Citadels is one of our favorite games. We used to only play it with groups of at least four players, but lately we have been playing it a lot with just two players. With just two players, Citadels becomes quite a different game, because some characters that are weak in bigger groups become strong and vice versa. In this article we discuss how Warlord, Assassin and Bishop are different in a two player game than in a game with more players.
The Warlord has a very powerful effect: you can destroy an opponent’s building for one gold less than its construction costs. This is so powerful because your opponent spent a building card, a building action and a number of gold to build that building, and he loses all of this when you destroy his building.
In games with more than two players the Warlord is what game theorists call a Tragedy of the Commons problem. This is to say that everyone wants the Warlord to be used against the player that is ahead, especially if he is close to winning the game. But, no one wants to be the player to pay for the costs of the Warlord’s ability. The result is often that all players wait and hope that someone else will use the Warlord against the winning player. Therefore, in games with more than two players, Warlord often isn’t used, or is used only to destroy very cheap buildings.
In games with two players however, players cannot wait for another player to use the Warlord against their opponent, because there are no other players. If you want a building destroyed, you have to do it yourself. And you also don’t have to be afraid that a third player runs away with the victory if you destroy the building of an opponent, because there is no third player.
The Warlord ability gains you a net profit of one gold, one building card and one building action compared to your opponent, which equates to roughly 3 gold.
If you use the Warlord ability in a two player game, you make a net profit of one gold compared to your opponent, and you also nullify a building action and take away a building card. Since a building card is worth about two gold, this is comparable to reducing your opponent’s gold supply by three gold. If there was a card that read ‘Reduce your opponent’s gold supply by three gold’, you would play that pretty often, right?
Also note that since the Warlord is better in two player games, red buildings become more valuable, because you will choose Warlord more often and thus receive more income from your red buildings.
What we like less about Citadels with two players is that the first player often feels forced to pick the Assassin, especially if the character that is put in the middle is weak. In this case, if the first player picks a strong character, the second player can easily guess which character the first player picked. To protect himself from the threat of the Assassin (and also the Thief), the first player therefore has to pick either a weak character, or the Assassin itself. The latter ends up happening a lot, which can make many rounds feel similar.
Of course, this problem exists to a lesser extent when you play Citadels with more than two players as well. Even if there are more players, the first player takes a risk if he picks a strong character while a weak character was put in the middle, because it will still be easy for the second player to guess which character he picked. But, like the Warlord, the Assassin is associated with a Tragedy of the Commons: the second player wants the first player to be assassinated, but he would rather not be the one to assassinate him. The second player would rather pick a strong character himself and let someone else assassinate the first player. And if the second player picks a strong character, it is already much harder for the third player to guess which character the first player took, because two strong characters will be out of the game already. Therefore, the first player can often get away with picking a strong character in Citadels games with more than two players.
The Bishop is usually the weakest card in Citadels games with larger groups, because you only really need the ability of being resistant to the Warlord when you are very far ahead or when you have very cheap buildings. But, as we explained above, the Warlord is much stronger in two player games. Naturally this implies that the Bishop is also much stronger, because with two players the Warlord will be picked and used more often, which makes being resistant against the Warlord’s ability more important.
Note that this implies that the blue buildings also become more valuable in Citadels games with two players, because you will choose Bishop more often and thus receive more income from your blue buildings.