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Thinking Out Loud

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Citadels >> Mixed Emotions... My Quasi-Love/Hate Relationship...

I won't go into the game rules or game flow, as it's adequately detailed in other reviews over at BoardGameGeek. Instead, I'll focus on a few of the main game quirks that spring to mind whenever anyone suggests playing a game of Citadels -- hopefully the sort of things a prospective purchaser can use to determine whether or not Citadels will be the right sort of game for their particular gaming group.

Overall, I've got very mixed feelings about Citadels. I'm usually a big fan of Bruno Faidutti games, which can offer some incredibly interesting game decisions based on playing off the other people rather than playing off the game mechanic, or have a nice rat-a-tat-tat game pace based on quick turns and decisive actions.

For the most part, I really like the concept and implementation of Citadels. The quasi-hidden role selection (though the earlier selectors have more information) is quite a bit of fun, and adds to the mind-game aspect (If I pick 3rd, and have the Architect available, do I dare take him if I think the Assassin was selected earlier, etc). However, I think the game suffers from two things that keep it from being a true favorite or recurring guest at the table:

1) Player/System Issue: Downtime.

For some reason, the game has small pockets of downtime, and lurches along at an uneven pace. Even with very short, discrete turn options, I've had some 5-6 player games of Citadels last nearly 2 hours -- which is inexcusable in my mind for the types of decisions and sort of gameplay experience I feel Citadels strives for. Perhaps I'm merely impatient, but for a backstabbing game with lots of shifts and changes in position (reminiscent of Cosmic Encounter) It *feels* like the pace should be frantic and frenetic.

2) System Issue: Gang Up On The Leader/Game Extension.

While I like games having some means to target the leader, there's something about Citadels which makes me feel that it's almost too easy to gang up on the leader, further lengthening the game. The Warlord's destructive power clearly delays the endgame. The assassin and thief indirectly lengthen the game by reducing player options. Sometimes, the game drags to a point where it feels like a game of Zombies -- "my God, won't somebody just *win* already?!?!?" ... As soon as someone establishes a good lead, they're a target for anyone with a "zapping" power -- Assassin, Thief, Warlord or one of several variant powers.

That said, with the right group (which enjoys the ride as a friendly game of backstabbing rather than a deep strategic endeavor) I thoroughly enjoy Citadels. In my mind, the game should play in about 30-45 minutes for the type of experience it provides. Once it starts to stretch out much longer than an hour, I quickly lose interest -- and the risk of ending up in one of those marathon games alone keeps Citadels from hitting the table more often, which is a real shame.

The Bottom Line: 6.5/10 -- Citadels is (or can be) a surprisingly solid game for 6 or 7 players, despite its faults. Don't enjoy it as much with only 3-4, as there's even less interaction between players. Gameplay should ideally be quick, dastardly and exciting to the very end. Or at least, should be -- but with the wrong group, it tends to drag on. I dislike a few character abilities (assassin, warlord) which lengthen the game considerably without adding anything to compensate.


  • The standard rules for 3 player Citadels are broken (since the Assassin will have a 100% hit rate if taken as a first role by someone). I, and others, have posted simple fixes at BGG.

    With > 5 players, I usually play to a lower number of buildings. It makes the game substantially quicker - a plus for a light game like Citadels.

    By Blogger Matthew Wills, at 4:10 PM  

  • I only like Citadels with 2 or 3. It's a 10x better game when you can use 2 characters in combination. Playing with more is just a chaotic random exercise.

    By Blogger ekted, at 5:43 AM  

  • I've played with 4 before, and found it incredibly dry... I can't imagine the game with 2 or 3, but perhaps I should give it a try... Though the more I think about it, the more I think a fixed time limit would be best -- say 10 rounds... Do what you can in 10 rounds, then crown the winner. That sort of countdown clock could add a whole different dynamic to the game, and help keep it from going overly long.

    By Blogger Jason Little, at 8:47 AM  

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