TABLE GAMES REVIEW: Citadels

Another day towards International Tabletop Day and another review here on GS Table Games with the popular game Citadels.  See what I made of it after the jump.

 

Board games are often called out for size and complexity, scaring off potential players with thick rule books and far too many playing pieces. Fantasy Flight is notorious for this, yet they still remain one of my favourite games publishers, thanks to the sheer quality of product they put out. I have yet to bring any of their games along to my local gaming club though because our time is quite limited. Sometimes all you really want from a table game is a sociable way to pass an hour with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. I was pretty surprised then when one of my group brought in Citadels, a Fantasy Flight card game for 2-8 players, which is easy to play and quick to set up.

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A medieval city destined for greatness, immense power and importance beckons you. There is only one problem: it isn’t built yet. This vacuum presents the perfect opportunity for you. You must wisely spend your gold, bluff, intimidate and outmaneuver your rivals as you seek to build and control this new city.

Now, I’ve been wary of card games since collectible sets became a big money-sucking business, but Citadels comes complete in the box. No extras needed. Ok, there was a small expansion set called Dark City, but the set I played with actually had the extra cards and crown marker included at no extra charge. The box is small enough to fit in a coat pocket and contents are nicely packed. So what do you get for your money? 18 Character cards, 80 District cards, 30 ‘Gold’ counters, a wooden Crown marker, the slender rule book and 8 quick reference cards. The playing cards themselves showcase beautiful artwork, are laid out simply and are printed on good quality card. There’s an almost canvas like texture to them which feels nice to hold and helps avoid the finger smear effect that has ever been the bane of glossy cards.

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So, what’s it all about? Citadels is a game in which players vie to build the strongest city in the shortest time. Each round the players select a character and either draw up more gold or more Districts. They can also use their unique abilities to either attack their opponents, exchange cards, gain additional Gold, or additional Districts. They are then also able to ‘build’ (i.e. bring Districts from their hand into play), provided they have the funds to do so. The game finishes when one player has succeeded in building eight Districts, at which time Victory Points are totted up and the winner declared. So far, so simple. What raises the stakes is the strategic element – which the games creator has worked very hard to balance. For instance, the order the characters play in is fixed but, as the players can change characters each turn, this means you have to decide whether it is more important for you to play sooner or to have a more powerful card. An element of chance is brought in to the character selection process which keeps the battleground shifting. Decision making must therefore be fluid, making the best of the situation each turn. Other choices faced by the players include whether to build quicker or stronger, and whether it is more important at the time to slow down your opponents through theft, assassination and war, or to just focus on getting your Districts built.

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One of the things I particularly liked was the way you need to think about the other players; gauging their likely choice of character as much by their personality type as by how they are doing and what Districts they have on the table. It’s the kind on engagement you would be more likely to expect in Poker or Chess, so to find it here was a pleasant surprise. Prioritisation and understanding your opponents’ strategies are key to winning the game, particularly as the players skill increase. My one grumble is that the backdrop narrative of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy (implied by the structure and artwork of the game) has little impact on the actual experience. There’s not enough solid interaction between players for it to feel like a story playing out. It is an abstraction like the ‘battlefield’ of a chess board; a way to dramatise what is at heart a simple game. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the experience. It’s simple enough to pick up, but has enough strategic wrinkles to hold the interest and force players to develop variations of play.  When I get around to trying it, the Dark City expansion set will only deepen my appreciation.

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GS Rating: 3.5/5
GS Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak
Source: Citadels

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