Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Citadels

I mentioned last week that Bang! is great for atmosphere and is a decent way to pass the time with a mid-sized group. My main gripe is with player elimination, which generally is not fun and can ruin an otherwise good game night. This is why I prefer Citadels for a large-group game.

Citadels is a city-building game. The goal of the game is to have the most points, represented by districts in your city. There are several different types of districts: religious, commerce, noble, military, and special. (The special districts generally provide some kind of power to the person who builds them.) Each district has a cost in gold, generally 1-6. The components for the game are a deck of cards (the district cards), a bag of gold, a crown marker (so everyone knows who has the influence of the king that round), and a set of role cards.

"This is your life--are you who you want to be?"
Now, city building doesn't sound that interesting (unless, of course, it's Carcassonne), but city building is just the excuse that brings us to the main meat of the game. Before a round begins, each player secretly chooses a role. Roles represent the different characters in the medieval city whom the players can influence, and each role allows the player to have a special power for that turn. Each role also has a numbered rank, which determines the order for that round. There is always at least one more role than there are players in the game, so no one knows for sure which role any other player has chosen. The roles, in rank order, are Assassin (can force another player to lose a turn), Thief (can steal another player's gold), Magician (can switch hands with another player), King (gets the crown marker, goes first and calls the roles, and gets a bonus for noble districts), Bishop (immune to the Warlord and receives a bonus for religious districts), Merchant (gets free gold and a bonus for commerce district), Architect (gets free cards and may build more than one district in a turn), and Warlord (can pay to destroy someone else's district and gets a bonus for military districts).

After all players have chosen a role, the king "calls" each rank in order, and the player who chose the role associated with that rank takes his turn. On a player's turn, he may either draw a card or get two gold from the bank, which is used to play a district. A player may only build one district per turn (unless he chooses the Architect role, a frequent target of the Assassin).

Players take their turns in the rank order of the roles and may use their role's power at any point in their turn. The turn order of the roles is brilliant, as the sneakier characters go first (before they know who the other players are that turn), and the more powerful roles go last (making them riskier to take--they may be the target of attacks). In rank order, the Assassin goes first, and he may choose a player to lose a turn. The catch is that he must name a role, not a player. If Jimmy is in the lead, the Assassin can't force Jimmy to lose a turn outright; he must guess the role Jimmy chose and try to assassinate that character. But this can backfire if the Assassin eliminates someone else. And since there is always at least one role removed from the options, there is the possibility that the Assassin misses altogether. The Thief chooses his target the same way. The hidden roles add to the excitement of the game.

The game ends in the round when a player builds his eighth district. Players then add together their points (represented by the cost of each of their districts and any bonus points), and the player with the most points wins.

Citadels, to me, feels like what Bang! could be like without player elimination and with greater variability. There is still the bluffing aspect in Citadels (who is who?), but even if a player is assassinated, he comes back in the next round. And there is never a time when you "figure out" who another player is--each player chooses a new role every turn. Citadels ostensibly has a steeper learning curve than Bang!, but I've found that it's actually easier to teach once each role is understood (I printed off cheat sheets to aid in this, which really should have come with the game) because there is no iconography. Another nice thing about Citadels is that it's a great game for large groups; it's still a decent game for smaller ones. Bang! requires at least five, in my opinion. Citadels can be played with as few as two players. Granted, it's much more fun with a larger group, but it's still fun with smaller numbers.

The problem with Citadels is that it seems harder than Bang!, and thematically it's not as strong. Most people have some frame of reference for Westerns; they don't necessarily have any experience with medieval fantasy city building. So the initial barrier to playing is greater. Of course, once the initial barrier is overcome, I think players will warm up to it. It's just that Citadels looks and feels like a geeky game, even though it is (in my opinion) far more fun than its Wild West counterpart. Citadels is also an individual game--there is no "team win" in it--and so spite can play a part. If there are players prone to hold grudges, this can limit the amount of fun to be had.

The crown marker atop a pile of GOLD
Citadels has great components (it's a Fantasy Flight game, after all--and they're known for high production values). The cards are on sturdy stock, the gold pieces and crown are quite nice, and the art--if you like fantasy-type art--is serviceable. But I was disappointed to find several typos in the game itself. (Unfortunately, FF is known for this, too--Cosmic Encounter's "infinite possibilites," anyone?) It's disappointing that so much effort is spent on every other aspect of production, yet proofreading falls flat. But enough of the editor in me taking prominence--these typos don't hinder the game too much.

Citadels is fun and is around the same price as Bang! If you have neither, I'd opt for Citadels. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.

3 comments:

  1. I've never played Citadels. You should bring it in some time.

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  2. @Chaka--I will. As I said, it's best with a group, but we can probably rally the troops.

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  3. I'd give it a try.

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