Citadels 2.0 or 0.5? - Libertalia Review

Citadels was one of the first games I played when I was being introduced to interesting little card games back my university days. I highly enjoyed it, bought a copy and then subsequently upgraded to the expanded reprint version that thankfully realised that box sizes when it comes to card games actually mean something! Seriously make the box size reflect the contents of the game. If you want to release expansions then just release a bigger box to hold everything in when you release the expansion!! Rant over!

Role selection and bluffing - two aspects of a game I really like so naturally Citadels was going to be a keeper, but then a new game came out to threaten its existence. A bigger box, a pirate theme and essentially been touted as Citadels 2.0 with improvements in every aspect. That's a bold claim in my book considering Fantasy Flight Games have this down as an "evergreen" game so naturally I had to jump on this train (or ship I guess in this case) and see what was what for myself.

It's been over a year I think since I bought the game and I've owned Citadels for longer, so which has stood the test of time?




Designer: Seiji Kanai (2015)
Publisher: AEG
# of Players: 2-6
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 45-60 Minutes (with less players!)
BGG Rank/Rating: 1405 / 7.62


More Exciting Than Building A City

Certainly it can't be argued that Libertalia has a more interesting theme than Citadels does. As good as that game is, it's fairly dry in the theme. This theme isn't exactly dripping here, but it's represented pretty well mostly in how gorgeous the artwork is on the characters, it's so detailed that in some cases they look photo-realistic. The ship, tokens and player boards are also nice to look at as well, though it would have been cool to have seen some metal coins present, but that's a luxury item.


The characters themselves tie in nicely to your typical Pirates of the Caribbean archetype ranging from captains to chefs to monkeys to the Governor's daughter and with 30 of them in the game, there's plenty of variety, though you're going to see 21 per game so it won't take long to go through them all. The abilities on each usually fit the character as well, but then so does Citadels and any role selection game that doesn't manage this..........well you get the idea.

Some small niggles are that the scoring track is a bit of a table space sink when it doesn't need to be and despite each player having their own colour deck, there's no difference between the player boards. They missed a trick here in not providing a unique ability for each player that no one else has and as such you don't feel quite like the pirate you should be. 

Two's A Company, Three's a Crowd, Twenty One Is Insanity!


I love variety in my games and I'm glad to see lots of player powers available, however this is a double edged sword here. In Citadels you have a maximum of 9 roles in the game, but have to keep track of less than that each round. It allows the turns to be quick (usually) and enable players to actually engage in some bluffing or educated deduction. In Libertalia however, that's all blown out of proportion.

With 21 powers used in any game and the fact that after the first round, players will potentially have different hands of roles means the amount of information you have to think about is overwhelming. You have to remember what a player has used out of 9/15/21 roles, whether it conflicts with what you've done, and whether your influence is likely to be a deciding factor on every day of each campaign and do this for each and every player. With two players this is easily doable, three or four it's harder, but still possible, but with five or more unless you're got a photographic memory it's overwhelming. You're not so much trying to bluff or deduce as instead just pushing your luck. Some will find this easier than others, but this is the primary reason why the game drags a bit from experience.

And as a result of this, new players struggle to do much more than play a card and hope for the best, but not until a significant amount of analysis paralysis has taken over while they decide on which role to play. Not to mention that the game grinds to a halt when new roles are drawn as everyone then has to absorb all the new information so do not play this game with any non-gamers. On BGG the playing time is 45 minutes............yeah good luck with that, I've had no game of this take shorter than 75-90 minutes with 4 players and I've seen (thankfully not experienced myself) a 6 player game take 2 hours.



We'll Let Fate Decide Shall We?


Tie-breaking in games can vary from a die roll to specific conditions. Libertalia takes a rather unique approach by giving each role in a players deck an influence rating. These are different among all the decks (obviously as that would defeat the point otherwise) and essentially the highest rating gets preferential treatment when the same role is played down on any particular day. Now thematically this works quite well with the pirate ship aspect, but mechanically it's flawed.

Firstly there is no frame of reference for how the influence is spread out in the decks among the various roles, nor is there any indication of which decks favour specific roles. This means that you have no idea whether other players have more influence than you when you expect that the same role is going to be played. So you play your card and just trust to luck and as a result you can be screwed over purely by unfortunate timing.

This gets worse knowing that the roles are not entirely balanced, but in fairness with 30 different roles, this would be near impossible to achieve. However this doesn't change the fact that some of the roles are clearly better than others. The Chef for example is one of the best roles in the whole game and always gets played, usually multiples at the same time. If you notice your influence rating on your Chef is a 1 or a 2, then you have very little chance of making good use of him in such a situation and the fact your less popular Armourer might have a rating of 6 is of little consolation. In Citadels people complain about getting assassinated all the time. Well this is easy to avoid if you stop being predictable in your selection, but in Libertalia you can't change your fate from influence.

This is improved by using a house rule that is common among other BGG users in that you replace the whole influence system with a single die roll. You could imagine that they get involved in a little unfriendly brawl and the die determines who won the fight. That still keeps with the theme, but allows everyone to have a fair chance at the prize with each and every character. However this also increases the luck factor in the game and you've already got an element of luck from what role you play at what time. It's been suggested that you randomise the decks colour wise, but then your decks just look weird and anyone with even a slight hint of OCD will go nuts, myself included.

Verdict


Libertalia is one of those games that's going to hang in the middle for me really. I was hoping that this would be a solid improvement on Citadels which I already think is a great bluffing, role selection game. Unfortunately it falls just short of the mark for me and as such I feel disappointed. I like the theme and concept here, having lots of powers and using pirates with high quality cards and artwork, but mechanically the cons that bug me outweigh the pros that interest me.

Having a lot of player powers is great, but having too many of them is a problem. With 21 powers featuring in every game, there are just far too many to keep track of in anything above 3 or 4 players. Unless you have a photographic memory, you will struggle to remember who has what pirates left after each round for each day on the ship and even if you tried, this will result in some heavy analysis paralysis among some players. And when all that is done the influence tie breaker system can completely screw a player over with little to no ability to prepare for it and it just makes the game a little more chaotic than I would like.

That aside, the game is still fun, albeit I feel with 3-4 players maximum and it is certainly a more in depth version of Citadels. But all things considered I'd much rather play Citadels as that works great with anything up to 5 players, still has a variety of roles, but only requires you to keep track of up to 8-9 of them making the ability to bluff or deduce what's going on a lot easier to manage. As such games of Citadels go quicker for me but provide me with the same feel despite being a simpler game overall. Libertalia for me is a game that's average and I'll play it (except with AP prone people), but I wanted more and as such this recently got culled out of the collection in favour of nostalgia. 

You Will Like This Game If:

  • You love player powers, the more the merrier, this has loads of them.
  • You don't like the theme of Citadels and prefer the sound of pirates. 
  • You are willing to house-rule the tie breaker system unless you enjoy chaos.

You Will Not Like This Game If:

  • You want a quick game - analysis paralysis takes hold of many players.
  • You feel that the game is random due to the amount of player powers present.
  • OCD won't allow you to change the tie breaker system to such an extent.

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