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Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: Citadels - Easy to Learn, Fun to Stab Friends

Even the thief helps build the city.

This week, I thought I'd take a look at Citadels.  In Citadels, each player builds his city, district by district, until a single player has eight districts.  Along the way, the player picks the city denizen that he feels will best help him that turn.  The catch is that the cards are selected in such a way that no player knows what another player has chosen.  At least, no better than a 50/50 shot.  

Citadels is a crowd pleaser that supports up to 8 players, but can be played with as few as 2.  It shines between 4-7, though.  Citadels moves quickly, doesn't last long, and has great interaction between the players as they try to guess who picked what job in an attempt to thwart one another.  

The Basics.  Each player is dealt four cards to start and gets two gold.  On their turn, the player can either draw two cards (and keep one), or take two gold.  Then, the player can build a single district from his hand for its cost in gold printed on the card.  The first player to build eight districts ends the game and gets bonus points.  Other players able to complete their eighth that turn get fewer points.  And players who have one district of each type get bonus points.  Then points are tallied for the winner.  

That part of the game is really nothing to write home about.  What makes the game very fun is the variety of jobs.  Depending on the number of players, the jobs are distributed slightly differently.  But, in general, the pile of eight jobs is shuffled up at random.  One or more are removed from the pile (with at least one being placed face down) and the remainder are given to the first player.  He picks one and passes the pile to his left.  

That player then receives the pile.  He will notice that two cards are missing.  So he has to guess which was placed face down at random, and which was picked by the player.  Then he picks and passes the remainder and so on.  The last person generally has two to choose from, so the player that passed to him knows he picked from two, but not which of the two he picked. 

This uncertainty is important.  While some jobs help the player get more gold, others are spite cards.  The Assassin, for example, kills another character.  However, you can't pick the player and say, "Steve, I kill you" (as much as we would all love to kill Steve).  Instead, he has to guess what Steve is and say, "I murder the King!"  Since the assassin is always the first to act in a given round, he makes his pick before anyone else has played.  

So, not only is this a game of managing your resources and building the cards that you get, but also of selecting the best jobs available and hoping against hope that you aren't killed, stolen from, or made to give up your hand.  All those evil jobs act before the jobs that give you additional gold or let you draw more cards.  

Also, getting the first pick of jobs is a double edged sword.  On the one hand, you have the widest variety to choose from.  But on the other, you leave yourself open to someone stealing or killing you.  Especially if its obvious what you took (e.g. Warlord is missing and you have a lot of red districts). 

Components: 4 of 5. The cards are on nice stock and are about the size of regular playing cards making them easy to shuffle.  The eight job cards get shuffled repeatedly every game, yet mine show only minimal wear after many plays.  The gold pieces are a sturdy plastic and the crown pieces (indicating the King for the round) are solid wood.  Given how much the jobs are shuffled, a thicker stock could have been used here, but all in all it's sufficient.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 3 of 5. This is hard to quantify for this particular game. The building of the Districts, and thus how you eventually win and score points, is highly luck driven.  It all depends on the cards drawn.  And, in general, you don't draw all that often in the game.  So if you get a few poor draws, it can really hurt your chances.  On the other hand, guessing who picked which job and trying to fake the other players out is really the crux of the enjoyment.  And that involves a lot of bluffing, and a lot of sneaking in the good jobs for yourself.  So, I split this down the middle(ish) at 3.

Mechanics: 4 of 5.  In general, a single read through of the rules is sufficient to play this game  The cards are very self-explanatory and the game plays smoothly.  And, since the turn occurs in numbered order (Assassin as one goes first, Warlord as eight goes last), the game proceeds very orderly. 

Replayability: 3.5 of 5.  The random nature of the cards adds replayability to this game.  Also, depending on what districts you draw, different jobs will be more attractive to you.  This means that one game might see you taking on the role of the merchant, while another you primarily play the bishop - that is until your opponents figure it out and assassinate or steal from you.

Spite: 4 of 5.  Between the Assassin, the Thief, and the Magician, not to mention the Warlord, the game has some serious spite built into it.  Two of those items, however, are not guaranteed.  You have to make your guess of who is who before you can assassinate or steal.  But, the magician and the warlord can go directly after a player, rather than a job.  So, be prepared to target other players and be targeted in Citadels.  

Overall: 4 of 5.  This game is great fun, especially in larger groups.  The interaction among players is particularly enjoyable.  Unlike many 'euro' games that sometimes feel like group solitaire, Citadels encourages interaction and misdirection.  It's quick play time also helps it come down off the shelf more often and it is very easy to teach to new players.  

You can get this game from Boards and Bits here.  

It's also available from FunAgain here
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