Cardboard Children: Cadwallon – City Of Thieves

Hello youse.

As we build up to the announcement of my GAME OF THE YEAR 2013, I think it’s worth taking time out to think about games that get lost in the mix. By “the mix” I mean the mix of hype and excitement and drama that coincides with all these new releases and such. I don’t think this column is of any use at all if I don’t occasionally point you in the direction of good games that I think have been forgotten. And the one we’re talking about today has been forgotten, for sure. It seems that it isn’t very popular at all, and I’m not sure why. Well, I kinda am sure why.

It’s Cadwallon: City of Thieves.

Simplicity was a dirty word in board gaming for a while there, and Cadwallon: City of Thieves was launched smack bang in the middle of a period of growing game complexity. While people were trying to wrap their heads around giant board games with 40 page rulebooks, City of Thieves was stepping out with rules that can be explained in two minutes. People called it boring. Not enough going on, they said. I really don’t agree at all.

2-4 players take control of a team of four thieves. All these thieves have exactly the same attributes. They can all move up to 4 spaces. They all roll two dice in combat. They all have a “Mind” rating of 4. The only difference between these characters is their special ability. One might offer a re-roll. One might offer a teleport ability. Otherwise, every character is the same. Is this a negative, as some have suggested? No. Because this game is all about Action Points and positioning.

The board is a city, and your thieves have to move around the city, stealing shit from houses. Each team has 7 action points every round, and you can spread those points across your team however you like. It costs one point to move a character. It costs one point to roll a die in an attempt to pick a lock and steal some treasure. It costs two points to bust open a chest by force, taking what’s inside. It sometimes costs a point to activate a special ability. And it costs a point to attack another player.

Yeah – your characters can attack characters on opposing teams, and the winner of the combat gets to steal a treasure from the opponent. Each thief has a carrying limit of three. Grab the treasure you want, then try to get out of the city with it. Which is easier said than done.

Just over halfway through each game, the city alarm sounds, and gates start to close. Players take turns placing gates at the edge of the board, blocking exits. By doing this, you try to make it more difficult for the other teams to escape with their loot. At this point, you also start to think about positioning your own characters to either ESCAPE or BLOCK. An opponent character has a valuable set of scrolls? Send one of your thieves to harass them, blocking them from an exit. Move the city militia men (which players can do at the start of every turn) to cover all the angles of escape.

That’s pretty much the game. Combat is easy – each character rolls two dice, highest single die wins. Cards can be played to lend characters combat boosts and special abilities. Missions can be turned in during the game – cards will show which items are mission items, and if you have any of them in your possession, you can spend three action points to claim a bonus. It’s an extra little set collection aspect that sees you balancing a high action point spend with an instant payout.

There are eight different scenarios in the game, too. One puts a treasury on the board that constantly spews out coins for thieves, but can lead to an instant arrest on a bad roll. One puts an NPC assassin on the board who leaps around, causing chaos. One has zombies rising to attack the thieves. One turns the game into a hostage rescue session.

Not much going on? Really?

I thing Cadwallon: City of Thieves is a great, fun game. It looks beautiful, of course. Even those who don’t like the game will admit that. But I don’t see any problem with how simple and streamlined the game is. Sure, there are elements of randomness, with all the dice-rolling in combat. But the game is very much a risk-reward type of thing. Whenever you reach for a die, you might get fucked over. SO DON’T REACH FOR THE DIE UNLESS YOU ARE COOL WITH BEING FUCKED OVER.

There are some nice decisions to be made, in every scenario.

 What items do I steal? (Go for the mission items early? Collect sets? Grab the chests that make you roll at game’s end for the payout?)
 Where do I spend my Action Points? (Play safe? Pay the two to bash the chests open? Or pay one and make the roll? Do you have time to play safe?)
 When do I leave? (Your character has three treasures. Do you hang around the city, waiting for missions to turn in? Do you leave early, banking those items?)
 Which character do I sacrifice, if any? (Should you use a thief as a blocker? Should you go on the offensive? Or just grab that ruby and leave?)

This is without taking into consideration any of the additional decisions thrown up by the different scenarios. (Do I send a thief to kill the assassin? Big payout if I win, but my character is dead if I fail.)

Sometimes there are games that are simple and pretty and fun, and they get dismissed because of that. They don’t have any revolutionary new mechanics or amazing gimmicks. There are no big cogs you can turn (Tzolk’in) or fancy movement templates (X-Wing). There’s just some beautiful miniatures, a beautiful board, some dice and some really clean rules. There’s always something to be said for a game that doesn’t force you to re-read a rulebook for an hour every time you pull it out. In City of Thieves you can have your favourite characters, your favourite scenarios, and just fling them all on the table so you can duke it out for an hour.

It wouldn’t be the game of the year any year, but it’s the kind of game I’ll always have room for in my collection. The point of this column isn’t just to shout about the shiny new brilliant stuff. It’s also to say “Check it out” about stuff you might have missed.

Check it out.

PS. I think there’s maybe an iPad version. Dunno. Just noticed some screenshots online. It’s never as good as the cardboard, though. Really.


  1. c-Row says:

    Ah, Cadwallon. If only its pen&paper RPG rules made any sense to mere mortals. Still, totally worth it for the background fluff and illustrations alone.

  2. Emeraude says:

    I so love the fluff Rackham had build around for Cadwallon . But the games always left me rather cold.

  3. Grargh says:

    Where I’m studying, we organize somewhat regular gaming nights for all the students of our faculty. 90% of them will never participate in anything more complex than, say, Risk or Monopoly. Since these classics are incredibly frustrating and boring (in my opinion), I’m very happy about any interesting game that is easy to explain and start playing. It’s a very underrated quality, I think.

  4. thekelvingreen says:

    Yes, yes, yes for simple games. King of Tokyo is dead simple in terms of rules and yet it’s one of the most fun games I’ve ever played.

    • Ksempac says:

      There is no problem with playing simple games. Even games simpler than King of Tokyo. However, there is a definite problem with games that just aren’t fun. King of Tokyo is a ton of fun. But that’s definitely not the case with Cadwallon.

      You will waste 1h or more, being fucked over by the dice over and over again, until the dice decide who wins. They are so many dice rolls, and so many ways to get screwed by them, that you have absolutely no control on who is gonna win. Even more irritating is the fact that once you start losing characters, you’re pretty much done, but you will have to suffer through the rest of the game.

      Too much randomness is the only reason why Cadwallon is despised. It has nothing to do with it being a simple game.

      PS : yes i know King of Tokyo has dice rolling, but you can mitigate randomness/control your game a lot more, and even if you are very unlucky, it’s a quicker game so you won’t have to suffer too much.

      Dice rolling is fine as long as it’s not the dice who are playing the game and the players being the spectators/victims of the dice

  5. JoeX111 says:

    Honestly, I’d like to hear more recommendations of simple games with rich themes. I’ve bought way too many games that crashed and burned on the table once I spent an hour setting up the board, an hour teaching the players, and hours more playing the thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of complexity, but there’s something to be said for a game you can whip out, have some fun with, and put away without making a day of it.

    • Ksempac says:

      Depends on which country you’re in and in which language you want your games, but here are some small games you can check out :
      – The resistance
      – Wanted
      – Citadels
      – King of Tokyo
      – Love letter
      – Koryo
      Theses are light, most even lighter than Cadwallon, and good games (definitely better than Cadwallon). This is only a small selection, on the top of my head. There are a ton of small games out there

    • Angel Dust says:

      I dunno what games you’re playing (Arkham Horror or something?) but there are quite a lot of games with rich themes and lighter mechanics. To add to Ksempac’s excellent list:
      Pandemic (or similarly: Forbidden Island or Desert)
      Escape: The Curse of the Temple

      None of these games take hours to play or setup and I’ve managed to explain all of them to a variety of people with a variety of gaming experience. They’re also really good games too.

    • Frohike says:

      Those are all pretty good suggestions but if you want something simple yet with a rich theme that comes through in the artwork, components, and mechanics, I have to recommend Claustrophobia.

      It’s an asymmetrical tactical game with pre-painted miniatures, beautiful dungeon tiles, and very simple rules for both sides. Games go for roughly a half hour and there’s next to no set up time. Despite the simplicity of the rules, it’s a brutal, confrontational game, and packs a satisfying amount of tactics and decisions in a short amount of time.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Power Grid and 7 Wonders are my current favorites. Not dead simple when it comes to rules, but the boards are quick to set up, and the basics quickly explained. And they are very rich when it comes to different strategies.

      Edit: RPS alumni Quinns agrees with me about Power Grid, and has even more “games for your family” recommendations over at Shut Up and Sit Down:
      link to

  6. Shadowcat says:

    Hey Rab, if you’re actually working on a GOTY2013 article, that’s really great; but it’s actually getting tiresome seeing it mentioned in every column. Maybe you could just, you know, hit us with it when you’re done, and not mention it any more before then?

    Or even better, just tell us what it is, and give us the article later — we’ll still read it, but we won’t be irritated that you’ve been (a) keeping it to yourself, and (b) reminding us every chance you get that you’re keeping it to yourself.

    • bodydomelight says:

      Someone isn’t getting the joke.

    • _Nocturnal says:

      He/she must be new to the column.

      Shadowcat: Read some past articles. You’ll see some more promises made in them, many unfulfilled. You’ll also see so much weirdly wonderful and wonderfully weird shit that you might go mad. In the unlikely, unhappy event that you don’t go mad (my condolences, by the way, better luck next time), return here and tell us whether or not you still care about him not delivering on some things after seeing the things that got delivered.

      But don’t take too long or convert to a strange religion, because you might miss the GOTY announcement, or start referring to some other year as 2013, or stop believing in years entirely!

    • Shadowcat says:

      Was 50/50 on it being a joke, but optimistic that he was genuinely going to write a fantastic article about a fantastic game (and I still am, really — it’s not much of a joke, after all). And despite this, I’m not new to the column, and yes I do find Rab’s writing incredibly frustrating. Every now and then he comes up with a gem, and some of his video reviews were fantastic, so I keep reading… but a lot of Cardboard Children… well, a lot of the writing just isn’t to my taste, I guess. I keep thinking I should just stop reading the column; but then the intersection of board games and RPS always seems like a must-read thing.

      • Shadowcat says:

        That said, much of that stems from older columns, and I should mention that I do think the recent ones have been pretty good. Certainly they’ve been more focussed on actual games. So I don’t want to come across as too critical when these days I’m actually enjoying it for the most part.