Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Shadows Over Camelot – vague review

With birthdays happening recently, I decided to support a friend’s business venture and treat myself ( as you do ) to a new board game or two. It kinda sounds funny to say that you really like playing board games when you’re ( nominally ) an adult – but these aren’t the board games I used to play as a kid ! There are some bloody good ones out there – and they allow a sports-challenged individual like myself to be good and competitive in a more social setting, because above all else – you gotta have people to play against.

So – I got hold of the recently re-released “El Grande” ( a masterpiece of gaming, though maybe not one for the newbies – it can be a bit of a brain-burster ) and this game I’d been hearing a bunch about – “Shadows Over Camelot”. It won the category for “theme game” at this year’s German Game Awards – so that was a good sign, and I had a chat to me pal Jase ( who has a considerable collection of BG’s ) – who said that he enjoyed it a lot. And all the pictures of it I had seen looked so pretty !

I’ve played it twice now – and it IS very good. Though it is also pretty difficult to beat.

Situation is this – you are a Knight of the Round Table ( or – if you end up being Arthur – you’re the King, baby ! ) and Camelot has seen better days. In fact – it would be fair to say that Camelot is looking pretty boned. Lancelot has run off with Guinevere and they are happily shagging their brains out somewhere, the Picts and Saxons are arriving with ominous looking catapults and plans for urban redevelopment, the Grail is STILL missing, Arthur put down Excalibur “only for a minute” and it ended up back in the freaking LAKE, and there’s some guy in black spiky amour down at the tournament lists with a banner saying “Black Knight smash Round Table girly-men!”.

Something MUST be done !

So the knights must undertake a number of quests in order to preserve the might and majesty of the kingdom. Succeeding in a quest ( defeating Lancelot and nicking his amour, finding the Grail, slaying the dragon, etc ) earns you white sword tokens ( among other goodies ), while failing quests ( losing Excalibur to the Lake, getting the bash from the Saxons, getting made into a ‘knight-kebab’ by the Black Knight ) generates black sword tokens. Game ends when there are 12 swords on the round table ( though there are things that can end the game prematurely ). You win if there are more white swords than black. Yup – it’s a co-operative game, so bear in mind everything you learned about that in Sesame Street – it’s going to be important. You ALL win, or you ALL lose.

Each knight has a special ability, and the careful use of them is an important part of achieving victory. Every turn you have is in two phases : “Progression of Evil” and “Heroic Action”. In “Progression of Evil” you have to do one of three pretty bad things – draw a “black card” ( which usually is fairly bad – they increase the odds of losing a quest, though sometimes they are “special” black cards – which REALLY do freaking bad things … ), add a siege engine outside Camelot ( got 12 siege engines ? You LOSE sucker ! Game ends there and then – Camelot and all her hand-crafted charm gets smashed to bits by massive Welsh boulders ! Ha ! ) or sacrifice yourself and take a point of damage to your knight ( did you lose your last life point ? Then you’re DEAD ! Game over for you ! Shame for your family ! There are village idiots Cornwall laughing at you ! Oh no ! ). If you’re still alive and the game’s still on – then you get a heroic action – which is usually playing a “white” card in order to further a quest.

There’s an interesting wrinkle that I haven’t played yet which is “The Traitor” ( dum-dum-DUMMMM!!! ). At the start of the game you shuffle and hand each of the knights a “loyalty” card. Seven of them have “Loyal Knight” on them. One has “Traitor” – get this card, and you’re actually working AGAINST the group, subtly trying to aid the forces of evil and hamper the good. If you get revealed as the traitor ( someone uses a heroic action to accuse you ) you lose a good amount of power to really screw things up, so you want to be sneaky about it. We haven’t been brave enough to play with the possibility of the Traitor yet ! If you’re the Traitor – you win if Camelot falls. If the loyal knights win – it’s oppositesville for the Traitor.

First game was with a group of six. We won – though it was a close run thing. We had taken all three relics ( Grail, Excalibur, Lancelot’s Armor ) fairly early, which really helped. All six knights were alive at the end – thanks to a well timed use of the Grail ( restore a dead knight to 4 life – remove Grail from game ). Afterwards though we found we had misinterpreted one knight’s special power – and were using a MUCH improved version, which I’m sure is one of the main reasons we got the relics so early.
End result – eight white swords to four black.

Second game was with a group of four – which I think made it harder. There weren’t as many knights available to team-up for certain quests. While we got hold of Excalibur and Lancelot’s Armor – we just COULDN’T get out greasy mitts on the freaking Grail ! We came SOOOO close ! But a bad run of “special” black cards really screwed us. I think we had 4-white/6-black on the table ( we couldn’t win – but we were trying to get 6 white swords on the board ) – when one particularly nasty special black card wiped us out. I had already laid down my character’s life ( we had 11 siege engines on the board – I couldn’t risk a card which would to the same thing, and I only had one life point left ! Crap ! ) – and everyone else was left on one life. Someone ( it might have been Viva, it may have been Lee ) drew a “Morgan” card – this one was “All knights lose one life” ( there are five different “Morgan” cards – they all do pretty suckful things ). So everyone was dead – another condition which loses you the game. Knackers!

“Shadows Over Camelot” is certainly an exciting and tense game – even without the Traitor ( the possibility of the Traitor alone is pretty scary ! ). The boards and components are excellent – pretty pictures and great little figurines ( even if the Picts do look a bit like Maori warriors from behind ), and it is a game with a very strong theme. Criticisms so far are that there’s a fair degree of down time in-between your turns ( but the cooperative nature of the game does tend to keep you involved ) and it does seem to get VERY difficult with fewer players. Three is the minimum you can play with – max seven. It’s the best cooperative game I’ve played so far – and triumphs over “Lord of the Rings” because it does actually seem possible to win !

Scores a 7 out of 10 White Doom Rabbits on the Seraphometer at this stage.


BubbaJay said...

You have to watch out for those sleazy Saxon property developers...

Anonymous said...

It was me that drew Morgan. We'd smashed a couple of siege engines so I *thought* it was safe to draw a black card.

Not safe. Not safe at all.