*Note: Also posted at BGG.
The game was on the line…
There I sat with 7 districts built, a handful of victory points ahead of my three opponents. I had selected the KING the round before for the advantage of first pick in what I planned to be the final round. My problem: 1 Gold to my name and only 1 District in my hand to build – the royal Palace, costing 5 Gold. Even worse, I had already built a Palace. The Thief, the Warlord, and the Merchant (facedown) were out of play. I desperately needed a District Card costing 3 Gold or less.
If I chose the Bishop, I would receive 2 Gold for my religious districts and could draw District Cards as my action hoping to draw one costing 3 or less. But I also had 2 royal districts, so choosing the King would be better since the Warlord was out-of-play anyway, and I'd have the added benefit of going first next round. But both of these options left victory in the hands of the draw-District-Card-action. I risked postponing the game another round. Too risky.
I could choose the powerful Architect, draw 2 District Cards, and take 2 Gold as my action. But in this situation, the Architect's bonus did not actually increase my chances of drawing the right District Card (and keeping both District Cards was unnecessary). More importantly, choosing the Architect meant passing to my opponents the Assassin, whose frequent target happens to be the Architect.
Yes, passing the Assassin was another problem. If I passed the Assassin, my opponent immediate-left would have a 50% chance of successfully murdering me. On the other hand, I could be the Assassin, collect 2 Gold, and take out the Architect. This would ensure I got to play this round and that there would be another. However, the difficulty here was that I would have to choose between Gold and District Cards – I could not do both. This probably meant delaying that 8th District 2 more rounds thus forfeiting victory! This risk was compounded by passing the King which could've meant selecting last next round.
That left…the Magician? But then just maybe….
Understanding the Underrated Magician
The Magician is not obviously powerful as the Assassin or Warlord. He is not profitable like the Architect, Merchant, or Thief. He will not even produce Gold from any of your districts. He does not protect your Districts from the Warlord (as does the Bishop) nor your Gold from the Thief (as does the Assassin). The Magician's power is more subtle, and brings unexpected advantages.
1) Fastest way to increase building opportunity.
At the heart of the Citadel system is a tradeoff of resource vs. opportunity. Each player is given an "Action" every turn: a choice between gold or increased opportunity to build. A player may actually build a District every turn (the "Build" phase), but he can only build what is available to him – the District cards in his hand. Thus, one of the key mechanics of the game is to maximize this opportunity to build. The Magician enables you to discard-and-replace those worthless (or too expensive) Districts. Or force your opponent to trade his 5 District cards for your 1.
2) Targets a player, not a character.
Sure the Assassin can eliminate a player from a round and the Thief can swell your coffer. But they target blindly – targeting characters without knowing which players have selected them. The Magician on the other hand (like the Warlord) can sabotage a particular player when it is beneficial to do so.
3) Seldom a target himself.
Rarely is the Magician targeted by the Assassin or the Thief. They are preoccupied with the dangerous Warlord and the lucrative Merchant or Architect. In fact, players often forget the Magician's in the game. And oh, how I love the look on an opponent's face when I casually mention I'd like to have all of his District cards. Confusion turns to shock, shock to despair, despair to groveling.
Would it work…?
Indeed I chose the Magician. My opponent immediate-left selected the Assassin (as I suspected) and murdered – of course – the Merchant (who was facedown out of play). Why? He simply couldn't fathom that I would choose the Magician over the King, Assassin, or Architect. I could only grin as I swiped another player's cards (despite vigorous protest), and built a Battlefield to end the game and claim victory.
The Magician must be respected.