Saturday, February 26, 2005

Review - Bruno Faidutti's Citadels

Frenchman Bruno Faidutti is a designer who has made chaos his trademark. Citadels is his best known and most successful design, incorporating direct player interaction with a fantasy theme. In this game, players are city lords competing to build the most valuable district by erecting structures. To aid them, they call on the services of one of seven personages each turn. Each personage provides a particular advantage to his patron. However, these personages are mercenaries (even the King!) and they are quite happy to work for whichever lord contacts him first in the season.



Citadels is published by Fantasy Flight Games. The game is known as Citadelles in French and Ohne Fucht und Adel in German (the latter apparently some kind of pun on a German saying). As part of FFG’s Silver Line, Citadels retails for a very reasonable price, and is one of the best value for money deals out there.

The box contains a bunch of cards, including the eight primary character cards, a ninth for expanding the game to eight players, and a full set of alternate characters to spice up the game and give it longevity. The rest of the cards are the various buildings that players build in their districts. The cards are printed on average stock, which means that heavy handling may cause them to wear out. It’s not such a huge deal given the price – if you play Citadels enough the wear the cards out, just buy another copy. You may need to sleeve the character cards in plastic protectors, simply because you want to prevent them from getting marked. Marked character cards will ruin a lot of the fun. The card art is pretty good, and is on par with what you’d see in collectible card games. The package also includes various counters used as scoring reminders, and chits of the characters used to remind the players of which characters are in use when playing with the alternates. There’s a large crown chit with a plastic stand to mark the start player. Finally, the game comes with some cardboard gold pieces. Later printings of the game come with the much better plastic “butterscotch” gold pieces. That alone makes me wish I bought my copy later. Too bad.

The Game

The heart of the game is the selection of personages or characters. The eight characters are shuffled, and the start player (who gets the crown) chooses one of them to help him this season/turn. He then passes the remaining characters to his left. That player then chooses a character and passes the rest, and so on until each player has chosen a character. When playing with less than seven players, some characters are randomly removed from play each turn. The last player will always have a choice between at least two characters. The last one is placed face-down and is not in play this turn.

The player with the crown then calls out each character, roll-call style, by the characters’ numbers. The order is the same each turn. If a character is not in play, it is skipped over. The players take their turn when their character’s number is called.

On his turn, a player can do three things, in any order. He may take two gold income from the bank, or procure a building (plan) card from the deck (he draw two, keeps one, places the other at the bottom of the deck). Then, he may build one building by paying the building cost and playing the card in front of him. Finally, he may use whatever ability or abilities his character possesses.

Characters have interesting powers. Some of them grant income based on the buildings already standing in a player’s district. Some provide extra gold or cards. Many of them directly affect another player in some manner, ranging from stealing his gold, swapping cards, destroying buildings (or preventing that) or in the case of the notorious Assassin, making them lose their turn. Then twist is that some abilities, including the Assassin, target a player through the character chosen that turn. Thus, when the Assassin picks a target for example, the player is not quite sure which player he’s denying a turn to.

Once a player is done taking all actions due him, the next player goes until all the players have taken their turns. The crown is passed to the player who took the King, who becomes the new start player. The characters are all reshuffled, and players choose their ally for the next turn.

The game ends on the turn when any player builds his eighth building. All players take their turn, then building values are tallied. (Building values are usually the same as their construction cost, with some exceptions.) Some bonus points may accrue to players based on what buildings were constructed, and who completed their district. Whoever has the highest district value wins the game!

Strategy

With all the chaos, is strategy even possible? Not really, but one can play the doublethink game. The worst possible thing that can happen is to lose your turn. The Assassin is usually sent to take out whichever player has hired the Merchant, simply because money is powerful. Of course, the player with the Assassin may guess that no one will take the Merchant because of that, and choose some other target.

If you accumulate too much gold, the Thief may take it away. Of course the Thief is targeted like the Assassin, so it’s a guess, so your best bet is to take some random character. If you have too many cards, the Magician will ensorcell you into swapping hands with his master. The Magician targets a player, so having a lot of cards is like painting a bullseye on your head.

Otherwise, all you can do is stay alive, build whatever cards you can draw, and try to get to eight buildings as fast as you can. The random draw of the building cards is the letdown here, since drawing a lot of low-value buildings will get you to game end but won’t help you win. Thankfully, the card mix of the building deck seems to be pretty decent, so it shouldn’t happen too much.

Reviewer’s Tilt

When played as a fast game, Citadels is a lot of brainless fun. It’s pretty useless for players to take too much time doublethinking and trying to make the perfect character selection, because there isn’t one. The Assassin and the Thief are as unpredictable as the players that pick them. If a group has consistently targeted the Merchant’s player, then fine avoid him, but that’s some pretty homogenous groupthink going on if ever. I always tell the people I teach the game to that it’s fun trying out all the characters, and some may be more useful than others, but it’s better to get a less-useful character than be dead or broke. How can you prevent being dead or broke? You can’t. So pick a character quick, let’s take our turns, and laugh our head off when Jim gets assassinated three straight turns even if he picked three different characters. I don’t understand when people complain about getting assassinated often – the game system doesn’t favor anyone getting killed more than anyone else.

I like Citadels best with four players. That takes out two characters at the beginning of selection, and leaves the last player with a choice among three characters. Four players keeps the game moving at a very nice pace. Playing the game with fewer players is rather unsatisfying because what you’re looking for here is the interaction among the choices of players. Playing with more than four or maybe five slows the game down considerably unless players commit to choosing characters in five seconds each. I haven’t played with eight players, and I have no plans to try.

Citadels is the only Faidutti game I’ve tried that I enjoy. Its only random factor is the building draw, and the chaos in the game stems from the characters, which is pretty conservative for Bruno. You can’t play the game seriously – you’ll just get frustrated because the point of the game is that there is no real pattern. Enjoy laughing at the people who get stolen from or assassinated, keep the game moving at a good clip, and have a good time.

2 Comments:

At Thursday, April 21, 2011 7:13:00 PM, Blogger CHINI said...

Citadels is a most successful design
Plastic card printing

 
At Thursday, May 19, 2011 5:20:00 PM, Blogger CHINI said...

The player with the crown then called for each character, style dividing the number of characters

Clear Cards

 

Post a Comment

<< Home