Last Updated on November 22, 2022
Who said city planning was boring?
Your rivals are all looking to make their city bigger and better than yours! Are you just going to sit around and let them?
In Citadels, each player is the governor of a city… in a land of rival cities. Players will need to build the most impressive city by bribing the local aristocrats, building up impressive structures, and maybe even some good old-fashioned sabotage.
Welcome to Citadels. Check out the full Citadels board game review below.
Brief Overview of Citadels
A game of medieval cities, nobles, and intrigue!
Citadels is a simple city-builder card game in which players choose roles from a list of character cards to perform actions.
Each turn, players choose a character card that allows them to perform special abilities during their turn. And it can get pretty nasty.
It’s a classic game that can easily be set up and played in about a half-hour, which makes it a perfect game to scratch your board game itch when the fancy strikes you.
Versions & Expansions
Citadels Classic (2000)
This is a perfect place to start if you’re still on the fence about Citadels. For about $10 USD you’ll find a quick, fun, and easy-to-teach card game that will be a great addition to your shelf. It’s a cheap game you can pick up without feeling guilty.
Citadels Deluxe (2016)
It includes the base game, the hard-to-find Dark City Expansion, and several new cards just for the updated version. All of the components have been upgraded and it includes all-new artwork that works very well with the game.
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Citadels Revised Edition (2021)
This is the definitive edition of Citadels. This revised edition is repackaged in a smaller, easier-to-carry box and contains all previously released Citadels content.
Unboxing is all going to depend on which version you get.
Citadels Classic (the original version) comes in a nice tidy package and Citadels Deluxe (the newer 2016 version) comes in a big box with a lot of cardboard and air.
The newer version does have some nice components upgrades and I do like the artwork better. The first player token has been replaced by a decently-sized crown, which is much easier to see than the original wooden token.
It’s just a little irritating when the majority of a box comes with air in it. It doesn’t need the bigger box at all… it’s mostly a marketing thing.
I can’t fault them too much because the Citadels Deluxe version is actually really nice. They just put it into a bigger box that isn’t necessary. It also includes a lot of extra goodies.
Citadels Classic only had 9 cards. The Deluxe edition has all the original cards, the cards from The Dark City expansion, and 9 brand new ones. If you don’t own Citadels already, then the newer version is probably the best one to pick up.
The original has everything you need to play and is still a solid game but you just miss out on a lot of extra cards. It is only about $10 USD though, so if you’re on a budget and just want something quick to play, it may not be a bad way to go.
Citadels Deluxe Components:
- 27 Character Cards
- 84 District Cards
- 6 Reference Cards
- 30 Gold Plastic Pieces
- 32 Tokens
- 1 Plastic Crown
How to Play Citadels
Citadels is a very quick game to learn and to play. For whatever reason, when I first tried learning the rules it took me forever, so I may just be a special case. But here we’re going to break it down for you so it makes sense.
In Citadels, players take turns choosing a character card, picking up gold, and building districts in their own personal cities.
Character cards are where the magic happens. They include the special abilities that players receive each round and all of the bluffing elements of the game.
At the beginning of every round, whoever chose the King character from the previous round starts the game. That player will look through the available cards and choose one, then pass the character deck to the player on their left. This continues until everyone has chosen a character and the final player places the remainder off to the side.
This is a crucial strategic moment of the game because certain characters will shine at different phases throughout the game. There are also some devastating attacks that can set players back almost indefinitely if your gaming friends are jerks.
The starting player gains the advantage of getting the first choice of characters and abilities but they’ll have very limited knowledge of what cards the other players have. The final players will have fewer options to choose from but they may have a better idea of what cards are taken and can counter their competitors’ moves.
Characters also determine turn order during a round.
The player who chose the King character basically runs the round and calls out the numbers 1-8. Each number corresponds to a different character. Once their number is called, they can reveal themselves and perform their turn. It’s a pretty cool system that constantly changes the turn order of the game.
Characters from the Classic Version
There are 8 original character cards.
Each card is numbered 1-8. The number on the character card determines the turn order each round, so if you want to go first you’ll want to grab the
1. Assassin: The Assassin is probably the most brutal card in the game. The Assassin goes first if picked, and their ability allows them to call out another character card. If you picked up that card, then boom!– you’re dead. You’re forced to skip your entire turn and you cannot do anything for that round. It’s a pretty nasty card.
2. Thief: This is also particularly nasty. The Theif announces a character and then steals all of their gold. The Thief cannot pick the same target as the Assassin, so players won’t get hit with a double-whammy.
3. Magician: The Magician has a really useful utility ability. Players can swap hands with another player, even if they have no cards in their hand. You can theoretically take all of a player’s cards and hand them nothing if you don’t have any cards.
They can also discard any number of cards to the bottom of the district deck and redraw that many cards. This makes the Magician a very useful utility character. It may not be as flashy as some of the others, but it’s very useful.
4. King: The King is another great utility card. It gives players a single gold for every Yellow district built in the city and then they get to pick up the crown. This indicates who gets to choose characters first in the next round. Choice and options are key to victory in Citadels.
5. Bishop: The bishop will give you a coin for every Blue district you’ve built and it protects all of your districts. Nobody can destroy any of your buildings while you’re the Bishop.
6. Merchant: Merchants get one gold per Green district built and after you perform an action, you’ll receive an additional gold coin. It’s really good for stacking up your cash.
7. Architect: The Architect is great for filling up your hand with district cards. Every time you take an action with the Architect, you’ll draw 2 cards from the district deck and you’ll keep both cards. You can also build up to 3 districts on your turn. It’s a great way to quickly build some buildings after you’ve built up your cash reserves.
8. Warlord: The Warlord, as you might imagine, is a devastating attack character. The Warlord receives a coin for every Red district built in your city. On top of that, the Warlord can destroy another player’s district by paying 1 less than the original cost. This can really mess up an opponent’s plan.
These are just the basic cards. As you play more advanced versions of the game, you’ll want to swap up the newer cards to change up the game. I won’t go into all of them, but the newer cards that can be swapped do change up the game dramatically and add a lot of replayability.
There are 5 different colored district cards in the game. Each district has a different color that corresponds to the different abilities of the characters.
- Yellow: Noble District
- Blue: Religious District
- Green: Trade District
- Red: Military District
- Purple: Special Districts that have special rules
It’s your turn!
When your turn is called, you’ll need to do 2 things.
- Perform an action.
- Play a district card.
Actions consist of 2 possible options and one must be performed every turn. You can take 2 gold from the bank or you can draw another district card. When drawing another district card, you’ll need to draw 2, choose one, and then put the other on the bottom of the district deck.
The next part of your turn is building a district in your city. You need to have the required amount of money on the card in order to actually build the district. If you can’t pay for it, you can’t do anything.
What’s with the Character Cards?
The character cards aren’t just a goofy way to pick the turn order. Each character has a specialized ability. Some grant resources, some will help you build, and some will mess with your opponents. Each card has a specific ability written on the character that details when you can use it and how. Each ability can only be used once per turn.
Ending the Game & Scoring
The game ends when a player builds the 8th district in their city. The game will continue until that round ends and then players proceed to scoring.
Each player will get points equal to the gold cost of all districts in their city. If a district costs 3 gold to build, then it’s worth 3 points.
Building a full set of all 5 colors grants an additional bonus of 3 points.
The first player to build 8 districts in a city gains 4 extra bonus points and any other player that manages to build 8 districts during the final round receives a 2-point bonus.
Tally up all your points and you’ll have your winner!
If there happens to be a tie, then the value of your completed districts counts towards a tiebreaker.
Any player can build more than 8 districts if they if they are able to. There’s no limit, but it’s pretty difficult to do so without careful planning.
Your First Game of Citadels
For your first game of Citadels, you’ll want to remove the 14 purple district cards with a white star. These cards are special ability cards that you can add later but for your first game, it’s best to play without them to better learn the rules.
It’s going to be a little tricky at first to spot some of the counters and attacks as they come but after about one full game, you’ll have everything down.
Look out for the Warlord and the Thief. Those are the 2 major attack cards in the game. They can be particularly painful if you’ve been gathering up resources, only to have them stolen before you can use them. Or perhaps you’ve built an amazing district, only to have it wiped out the next turn by those bastards.
Pros & Cons
- Quick & dirty
- Lots of replayability
- Portable (kinda)
- Lots of strategy
Citadels is a great quick game that can be played very quickly. This means that it is also very portable.
When a game can travel with me it always gets brownie points in my book. The original box is much more portable, but the newer version is much harder to carry around.
Either way, it’s a great game to play on a lunch break. It may be a little bit harder to get it going at the pub, simply because there are a lot of cards and tokens going around the table and that can easily be destroyed by a stray spill.
- Hasn’t aged particularly well
Citadels is a classic game but I don’t find myself playing it as much as I used to. There are a lot of games out there and each one battles it out for that coveted spot on the table. There’s a lot of everything going on in this game but I think that overall, some other games just perform a little better.
For example, if I want a bluffing game, I don’t necessarily default to Citadels. If I’m looking for a city-builder or card-drafting game, Citadels again doesn’t come immediately to my mind. It’s a great game when taken as a whole but if you break down the specific mechanics, there are other games out there that do it better. That doesn’t mean Citadels is a bad game by any means, but again, there are so many games on the shelf and only one can be played at a time.
It comes down to the jack-of-all-trades argument. It does a little bit of everything but it doesn’t embody the defining characteristics of any one game. I’ll leave it up to you on whether or not that’s a selling point or a hindrance.
Citadels Review (TL;DR)
Players use character cards to gain new abilities and determine turn order every turn.
As players build up their cities, they’ll score final points based on the worth of districts built in their cities, a full set of cities, and whoever is able to build a full city of 8 districts.
It’s a bit of an older game and other, newer games have recreated similar aspects of Citadels. The newer Deluxe version, however, has been improved and is overall a better deal. It comes with the original, the expansion, and several new cards.
There’s a reason certain games end up on a ton of different must-play lists and stick around to become household names. Citadels is a great game. It has a ton of different mechanics that all mesh well together.
I love the fact that it is easily taught and set up. I did have trouble learning this game at first. It’s not that it’s difficult but every now and then, you’ll run into a game that just throws you for a loop when reading the rules.
For whatever reason, Citadels was that game. It probably took less time for me to learn Arkham Horror than it was for me to grasp Citadels.
Looking back, I realize I was being a complete tool. It’s not difficult to learn and I’ve taught it to a bunch of players (much easier than Arkham). I like the game, but I think I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Citadels because of how much trouble it took me to learn.
If I missed anything in the rules I’d love to hear it. Has any game been abnormally hard to learn that should have been super easy?
Leave a comment below.
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