First Play: Citadels

Citadels was sold to us as Love Letter meets Mascarade – two of our favourite games! But what did we think of it? Here’s our initial thoughts, based on our first play!

By Jamie Maisner

Our ‘First Play’ guides describe the experiences of relatively experienced board gamers playing a new game for the first time. As such, they don’t include in-depth thoughts on strategy, depth or reliability.

Rob Clarke Daniel Jamie Maisner Bex Jordan

A lot of our time here at Playopolis is spent recommending our favourite board games to people. As a result, it comes as a nice surprise when someone recommends a game to us that instantly sounds amazing. As soon as someone told me that Citadels was like Love Letter meets Mascarade – I was instantly sold.

What is Citadels?

The main idea behind Citadels is that you want to build a big fancy city through the assistance of a bunch of character cards – each of which provide you a unique bonus.

At the start of a round you’ll take it in turns to pick from the remaining characters, grab some coins or build a district and then activate your characters ability. Each character has an associated number which determines the turn order – so the Assassin (1) will always take their turn before the Warlord (8).

This is one of the key tactical decisions players will experience in Citadels. For example; if the player with the most money thinks they are about to be the victim of the Thief (2), they can choose the Assassin (1) so that they will have their turn first next round.

The King is one of the most important characters in the game due to him providing players with the crown playing piece. Whoever has control of the crown will pick their character first next round; and honestly – I cannot stress more the importance of turn order and character selection in this game.

To score points in Citadels, players need to build districts by spending coins and playing the relevant card from their hand. There are five categories of district in the game and players generally are rewarded for building citadels featuring a diverse variety of districts. However, some characters receive bonuses in association with specific districts i.e the Bishop receives an extra gold for each religious district.

So, there is a clear strategic dilemma in which strategy to adopt which is immediately complicated by the fact that your desired character might have already been chosen by one of your rivals.

Some of the district cards in the game provide unique perks that will improve your chances of winning. In our game, I managed to build a School of Magic which counted as any district I liked when I wanted to use character rewards and as a result: for a few rounds I was banking a lot of cash. This allowed me to focus on expanding my districts whilst ensuring I always had an early turn order to avoid players attacking me. Sadly, I couldn’t hold on forever and every player soon caught wind of my very profitable School of Magic which was sadly removed utilising the Warlord who can destroy other players districts.

So how was it?

For a first play through, Citadels was really easy to pick up; barely anytime was spent explaining the rules and pretty much every player knew what to do and was immediately able to start planning their own route to success. I can’t think of one time we needed to consult the rules for a clarification once the game started and that definitely deserves some extra kudos. Importantly; it also felt balanced and towards the end of the game every player was pushing to build their final district.

While in our first playthrough we played with the basic starting characters; it’s exciting to see that loads are included in the box hinting at a lot of replay-ability, (honestly, I would have been happy enough if the game just included the 8 starting characters we experienced in our first play!) I’m actively excited to play this game again and see some of these new characters in action.

Despite being a big fan of hidden role games, one of my criticisms of the genre has generally been that they can lack actual game mechanics besides bluffing. Citadels on the other hand has elements of hidden roles games – but crucially; features city building mechanics and card drafting; blending some of my favourite tabletop genre’s into one slick experience.

I've played a few games of Citadels now and enjoyed it every time. The new second edition greatly improves both the quality of the cards and the art on those cards while keeping all the same mechanics. It's a game if you have a larger group but want something a bit deeper than a traditional party game. - Rob Clarke