Oct 1, 2014

[Games] Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game

Shadows Over Camelot has proven to be one of the most insidious games we've ever played. As much as the core mechanic has it as a cooperative game where the knights work together to save Camelot, the random element of a traitor among the players is really what changes things.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game. I've seen a few board games adapted into card games and the end result has rarely been all that compelling. Sure they can have some of the elements of the original game, but in the long run the games were just okay.

It wasn't until we got a chance to play this card game at Ludo that I had finally encountered a card game that almost perfectly adapted the feel of the original board game in a new medium. And thus the game remains pretty brilliant.

Synopsis: Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game is an adaptation by Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget based on the original board game. It supports 1-7 players and has several modes of play that provide a wide variety of game options.

At its core, Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game is primarily a memory game. Every turn a player can do one of three things - Listen to Rumors, Attempt a Quest or Accuse a Knight. The goal for loyal knights remains to be gathering 7 white swords. The traitor wins (or all loyal knights lose) when there are 7 black swords. And yes, There is still the chance for a traitor among the knights.

Listening to rumors is simple enough - you take the top card from the deck and reveal it. Most of the cards correspond to the various quests seen in the original game with numeric values. The goal is to determine when a quest's total card value reaches 11-13 (usually). But of course the deck also consists of other cards like Merlins, Morgans and Mordred, all of which can manipulate the card values. And given there are 5 different quests to keep track of, there's a lot that need to get done.

When you do attempt a quest, you can only pursue the one indicated on the top-most card of the rumors stack. But all other cards will also be totaled and any quest that has accumulated at least 14 points will fail, thus adding black cards to the total. And this assumes whether or not the primary quest still managed the sweet spot between 11-13 points.

As usual, Morgan cards are what really makes things complicated. One a Morgan card appears in the rumor pile. all forms of communication (verbal or otherwise) must cease until a Merlin card appears or someone decides to attempt a quest. And that rule alone can really make things complicated since you can no longer compare notes in terms of how much each quest total is. It gets even worse with seemingly silly Morgan cards that force you to count out each rumor played, further complicating your efforts to memorize the card numbers.

And this is just the basic game - there are advanced rules include different cards that represent the different Knights that introduce other special effects. For example, Arthur can force a player that has decided to go on a quest to listen to rumors instead. The Tristan card allows you to examine the rumor deck and share what your learned with the other player. But these cards only start coming into play (or at least in the players' hands) once a quest fails and a black sword is added to the table.

The game is highly social and nicely replicates the tension of the original Shadows Over Camelot game experience yet without the need for the many different pieces and the rather large board. It's a game that one can play in a public venue like a cafe and yet not be too bothersome to other players. Realistically speaking, Morgan cards tend to come up pretty quickly and many turns can be spent in complete silence. Of course the moment a Merlin card is played, expect the players to start talking all at once as they race to compare notes once more.

To be fair, the element of a traitor is not quite as powerful in this game as in the original. The challenge of figuring out how far each quest has progressed is hard enough and then every Morgan or even Merlin card tends to screw things up. As much as Merlin cards are supposed to help things alone, the fact that they also manipulate what cards are in play (such as removing the highest value card for a particular quest), in the long run it tends to really screw things up at times. Thus all special cards are potentially deadly since they add more complications to trying to remember just how many cards have been played.

On the whole, Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game is a wonderful translation of the original game and in a nicely travel-friendly format. And it is just as evil and challenging as the original, which is where all the fun is. Thus it gets 4 rumors out of a possible 5.

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