Saturday, January 14, 2012

Critical Analysis of Citadels

Citadels consists of relatively few formal elements. The game physically consists of four elements: district cards, character cards, a crown  token, and gold tokens. District cards detail the districts name, type, cost to build, and special ability (if applicable). Character cards detail the character’s profession, their placement number in the round, and their special ability. The gold tokens are used to pay for the construction of districts within the player’s city. They can be gained during the player’s turn or through special abilities granted by certain characters. The crown token goes to whichever player is currently the king. This player announces which character will play next by counting from one through eight. Whenever the king character is called, the crown token immediately transfers to the player with the king character and that player takes over as king. At the beginning of the game, the crown token goes to the oldest player until the king character is called.

At the beginning of each round, the character cards are distributed among the players, with all players receiving either one card or two, depending on the number of players. One random character card is discarded before the round by the player with the crown token. After that, the king begins calling character numbers. The player turn consist of three phases: acquire, where you draw district cards or gold tokens, build, where you can build a district for the number of gold tokens displayed on the card, and ability, where you can use the character’s special ability. Only one district can be built per player turn unless the player has an ability to change this. Only one district of a given name may be built by each player. The game ends when a player builds 8 districts. At the end of the game, each player gets points corresponding to the value of all their districts, as well as bonuses for being the first to have 8 districts, to have 8 districts by the end of the final round, and for having districts of each of the five types.

During the game of Citadels that I played I noticed that these mechanics lead to a few interesting dynamics. When playing with three people, each person manages two character cards. This leads to what I would call “character seeding” in which players choose their first character to compliment their second character. For example, when someone had  larger number of districts, we saw that it was advantageous to choose the bishop first in order to protect their districts. The second move, the player would choose a more offensive character, like the merchant or the thief. Another common dynamic was for someone to pick the merchant first in order to supply extra gold for their second character to use. In addition, having two rounds of picking characters lets you know who has what cards with more certainty. This allowed for targeting; doing damage to a specific player by knowing which character they are likely to have. I thought that this took away from the aesthetic of the game because it limited the mystery and the element of surprise.

I believe that the fact that my group played with three players rather than 4+ (as it was ideally meant to be played), I was able to see why the designer chose to make the game for four or more players. Having more players hides the identity of the player characters and makes for fairer play. In addition, it enforces a more even distribution of power by not allowing the character seeding that I saw in the three player game. I also think that the designer’s choice to have the characters go in a specific order is beneficial. The characters that grant a higher personal gain tend to come later in the round, while more defensive characters are first. This allows for players to neutralize threats that might come their way later in the game.

As a final wrap-up, I believe that Citadels maintained a consistent level of fun and competitiveness. It encourages players to modify their strategy for both the beginning and the end of the game. It did, however, become obvious that the three player option is unbalanced and removes critical elements that help to create the pleasing aesthetic.

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