Curse You Assassin!! - Citadels: The Dark City Review

Role selection is a mechanic that is rated highly in my choice of games. Whether that includes taking a character with a special ability or an alien race with freaky special powers (Cosmic Encounter for example), I like the variation that comes with using different roles at different times or playthroughs.

Citadels for me has a lot of history involved with it as it was the first major game (not including collectible card games) that I acquired when first getting into board games. I can’t even remember how I first got to play it – must have been at a university games society or similar. Either that or Cuthulu sent it to me, but I don’t think he’s big on Euro style games. . . .

Designer: Bruno Faidutti (2000/2004)
Publisher(s): Fantasy Flight Games 
# of Players: 2-8
Ages: 10+
Play Time: 90 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #168/7.25
Dice Tower Peoples Choice Rank: 39
Category: Role Selection with Drafting

General Overview

The objective of the game is to build a city consisting of eight different districts. Victory points are awarded based on the monetary value of your city as well as bonus points for finishing first or acquiring all the different types of districts.

The districts themselves are split into 5 different colours, each of which represents a “type” of district such as commerce, religious, military, etc. Aside from bonus victory points, they can also earn extra income based on which character you take or in the case of purple “special” districts, give you special abilities.

Hold on, what characters? Well this is the main selling point of the game. On your turn you will build districts and collect gold or cards, but the turn order is not simply clockwise as with other games. In Citadels, you have 8 characters ranking from #1 to #8 each with their own special ability. Whoever is the current “king” will place some cards face down or up (dictated by how many players are in the game) and then pick a character from the remaining cards. The pile is then passed to the left and the next player chooses a character and so on and so forth until everyone has a character for that round.

Sound familiar? Anybody who’s been involved with similar games or Magic the Gathering will recognise the drafting mechanic used here.

The characters are then called out in rank order and each player will take their turn and perform their character’s special ability.

I Know That You Know What You Know That I Know

The characters have their own distinct ability that fits their role in the game. The Magician for example can exchange hands or discard/redraw cards, the Architect can build multiple districts in a turn and the Merchant gains extra gold. The two roles that cause the most mayhem however are the Assassin and the Thief. The Assassin kills a character outright for that round so they can’t take their turn and the Thief steals the gold from another character before they take their turn.

Note that I said “character”, not “player”. These guys specify that you nominate a character as a target. This means that if you are trying to screw over the winning or richest player, you have to figure out what character they are likely to have taken. And this is where the tactical aspect comes in. Not only are you trying to obtain the character you need in that round for your own agenda, you also have to consider who the Assassin or Thief are likely to target and then either push your luck or not pick that character.

This can cause some issues with either angry players or players that aren’t very good at being aware of their surroundings as those who get robbed or killed regularly may feel they are being deliberately picked on or are just unlucky. It’s not a common issue and it’s more the fault of the player then the game really, but I’ve had someone go nuts when I killed them 3 times in a row because they were the most predictable player on the planet! #evilgrin

The Dark City

Originally Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) produced this on its own in a giant box which was completely oversized for what was needed in the game. Now however they’ve gone and reprinted the game with a bundled expansion “The Dark City” in a much smaller box that neatly holds all the cards even when sleeved and contains replacement components that are a big improvement over the old version. I actually sold my old copy and re-purchased the new one just for the expansion alone so I recommend you do not purchase the old version even if you can get it cheap.

New characters are introduced which can be substituted for the original eight characters at your leisure as well as two additional Rank #9 characters for larger games. These increase the longevity of the game to no end as each game will play differently depending on the combination of characters. Opinions on their abilities however are divided. On the one hand the Wizard, Tax Collector and the Witch have interesting abilities (the former is a big improvement over its counterpart). But on the other hand the Emperor seems pointless, the Diplomat doesn’t fit the theme by exchanging “built” districts and the Navigator seems plain unbalanced.

The Rank #9’s however have useful abilities, my favourite being the Queen who gains gold for sitting next to the King – showcasing another example where bluffing and deduction of who has chosen who becomes important.

In addition to the characters, there is a selection of new special districts that you can substitute with old ones that give more interesting abilities to use, but in particular sometimes give alternative victory point bonuses. These I like to include regardless of the substitution method because they allow for players to consider alternative paths to victory mid-game if they draw that district. Of course they become tempting targets for the Warlord character to destroy, but then if you’re worried about that, take the Bishop for protection or the Assassin to kill him off! Every issue has a character solution to the problem and your tactical choice in choosing them is what makes the game fun coupled with the player interaction as you try to bluff your way out.


Citadels remains one of my favourite games in my collection having being there since the beginning. This does not mean the game isn’t without its flaws though.

Generally the game scales well whether with 2 players or all the way up to 8 players because aside from the “two characters per person” rule for 2-3 players, all that changes is simply how many characters are set aside for 4 or more players, however it cannot be ignored that the sweet spot is definitely between 4 and 6 players (minimum 5 if using the Queen). 2-3 players is still enjoyable, but I find the game benefits more from having more players particularly when you’re choosing your Assassin and Thief targets. 7-8 players works fine and balances out the Rank #9 characters, but the game can drag out time-wise unnecessarily and even more so if you get AP-prone people who can’t decide between a few cards.

Generally it’s also recommended to always play the “Short Game” variant to 7 districts as it doesn’t affect the game to a great deal other than reducing the time slightly, which is never a bad thing.

That being said, the game plays well and the tactical choices in which character you use in each round keep you involved in the game and there’s always some good interaction between players when the Assassin and Thief choose their targets and the victims struggle to keep their feelings to themselves! It’s incredibly easy to teach and pick up and the drafting mechanic has become a classic in many popular games.

The extra characters and purple districts add a degree of longevity to the game giving players many options in what characters to include and a chance of varying the routes to victory.

If you haven’t given this game a go, I recommend grabbing a copy or joining in a game at your local group. It can be obtained quite cheaply these days and now that FFG have started being more sensible with their box sizes, easy to store as well!