Citadels (2016) Review - Bringing Back My Nostalgia

Yooo listen up, here's a story....about a little guy that lives......OK enough 90's dance pop references. But let me tell you one anyway. Back in my school and college days I enjoyed collectible trading card games (TCG's) and Warhammer miniature games much to my wallet's detriment. As I got older we moved on from TCG's and replaced those with Roleplay games (RPG's). This carried on through college and university (remember I'm from the UK, don't get the school systems confused). Board games never really featured much aside from at home even though I did enjoy them.

During university though I recall playing some Steve Jackson published card games and also Citadels. Citadels was an instant hit with me and I bought my own copy making it one of the few actual "board games" that I owned personally. It would be a while before I suddenly became sucked in to the wonderful world of board gaming, but this was the turning point where I realised that games had come a long way since the mainstream tedium that I got forced to play with the family regularly.

Other role selection games exist and I'll admit, Mission Red Planet is my favourite (added area control) and I don't like Libertalia (too clunky/random). But Citadels has had the biggest impact on me as a board gamer. And shockingly I've never done a review of it! Well now Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has helped me with that by releasing a brand new 2016 edition with additional content. Time to make it up to you!




Designer: Bruno Faidutti
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Age: 10+
Players: 2-8
Time: 45-90 Minutes
RRP: £27.99


From Board Game Geek

In Citadels, players take on new roles each round to represent characters they hire in order to help them acquire gold and erect buildings. The game ends at the close of a round in which a player erects their eighth building. Players then tally their points, and the player with the highest score wins.
Players start the game with a number of building cards in their hand; buildings come in five colors, with the purple buildings typically having a special ability and the other colored buildings providing a benefit when you play particular characters. At the start of each round, the player who was king the previous round discards one of the eight character cards at random, chooses one, then passes the cards to the next player, etc. until each player has secretly chosen a character. Each character has a special ability, and the usefulness of any character depends upon your situation, and that of your opponents. The characters then carry out their actions in numerical order: the assassin eliminating another character for the round, the thief stealing all gold from another character, the wizard swapping building cards with another player, the warlord optionally destroys a building in play, and so on.
On a turn, a player earns two or more gold (or draws two building cards then discards one), then optionally constructs one building (or up to three if playing the architect this round). Buildings cost gold equal to the number of symbols on them, and each building is worth a certain number of points. In addition to points from buildings, at the end of the game a player scores bonus points for having eight buildings or buildings of all five colors.
The 2016 edition of Citadels includes twenty-seven characters — eight from the original Citadels, ten from the Dark City expansion, and nine new ones — along with thirty unique building districts, and the rulebook includes six preset lists of characters and districts beyond the starter list, each crafted to encourage a different style and intensity of gameplay.



SHINY NEW DISTRICTS


I'm going to miss having everything in that smaller thin box and it's a fact that this new 2016 box for Citadels is too large, but thankfully that's the only issue on the production front. We've still got the "strepsil" counters for the gold, but everything else has received a significant upgrade on all fronts.

The box cover alone should give you room to expect greatness and it doesn't disappoint from the same art perspective. It was fine before, now it's amazing. Every district is much more colorful and vibrant and the character cards all have much greater detail and clarity from before. Aside from that you get a new funky 3D crown counter for the first player, certainly more fit for a king.

Going back to those characters though, my favourite upgrade is the card size. The character cards are now huge compared to before, almost tarot-like making them much easier to read and handle during the drafting phase. Even the card quality is improved though to be honest you're going to be sleeving these cards regardless as they will get a lot of handling during a game and annoyingly I needed a specific pack of sleeves to match the character card size.

£27.99 is not bad for the content you are getting though given the high quality of the artwork and cards themselves. However there is also a "classic" version also released if you want a cheaper alternative that only includes the original game. However you're only going to own one and why would you not want added variety in the box to start off? I'm only looking at the 2016 "big box" version as it's sometimes called and see no reason to get the classic only.


ROLE DRAFTING


The building of the districts is fairly standard as you're essentially trying to find your path to victory with the choice of rushing for the finish line with cheap buildings or ignoring the endgame trigger entirely and building the most expensive district possible with the fewest buildings.

The real crux of where Citadels shines is the drafting of character roles. Every round the selection of characters that appear in your hand when it comes to your pick will be different and your tactics will influence your choice. But it's more than just cool characters with special powers. The aggressive ones like the Assassin and the Thief throw a new dynamic in the game.

Each round there is a high chance that someone will be killed/bewitched and someone will be stolen from (of course this depends which characters you choose to include to begin with). So it's not enough to simply pick the character you need. You want to avoid being the target of an attack, but do you try to hide behind a different choice? And even if the focus isn't on you, should you pick that King if you believe that the Assassin thinks the winning player will take it? There's a light element of bluffing and deduction in each round as everyone tries to suss out who picked what or deny their neighbours the characters they badly need. It's how Citadels manages to incorporate some degree of interaction among players.


CHARACTER DIVERSITY


It should be noted that the rules have not changed at all since the previous edition, but are written with more clarity in the improved rulebook with full detail of character powers present. And it even goes as far as to put some suggested "builds" for character decks for specific play styles - nice touch FFG!

For the uninitiated it may be overwhelming to have over 25 characters now, but simply start with the base 8 it suggests and work from there and you'll be fine. For veterans, all of the base set and Dark City expansion characters are present, but also a new set of nine to use. And all of them have interesting powers that sometimes are an augmentation of ones seen previously. The replay value is therefore increased significantly from even before with tonnes of combinations.

I have noticed that there are some minor changes with older characters and numbering probably done for balance and clarity. But for the most part, the old characters work as you remember them.

New players be warned though that with the aggressive characters there is a degree of take-that involved. Sometimes you will get attacked and you have to deal with it. I've had situations where someone who gets attacked multiple times in a row reacted badly, but you have to know that going in and as such, try to not be predictable in your choices. Personally I found the suggested "aggressive" build to be good fun with everyone getting screwed over throughout.


OVER-POPULATION ISSUES


Now Citadels isn't perfect and unfortunately the issues that affected it before, remain here as well. The biggest being player scaling as the box will tell you it goes from 2 to 8 players. Now surprisingly Citadels is actually great fun with only 2 or 3 players as you get to choose multiple roles and that bluffing dynamic is even greater. But as you rise up the scale, things aren't as great. 4 or 5 players is the optimum count for a solid Citadels game, but at 6+ it can overstay its welcome if new players or anyone with analysis paralysis is present. Not to say it's always bad, I've had excellent games with 8 players in the past who all knew what they were doing, but to find that many seasoned Citadel players isn't easy.

The only minor issue is that on occasion you can end up with a runaway leader. However this from experience has been more as a result of new players not understanding the need to use aggressive characters like the Assassin or the Warlord to hinder the leaders progress as they'll tend to focus on their own city. Not me though, I'm blowing up your castle mate!!


VERDICT ON CITADELS


I loved Citadels when I first played it. Then it dropped slightly over time. Now with this fresh edition it's back to how I felt originally. It doesn't get fiddly or complicated, it just gives you a clean process of selecting roles and adds in an element of bluffing and deduction as you try to suss out who took what character. Simplicity, with good player interaction and fun gameplay, that's how it should be.

The new array of characters are fun to use and I appreciate that FFG included suggested "builds" in the rulebook. With over 25 in the roster, there's a lot of variety and the cosmetic changes to the artwork and card size are the cherry on top. Unfortunately the player scaling issue does remain and on occasion you can get a runaway leader, but these aren't major.
   
It's an evergreen game for FFG and it's easy to see why. Call it nostalgia if you like, but I will defend my opinion that Citadels is one of the best role selection games out there, period.




BROKEN RATING - 9 Gold That I Just Stole off You



YOU WILL LIKE CITADELS IF:


You love the role selection mechanic, but don't want un-necessary fiddliness.


You want a wide variety of interesting characters to choose from.


You like the added element of bluffing/deduction from seeking players out.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE CITADELS IF:


You want more complexity, if so check out Libertalia or Mission Red Planet.


You want a strong theme - the characters make sense, but that's about it.


You don't like the potential of being "beat on" with the aggressive characters.


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