October 26, 2016
Note: this is a review of the current edition of Citadels produced by Fantasy Flight Games. With the recent acquisition of FFG by Asmodee North America, two new versions of Citadels will be released in the coming weeks. Those versions may be slightly different from the FFG edition that is reviewed below.
Citadels is a fantastic card game that blends together several different game mechanics, making for a well-rounded gaming experience without tedious rules or confusing interpretations. The basic play of Citadels consists of drafting character cards that confer different powers, which helps players build their city districts. The player with the most impressive city at the end of the game wins.
Rounds begin with everyone claiming a specific character, and turns are taken in order of the rank number denoted on those character cards. In addition to choosing a character, on each turn a player may either draw two cards from the District Deck and keep one, or they may take two gold. A player may also purchase and build up to one district, and use their character’s power as appropriate. Sounds simple enough, but once you dive into things you’ll find on each turn there is a wealth of options to consider and a number of different ways you can influence the game.
The core of Citadels revolves around selecting characters in a card-drafting style from an open “hand” of all the characters that are being used for the current game. That hand then gets passed to the next player, who chooses a character, and so on. Chosen characters are then kept secret until they act. This sequence happens every round, meaning that the game can change quite a bit from one round to the next, forcing you to stay on your toes. The characters available on each turn range in numerical rank and each boasts a different role and ability. For example, the second-ranked character is the Thief, who has the ability to steal another character’s gold on his turn. The eighth-ranked character is the Warlord, which allows his owner to receive one gold for each Military (red-bordered) district in that player’s city. In this case, the Thief will act well before the Warlord, as the Thief’s rank number is lower and therefore fires off first. It is important to choose characters wisely, as it might benefit your turn to prioritize acting first above utilizing a particular character’s power – or vice-versa.
This drafting mechanic is where a lot of the fun of the game is had. Paying close attention to other players’ growing city districts and changing needs can give you a vague sense of who might want which character on a given turn, and keeping tabs on where the characters currently are can give you a distinct advantage. The drafting also serves to keep the game fresh round-to-round; there is a lot of strategy that goes into choosing a character for the current round. You can pick the one with the most efficient ability for your needs, the one that will most affect one of your competitors, or you can just choose one that you don’t want someone else to have in that round. We call that hate-drafting!
Add to this the city-building aspect of Citadels, which allows players to obtain points for their districts at the end of the game. Choosing the right characters in the draft can help to increase the profitability of your city, but there is also a good deal of strategy in how it’s built up. The various district cards can be built in many different ways and certain combinations can be very beneficial while others are more reliant on character-driven abilities. Each district card has a cost and a color associated with it, plus any additional special rules it may have. The color denotes what type of district it is (Military, Religious, Noble, etc.), and there can be benefits to having a lot of the same type, or a diversity of different types. Certain character cards can grant you gold based on the number of buildings you have of a certain color, but you don’t always want to invest too heavily in a single color as the first person to get all district types represented in their city gets an additional four points at the end of the game. Once a player has built an eighth district, the game ends after the current round and all districts are scored. The player with the most points wins, and you’ll likely want to play another round right away!
Citadels brings city-building and social intrigue together in a clean, effortless way, which is why we consider it a classic strategy card game. It is definitely a title from which you can get a lot of replay, as there are countless complex challenges that can arise during play, despite the relatively simple rules. That mix of complex simplicity allows Citadels to bring in casual gamers while appeasing the more serious gamers, as well. It can be played with a wide variety of people, working equally well in a party setting or on a regular board game night. Plus it comes in a very portable box, so it makes a great travel or coffee shop game.
Citadels works best with four or five players, but can accommodate as many as seven or eight. It can sometimes get bogged down a bit with a lot of players, but once people are familiar with the rules, the game can keep moving at a nice pace in larger groups. Conversely, there are special rules that come with the game to help to facilitate smaller numbers of players by removing some of the characters each round, which adds an element of the unknown that is often absent in strategy games made for two players.
If you haven’t already played it, definitely give Citadels a try. It’s a great addition to almost any game collection that you’ll keep coming back to, and it’s also a perfect way to get new people into the world of strategy gaming.