Citadels Card Game Review

Citadels is a fantasy strategy card game designed by Bruno Faidutti, released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2003. The action features players competing to develop empires of cities. Players use cards to upgrade their abilities by hiring new characters with unique skills – this character-building aspect adds a lot of strategy to a somewhat simple style of gaming that I think would be more about the luck of the draw than strategy otherwise.

Ideal for 2-7 players, according to the rulebook, Citadels is aimed at audiences 10 and up, and an average round takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour to complete. One of the downsides of the game is the steep learning curve; understanding the various roles characters and districts play requires a little in-game experience, so don’t expect to master the game right away.

Citadels is your basic diplomacy title with the addition of a purchasing system using gold coin tokens. The game is a little setup-heavy, with lots of different pieces to set up before you can play. The game includes:

  • 66 district cards
  • 18 character cards
  • 18 character markers
  • 1 crown and plastic base
  • 16 victory point markers
  • 35 gold coins

But if you don’t mind spending a little time setting up a game, this title will appeal to fans of strategy-based gaming, and there’s a slight fantasy element that would probably appeal to your average AD&D or other fantasy gamer.

Cards & Pieces

All the game’s cards are in full color with an identical blue and white pattern on the back. These are broken up into two categories – character and district.

Character cards feature nice artwork in full-color, and each is labeled 1-9. Each character has a name such as Bishop or Thief and gives the player a unique ability. Seven of the game’s characters gain special powers when associated with certain districts, and this is clearly marked by the background color – a character with a green background gets a bonus from a green district, etc.

The markers for the different characters are hexagonal cardboard pieces, each one linked to a specific character. The game’s designer wanted to give players an easy way of indicating what characters are active, but the use of the markers is totally voluntary.

As for the other set of game pieces, district markers are illustrated like the character identities, each showcasing a different part of a major city – cards for bars, churches, manors, colleges, and a ton of other locations exist. The cost of a district card is tied directly to its value, so that a district that only costs one gold to play is only worth one gold in value later in the game.

Proper play also requires Gold Coin tokens, plastic yellow pieces that can withstand a lot of play. Their use in the game follows as part of the description of the rules and objective.

How to Play

The goal of the contest is to construct 8 districts within your city – and since it’s common for more than one player to reach this goal at the same time, the value of the districts is important as well. Rather than building the 8 cheapest districts possible, the players who invest in valuable properties often win more than those who can build the quickest.

Each player starts with four district cards and two gold coins. At the beginning of the game, one player is picked as King for the first round, and he shuffles and stacks eight character cards in front of him.

Character Descriptions

It’s important to know what each character in Citadels does for your abilities as a player. Here’s a quick breakdown of each character class.

  • Assassin – The ability to murder any non-playing character.
  • Thief – The ability to steal all of a non-playing character’s gold.
  • Magician – The ability to exchange cards with other players or taken them from the deck.
  • King – The King earns one piece of gold per yellow district and gets the first character choice next round.
  • Bishop – The Bishop earns one gold per blue district and is totally protected from the Warlord character.
  • Merchant – The Merchant earns one gold per green district, plus one additional gold per round.
  • Architect – The Architect can draw two additional cards and build an additional district.
  • Warlord – The Warlord earns one gold per red district, and can pay to destroy the district of the player’s choice, except for The Bishop.

Each round of the game includes a few sub-rounds, so let’s look at how the game actually plays out.

Choosing Characters

The round starts with that round’s king placing characters face up in front of each player. The king gets first pick from the face-up characters, then all remaining cards are passed clockwise around the table, so that the last player in each round is stuck with no choice.

Once you pick a character, you take a turn per round. A hierarchy of character cards exists, determining the order of play. The assassin is fastest and goes first, followed by the thief, and on down the line. The order of characters determines the order of play

Taking a Turn

Your first choice is between taking two gold coins or two district cards. You can then build a district if you choose (and if you have enough gold), and that’s pretty much it.

Of course, the unique power of each character comes into play during each turn – for example, if you are the Assassin, you may play a district token, shell out some hold, then kill an NPC. The character you choose is extremely important in Citadels strategy.

After the last player has had a turn, all character cards are gathered, shuffled, and a whole new round of play starts over. The new round’s king starts off by picking a character, and the deck goes around until all players have selected one.

The End of the Game

In any round when a player builds their eighth district, all players have to count up the point value of all their districts and add a couple of bonuses if applicable. Refer to the rulebook for specific bonus amounts. The player with the most points out of all players who have built eight districts is the winner.

I am always happy to find this kind of deceptively simple card game (the rules take a little getting used to, especially character abilities) that also includes plenty of strategy and a high level of gaming and roleplaying ability. Bruno Faidutti’s design involves strategy, character-building tactics, and even bluffing, and the variety of characters and districts means lots of replay value.

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