Reviewed by Herb Levy

[So many games, so little time. It’s no wonder so many great games have vanished from the market. Once again, it’s time to resurrect one of these lost gems. In past issues, our Game Classics series has showcased some remarkable games including Astron, Bantu, Broker, Can’t Stop, Daytona 500, Focus (aka Domination), The Game of Politics, The Godfather Game, Holiday, Kimbo, Mr. President, Ohio, Ploy, Rich Uncle, Spellmaker, Square Mile, The Stock Market Game (Gabriel), Summit, Troque (aka Troke), Trump: The Game and Wildcatter. With this installment, we add our first representative from the vast amount of games first appearing in a magazine: Citadel of Blood.]

(SPI, 1980, 1-6 players, ages 10 and up, about an hour; out of print)


When TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons began its phenomenal rise in popularity, many other companies took notice and wanted a piece of the action. This interest spawned a slew of Sword & Sorcery roleplaying games. Some were good, some were OK and some were more horrible than the creatures you were apt to encounter in some dark, dank dungeon. SPI certainly took notice. Although best known for wargames, the company aggressively sought to conquer the fantasy market too. Part of their approach was to publish Ares, a science fiction and fantasy magazine. As with Strategy & Tactics, SPI’s flagship wargaming title, there was a game in every Ares issue. Several of these games in the short-lived Ares were actually pretty good. One that stands out appeared in issue # 5 (later to appear in its own boxed edition): Citadel of Blood.

Citadel of Blood is an Eric Lee Smith design. While better known for his wargame creations which include Civil War and Ambush! for Victory Games (the entity created when SPI folded), Smith did himself proud with this entry. The premise was simple: an evil Mage known by the forbidding name of X the Unknown is preparing to let loose the power of “Hellgate” and destroy the Empire! The job of the players, as you might suspect, is to stop X the Unknown and thwart his nefarious plans. Although the game comes with 10 pages of rules which might make you think of complicated play, three of the pages were charts and tables and the rules follow the SPI wargame format which, at least in this case, neatly and clearly takes you step by step through the game mechanics making the learning curve barely a bump in the road. Rounding out the components is a set of 200 die cut counters. (Three six-sided dice as well as some paper and pencils are required and you have to supply those yourself.) The counters are key. They represent the characters seeking X the Unknown as well as rooms and corridors of X’s stronghold and a virtual army of monsters.citadelblood

As in most roleplaying games, you choose your characters (divided into Heroes and Initiates) to create a party of six. The different races involved are the standard fantasy types: Human, Elf and Dwarf. Each race has certain advantages in skills and other attributes and you outfit your characters with weapons. You roll to determine “magic potential” (i.e. how many spells each character “knows” ) and “experience in the outside world” enables you to gently modify Wound Points (how many hits a character can sustain before being killed) or a skill. Finally, you set up a “marching order” specifying how the group will travel in the Citadel. This has an effect when the unfriendly denizens lurking there are encountered. (And yes, you can change positions in response to injury or a change in plan.) Now, the Gateway of Evil chit is placed on the table to mark the entrance to the Citadel, X the Unknown and Hellgate chits placed aside for the time being, remaining chits placed in an opaque cup and the adventure begins.

Players decide on what route to take and draw a chit from the cup to reveal either a corridor or room. This chit is placed adjacent to the Gateway (if this is the first turn) or previously placed doorway or corridor.

Dice rolls crossreferenced with various charts are used to track the progress of the party. Upon entering a room, players check for possible traps and, if found, attempt to disarm them. Monsters may be roaming throughout the Citadel or inhabiting a room just discovered. They have to be dealt with: peacefully if you can (through negotiation, intimidation or bribery) or forcefully through combat.

Combat is resolved by matching the marching order of the party with the marching order of the monsters. In all contact with hostile creatures, magical members of the party may cast spells. Along the way, the party gains Experience Points and treasure (in Gold Marks or jewels).

Experience Points are earned for killing monsters in combat. (These points may be used to determine a solo winner at game’s end and even be carried over to the next adventure in the Citadel as Experience Points or Gold Marks or the jewel equivalent may be cashed in to raise a character’s abilities.)

As they travel throughout the winding labyrinth of the Citadel, characters often find mystical objects which may (or may not) be advantageous. Fountains, statues, altars, art work and more populate the premises and offer characters risks to take and more dangers to face. Finally, if you are clever, lucky and brave, you will discover the Hellgate guarded by X the Unknown and his evil minions. And it is here that the climactic battle erupts!

A die roll determines how many demons (from 1 to 5) are with X to help defend the Hellgate. X the Unknown uses one powerful spell (Lightning) which he casts every turn to cause extensive damage. A party, fearing insurmountable odds, may leave the Citadel and re-enter (in game time) six months later (with some modifications). However, if at least one member of the party survives the evil onslaught and manages to defeat X and his demons to destroy the Hellgate, the party is considered to have won the game. This may require several excursions into the Citadel. For a single character to win, he must have amassed at least 100 Experience Points and 100 Gold Marks (in money or jewels).

Citadel of Blood presents some of the best features of early dungeon crawl adventures not the least of which is capturing the exciting atmosphere of fantasy adventure. There is a reliance on dice (of course) but the terrors within are introductory level and, as such, you feel you have a chance to win without relying on magical equivalents of thermonuclear weapons or the power of Level 93 characters! There are many decisions to make regarding how to handle monsters, how to outfit your characters and which way to advance as the Citadel is revealed. Monsters have “personalities” as “Cronks” give off a debilitating stench, Vampires “charm” as well as attack and more. As the game comes with no pre-set board, “building” the Citadel as you go guarantees that all games take different “turns”. Constructing your environment as you went is a device used in Sorcerer’s Cave (Ariel, 1978) but as Sorcerer’s Cave was an English game not readily available nor very well known back in 1980 here in the United States, the building concept seemed fresh and intriguing. (The biggest drawback was that the chits were so small. Chits two or three times bigger would have been better but, of course, the counter sheet had to fit in the magazine!) Gold Marks were much easier to obtain than artifacts and, while the variety of items and monsters to be found was fun, we hungered to discover more rare and wondrous items than was found in the game’s charts. But this is a problem easily fixed by adopting and incorporating charts and artifacts from other games.

Citadel of Blood was a thrilling, chilling excursion into adventure that plunged glory seeking adventurers on a dangerous and forbidding quest in the early days of roleplaying. Great stuff that has not lost its magic over the years. – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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