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A Tale of Two Cities

Bruno Faidutti

July, 2000

It was wintertime and I was still living in Paris. One evening I was chatting on the phone with Serge Laget, the friend from Lyon with whom I'd invented Murder in the Abbey. For that game we'd each worked on our own, playtesting with different groups of people and making extensive use of the mail and the phones, in order to integrate his thoughts about tactics with my passionate ravings. Why not revive a formula that had been so successful? Several hours and a few phone calls later, a new project—soon christened Citadelle (without the s)—was born. The premise seemed clear: there would be a medieval world made up of "place" cards (castle, tower, inn ...) and "character" cards (king, magician, princess ...); the latter would allow players to accomplish various actions (the king could impose and collect taxes, the magician could switch cards, the princess could seduce ...). Thus it was the theme that was dominant and not, as in Murder in the Abbey, the mechanics of the game-play; and that may explain the semi-failure—or double success—that was about to follow.

Castel prototype

We each came up with some cards and had a few preliminary game-testing parties with friends. But over the phone it quickly became clear that Serge no longer had a clear idea of what I was doing and I no longer had a clear idea of what he was doing. No problem, we thought; we could easily get ourselves back on the same track since in April we'd be together at my Ludopathic Gathering (my very own little private game convention).

In the meantime, my game took form more quickly than anticipated. After conclusive game-testing, a nearly final version was completed. Cyrille Daujean, with much enthusiasm, came up with a superb prototype that remained almost unchanged right up to the final version, and he managed to convince his friends at MultiSim to come out with the game. Frank Branham translated Citadelles into English and brought his version to Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends, where it was given a warm reception that brought me a great deal of mail, and a great interest from some German publishers.

When I got together with Serge in Etourvy in April '99, we had to admit what we'd already suspected: our two games had nothing to do with each other. King
      card from CastleIt was as if, both of us having decided to work on car racing games, I had created Mille Bornes and he Formula De. I had eight character cards and 60 locations, he had five locations and 60 characters. Why bother attempting an impossible synthesis, given the fact that my Citadelles (a bluffing game) was working quite well and Serge's (which was more tactical) seemed full of promise. Too busy pecking cheeks, serving hors d'oeuvres, and cleaning up empty beer bottles, I never found time to try his game during the weekend. So Sunday evening I left him a sample of my game and headed home with his, to study it up close.

The initial tests showed that, although the trip around his game board was as interesting as mine, his game still had some snags that caused it to bog down too often and end up in gridlock. The Lyonnais Citadelles, with its 60 cards all with different abilities, would need considerably more tweaking than the Parisian Citadelles. The game was very promising, and extremely original, but it needed a new look; while keeping the same basic strategy, I did the necessary fine-tuning. The dungeon disappeared, many characters acquired new powers, and new restrictions on placement appeared, allowing cards to be combined. Magician card from CastleI soon noticed that I was hardly playing my Citadelles anymore; I had adopted Serge's, and I'd modified it so much it had sort of become mine. This time, though, we managed to work together to come up with the final product. The game attracted Henri Baczesak, of Jeux Descartes, and the contract was soon signed, although the game—which we couldn't call Citadelles—didn't yet have a name. Camelot was already taken, Tintagel (King Arthur's birthplace) sounded like a brand of laundry detergent; and Fortress seemed a little heavy. Finally, it became Castel, a somewhat old-fashioned French word for castle And that's how I find myself publishing—almost simultaneously—two games on the same theme, with similar graphics, but which are nevertheless entirely different. Citadelles is, fundamentally, a game of bluffing. Castel is a game of strategy and combinations of cards, somewhat reminiscent of certain collectible card games.

- Bruno Faidutti

(Translated from the French by Sandy Fein.)

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