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In Citadels, most versions that are currently available for sale also include the Dark City expansion. Since those extra characters are available, what arrangement of characters do you find the most balanced and competitive? Please clarify your response by indicating why you've chosen to add or remove these particular characters to balance gameplay.

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Nice question - I've only ever played with the "basic" configuration myself, so I'd be excited to hear if anyone has any favourite alternatives! – thesunneversets Nov 24 '10 at 4:57
up vote 14 down vote accepted

I've found the default characters are the most balanced set of characters. While I haven't played with all of the extra characters, some of them significantly change how the game plays. Bruno Faidutti, the creator of Citadels, says he prefers the default characters on the game's Rules FAQ on his website. Quote:

Q: What is your favorite character mix?

A: The 8 basic characters, plus the Queen or the Artist when playing with 6 or 7 players.

Q: What's the best character mix?

A: Many players prefer the Witch over the Assassin, but I disagree. The Assassin is simpler and naughtier. I prefer the original set, sometimes with adding the Queen, and sometimes with replacing the Merchant with the Alchemist.

For the extra characters I have played with, I have a few impressions I can share with you.

Tax Collector: I found without the threat of the thief, people started hoarding money. This reduces some of the tension in the game. Since players can't get robbed, they can save to build up to build the most expensive district. Players were also careful to not have money to pay the tax collector after building.

Emperor: Since you can no longer take the crown for yourself, most people gave the crown to the player to their right. This gave them a better choice of cards in the next character draft, while benefiting the player to the right. The Emperor does make it fairer though how the crown is distributed, but it's also the only character ability the benefits someone else in the game.

Alchemist: The ability to get all your gold back you spend is great, but the Alchemist replaces the Merchant. Since the Merchant can tax green properties and the Alchemist can't, this makes green districts the most worthless ones in the deck. They can't be taxed and provide no special benefit. Green also happens to be the most common color in the district deck

Finally while i haven't played with it, the Diplomat seems to be one of the most powerful characters in the game. It will definitely change the dynamic of the game and make it harder to hold onto powerful purple districts. That doesn't mean that any of these characters are bad, and the opportunity to try them out was a bad inclusion in the game. I just think the default set of characters is the most balanced.

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Nice. I always start with the normal characters, and then switch new characters into the game one by one to keep the game fresh. Usually, the assassin is the first to go, but I will keep these comments in mind. – Zoot Dec 5 '10 at 20:06
I thought the tax collector made it so if the other player would have no gold at the end of their turn when they built the district, they would be unable to do so. Can you get out of paying the tax collector if you have no money? – Gordon Gustafson Feb 5 '11 at 2:37
I think the official rule interpretation allows you to build without paying taxes if you are out of money after building, but that seems to make the Tax Collector worthless. Enacting some sort of house rule for the Tax Collector has always seemed like a good idea to me. I actually asked a question about enacting a Tax Collector house rule on this site, but the question was closed. – Zoot Feb 11 '11 at 22:32

I prefer the standard set with the Diplomat.

The Diplomat improves the game in two ways:

  • There's less luck. If I happen to get a great purple building, I can't expect to run away with the game because the Diplomat may take it from me. Also, 1-cost buildings are no longer complete garbage.
  • The Warlord's ability is worthless in a large game. Paying to harm an opponent just hands the game to everyone else.

You can also use the Navigator, but you should then switch the Magician for the Wizard --- drawing 4 district cards makes you so tasty a Magician target that you de facto don't have the option.

Other than those changes, I find it best to stick with the base set.

Incidentally, in my group the Witch is completely broken. Player 1 almost always chooses the Witch and is very likely to get the role she wants and avoid the Thief.

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The warlord can destroy 1-cost districts for free, which isn't worthless at all! (If you pick on the leader, removing a colour grouping +1 cost is 4 points. And if you delay them getting 8, that's another 4 points.) – Nick Aug 29 '12 at 11:09

Everyone has equal access to the selected roles, so it's not so much the balance of the game that changes: only the metagame is affected.

Before we start the game, we put all the roles pairwise on the table. Then we randomly select a starting player who picks one role. Its counterpart is removed. We proceed clockwise until all roles have been picked.

This adds an extra dimension to the game, because you can tell something about a person by the roles they choose to include.

Afterwards if we're up for another game, we swap out all the character cards for their counterparts.

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We now play with the Witch instead of the Assassin. The Assassin is too powerful. Get hit twice in a game and there's no chance for a comeback. With the Witch, the beweitched character still gets a little something and the Witch character guarantees you a role that round.

We also play with an enhanced Queen to make her as valuable as the other roles. If Queen is sitting next to King, she gets 3 gold. We add on: if she is sitting 1 away from King, she gets 2 gold.

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We play a lot of Citadels (3 games always, counting the points from previous games - makes 2nd and 3rd game from the start more competitive) and we have played with almost every combination so here is what I think:

  1. Assassin or Witch

    • both can go
    • Assassin is simpler but sometimes makes my friends too frustrated - being killed twice in a few rounds makes them give up on the round
    • Witch is nicer since player receive their action gold (or cards) but seems like whoever is 1st will pick her by default which is boring a bit IMO
  2. Thief or Tax Collector

    • Thief, thief, thief and only THIEF! Playing with the Tax Collector is just too simple, people build whatever they want by simply hoarding gold. Another aspect is that everyone do their best not to pay the tax so tax collector receives 1 gold max with 6 players
  3. Magician or Wizard

    • both good but pick depending on what you pick for number 7
    • Navigator can't go with Magician (what's the point of taking 4 new cards when someone will steal them the next round probably), Wizard can go with Navigator or Architect and it's less fatal but still feared a lot
  4. King or Emperor

    • I'm a bit biased here
    • personally I don't like the Emperor since somehow whenever we play with him one person keeps the crown for a very long time which is terrible
    • the problem with the Emperor is that when he is killed the crown doesn't move
    • combining Witch with the Emperor is better since bewitched Emperor moves the crown
    • King is safe, easy to understand and goes better with Queen (speaking from experience)
    • OT: killing the King is rly stupid unless someone has 2-3 yellow districts
  5. Bishop or Abbot

    • we tried playing with Tax-Emperor-Abbot thinking there's gonna be a lot of gold exchanging between players and that Emperor and Abbot will help TaxC get more gold - we were wrong; don't play TaxC
    • Abbot is interesting but it really lacks that protect that Bishop offers
    • Bishop is simple and yes, sometimes boring, but it makes the game more complex by not letting Warlord destroy a certain city that round and that's why Abbot is completely useless
  6. Merchant or Alchemist

    • both can go but Merchant usually wins
    • Merchant's purpose is to get more gold - you get 1 extra plus 1 for every green district and let's face it, the deck is full of those
    • with Alchemist you don't receive more gold, you just get back what you had so building more expensive stuff is only gonna work with other coloured cards, and there aren't many when 6 is grey
    • with Alchemist, green district become useless and that's a turn off for the most of my friends
    • Never play with TaxC and Alchemist - its a disaster
    • Alchemist and Navigator also don't work, Thief can steal mass gold you got from playing Navigator then Alchemist but then that Thief has mass gold and with Alchemist our bank is sometimes completely depleted
    • just play Merchant regularly, and play Alchemist sometimes to spice it up
  7. Architect of Navigator

    • I strongly suggest Architect because without it there is no chance of someone rushing at the end by having 5 districts than building 3 with the Architect and therefore ending the game (which we really like and are constantly killing the architect near the end)
    • Navigator isn't that bad thought, if you don't miss those 3 districts at once from Architect
    • you can still build 2 districts in one round with Wizard hey (that's one more reason why Wizard always goes with Navigator)
  8. Warlord or Diplomat

    • Warlord is the only card which reduces the number of districts someone has in their city (Armory as well yes, but thats one 1 district in the whole deck) and therefore is viable for a dinamic game
    • with Diplomat you have a cool swapping tool but the number of districts remains always the same
    • you can theoretically play Navigator and Diplomat (so that Architect can't build 3 districts) as opposed to Architect and Warlord but in my opinion Architect and Warlord are far more better
    • one gold districts are more useful in Diplomat game but if you can build a tavern for example when you are the Merchant you get that 1 gold you spent back and you shouldn't despair if it gets destroyed; if you collect the income twice it's your benefit
  9. Queen or Artist

    • use Queen when there are 5-6 players, use Artist when there are more
    • using Queen when there are 7 or more players pretty much reduces the Queen's probability of success so use Artist
    • Artist can be used always actually and it's pretty much needed if you built low-cost purple districts that give some serious advantages (MUSEUM) and you want to make it harder for Warlord to destroy it
    • I bolded the Queen instead of the Artist simply because she is more fun

That's it :)

I've bolded the combination we stick to mostly

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I like to choose randomly to have a different setup each time. I agree with other commenters that the base set is easier, so I tend to just choose two of the expansion characters randomly before the game. I then put them in with the base set and remove their equivalents (e.g. if the Witch is randomly chosen, remove the Assassin). Each time I play the setup is a little different so it keeps the game quite interesting.

In my play experience, I've found that I'm not a fan of the Witch or the Emperor. The Witch is more powerful than the Assassin, who I think is powerful enough as it is. On the other hand I find the Emperor to be a little weak. The King is a good out if the start player keeps taking Assassin, or Thief if there is no Assassin, but at least then the King puts themselves in the driving seat, whereas the Emperor seems unnecessarily weaker.

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Including Dark City extension, I personnaly love following deck:

  1. Witch
  2. Thief (mandatory role if Navigator enters in game)
  3. Magician (stacking all cards with Navigator can be dangerous)
  4. King (the Emperor could be interesting also depending on number of players)
  5. Bishop (mandatory to protect against Diplomat, Abbot is not useful)
  6. Alchimist (losing green district taxes but powerful in combination with Navigator)
  7. Navigator (high rewards but high risk: being stolen or betwitched)
  8. Diplomat (swapping is more interesting than destroying)

This set creates high tension game with a lot of money to steal. I think this is balanced and interesting for games with at least 4 players.

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