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Review: Shadows over Camelot - serve with the knights of Round Table
Welcome to Camelot. Castle, where king Arthur rules with his just hand and togehter with his fellow loyal knight sits at the Round Table. But did you know, that there is a traitor beyond them? Even they do not know it. What then happens, when knights would have to face a dark threat and one of them secretly conspires with enemy behind the walls? Are you not afraid to join the battle and uncover him? Danger can hide anywhere, when shadows fall over Camelot...
The dark clouds are gaining above Camelot. Lancelot with Gawain are off on an expedition, from which they may never return. Today on the third day of their absence, a meeting of the Knights of the Round Table is happening without them. Before the gates of Camelot, there are armies of darkness gathering. They sense weakness in their defense, that there is not enough knights to defend it and now Morgan and her servants want to take advantage of their weakness. Catapults are standing still for now. But not for long. Will the attack come today or will they wait for the sunrise? This is a question, which the knights are talking about.
And before you answer this question yourself, you can add to their defense in the board game Shadow over Camelot from Days of Wonder, who published also great Small World (review) or Ticket to Ride (review available only in Czech), both nice family games. There are two authors responsible for the emergence of the game - Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala (Mow - review available only in Czech) and all their work was brought to the world in 2005. Beautiful illustrations were prepared by Julien Delval.
Only now, after seven years, this game gets to our editorial desk, where we will put it to the test, although it has already survived long test of time. And because it is still popular and is still sold, it's obvious, that it is a successful game. And we will not walk long time around the bush, we are keen on it too!
The game is hidden in a box, that fits into the dimensions of another games of this publisher. The box is square with standard height and sizes to fit among the many other today games on your shelf. There are all heroes drawn on the lid, both good and bad guys, of the whole king Arthur story and there is castle Camelot in the background behind them.
You should be prepared for a surprise, when you open the packaging and start getting all the components out. Four (!) game boards are lying in the box, one of which is the main board. There is Camelot and its surroundings drawn on it. This is where the attack comes - bay and even plains, on which you will put one catapult after another. But the board is dominated by Round Table, which has seven chairs and elongated arcs for laying swords.
Other game boards are smaller and are double-sided. Everyone has a different dimensions, but all six serve the same purpose - to represent the expeditions, on which games can heroes (hence players) go. One of the game boards is composed of two plates, because it is situated in length and fits nicely next to big board.
But by far the surprises are not ending, because along with cardboard swords tokens, big two decks of cards (total 168) await you - one with black background will serve the evil side, while the white will help you, the forces of good. You will find there also seven cards with a green background, used to determine the loyalty of the Knights. Much larger are the individual cards of Knights, which themselves contain not only picture of the hero, but also its specific abilities.
The most important (visually) components in the game, however, are of much more solid character, than paper cards. Let's start with eight dice - one for each of the seven heroes and one eight-sided for the game itself. And besides them, there are carefully stored piles of miniatures! A really beautiful and detailed, representing not only knights of Camelot, but also three artifacts (Excalibur, Holy Grail, and Lancelots armor). Other miniature are evil forces (Pict and Sass warriors) and twelve badass catapults.
Game principles are described in a booklet of rules, that are nice, including a detailed description of all the components. The second booklet contains all the various adventures. In essence, you could start playing with them in a while. And we too. Finally.
You should have a really big table, because in addition to all game boards, you have to fit also Knight cards, sword tokens and supplies of all enemy pieces. You hold action cards in your hand most of the time, which means you do not need space at least for them. Apart from some events, that you can play with instant effects, most of the white cards are wearing numbers from one to five. Black cards have numbers as well, but in a larger range and specific to individual quests.
You begin preparing of the match easily with distribution of plans. The only one, that has a predetermined side up is the board with Lancelot / Dragon quest. You must first complete easier Lancelot's adventure, and only after that you can go for a dragon. All mixed black cards are layed in a place at the entrance to Camelot, that serves as the drawing pile. There is also a spot for white cards there, but you will still need them to prepare player hands.
Each player draws one Knight card, which determines his identity for this game. He also takes corresponding miniature and colored dice. Then he sets the dice to number four on its upper side, which are starting lives of his hero. The maximum is six and zero means death, as you will learn on Knight card. Place the miniature in its seat at Round Table. Everyone will get one Merlin card and five white cards from the shuffled deck. The rest can you now really put on the place on the board, next to the black cards deck.
And now its time for one of the decisive moments of the whole game. So soon, you think? Players have to draw loyalty card at random. Six knights are loyal to the king, but one of them betrays their cause, and converts to the evil side. In each game, of course, there needs not be a traitor, because game can be played already by three players. Only in full seven there is a certainty of that. You should however hide this drawn card with a green background, under your coat of arms card, so that nobody but you knew its value. Now you only need to prepare inventories of artifacts, enemy miniatures and catapults next to the board. Game can begin now.
Shadows over Camelot is a game in which all participants must compete together against the game. But compared to other cooperative games, there is limited dissemination of information. Players must not reveal, what cards are they holding in their hands and cannot even tell others about things, which are not publicly known. That is why one of them may be easily and unobtrusively traitor, harming others and bringing them closer to loss.
Each player move consists of two phases. First, there is a spread of evil and only then can you make one heroic action with your knight. You can choose from several different options. Some are universal and others are tied to specific quests. You could set out on an adventure, or activate specific actions to accomplish this quest.
But we must go back to the evil turn, which is very important for the game. It is done at the start of each players turn, so in one round, there is as much evil phases as there is heroes. The player has to choose which of the three malicious actions he want to perform and thus make it more difficult to win for him and his friends. The first option is the simplest one - reveal top black card from the pile and resolve its effect. Many of the cards are attack ones and specific for some quest, so you add it there, regardless of there is some knight there or not. The only situations, when the card is not used, is if you have already completed the adventure.
The next two events are of course also very unpleasant. The first is the addition of a catapult to the meadow before Camelot. This is not a good sign, because if you fill up the last place, the Knights will automatically lose the game. The last option is to sacrifice one hero life. This is applicable, if the players need to delay the dark forces raid and can not afford the arrival of another dark card or catapult.
Then finally comes a time, when you can do heroic deeds, and do exactly that, why you play the game - good. In addition to quests and related events, you can also heal your hero, play a special white card with immediate effect, or accuse one of the other knights of treason.
Besides the number of catapults, the most important are swords, lying around the Round Table. Their number is increasing based on the successes and failures of quests - each mission board has boxes in its left and right corner, indicating what you gain in case of victory and defeat. Usually this involves adding swords and more. You can add them with white or black side up, marking which sides victory was it. There is place for total of twelve swords at the table.
Some, of course, you can get in other manner - for example, the successful detection of a traitor. But if you are wrong with your accusation, then you must do the contrary. You turn already laid a white sword to its black side up. And that's not good. Therefore, you should accuse only, if you are really sure about the knights true intentions. But you can not ever be completely sure.
But everything stands or falls on quests, which heroes perform. Some may be done by one hero himself, the other are built for teamwork. When you step up from the adventure, all your progress is lost. Every adventure has its specific actions, but generally mostly consists of playing numbers cards and collecting pairs, threes or straights made up from these numbers. With their help, you are trying to exceed the sum of the dark side. An exception is for example quest for the Holy Grail, where you are able to play only Grail cards, which will bring you slowly towards this cup.
Players battle the forces of evil together for so long, until one of three conditions is met. The triumph of evil can happen, if the plain in front of Camelot is filled with twelfth catapult. The game can end in victory for the dark forces even in a moment, when seven or more black swords appear on the Round Table, or the entire game can even end in death of all heroes. Nothing optimistic, right? But there is always a chance for side of good.
The only way to win is to get as many white sword as possible. If you do not suffer from the conditions of defeat during the match, the game ends up immediately, when there is last twelfth sword placed on the Round Table. If you have majority of white swords - at least seven of them, then players win. In case of a draw (6:6), victory falls in the evil hands. It is also important, that if you fail to uncover the traitor by the end of the game, then you need nine white swords to be victorious. Wow!
Shadows over Camelot is essentially a card game, which needs a lot of different boards to play these cards. But in fact the game is much more - it's a fairy tale about good and evil, it's telling a story, that we all know so well, it is a board game about loyalty and betrayal.
Perhaps we do not have to explain to you, that this game is just monumental in appearance and concept. When you put all those components out on the table, draw a knight card, start playing, and suddenly you're there. At the round table with your brothers and waiting for the arrival of Morgan and others.
The game requires a true joint effort, good communication and proper planning. But of course, a good dose of luck, because you draw lots of cards from the deck at random. But there is enough of knights to divide the tasks according to this luck. Of course the situation will be hindered by the fact, that you can not give away, what cards you are holding in your hands. However, on this basis you can negotiate, what you want and do not want to do on the board. This is not forbidden. Finally, everything should be a team decision.
From the description of the rules, it may all look complicated, but it is not. Conversely, how Shadows over Camelot is a great game, it has a surprisingly simple rules that you easily and quickly pick up. Yes, there is a number of them, but you just have to know, what actions are at your disposal. Their implementation is intuitive. A fundamental principle is really simple. Specialties are bound to individual quests. This brings an additional advantage - you can explain only basics to newcomers and make them familiar with details of each adventure during the game. This allows you to start playing fairly quickly.
A great part of the experience of this game is the possibility, that a traitor sits with you at the Round Table. The match itself may or may not have a traitor in it. And if it is, it could be anyone, even Arthur. Of course only himself knows, because his conditions for victory are the same as those of evil. He does not win with you and you do not win with him. He will discreetly harm you, as he will play weaker card, and say that he has no better hand. He would choose less appropriate actions and give you more difficult challenge.
Of course, there could easily be a problem of difficulty in such a game. Without a traitor the game becomes simpler. His presence is assured only in seven players, sometimes the play is just not so challenging. On the other hand, sometimes even games without traitor can be a real nightmare, when you have bad luck or have less knights in your company.
There is not equal weight of traitor in seven players as is in three. It would be better, if in such large numbers there were two traitors in the game (which is offered by a Merlin's Company expansion). Although it would be easier to uncover them (but in seven, there is a tough deal to find one traitor!), but their power in two would be greater and the game will be a little more difficult. The biggest challenge is a game in three players with a traitor in it. Although we have never experienced it, two knights fighting against everything and everyone does sound infinitely difficult indeed. Just a perfect task for knights of Round Table.
You may think, that the game will start to repeat itself after more matches, or perhaps it will become easier. Neither of these statements is not quite true. Of course, as you become better and begin to know the game better, it will be less difficult for you, but it still remains a challenge. And repetition? Although the adventures themselves are still the same, this game is about collaboration, communication and players. And their decisions will always be different, as well as a traitor presence and identity will change, so any significant repetition is not here.
The only significant problem that may discourage some players, is the game time. This may be a problem especially in multiplayer (six or seven players), when the game would considerably stretch. In three or four players game, you are able to complete it in about 70 minutes, in the higher numbers, even 90 minutes will not be sufficient. But in company of so many players, that usually does not matter, because there is always fun at the table.
What totally gets to everyone is Shadows over Camelot processing. From the beautiful illustrations on all game boards, through the well-made cards to beautiful miniatures. Those are really enlightening the game and they are kept in a plastic box, so they are not harmed, while you transport the box.
Shadows over Camelot is a cooperative game, which provides tension, adventure, fantasy... and betrayal. But even without a traitor it is a fun game. Yes, it is mainly about cards and everything else is there as a decoration, but that is good, because the game is outstandingly goodlooking. And although it would seem so, is not really intended only for advanced players. On the contrary, its simple rules made it easy even for less experienced players to play. But what is most important - everyone, who comes to visit the Round Table, will defend it till his death. All this time he will live and breathe in fairy tales. World of legend is opening its arms. Yield to it!
Shadows over Camelot is a game, which conceals wonderful experiences within its box. It is actually a card game, which will intrigue your sight at first glance because of its extraordinary looks. Knights miniatures, enemy figures and catapults are fighting over Camelot. Nothing is missing. Each of the players will become one of the knights of the Round Table and together they will try to beat off raid of evil forces. Knights have to ride on dangerous quests and complete them to gain valuable artifacts, but they have to think about defense of Camelot as well and even fight with a traitor amongst their own ranks. It is a lot to do and only brave heroes can outlast enemies and win. The other will be swallowed up by darkness. This board game shelters unrepeatable mood of adventure, doubt and treason. Up to seven players can join their powers as knights, although the game can drag in such great number. To beat the game needs lot of effort and several different endings awaits the ones, who try it. Most of them end with evil prevailing. But that should only motivate you for the next fight. You are knights! And knights do not give up, even when the situation looks desperate. Rise up, Knights of the Round Table!
Published: 2012-08-06 07:30:00
+ beautiful and detailed miniatures
+ tough to win (primarily with a traitor)
+ players have to work together
+ lots of quests
+ excellent experience
+ up to seven players
+ several different endings
- game time in more players
- luck of drawing cards
Title: Shadows over Camelot
Bruno Cathala Serge Laget
Graphics: Julien Delval
Days of Wonder ()
Players: 3 - 7
Suggested age: od 10 let
Playing time: 60 - 120 minut