hand, and they have to take their turns before everyone else, so they may select a character that isn’t even in play on a given round, wasting their activation and leaving the player all kinds of pissed off.

The character cards are quite varied in what they do and the differences in each make for a very strategic game.  You can select either the Assassin, Thief, Merchant, King, Architect, Warlord,  Bishop, or Magician.  Each must be played in order, as I have said, and each has his own special ability which grants him certain advantages. The tricky part is that at the beginning of each round you get to select one of these to play for that round, and depending on how many players are in the game you may select your character at random. An example of character powers is that the Assassin can select another character to assassinate, and the assassinated character loses their turn that round.  Another example is the Warlord, who can destroy another player’s “districts” for a price, thereby taking victory points away from the enemy. There are also other powers that affect your cards, like the Magician’s ability to swap cards and the Architect’s ability to build more than the normal one district per turn. The balance for such a large cast of characters is astoundingly good, and there really is no “kingmaking” in this game.

The districts themselves are quite varied and come in one of five different “types” which are identified by small little colored rondelles on the card, and signify them as a “Noble”, “Military”, “Religious”, “Trade”, or “Special” district. These types generally are matched to the characters, meaning that the King gets a bonus for “Noble” districts and the Bishop gets a bonus for “Religious” ones.  The interaction between the districts and the characters is probably the single most important aspect of the game since most of these interactions allow you to gain extra gold which will allow you to more quickly build districts.  The downside is that you can easily become a target of theivery when you hoard gold for too long, so it’s also important to get decent cards quickly.

The last thing I will mention is that the “Dark City” expansion is included with the latest printing of this game, which gives you 14 new districts and 10 new character cards that can replace some, or all, of the existing characters. The best thing about the expansion is the new districts that really add some coolness to the game with some very creative and interactive powers that had not been previously introduced, which expands the replayability even further.  I am told that this expansion also has the inclusion of the wooden “King” marker that gets passed to the player who has selected the King, but I have only ever owned this version so I always had it and quite honestly, “meh” is the appropriate response for this addition.

At the end of the day, this game can be quite strategic due to all the variables in play at any given time. I would recommend this game to almost everyone.  It’s good for 1v1 play where each player can take two characters per turn to the most raucous 8-player groups starving for some death and dismemberment.  It’s a hell of a filler game, and the short playtime allows for both multiple games per gathering or as a ‘warmup’ game while waiting for the rest of your group to arrive.

Things I liked:
*The game’s price point is absolutely perfect for the value
*The quality of art is very good, especially with as many cards as you get
*Brisk play and fast turns allow for quick games and little downtime between turns
*Excellent replayability potential

Things I detested:
*The little gold coins are a bit on the cheesy side, but are passable and serve their purpose

Overall:
This is a great game and the varied character powers, card types, and overall bluffing mechanics in the game make this a game that I believe every person who likes card games should absolutely own.

Rating:
4.25/5

You can find Citadels HERE: http://new.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=31

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