Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time

Matthew Dunstan, Brett J. Gilbert
2 - 4
8 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

Usually it’s safe to assume that the people entering somebody else’s house through the window are the bad guys. Usually. And it’s not an excuse that the dwelling’s owner is called Professor Evil, either! What was he supposed to do, not pursue an academic career because of his last name? There is, however, the little detail that Professor Evil has been using his time machine to steal priceless artifacts right out of history. The Mona Lisa is small fry in a collection that contains Excalibur and the Ark of the Covenant.

If some heroic individuals were to enter such an individual’s citadel to return those stolen items to their rightful place in the timeline they would most definitely be the good guys. But their mission won’t be easy. A man called Professor Evil, why, his security systems are bound to be more interesting than a blinking red light on the wall. Those heroic individuals would need some outside guidance as they make their way through the Professor’s home. Someone telling them were to go, what to do. Someone like… you. Welcome to Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time.

The Rules

His power bill doesn't seem to matter...
His power bill doesn’t seem to matter…

Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time follows the tried and true pattern of cooperative games everywhere: after each player takes a turn trying to get closer to winning the game takes a turn trying to make them lose. Winning and losing is simple in this game: the players win if they secure four treasures before the Professor can squirrel them away into his extra secure vault. The Professor wins if he gets the four treasures first. Obviously, this being his house and all, the Professor has some advantages.

First, and most obviously, the priceless historic artifacts are in the Professor’s house and the brave thieves have to get to them unnoticed. Second, and less obviously, each treasure is protected by an assortment of security measures that include mundane things like locks and cameras but also the more exotic lasers and Security Saws™. Before the players can touch an artifact they have to turn off the security systems using switches scattered around the house. Again without being noticed, of course.

That's quite the collection
That’s quite the collection

That puts us right in the middle of the action. A player’s turn has three phases. Phase one is simply drawing two cards from that player’s own draw pile. What cards are in there depends on the player’s chosen character. For instance playing as Leroy Johnson, Ruler of Switches, you get action cards all dealing with switches in some way. You might be allowed to switch one off in a place other than your current room. Or you might swap two switches around. Or take Irene Elder, the Queen of Time. She can stop the bad effects of time on your mission. Don’t worry, it’ll be clear soon enough what that means.

Two cards in hand, you proceed to where the real action is. Phase Two: Taking Actions. In any order you may play one of the two action cards – the other is discarded – and take up to three actions. Each action in itself is as simple as can be. Moving from one room into the next is an action. Opening the door between two rooms is an action. Flipping a switch for a security system is an action. And finally, rescuing a treasure is an action. Before you can do that one all security systems on that treasure have to be switched off, and as soon as you retrieve it all those switches turn back on.

And then things get worse. The Professor is surprisingly oblivious to strangers in his house, but he’s prone to wandering his halls aimlessly at night. If he comes across something that seems amiss, he’ll fix it. What exactly the Professor does is dictated by the dice. Mostly the Professor Die will make the Professor walk up to three rooms, following the path given by the Color Die. In every room he passes he will close all doors, return all switches to the “On” position and have any player characters removed from the premises. That last one is not a euphemism, by the way. Deep down the Professor is a big softy, so when he catches a character he doesn’t throw them through the nearest time portal into a pack of T-Rexes. He just throws them out of his house and they can come back in through a broken window next turn.

A Cast of Heroes
A Cast of Heroes

Surprising exactly no one, the Professor also has a number of secret passages in his house. When the Professor Die shows the Secret Passage the Professor will move straight to one of the treasures, doing all the mean things in that room he would do on a regular move. Finally, the Professor might get worried about one of his treasures and decide to move it to the secure vault sooner.

To know what that means we have to explain how time works in Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time. The center of the board is taken up by a giant clock, so you’ll see right away that time is important. On that clock you have a black Clock Marker showing the current time. You also have three Treasure Markers, one for each treasure that can be on the board at a time. When the Clock Marker reaches one of those treasure markers the Professor decides it’s time to bring that treasure to safety. If the Professor Die shows five or ten minutes then the Treasure Marker matching the Color Die moves that many minutes counter-clockwise.

A Treasure Marker moving counter-clockwise is bad because of the last thing that happens each turn: the Clock Marker moves clockwise by five or ten minutes, depending on the Clock Die. And that’s how you lose more treasures.

But the clock is not all bad. It’s mostly bad, mind, but twice on the Clock Marker’s path it turns friendly to the players. At the 15 and 45 minutes marks the players pick one from their ranks to turn their Character Card over and enable two powerful abilities. One of them is a helpful passive effect, like being able to move through closed doors. The other is even more powerful, but once you use it you have to turn the character card back over.

The Verdict

Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time is a game with straightforward rules. The actions you can take are simple, and so is what the Professor does in return. The most complex part is how the switches disable the traps, and that part isn’t complex. As such, Citadel of Time is very suitable to play with the family. The age recommendation for eight years and up is fine when it comes to rules.

Time is on our side
Time is on our side

Your kids might need a bit of frustration resistance, however, because Citadel of Time is easy to learn but somewhat hard to play. That is in parts because, like every good cooperative game, you need a good plan to succeed. How to use your actions and action cards well takes a bit of thought. The real strategic challenge is the proper use of the superpowers unlocked by flipping the character cards. Not only the actual use, also the decision which one to unlock when you have the chance.

There is, however, a downside to Citadel‘s difficulty: its randomness. The random placement of treasures and the three dice controlling the Clock and the Professor sometimes conspire against you. When all the treasures on the board need the Security Saws™ disabled and the Professor keeps moving between the switches controlling them for three full rounds there’s little you can do. It’s just one of those days. But you’re not entirely helpless there. You can make the game easier by removing the hardest to rescue treasures from the stack, or make it harder by removing the easy ones. You probably won’t get to the point where you’ll always win – that’d be boring, anyway – but with a bit of practice you have a fair chance almost every time.

A slight gambling problem
A slight gambling problem

That all being said, Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time is very satisfying to play. Frustrating sometimes, yes, but always satisfying as well. You always have an immediate influence on the outcome. Leftover actions you don’t have a use for basically don’t happen. Planning your moves together is paramount. Player one opens two doors in his room so player two can pass through one way and flip a switch and then player three can pass through the other to rescue a treasure. Three actions per turn is the perfect number to make these interactions work.

Also, and I know I say that about most games from French publishers, Citadel of Time is gorgeous. Hey, it’s not my fault that it’s true. I’m used to beautiful games from Funforge, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The components are the usual high quality and the art by Biboun is excellent.

Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time might not be the game to bring to your game night for the people that beat Ghost Stories and want a new challenge. But to play a relaxing game with your gamer friends, or to introduce the kids to cooperative games? Absolutely.

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