Review: Cadwallon: City of Thieves

20 May 2016 4

Review: Cadwallon: City of Thieves

Released 08 May 2012

Developer: Cyanide Studio
Available from:
App Store
Reviewed on: iPad Air

Sometimes, circumstances are stacked against you, and there just isn't the time or resources to do a good job. If you procrastinated your way through college, as I did, you probably put yourself in the position to completely half-ass an assignment many times. Cadwallon: City of Thieves was released in 2012 with neither AI nor online multiplayer, which limited its appeal enough that we didn't bother to review it in these pages (admittedly, Pocket Tactics was smaller, then--this was before even I was brought on). Four years is a college-length extension on the assignment, and Cyanide Studio have used the generous extra time to add a minimally competent AI and otherwise leave the app in its startlingly unpolished state.

The setup is moderately appealing--take an existing fantasy setting, and have each player run a small guild of four thieves trying to steal as much as they can get their hands on before the militia close the district and catch whoever's still around. You have seven action points per turn, which you can use to move any of your thieves up to their movement allowance and try to either steal from the denizens of Cadwallon, or beat some ducats or other treasure out of your competitors. Treasures are worth less than the ducats you'll usually pull out of a purse or treasure chest, but they allow you to take mission cards for three actions a card and increase the rewards for doing so. So you have to balance cash vs. treasures, and specialization in a particular kind of treasure (which may have few missions available) against variety (which makes more missions available, but each less valuable). You also have to gauge when to get a heavily-laden thief out of Dodge, and how much to focus on turning your opponents into piñatas. All of this is executed with special powers for each thief and a hand of Arcana cards which make combat, movement, or thievery easier. Various scenarios add additional wrinkles, like allowing you to use the key and scroll treasure to rob the Duke's treasury.

IMG 23985

Many times per game, you're told that someone stole to someone else. It's hard to think a single play by any native English speaker would have failed to catch this, yet it's persisted for four years.

Or, they would, if there were any way to select a scenario other than the Treasure of the Duke. The interface is so opaque that I honestly can't tell whether they implemented those scenarios, but never explained how to access them, or simply never put them into the digital version of the game. This is one of many failures which make Cyanide look more like the Kyanide Kops, with blunder atop blunder. If you look carefully at the first image above, you may notice that it has a Yes/No confirmation dialogue upside-down at the top of the screen. This might have made sense with an iPad on a table between two players on opposite sides (except it still didn't, because "Yes" opens the option to select a card from a hand which appears right-side-up), but it clearly doesn't when playing as a single player against an AI. There are translation errors throughout, sometimes resulting in mere chuckles, but other times leaving one with a cryptic or absent explanation of some crucial point. For example, in order to leave, you don't just move your thief to the exit, you have to tap on their player portrait, which is off the map. No mention is ever made of this fact, so I spent my first several games just getting every character caught at the end, and hoping to make up for the penalty that gave me. Eventually I tried tapping in random places, long-tapping, dragging, and finally stumbled upon the correct method. That highlights a more general problem with the interface--it employs different confirmation symbols for confirming each kind of action, and they're only usually in the same place. The only way to make that user-friendly would be to make frequent use of animated visual cues to draw the eye to what's relevant at any particular point. This is rarely present, and so subtle as to be nearly useless then.

Part of what leaves me so flabbergasted that this digital translation is so awful is just how thoroughly it seems to miss the virtues of the tabletop game, which is beautiful and accessible. It looks like a stylish, competitive equivalent of the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System games--the sorts of games I could reasonably hope to play with middle-schoolers or even elementary students because they present a relatively friction-free experience with a notable "Wow!" factor. The muddy textures and 1990s-era look of the interface make the presentation a confusing mess which only wows with its incompetence, and causes enough confusion and dismay that only a truly dedicated player would ever become sufficiently familiar with the interface to enjoy the game underneath. That buried game isn't bad, but it's not the sort strategic masterpiece which would justify dealing with this crap. 

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The instructions recommend zooming in, but the game doesn't scale the icons from the full map to the zoomed-in version. Hilarious.

If I'm looking for something nice to say about this update, it's that the AI isn't terrible. It's not fabulous, but if this is how Cyanide break in a new hire or an intern, by letting them tool around with some abandoned game where they can't do any damage, the new kid seems alright. But when the burger you're serving turns out to be feces on a bun, it's really more insulting than helpful to take it back to the kitchen to add the tomato you forgot.

A shameful effort by Cyanide earns the ominous Dark Helmet proclamation: Lone Star.

Review: Cadwallon: City of Thieves

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Tags: Boardgame



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