May 7, 2014

[Games] Shadows Over Camelot

I have to admit that when I first watched the Tabletop playthrough of Shadows Over Camelot, I wasn't overly sold on the game right away. A lot of it felt like boring questing around the map with the random variable of the traitor element just stirring the pot a little. But in hindsight it might have been more due to the player mix plus my lack of interest in Arthurian mythology.

But one thing led to another and Tobie insisted that we add this game to our ever-growing collection. And when we finally got around to playing the game with our friends, the resulting strategic battle was, well, pretty darn amazing. And now it has become one of our more popular games during our game nights with friends.

Shadows Over Camelot is a many things. One one level, it's a cooperative game where the fabled Knights of the Round Table (the player) engage on quests and hope to fulfill their obligations as nights. On the other hand, it can turn into a highly competitive game versus the traitor that had been hiding among their ranks. But this requires some explanation first.

Given 3-7 players, everyone gets to be one of the Knights of the Round Table - including King Arthur himself. Each Knight is assumed to be loyal, but one may turn out to be the traitor depending on which role card the player draws at the beginning of the game. A traitor is not a requirement - even in a 7-player game there are a total of 8 loyalty cards with one of them being the traitor card. This adds an interesting element to the game as the potential traitor (if there is one) plays the game like any other Knight until he is exposed or he chooses to reveal himself.

At the start of every player turn, the first step is the progression of evil, where the player must choose one way in which things get worse. His includes adding a siege engine to the attack on Camelot, losing a life point or drawing a black card, which can lead to a variety of effects that delay quests or affect the players themselves in negative ways. Once that has been resolved, the player then has one heroic action to take including leaving Camelot to start a quest or trying to fulfill a quest requirement by playing a white card. A player can sacrifice a life point to take a second yet distinct heroic action as well.

Each knight has a special ability that can be used for free once a turn. For example, King Arthur trade any white card with another knight while Sir Kay can leave Camelot to start a quest for free. These different abilities are all potentially useful but can also indirectly reveal a potential traitor when such abilities are not used effectively.

The quests are pretty diverse including the expected quests to seek the Holy Grail or retrieve Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. Some quests can be addressed by a group of knights. Other quests require a single knight to face the danger including the Black Knight or Lancelot. But those solo quests are tricky - if you're forced to leave the quest, all your progress gets discarded.

So yes, I've dedicated 4 different paragraphs of this review to just describe the rules. And at this point, that's hardly enough to help you visualize why this game is so great. So let's break it down.

First, even without a traitor, this game is as challenging of other cooperative games like Pandemic and Forbidden Desert. The challenge of gathering enough white swords from the various quests is hard enough on its own, what more with the progression of evil making life all the more difficult with each and every player turn. And needing to help evil progress every turn before you even get to act is an amazing challenge in itself - and kind of traumatic, but in a good way.

But the possibility of a traitor - note possibility and not a guarantee - is really what turns this game on its head. We've had games where we started to accuse people of being the traitor but it turned out that they were just playing really badly. But the traitor needs to be found, otherwise 2 of your white swords at the round table will turn to black if a traitor remains undiscovered by the end of the game,

There are a lot of mind games that go on in this game that makes every turn all the more stressful. And don't forget the need to progress evil - every...single...turn.

Shadows Over Camelot has surprised me with how complex it is and how rewarding it plays. And the fact that it allows for up to 7 players makes it a great addition to any game night. Thus the game more than deserves a full 5 knights falling upon their swords for the sake of Camelot out of a possible 5.

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