Citadels is a resource management game that centers around a drafting mechanism, which itself involves a great deal of bluffing and second-guessing.
Designer: Bruno Faidutti
Publisher: Windrider Games / Asmodee
Category: Bluffing, Strategy Game
Player Count: 2-8
BoardGameGeek Rating: 7.85 (63 votes)
Price: $29.99 MSRP
Bruno Faidutti is a French game designer well-known for his love affair with bluffing and chaos. His games include Mission: Red Planet, Mascarade, and the recent H.M.S. Dolores, but it all began with Citadels. Although there were probably other precursors to the “social deduction” genre, I credit Citadels with popularizing it. Citadels is a hand and resource management game, but that is done through card drafting. The drafting is secret, and involves a serious amount of double- and triple-guessing. It was nominated for the Game of the Year in Germany (Spiel des Jahres) in 2001.
Fifteen years later, Citadels has been given a complete makeover. There are now 3 characters available for each position, resulting in 27 to choose from, and endless combinations. There are new buildings with unique abilities, new art, and a shortened playtime. Do all of these things add up to a fresh experience, or does Citadels show its age? Let’s find out!
There are assassins and warlords among the characters, but there’s no actual blood or violence shown on any of the art—just some weapons. Most of the art is simply pictures of different buildings. Players can certainly attack each other quite a bit, though.
Like many other board games, Citadels carefully intertwines two seemingly disparate parts. The goal of the game is to have the most points, primarily coming from locations players build. That entire process—drawing cards (buildings), paying for the buildings to enter play—is only one half. That process is guided by a drafting system that stands on its own. (In fact, it has been separately grafted to other systems, as in the game Lost Temple.)
Players draft one of eight or nine characters, clockwise from whoever currently has the crown. The card you pick determines what kinds of bonuses you get, in addition to player order. For example, the Architect allows you to build several buildings in one turn, but he takes his turn much later in the turn. Meanwhile, the Assassin always goes first, and he names a character, and whoever drafted it (if any) must skip their turn. Now you see the danger of the Architect! The original Citadels had six more characters, including two more aggressive roles. The Thief goes second, and names a character to pilfer, while the Warlord goes last but destroys a building in front of any one player.
A game that would otherwise be a mundane affair is completely defined by the brilliance of this draft. A card is set aside face-down before each draft, so no player can be sure what anyone actually took. The process is full of double-think and intrigue, and every game I’ve ever played of Citadels has had at least one slammed fist of frustration, shock, or glee. It works brilliantly, although the original game had its flaws. It was too long, for one—games typically took 75-90 minutes when the game feels like it deserves 45-60. This was in part because the “mean” characters described above are frustrating. I don’t mind being screwed over in a game, but they set the game back for everyone while not really advancing it for the players who use those characters.
Fortunately, Citadels has been given a complete overhaul in this 2016 edition. There’s new art, a ridiculous amount of purple buildings with special effects (you now customize the deck to taste), and new characters. Although the draft is still done the same, each numeric position has three options for each game. The rulebook has a variety of presets to use, but I know that I personally won’t use several of the original characters again. The Marshal, for example, steals a district from someone, instead of destroying it as the Warlord does. Since the game ends when someone has seven districts (shortened from eight in the original), this allows you to still screw another player over without dragging out the game. Likewise, the Witch allows you to take over a player’s turn, instead of denying it as the Assassin does. These changes combine to make a much faster, smoother game. It also helps that the all-new artwork is absolutely stunning.
Bruno Faidutti has tried many times to recreate the magic of Citadels in other games, but none have quite taken off like this Game of the Year nominee. This customizable version is truly amazing and has me excited to play the game again and again. The game understandably comes with a higher price, but it’s unfortunately also got a box far too big—one huge strength of Citadels was its portability. And I’ll admit the drafting phase can still drag if you don’t keep players on a tight clock. Yet, despite those minor flaws, this is an incredible update of a game that holds up better than I would have ever imagined.
Thank you to Asmodee North America for providing a review copy of Citadels.
+ Streamlined, quicker gameplay
+ Huge re-playability with 27 characters and tons of unique districts
+ Some new characters are vast improvements
+ Gorgeous, consistent artwork throughout
+ Game holds up, 15 years later
- Drafting can still take too long
- Box is way too big