Professor Evil has gone and bought himself a time machine. (Or invented one? I don’t know). Now he’s zipping through time, snatching valuable artifacts both historical and futuristic in order to put them on display in his private collection.
Now it’s up to you and your band of intrepid, um, thieves, I guess, to liberate those artifacts from Professor Evil’s citadel so you can return them to their rightful place and time. It won’t be easy, and the professor is doing his best to lock away his prizes in a secret, secure vault you have no access to, so better get to it before it’s too late. Good luck, because you’re going to need it to outsmart Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time.
How It Plays
The goal of PEatCoT is to unlock and recover four treasures before Professor Evil locks away four of his own in a secret vault.
On your turn, you get to do three actions plus resolve one of two action cards drawn from your character-specific action deck. Things you can do include moving from room to room, unlocking doors, deactivating switches, and recovering treasures.
In order to actually recover a treasure, every switch in the Citadel that matches the icons on the treasure tile must be switched off. Once you nab a treasure, every switch automatically turns back on.
Character action cards grant unique abilities such as manipulating dice rolls, unlocking doors, moving around the castle, or remotely triggering switches.
After you’ve taken your actions, you roll three dice which determine the Professor’s movement. He might move 1-3 rooms, take a secret passage directly to a treasure, or reduce the time you have to recover one particular treasure. The color die indicates which direction the professor will move, or which treasure he will head for. Also, the professor locks doors and switches the switches back on as he passes through rooms. If the professor enters a room with a player, that player must flee outside the Citadel.
Every 30 minutes (aka 6 turns) the clock tracker reaches an “Idea!” space on the clock, which allows one player to flip over their character card. This grants a permanent passive ability as well as a powerful one-time use action that can be used by flipping the card back over. Whenever the team “has an idea,” they can decide as a group which player gets to flip their card up.
Each treasure has a designated amount of time before it’s locked away, which is marked by a token on the main clock. Whenever the clock tracker reaches that token, the professor has managed to lock the treasure away in his secret vault.
As players rescue treasures or the Professor secures them, new treasures come out. The game ends immediately when one side has collected 4 treasures.
Professor Time and the Citadel of Evil
This game has a great title. It really does. It’s got a nice cadence to it, a rhythm, and it evokes a wonderful world of pulp steampunk with time travel and clear-cut morality and very fine clothing.
But a title has an implicit promise, and despite what you might think there is not so much time travel, and there’s not really a lot of evil, either. These elements serve as a distant backdrop to set up the story for why you’re here, and that’s all. In fact, there’s not much backstory written into the rules. The backstory I wrote about above was gleaned only from the BoardGameGeek.com listing for the game. Not even the back of the box has much to go on.
That leaves a lot of questions that one might expect could get resolved during gameplay, but unfortunately story doesn’t come into it there. It’s almost abstract in nature, a straightforward puzzle game that tests your planning ability with limited actions against the fickle nature of luck.
I wonder what it is that makes the Professor so Evil. Was he the inventor of the time machine, or did he get it from somewhere else? What exactly do we, the players, plan to do with these treasures once we have them? Put them in a museum? Maybe the Citadel of Time IS a museum? Maybe the name is pronounced “Evvil” and he’s a kindly old man who figured out a way to share these wonderful artifacts with the world.
Now, I know that a game’s story is usually just a backdrop and doesn’t always have an impact on gameplay, but with a wonderful pulpy name like Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time, and wonderful pulpy art covering the cards, it was just disappointing not to get more.
So in regard to gameplay, instead of time travel you have to switch switches, unlock doors, and grab treasures, the challenge being that you have limited actions on your turn, plenty of switches, and the professor keeps interfering. It’s a straightforward puzzle without much complexity. You’ll find very few moments that require a tough choice, instead focusing on the most efficient way you can flip a switch. Or perhaps set up the next player to flip the switch, or grab a treasure.
It’s not a bad game by any means. It can be quite a challenge to utilize your actions effectively and win the game, especially with 4 players. Slowing down, thinking ahead, and working together will get you a long way toward victory. There are moments that make you feel genuinely clever as you figure out which action card to play or which character power to activate to snag the treasure out from under the Professor’s nose. The action cards are generally useful and unique to each character, which makes you feel like a valuable member of the team.
All that said, there are definitely a few frustrations.
While the character abilities are unique and interesting, some of them are just more commonly useful than others. Certain characters will always have a useful action card to activate. Others require specific circumstances to activate. To a degree you have control over those circumstances, but it doesn’t feel particularly cool to gain two extra actions if you’re in a room with the camera when it will take more than two extra actions detouring from the main event to get to a room with a camera. It’s fun to do powerful things, but I personally think it’s more fun to do something slightly less powerful each and every round than to sometimes not be able to do things. (There are exceptions to this rule in general… for example, if you can choose to forgo an action in order to build up to something more powerful rather than simply being unable to execute any action).
It’s not really that big of a deal, although it’s worse in a 4-player game when you aren’t getting many turns over the course of the game.
The biggest frustration, though, is the professor. Him moving around the citadel undoing your work is part of the game, sure, but there’s a difference between a constantly shifting finish line that you can reach if you just manage to stretch out far enough, and a finish line that occasionally becomes entirely removed from the track. The professor can move in unfortunate ways or guard the treasure you’re after in a way that slows you down and forces you to rethink your strategy, but he can also end up in a room with a lock switch that every treasure on the board needs off and never move from that spot. There’s no way to guard a room or try to draw the professor away when you’ve come down to a key moment. On multiple occasions I’ve had it down to the last turn where my character has a couple extra actions but all the switches are set and I can’t reach the treasure. If only I could make a noise, or stand against a door to keep the professor from ruining it all on a single die roll.
But it is fun to overcome the challenge when it’s possible. It’s fun to have a plan that goes awry only to see a way to get a different treasure, when everything comes down to the last minute. You just have to know what you’re getting into; it’s a race against time and luck, and sometimes fate will not be on your team.
Some of the characters do have action cards or character powers that subvert some of the frustrations. One character has the ability to move into a room with the professor, or flip a switch off remotely even if the professor is there. Another character has some control over the dice. Unfortunately these abilities only apply during that player’s turn, and only if that character is in play. It’s not uncommon to need the dice control most one turn after the mistress of randomness takes her turn.
It’s easy to go on and on about flaws like this, so let me reiterate that I think Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time is an enjoyable game. It’s an interesting puzzle that occasionally causes frustration because of bad luck. Most of the time there is a way to win, although admittedly most of the time there will be moments when, instead of thinking “we just need to do this to win” you’re thinking “we just need the die to roll this.”
I also think that Professor Evil doesn’t have a ton of replay value. There are 5 characters to play, but even with completely unique powers the gameplay doesn’t feel radically different each time. (Besides, if you play with 4 players, you’re using 4/5 of those powers every time). This is the sort of game you can play a few times and enjoy, learn a few strategies, and then move on because there’s not a lot of depth to explore.
The components are top notch, with lushly illustrated cards and sturdy cardboard. The treasure tokens are pretty clearly laid out so you can see what you need to free them, and the clock at the center of the board also keeps your timing clear. I wish the board itself wasn’t so visually cluttered; people frequently had trouble distinguishing rooms and doorways at a glance. The switches themselves blended in with the board, too – I would prefer the icons be front and center on a solid color background to make them easier to see. One last note here – the primary colors used for professor movement and treasure tracking are red, green, and blue. It’s my understanding that these are terrible colors for color-blind friendliness.
Now a game is what a game is, and I hate to review a game for what it isn’t designed to be. But based on the backstory and the title, I really wish there was some time travel elements in the gameplay. I feel like that element could have brought something unique to the genre. I have no idea how it would be done, and yeah, it would probably result in a completely different game. Maybe a sequel. But why do you put Time Machines on the table and then make gameplay that has nothing to do with turning time in any direction except forward?
Darn it, Professor Evil. I so wanted to love you. That pulpy theme drew me right in and the wonderful art creates a lot of atmosphere. And I enjoyed you for a time, but you just fell short in so many areas. Are you a good game? Sure. Are you the great game I wanted you to be? Unfortunately, no. Maybe what we need is a time machine so we can go back and try again…
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Passport Game Studios for providing a review copy of Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time.