Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review: Cadwallon: City of Thieves

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, I am an old school D&D player and I'm winding down a six year D&D campaign based around a thieves' guild, so the fantasy world thieves guild board game was a definite snag for me. Also, I played (but didn't particularly care for) the game Arcana, which shares a game world and fantasy city with this game.

The Overview:

Box cover artwork. The box is a standard-sized 12" x 12" x 3".

What's inside the box (minus the boards). 

Cadwallon: City of Thieves is a fantasy adventure game set in a city where each player controls a rival gang of thieves, each vying for control of the district through stealth, robbery, thuggery and combat. Eight different scenarios are included in the base game which each set up different circumstances and special rules for the game, but the goal is always the same: end with the most money.

The game is for 2-4 players and plays in about 30-60 minutes. If you play with 2 players, expect most scenarios to finish in a half hour, but 4 players should expect to be closer to the hour mark.

Set up begins with the players choosing a scenario, which dictates any additional set up needed on the main board, which represents the city district that the gangs will be competing in. Two militiamen are placed in their starting places on the board and treasure tokens are randomly seeded in each of the buildings on the board. Three Mission Cards are then placed face up on the scenario board. Mission Cards match some of the Treasures that are seeded out on the board and give characters a chance to have those Treasures pay out immediately (with bonus ducats) while still holding onto the Treasures.

Each player chooses a gang (each consists of 4 characters) and takes the four character cards and miniatures associated with that gang. Each gang member has a stats dictating their Combat, Movement and Mind values, as well as each one having a unique special ability. Each player takes 7 Action Tokens and five Arcana cards are then dealt to each player. After that, each player takes turns placing one of their gang members on a deployment space until all of the characters are out on the board.

Play then begins in the same player order and lasts a number of turns based on the current scenario being played. Each player takes their whole turn in player order and each Turn is broken into four phases.

1. Draw an Arcana Card: The player draws and adds an Arcana Card into their hand. Arcana Cards are one time use cards that can be played at specific times depending on the card and have effects on the game's rule, such as increasing movement or improving a character's combat.

2. Move a Militiaman: The player chooses one of the two militiamen on the board and rolls a six-sided die. On the roll of a six, nothing happens and this phase is skipped. However, on a result from 1-5, the player then moves that militiaman up to the number of spaces rolled. If the militiaman enters a space with another character, they begin a combat.

Combat is simple. The attacker has the opportunity to play an Arcana card (although he may not play one on a militiaman), and then the Defender may play a card. The attacker and defender each roll a number of dice equal to their Combat ability. Out of the dice rolled, they choose the single highest value rolled as their Combat Value. They then compare values and whoever has the higher value wins. If it is a tie, the attacker wins.

If the militiaman wins, then the loser loses 2 ducats (coins) and has to retreat 3 spaces (chosen by the winner). If the militiaman loses, he retreats 3 spaces (again, chosen by the winner).

Activate Characters: The player then activates their characters one at a time. Characters spend Action Points to take actions. Each player has 7 Action Points to use per Turn, but do not need to use all of their points. However, any points not spent are lost. A player can spend Action Points on the following:

• 1 Action Point / Move: A character may move a number of spaces up to their Movement value. Characters cannot move into or through spaces occupied by other characters unless they are also attacking.
• 1 Action Point / Attack a Character: If a character ends his movement in a space occupied by another character, he must attack. Attacking works exactly as it was described under Moving the Militiaman Phase, except that the winner takes a Treasure from the loser if they have one (otherwise, they take 2 ducats from the character). Note that character cannot initiate fights against the Militiamen.
• 1 Action Point / Pick the Lock on a Chest: If a character is in the same space as a chest he may roll 1 die. If it is equal to or less than the character's Mind value, then the chest is opened and the character takes the Treasure and puts it on their character card. Each character can only carry a maximum of 3 Treasures, however, but may discard a treasure (which is reseeded in an empty house) to pick up one.
• 1 Action Point / Use a Character's Special Ability: Each character has a unique Special Ability. However, some of them have a cost in Action Points to use.
• 2 Action Points / Bash Open a Chest: A character in the same space as a chest may automatically bash it open and take the Treasure. There is no roll or risk of failure, but it costs one additional Action Point than trying to Pick the Lock does.
• 3 Action Points / Play a Mission Card: The player may take any of the three Mission Cards provided that they have at least one of the Treasure pictured on the Mission Card. The player immediately receives ducats equal to the value of the Treasures that they possess that match the Mission Card, plus any bonus ducats listed on the card. The player does not discard or lose the Treasures after this and, thus, a Treasure may pay off multiple times in a game. Another Mission Card is then placed on the scenario board to replace the card taken.

Announce the End of the Turn: The player announces when they are finished their turn and play passes to the left. If it is the last player to go in the Turn, then the Round Counter is moved forward on the board. Moving it forward may also trigger an event listed on the scenario board or it may end the game.

If it ends the game, then each player tallies the value of any Treasures that are on their characters who managed to make it out of the District before the game's end. This is added to any ducats that the player already possesses. There are a number of escape points on the board and characters must make their way out of them before time runs out for their Treasures to count. Any characters who did not make it out of the District, not only loses their Treasures, but costs the player 3 ducats for each character who failed to leave the District before the game end.

The player who has the most ducats is the winner.

The Theme:

Cadwallon: City of Thieves is set in a fantasy city which is already somewhat defined by the game Arcana. It has the same stylistic artwork which is really defining in its consistency to give a good feel of what the world looks like.

The game also creates a small scale feel of gang members rushing around for a quick snatch and grab. However, those looking for a sweeping thieves guild management or war game will be disappointed. You've got 4 characters and only 5-7 Turns to get as much as you can and escape, so there really isn't much opportunity to enact any kind of sweeping strategy here.

And while there are eight different scenarios to play from, each of them still has the win condition of snatching as much ducats as possible. I guess it kind of keeps to the theme of being thieves, but it just seems to make the scenarios mere backdrop to an otherwise rather simplistic game.

So, the Duke has hired an assassin to take on the thieves of the city? Well then, let's try to grab as much gold as quickly as possible.

Zombies rise from the dead and attack the city? Better try to grab as much gold as quickly as possible.

Hostages taken throughout the city? Ah, we should try to grab as much gold as quickly as possible.

The Duke's daughter has been kidnapped? Well, let's grab as much gold as quickly as possible.

It just feels like a bit of a wasted effort to try to make the game feel different when it really does not play very different despite the arching storylines brought out in the scenarios.

Learning the Game:

The game's rules are presented in a full color, 24 page 11" x 11" rulebook of large fonts, double-spaced print and enormous margins with the text routinely broken up by large, spanning illustrations. Really, the rules could have been written on 4 pages with examples. The rules are really simple and easy to learn. In fact, they are almost simplistic.

However, its simplicity and beautiful production values does make it a good gateway game, but the game may prove to be too simple for many veteran gamers.

The Components:

 The game board map.

An NPC card and a Character Card, showing how great the artwork is in the game. 

Some of the miniatures from the game. Beautiful sculpts.

The minis in the game have attachable bases so you can easily see which gang they belong to.

Game in progress. You can see that the Action Point Tokens are really just Bingo Tokens, however. 

Like both AEG and Fantasy Flight Games, the components are stellar. The artwork is very stylized and remains consistent with the artwork from Arcana and the sculpted miniatures are gorgeous and match the stylized artwork really well. The cards are of a good stock and very functional.

The Action Point Tokens are plastic Bingo chips, which isn't bad, but just a little odd. I'm surprised they weren't punched counters, but either way, it does not detract from or really add to the game whatsoever.

The plastic minis have a colored base which can be attached to the bottom of each mini to distinguish which gang they belong to, which is actually a very nice touch. The bottom markers don't exactly snap on, so picking up the mini to move it may cause it to fall off, but it's still a very good idea and I fully support it even if its implementation was not 100%. It really does help break up and distinguish your minis in a sea of grey sculpts.

Playing the Game:

The game is easy to learn, and in fact, almost simplistic. I mentioned earlier that the different scenarios all essentially just provide some backdrop, but do not offer a real variety to game play or mechanics and the goal is always the same: grab cash and run.

Unfortunately, the differences in the scenarios are not provoking enough to make the game feel really much different, which may limit replayability despite having eight different scenarios right out of the box. The limit of time doesn't let you build very strategic plans, and while some scenarios allow you to receive money for other objectives, it really still feels rather similar in play. The mechanics and engine of the game really are too simplistic to offer a real feel of variety of the scenarios.

Further hurting the sense of variety is the fact that all of the gang members of each of the gangs have the exact same statistics. Each and every playable character has a Combat Ability of 2, a Movement of 4 and a Mind of 4. Sure, each one has a unique special ability, but ultimately small variations in the stats would have at least prompted some strategic play of your gang members: give high value treasure to your "runners" to make sure they escape with it and have your "bruisers" try to guard the choke points and stop other gang members from moving in, while your lockpicks scout out and find which treasure is where hidden in chests. Or even each gang could be different: Gang A has high combat, but are really slow, and Gang B is inverse, while Gang C are master lockpicks, etc. This was another missed opportunity to bring out more in this game. Instead, we are forced to rely on the game's engine and mechanics, which are too simple. At least the variety would have added something to it and ultimately masked some of the simplicity of the game, although I know why this wasn't done: the game plays too different with 2 players than it does with 4, which would drastically give fast characters big advantages in 2 player games and tough characters big advantages in 4 player games.


The game plays from 2 to 4 players and this really creates the most amount of different feelings in the game. Two player games tend to be loot fests, with each gang being able to take their pick of some of the treasure with minimal interaction and fights. Four players, however, is a slugfest as gangmembers will be tripping over one another and treasure becomes more of a scarcity and those who possess it become obvious targets. The sweat spot is probably three players, since it balances out the extremes found in 2 and 4 player games.

But really, that means that the game doesn't exactly scale well if the experience and gameplay is that different from 2-4 players. As such, it will probably be a game that some people only like playing 2 player and some only like playing 4 player since the feel ends up being very different for each.

Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She's also been a member of my aforementioned long-lasting D&D thieves guild campaign, so I thought that this would be a slam dunk choice for the two of us. Well, it turns out that she doesn't mind it, but was not moved by it. When playing evening games together during weeknights, my wife tends to favor lighter games than heavier ones like Twilight Struggle. After reading the rules and realizing how simplistic the game was, I figured it had a good chance to win her over.

However, even during our first game (which she usually needs to take in all of the rules), she was able to play on autopilot. It was just too simple of a system for her to really get involved with. She'll play it, but it is just an unmoving experience for her, despite the theme and lightness of it being huge pluses for her.

The Pros:

*Beautiful components and artwork that has a consistent feel throughout the Cadwallon setting.
*Quick playtime that keeps most games under an hour.
*Easy to learn, making it a game that could be played by non-gamers (though the theme isn't exactly a non-gamer's theme).
*It is an appealing theme in a very stylized world.
*Large, easy to read font in the rulebook is a nice consideration for older gamers who cannot find their reading glasses.

The Cons:

*Too simplistic of a game engine.
*Scenarios do not change the objectives or play-style, but instead just add minor backdrop to the same mechanics and goals of play.
*Too few meaningful decisions to make with such a short time limit.
*Characters are not varied enough to give at least a different feel between each of them.
*The cover of the rulebook has a 10 foot tall purple cat-like creature with a huge battleaxe, but I have no clue who or what he is, since it doesn't match the characters or any of the other artwork in the game.


Cadwallon: City of Thieves is a light and easy-to-learn game that is brought down by the simplicity of its engine to the point that not even the variety of missions really give much of a different feel to the game. The game had a lot of potential to it, but unfortunately, the designers were not ambitious enough in their design and instead ended up with a quick, easy, non-memorable game that isn't much more than a light filler. The half-hour playtime might make it a good filler game while waiting for another game to break up and end, however, the game can be played on autopilot and ultimately a half-hour discussion about just about anything will ultimately be a more memorable experience to fill the time with.


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