Introduction to Citadels
Created by Bruno Faidutti and published originally in 2000, Citadels is a strategic and diplomatic card game that fits well in the “eurogame” or “German-style” genres.
Citadels is about building impressive cities and outwitting your opponents through deft strategic timing and careful process of elimination based on information gained as turns progress.
Players all have a shot at victory, regardless of which player makes the final move of the game. Therefore, analysis of the playfield is crucial to determining what risks are wise to take, especially in the end game.
Interested players may be interested to know that there is a considerable history influencing the design of Citadels, which reaches back all the way to post-World War II Germany. In the post-war times, German game-makers set out to depart from games focusing on warfare and instead focus on more constructive subjects.
Eurogames such as Citadels, therefore, tend to focus on strategic, diplomatic, and economic play and center around building a sustained social experience.
To further instill such social spirit, eurogames do not feature player elimination. All players remain playing the game until the very end.
In addition, eurogames tend to place strategy and bluffing over aggressive action and explicit competition. Citadels very much lives up to the spirit of such games. Players familiar with other eurogames such as Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, or Ticket to Ride will find themselves very much at home with the gameplay and spirit of Citadels.
This article will outline the rules, requirements for play, set-up, and strategy for Citadels and interested players should be able to pick up and play the game after completing a read-through. This article will also expand into the expansions to Citadels which now are frequently included in-box with many versions of the game.
Integrating characters and cards from the expansions has special rules and considerations, so players wishing to experiment with expansions will benefit from the following summary of rules.
Game Components and Number of Players
There are a number of key pieces required for the play of Citadels. All of these will be included in the Citadels box, so players don’t have to worry about needing to gather accessories or ancillary pieces.
The first and foremost of the game pieces are the “District” cards. These cards will be used to add sections to your city and provide income with which continue expanding. District cards come in five archetypes, indicated by their color as follows:
1. Yellow “Noble” Districts
2. Blue “Religious” Districts
3. Green “Trade” Districts
4. Red “Military” Districts
5. Purple “Special” Districts
These districts provide income or special effects depending on what “Character” card each player is in possession of each round. Included in most sets are fourteen bonus Special districts, which are marked with a white star.
The how-to of implementing these special modified cards will be outlined below in the section “Variants to Play.”
There are 8 unique character cards, with 10 bonus cards. Much like the bonus districts, bonus characters will be discussed later. Character cards each have their own specialties, names, and numerical rank which effect gameplay significantly. The special “powers” are listed here for reference, but may not make full sense until the “set-up and gameplay” segment is read. The character names are as follows listed by rank number, with associated power listed below:
1. The Assassin
a. Power: Call out the name of another character card. The player in possession of this card must remain silent for the rest of the round, missing their entire turn. The player who has been “assassinated” should not reveal their card when called upon by the crowned player.
2. The Thief
a. Power: Call out the name of a character card from whom to steal. The player who is in possession of that character card must surrender all their gold to the thief before they take their turn. The thief cannot target the assassin or their victim.
3. The Magician
a. Power: The magician has two powers, making them quite flexible. The magician may only use one of these powers, at any time during their own turn.
i. Swap hands with another chosen player. Do not take any in-play cards. The magician may take this action even when they have no cards in their own hand.
ii. The magician may, alternately, place any number of district cards from their hand at the bottom of the district deck and draw an equal number of cards from the top of the district deck.
4. The King
a. The king will receive one gold for each yellow noble district in their city on their turn. This is a passive effect and does not count as the king’s “power.”
b. Power: Upon being called, the player holding the king card will immediately be crowned as king. This means they act first the following round, call out the other character names. The king still inherits the crown even if they are murdered by the assassin during the current round. They will skip their turn as usual, but the following round they will ascend to the throne nonetheless as the heir to the now-dead king.
5. The Bishop
a. The bishop will receive one gold for each blue religious district in their city on their turn. This is a passive effect and does not count as the bishop’s “power.”
b. Power: The bishop’s districts are completely immune to attacks by the warlord character.
6. The Merchant
a. The merchant will receive one gold for each green trade district in their city on their turn. This is a passive effect and does not count as the merchant’s “power.”
b. Power: The merchant receives an additional one gold after taking action at the beginning of their turn.
7. The Architect
a. Power: The architect draws two additional district cards after taking action at the beginning of their turn. Both of these cards are kept in their hand, unlike normal draw actions. In addition, the architect is uniquely permitted to build up to three districts during their turn instead of just one.
8. The Warlord
a. The warlord will receive one gold for each red military district in their city on their turn. This is a passive effect and does not count as the warlord’s “power.”
b. Power: After the warlord has completed their entire turn, they may choose to destroy one district currently in play. This action costs one gold less than the cost to build the district in the first place. The warlord can destroy one of their own districts if necessary; however, it is not permitted to destroy any districts in any city that has completed play by having 8 districts.
Note: the specific functions of districts and the impacts of “powers” will be further explained in the “set-up and play” segment.
Another piece helpful to play are the player reference cards. These cards have basic concepts outlined so players can quickly remind themselves of the details of play. While not necessary, they are helpful, especially for newer players who may not have basics memorised yet.
The final pieces needed for play are the “crown” and the “gold pieces.” The crown is a simple wooden figurine used to indicate who will act first in each round. The crown will change hands frequently, and play order is very subject to change, so this piece is essential. In addition, the gold pieces act as the primary resource in the game.
Players will need these counters to keep track of how much gold they hold at any given time.
Citadels is designed for play with 2-7 players, however, play with 2, 3, or 7 players requires some special variation of play. Most of this guide will explain play with 4-6 players, and rules for games with 2, 3, or 7 players will be outlined in the “Variants to Play” segment.
Set-up and Play
Set-up is quite straightforward, but gameplay is relatively in-depth. Once again, the following guide to set-up and play is considering a table of 4-6 players. To set up the game without any variants, players should remove all bonus cards, which are marked with white star icons.
Eight character cards should remain and should be shuffled into a single deck. The remaining district cards should be shuffled and placed into a separate deck.
After sorting and shuffling the cards, deal four random district cards to each player, followed by two gold pieces. In a respectful nod to European monarchical history, the oldest player at the table will “inherit” the crown piece and the responsibilities that come with it.
Rounds of Citadels follow a four-part structure:
1. Remove Characters
a. The player with the crown must draw one card from the character deck and set it facedown on the table. Do not look at this card. This card is considered out of play for the current round, and will most likely return for future rounds.
b. A second set of cards should be drawn from the character deck and set faceup upon the table. This number varies depending on number of players.
i. For 4 players, place two cards faceup.
ii. For 5 players, place only one card faceup.
iii. For 6-7 players, place 0 cards faceup.
c. If the king is drawn from the deck and placed faceup on the table, place the king back into the character deck and draw a different card from the character deck to place faceup. Be sure to shuffle the deck afterwards.
2. Choose Characters
a. The player holding the crown will pick up the remaining character deck, look at the cards, and choose a character. This player does not reveal this card to the rest of the table. After choosing, the player should pass the deck to the player to his left so that this player can take the same actions. Continue passing the deck around the table until every player has been able to choose a character. The remaining card should then be placed facedown on the table.
3. Individual Player Turns
a. Only proceed to this step once every player has a character.
b. The player currently holding the crown should call out the name of characters one by one according to the order of their rank as listed above in the “character cards” list. If a player hears the crowned player call the name of the card they hold, the player must reveal their character card to the table and take their turn immediately. When that player’s individual turn is over, the crowned player will call out the next character card in rank and that player will then take their turn.
c. During an individual player’s turn:
i. Before anything else, players must choose to either take two gold from the bank, or draw two district cards from the district deck, keeping one and placing the other on the bottom of the district deck.
ii. Once one of the above actions has been taken, a player may then build a district. Choosing from the districts in their hand, a player may play that card to the table by paying the gold piece cost listed on the card. A player does not have to build every turn, but doing so is often advantageous. Players should be aware that no two identical districts can coexist in the same city. Districts of the same type or colour can coexist, but not of the exact same name.
iii. Players may also use their character card’s “power” once, and only once during their turn. Powers can be located on the character list above.
4. End of Round Resolution
a. When the final player has completed their turn, all character cards should be gathered back into the character deck and shuffled. Begin a new round immediately.
Game End and Victory
The game ends at the end of the round in which a player builds an eighth district in their city. Multiple players, therefore, may be able to reach the full city size by the end of the game. Once the game is done, victory points should be tallied according to the following rules:
1. Every player receives points equal to the total gold cost of their entire city. Total up each district’s individual gold values.
2. A player will receive a bonus 3 victory points if they have at least one district of every color in their city at the end of the game.
3. The first player to have built 8 districts receives a bonus 4 points.
4. Every other player who reached 8 districts during the last round receives 2 points.
The player with the most points wins.
Variants to Play
This section will have numerous variants. Most boxes include all necessary pieces in order to vary the play, however, players in possession of older boxes may not have all of the new character and district cards currently included in the newest version of the game. There are additionally some third party variants, but for the sake of staying on topic, these will not be discussed here.
The first variant to play is the two-player game or duel. In a duel, each player has one city, but takes two turns – one turn as one character and one turn as another character. Play proceeds as follows:
1. The crowned player should shuffle the character deck as usual and place a single character face down as usual. The crowned player should pick their first character from the deck, then pass the deck to the other player.
2. The other player will choose a character, then choose another card to place face down on the table. After this, they should pass the deck back to the crowned player.
3. The crowned player chooses their second character, and then chooses another character to place face down. The remaining two cards go to the other player.
4. The other player will choose one character to keep, and one to place face down. After this step, play continues as usual.
The second variant to play is the three-player game which is similar to the duel in overall structure.
1. Crowned player places a random card face down, then chooses their first character. The deck is then passed to the left.
2. The second player chooses a card then passes the deck. The deck continues to be passed around the table and chosen from until every player has two characters.
3. The last player will end up with a choice between two characters. The unselected character should be placed facedown. After this, play continues as usual.
Another variant to play is the seven-player game which is nearly identical to a normal game with one simple change, during the choosing characters phase of each round when the seventh player is given the last character card by the sixth player, the seventh player is allowed to look at the facedown card which was drawn randomly by the crowned player at the beginning of the round.
The seventh player can either choose to keep the card given to them or swap it with the facedown character on the table.
By far the greatest variant to play, however, is the addition of bonus cards. Most versions of Citadels will include 10 bonus character cards and 14 bonus district cards. Bonus character cards are designed to be used one or two at a time.
Before a game begins, one or two of the original eight character cards can be removed and replaced with bonus characters of the same corresponding rank. Among the bonus cards, there are two characters who bear the rank 9.
These character cards can be added without swapping other cards, however it does add an additional step to the rounds. The guide for this is located below the bonus character list. The bonus character cards are listed below by rank and with their powers:
a. Power: After taking an action, a player holding the witch card can choose to bewitch another character by calling out their title. Upon declaring bewitchment, the player using the witch ends their turn immediately. When the player holding the bewitched character is called upon, that player must reveal their card and take one starting action. Their turn ends after taking the starting action. The player playing the witch now resumes their turn as if they were playing as the bewitched character. They can use all powers relevant to the bewitched character. Bewitching the king does not allow the witch to take the crown, however, the witch can still collect gold from noble districts when bewitching the king. Accidentally bewitching a character that is out of play (facedown) means the player playing as the witch ends their turn after taking their starting action.
b. The thief cannot steal from the witch or her victim.
2. Tax Collector
a. Power: If a player builds or has built a district during their turn, they must pay the tax collector one gold (unless they have zero gold) at the end of their turn. Players playing as the assassin or witch must pay this gold when the tax collector is revealed, since they will have already acted.
a. Power: A player using the wizard character may look at another player’s hand of district cards. They can then choose to either steal one of the cards, or pay to build that district immediately in their own city. The wizard’s build option does not count as a build action, so a player using the wizard can still build another district as usual. In addition, using the wizard’s build option allows identical district cards to be built, overriding the usual rule on identically named districts.
a. The emperor receives one gold for each yellow noble district in their city.
b. Power: Upon being called, the emperor must remove the crown from the currently crowned player and pass it to another player. The emperor cannot crown themselves. The player who is given the crown must then pay the emperor one gold or one district card.
a. The abbot receives one gold for each blue religious district in their city.
b. Power: The abbot collects one gold from the player currently holding the most gold. However, if the abbot holds the most gold or if there is a tie for most gold, the abbot receives nothing.
a. Power: The alchemist receives back all gold spent on the constructions of districts at the end of their turn. The alchemist does not receive back fees paid to other characters or gold lost to other characters powers.
a. Power: The navigator cannot build any district cards during their turn. However, after taking their starting action, they may choose to receive four gold pieces or draw four more district cards.
a. The diplomat receives one gold for each red military district in their city.
b. Power: The diplomat may, at the end of their turn, swap one district in another player’s city with a district in their own. If there is a gold value difference between the swapped districts, the diplomat must pay that difference to the other player. The keep district cannot be swapped and the bishop is immune to swaps.
c. Note from the manual: if the diplomat is in play, the cemetery district must also be removed from the deck.
a. Power: The artist can upgrade or “beautify” one or two districts in their city. This is done by placing a piece of gold on the district being beautified. The value of the district goes up by one. Only one beautification can exist on any individual district at a time.
10. Queen (rank 9)
a. Power: If the player using the queen is seated next to the king or emperor at the table, they receive three gold from the bank. If the king or emperor is murdered by the assassin, but was sitting beside the queen, the queen receives this gold after their turn when it is revealed that the king was murdered.
b. Note from the manual: do not use the Queen in a game with less than five players, as this will severely affect the balance of the card.
When playing with bonus characters with the rank of 9, a modification to each round must be made.
At the beginning of each round a number of random cards must be placed out of play, faceup, in addition to the facedown out of play card usually randomly drawn. With four players, 3 faceup cards must be set. With 5 players, 2 cards. With 6 players, one card. With 7 players, no additional faceup cards must be set.
Bonus district cards are slightly more simple to implement than character cards. Before the game begins, 2-3 bonus district cards can be added to the deck without making any further modifications to the district deck. If players desire to have more bonus districts in play beyond the 2-3 allowance, remove one standard district for each additional bonus district added to the deck.
Basics of Citadels Strategy
1. Players who draw the king, bishop, warlord, and merchant should keep in mind they can collect their income before or after their turn. If they are short of gold with which to build districts, collecting income before is wise. If not, players can take their gold at the end of the turn and gather the gold from their newly constructed district.
2. Counting cards and keeping track of what characters have been called and what characters will be most influential to the game is incredibly important. For example, a player playing the assassin may wish to target the architect if there are players hoarding gold at the table. The architect can build up to three districts and might make it possible to win the game in a single turn.
3. The thief can block a player from pulling off game changing moves by robbing them of all their gold. Using this power strategically can turn the game very quickly, especially in later rounds.
4. Don’t forget rank order! Knowing which characters go before and after one another can make a big difference in power usage. If you are playing as the thief, you most likely will want to target someone who hasn’t gone yet, in order to maximize your effect and gain the most gold.
If you’re looking for further content then look no further than Triple S Games’ video on YouTube which gives further instruction on how to play Citadels.