Radio Review #121 – Citadels Classic



(2016 – Windrider Games)


“They sing my funeral song in harmony….”


Designer Bruno Faidutti has been one of the more recognizable names within the industry over the last 15-20 years. Many of his games focus on character roles, with each role containing different abilities and actions when a player takes on that role. Games such as Mission Red Planet, Lost Temple, and Mascarade are all Faidutti designs that contain some type of role section element. The game in which he first initiated this mechanic however (and probably his most popular design to date) was Citadels. Released in 2000, Citadels was a huge hit for a time when modern board games weren’t as mass marketed as they are today, encompassing over 25+ published versions, all throughout the world. It was one of the first implementations of the role selection mechanic, and was presented in a simple, intuitive way. Over the years this has helped to spawn other games like Libertalia, as well as been an influence for those such as Small World and Kingsburg. This year, Windrider Games (a studio within Asmodee who merged with Z-Man Games, whom recently revised Ra and Tigris & Euphrates) is re-releasing this board game classic in two different editions. Citadels Classic contains the original cards and components of the original release. Citadels 2016 edition is a deluxe version with the upgraded components and artwork, and includes the Dark City expansion (originally released in 2004, and included within many of the recent Citadels base game releases), along with 9 new roles. Today I’ll be taking a look at the re-release of Citadels Classic, while in another review I’ll cover the Citadels 2016 edition comparing the two versions and showing some of the new included roles.

In Citadels, players are attempting to construct various buildings within the districts of their city, in order to assemble the most impressive citadel. These buildings take the form of District cards, each card listing the amount of gold required to build it, along with the type of district it’s built in (noble, religious, trade, military, or unique). On a player’s turn, he can either choose to gain 2 gold or draw 2 new District cards from the draw pile (though he’ll only keep one of these cards). The clever way in which players can influence their advantage over others however comes from the roles they’ve chosen each round. The game comes with 8 unique roles that players can choose from; the Assassin, the Thief, the Magician, the King, the Bishop, the Merchant, the Architect, and the Warlord. Beginning with the Start player, each player will choose a role, then pass the remaining role cards to the next player, until all players in the game have a chosen character. The round will then resume in character order, beginning with the Assassin (role #1) taking his turn and ending with the Warlord (role #8) taking his turn. Character’s roles will allow players to kill other characters, steal District cards from one another, gain gold, destroy completed buildings, etc. After a player has built his 7th District card in his city, the game ends at the completion of the round and the players total points earned from their buildings in various ways. The player with the most point (and most impressively constructed citadel) wins. He can then scream “CIIIITADDEEEEEEEEEELLS!!!”





– Character cards


– District cards


– Gold Coins


– Crown card


– Summary cards





During the game, players will attempt to construct sections of their city by playing District cards from their hand. Each District card requires a certain amount of gold to build, and is also tied to one of five types of buildings. The amount of Victory Points a building is worth at the end of the game directly correlates to the amount of gold spent to build it. At the beginning of the game, the District cards are shuffled together to form a draw deck which is placed at the center of the table.

Each player is then dealt four of these District cards and also receives 2 gold to begin the game with. A player is chosen to be the Start player and receives the Crown card as well as the 8 Character cards. The remaining gold is placed in the middle of the table as a general supply. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:





During each round of the game, players take on the role of one of the 8 included characters, with each of these character’s providing a unique special ability when resolved. After all players have selected their character, these roles resolve in numerical order according to the number listed on each card. During a player’s turn, they may gain additional gold, draw more District cards, enact their character’s special ability, and can construct one building. Once a player has constructed 7 buildings in their city, the game ends and player’s total their Victory Points. Let’s take a look at the two main phases of a player’s turn; the Selection Phase and the Turn Phase.



I. The Selection Phase:

Before a player’s turn can begin, they must first choose a character. At the beginning of each Round, the current Start player (designated by the Crown card) will shuffle the 8 Character cards and deal 1 card face-up in the middle of the table in a 5-player game, and 2 in a 4-player game. There are special rules for how to play with 2-3 players, and no cards are dealt face-up in a 6-7 player game. But for the purposes of this review, let’s focus on a game that includes 5 players.

For instance, Player A (the current Start player) shuffles the deck of Character cards and deals two cards to the middle of the table, face-up. In this case, it’s the Bishop and the Architect. This is now open information, so all 4 players know that for this round, both the Bishop and Architect won’t be used. It’s important to note that if the King had been discarded in this way, he’s placed back in the Character deck, which is shuffled again, and a new card is added instead.


Next, the Start player will randomly discard one of the 7 remaining cards face-down, setting it aside without looking at it. Then, amongst the 6 remaining Characters, he’ll choose the Character he wants to be for the round, then passes the deck to the player on his left. Each player chooses a Character, passing the deck clockwise, until the last player has 2 cards remaining. He’ll then choose his Character and discard the remaining card face-down, setting it to the side next to the one that the Start player had discarded. In this example, all players know that the Bishop and Architect aren’t involved in the round, and the last player has knowledge of an additional character that’s not being used. This helps to balance out the fact that he was given a choice of the two remaining Characters that no one else wanted.




II. The Turn Phase:

Once all players have chosen their Characters, the Start player will begin to announce in numerical order for players to reveal their characters. For instance, he’ll say “Is anyone the Assassin?” (role #1), then “Is anyone the Thief?” (role #2). Once a player’s number has been called, he’ll reveal his card and then take his turn. As you can see, players will not resolve their turns in clockwise order, rather in the order of the Character’s numbers, 1-8.

The first thing a player will do on his turn is to decide whether he wishes to take 2 gold from the supply or draw 2 new District cards from the draw deck (choosing 1 to keep and returning the other to the bottom of the draw deck). He must choose to do one of these and can not choose both. Next, the player can choose to construct one building by playing a District card from his hand, paying its cost in gold which is listed along the left side of the card. Each building has a name printed on the bottom of the card, and players are not allowed to build two of the same District cards in their city.

The bottom left corner of each District card contains a particular color, designating it as one of the 5 different types of districts in the game; the Noble District (yellow), the Trade District (green), the Religious District (blue), the Military District (red), and then there are cards that make up the Unique District (purple). While the first 4 district types are standard, the Unique district cards contain special bonuses and abilities that remain active for the player once that building has been built and placed into the player’s city.

For instance, as seen on the left, the Observatory is a unique district building that costs 4 gold to construct. Once built, it allows the player to draw 3 District cards instead of 2, when choosing to add new District cards to his hand on a turn. The player would still only keep 1 of these cards (discarding the other 2), but has more options to choose from.


As seen on the right, a player with the Great Wall will force the player with the Warlord role to pay an additional gold to destroy it. Normally the Warlord’s ability allows him to destroy another player’s District card at its build cost in gold -1.

As mentioned before, each Character contains a unique ability that the player can resolve on his turn. If it does not specify when the player must perform the ability, it can be done any time on his turn. In some cases, player’s may want to enact the Character’s ability before choosing to earn gold or draw more District cards, as we’ll see with the Magician. In other cases, the player may want to wait to enact it after building a District card, as may be the case with the Warlord. Let’s take a look at what these different abilities can do, in the order in which the Characters resolve:




1. The Assassin – When the player resolves his Assassin ability, he will name one of the other characters. That character is killed, therefore the player that’s taken the role of that character (if any) will skip his turn this Round. The character that’s to be assassinated must keep his identity quiet and does not reveal his character card during the round. This can be important, as revealing himself as the victim before his turn may give them an advantage on what they’ll decide to do on their turn, especially the Thief.

The Assassin role is mainly used to keep all of the other player’s in check. If you know a player’s about to use the Warlord on you to destroy one of your buildings, you may want to take the Assassin role and kill him first. Or maybe you’ve collected a lot of unplayed district cards and are worried the Magician will try to take them from you. In any event, the Assassin can be a risky move. The Assassin gains you nothing on your turn other than possibly making another player lose their turn. If you’ve chosen wrongly, you’ve basically wasted your own turn, however if you’ve guessed who is who correctly, the Assassin can be used to gain a powerful advantage.




2. The Thief – Speaking of the Thief, he works similar to the Assassin in that the player will name one of the other characters. When that character is revealed, the Thief immediately steals all money from him. Because the Assassin is revealed before the Thief takes his turn, and because the Assassin’s target does not reveal his card, these two roles cannot be robbed by the Thief. So it would never make sense for the Thief to name the same character that the Assassin named.

Gold is the not necessarily easy to come by in the game, and is also the main element needed to succeed, as spending gold is the only way to place buildings in your city. Being a successful Thief will potentially reward the player with a wealth of coins, however much like the Assassin, his usefulness is largely dependent on guessing which player is which character. You could guess incorrectly and still earn some money from the player that was that character you named, but figuring out which character the player with the most money has chosen is crucial to this role being worth your while.




3. The Magician – The Magician is able to switch out District cards in his hand. When resolving the Magician’s ability, the player has two options. He can either switch all District cards in his hand with all those in another player’s hand. Interestingly, if the Magician has no cards in hand, he can simply take all the cards from another player. Alternatively, if he doesn’t want to get rid of all the cards in his hand and simply wants to filter some out, he can choose to discard any number of cards to the bottom of the draw deck, then draw that many cards into his hand from the top of the deck.

The Magician can be quite annoying. Unlike the Assassin or Thief, the Magician does not have to name a specific character, just choose an opponent to affect. Usually its best to use the Magician if you have a crappy hand of district cards, or no cards at all. This also keeps players from accumulating tons of cards and building the best ones. If you have a good district card that you want to get out, its best to focus on getting it built before the Magician steals it. Of course stealing a wad of district cards from a player will probably mean you’re soon to be the target of an assassination or the focus of the Magician in the following round.




4. The King – While one of the player’s was chosen as the Start player at the beginning of the game, receiving the Crown card, the player that takes the King’s role will receive that card when revealing himself as the new King. The new King now becomes the player that will continue to call out the roles for the rest of the Round. He’ll also be the player who chooses his role first during the next Round. If the Assassin killed the King, he’ll still reveal his role at the end of the round and receives the Crown card then.

As we’ll see with the Bishop, Merchant, and Warlord, the King can gain some additional income depending on the district types in his city. As an additional bonus to receiving the Crown card, the King receives 1 gold for every Noble (yellow) district card built in his city. For instance, if Player B revealed himself to be the King, and had a Manor and a Palace in his city, he could choose to wait until he built a Castle from his hand before resolving his ability of earning income from Noble district buildings. In this case, he would receive 3 gold. But really, his main advantage comes from being able to go first during the round that follows. Also, I guess if calling out character roles is your thing, he’s your guy.




5. The Bishop – The Bishop is the only character that is immune from the Warlord’s (character #8) destructive ability. Though if the Assassin has killed him, he’s not protected from the Warlord, since he technically does not reveal his card, and….well… also dead. The Bishop also gains 1 gold for every Religious (blue) district building in his city.

Being the only character that keeps the Warlord from attacking is a great advantage, especially towards the end of the game. Of course, if a player knows that you’ll try to protect your grand city from the Warlord by choosing the Bishop, he’ll probably choose the Assassin and take you out, which then leaves you vulnerable to the Warlord. Mind games!




6. The Merchant – Whether the Merchant decides to take 2 gold or draw new district cards, he’ll always receive an extra gold on his turn. The Merchant also gains 1 gold for every Trade (green) district building in his city. As the character that awards the most gold during a turn (outside of the Thief potentially), and will probably result in gaining a lot of attention from the Assassin and Thief during the following round if you can’t get spend it soon. Taking the role of the Merchant is one of the more tempting choices, but its benefit can cause the collaborated unwanted focus of others, more than any other character.




7. The Architect – The Architect works similar to the Merchant, however he’s more concerned about constructing more buildings than gold. No matter which choice he’s made on his turn, whether it was gaining 2 gold or drawing 2 cards (keeping 1 in his hand), he’ll also draw and keep 2 additional District cards. This is the best way to build a handful of District cards, giving you more options when building, but also can make you a target of the Magician on future turns. The Architect can also construct up to 3 buildings on his turn, though he’d need quite a bit of money to do so. There are some pretty cheap buildings in the game, but the only reason to get 3 of these out quickly if you didn’t have a lot of money would be if you felt you were already in the lead and were attempting to end the game.

The main advantage to the Architect however lies in his card draw ability. While the Magician can also draw cards, he can’t do so to the extent that the Architect can. But as with the Magician, adding a wealth of cards to your hand may draw some snaky attention. Either from the Assassin or the Magician.




8. The Warlord – The Warlord can choose a player and destroy one of their District cards in play, by paying its building cost minus 1. For instance, the Warlord could choose to destroy a Fortress by paying 4 gold (its normal building cost is 5). The only limitations to his power is that the Warlord can not destroy a building in a city protected by the Bishop, nor can he destroy one in a completed city (one that contains the end-game triggering 7). Interestingly enough, the Warlord can choose to destroy one of his own buildings. He may choose to do so in order to replace a smaller 1-point earning building with a much larger one towards the end of the game. The Warlord also gains 1 gold for every Military (red) district building in his city.

Destroying opponents buildings is probably one of the more powerful abilities in the game. Especially as the game nears the end. As we’ll see in a bit, players will score points for each building at the end of the game based on how much it cost to build them, therefore the Warlord can target the more expensive buildings in an attempt to lower an opponent’s final score. However, this is very costly for the Warlord player. Some buildings have a cost up to 6 gold, therefore you’re basically spending 5 gold to destroy them. A powerful ability, but sometimes overpriced depending on the situation.





End-Game Scoring:

Once a player’s city contains at least 7 District cards, it is considered completed. Players will continue to resolve all characters until the round ends, however at the end of the round, the game ends. Just because a player has completed a city, doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s won the game. Final victory points are awarded in the following ways:



– The 1st player to complete his city earns 4 victory points.
– Any other completed city is worth 2 victory points.
– Each building is worth a number of victory points equal to their listed building cost.
– A city that contains each of the 5 district types is awarded 3 victory points.
– Some unique district buildings will award end-game victory points.



The player with the city that’s earned the highest number of victory points is the winner.





If you already own Citadels, Citadels Classic is the most basic version of the game, essentially a direct reprint of the game as it came out originally. So you’ll want to look at the Citadels 2016 edition for an upgrade for what you already have. For those interested in the game that don’t already own it, Citadels Classic is a great, affordable option, running around $10-$12 versus the more deluxe edition that’ll run around $25-$30.

It’s pretty impressive that Citadels holds up today as well as it does, and really speaks volumes of the outstanding interaction it provides and its overall design. While the game combines bluffing, hand management, set collection, and timing, its true attraction is the interplay between the various roles. Choosing a character that benefits you the most, while making sure that others won’t catch on to who your choosing, while at the same time attempting to figure out who everyone else might be in order to take advantage and exploit them, is incredibly rewarding and fun. So you have four different districts in play and need a trade district card to build in order to complete the set, thus awarding you additional victory points at the end of the game? Well, do you take the Architect in order to draw a slew of district cards to get it, meanwhile sparking the interest of the Magician? Do you go ahead and take the role of the Magician, switching your current hand with the hand of another player, hoping they have that trade district card? Or do you take the Bishop, making sure the Warlord can’t destroy one of your other buildings while you hopefully draw the card you need this turn? There are so many situations that appear in a game of Citadels, and the way the characters all interact with one another from round to round is what makes the game stand out.

While the game does support 7 players, I’ll admit that my enjoyment of the game leans more towards the 3-5 player range. Since players resolve their turns in numerical order, a full compliment of 6-7 players can tend to drag a bit. However, 3-5 for me seems to be the sweet spot. You’re probably looking at no more than 10 minutes per player, but Citadels flows better as a 30 minute game than it does a 60 minute one. Having said that, I love this game. Even as a fan of more complex iterations that spun off of Citadels such as Libertalia and Mission Red Planet, there’s something about the simplicity of Citadels that allows it to still stand on its own, even after all this time. I was happy to see a new deluxe version being printed, with newer, never before seen roles along with upgraded artwork (although the artwork in the original is still quite impressive), but it’s great that they are keeping the original in tact. For such an affordable price, unless you just really loathe bluffing and role selection games, Citadels is a classic that should be included on everyone’s gaming shelf.



If you’re near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community’s FLGS, Cape Fear Games.



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