Posted Thursday, 13-Aug-2015
Choosing different roles and hiding your agenda are popular mechanics in board games. From the frantic persuasion of Ultimate One Night Werewolf to the dark intrigues of Battlestar Galactica, they create tension and excitement. But for all the variations on this theme, it’s one that’s been done well from the start, as Citadels shows.
Originally released in 2000, and not to be confused with the board game of the same name, card game Citadels is theoretically about building a city. Players are the city’s leaders, competing to build the most prestigious district. So far so constructive.
You start the game with a small pile of cash and a handful of cards representing buildings. Your aim is to have the most valuable set of buildings in front of you at the end of the game. Simple, right?
But every round, players secretly select their role in the city, whether it’s the wealthy merchant, the deadly assassin, or the powerful king. As in Puerto Rico, these roles allow you different actions that can help you build. But some can also be used to attack your opponents.
The challenge comes in the secret selection of these roles, and the way they are played. Play goes in role order rather than seating order, and no-one knows who is who until each role is revealed.
For example, the assassin is number one and always goes first. They get to assassinate one other character, taking away that player’s turn. But they have to pick a character not a player, and no-one else has revealed who they are yet.
Imagine you’re the assassin, and you want to stop your friend Ted from playing a big building and winning the game. You think he’ll pick the king, because the king can get extra income from Ted’s gold buildings. But Ted knows he’s winning, so he might pick another character to avoid being assassinated.
Just like that, an elaborate game of bluff begins.
Like Settlers of Catan, Citadels is simpler to play than it sounds. Even inexperienced gamers can pick up the mechanics in a couple of turns, and each game only takes about half an hour. It’s a good introductory game, as long as your friends don’t mind a little backstabbing and betrayal.
The mechanics Citadels used have since been adapted by many other games, including its own expansion Dark City. But while many games have imitated its challenge and tension, few have surpassed it.
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