Saturday

Shadows Over Camelot


Players:
 3-7

Playing Time: 60-80 Minutes
Age: 10+
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Category: Adventure, Cooperative (with a twist!)
MSRP:
 $60






"An unladen swallow flies across the grey skies of Brittany... The forces of Evil are gathered around Camelot- The Black Knight was sighted atop a desolate ridge; a scheming Morgan plots her revenge; Saxon troops are on the move; and acres of timber are being felled for the Seige Engines. Lancelot has all but vanished, Excalibur is still to be recovered, and the Holy Grail remains just a Legend. These are troubling times indeed... Will you, young Squire, come forth and pledge allegiance to your fellow Knights at the Round Table? Is your heart pure of intent and ready to sacrifice for the good of all? Or will the dark promise of power seduce you into treason?"


The Box

While Ben is drawn to boxes that have well thought out storage, I'm all about the immediate visual appeal. When I see the game on the shelf, does it draw me in? Do I want to pick it up and learn more about it? It's a definite yes with this one. The artwork is beautiful. It immediately gives you a sense of the world in which the game is played and I was pleased to see that the quality continues with the game boards and cards. I would love to see a little more love given to the knight figures, but apparently there is an expansion for those who would like painted figures. This tempts me, I must admit!

The storage seems suitable to me. There are plastic containers to hold the figures, slots for the cards and counters, and the board pieces and instructions sit on top of these. We even managed to fit the expansion pieces into the main box without too much trouble.

The Rules

The box contains a Rulebook and a Book of Quests. These are both glossy, magazine quality booklets. Once the game is understood, these make a great reference tool when something comes into question during game play, but there was a bit of a learning curve when we first opened up the game.  We found that we needed to refer to the online FAQ's to clarify a few points (The Rules are also available as PDFs).

The object of the game is to defend Camelot against the forces of Evil (unless you are a traitor, but I'll get to that in a moment). Evil wins if the Knights cannot prevent any one of the following; Camelot is surrounded by 12 Seige Engines, 7 or more Black Swords are placed on the Round Table, or all of the Knights have died. If none of these occur before the 12th sword is laid on the Round Table, then the game ends. The Knights are victorious if the table holds a majority of white swords.

This a cooperative game with a couple of twists. The first is its collaborative nature. Although working together as a team to defend Camelot, the rules insist that players do not specifically share which cards they have available to help but instead communicate only what they would say if they were actually a Knight. So it is not okay to state that you have two 5 cards and two 4 cards in your hand, but it is perfectly fine to say that you are well prepared to battle the Black Knight. Obviously, you can do with this what you like. If you're into roleplaying, run with it and play your Knight with gusto. Not so much? Simply state things in a less obvious manner and you'll be fine.

The other twist, and the thing that makes me love this game, is that you have the option of adding a Traitor into the mix. If you choose to do this, each player will receive a Loyalty card at the beginning of the game. One person may or may not find themselves playing a Traitor, as there is only one Traitor card and you deal from a deck that always contains the number of players plus one. The Traitor keeps his identity secret and attempts to sneakily sabotage the others in their Quests. He wins if Evil defeats Camelot. 

Knights may accuse others of being the Traitor. This forces the player to reveal his Loyalty card to everyone. If the Knight is loyal, a white sword is turned to the black side on the Round Table. If a Traitor, a new white sword is added to the Round Table and the Traitor begins openly sabotaging the other players on his turn.  

Game Play

So how do we manage to gather these swords we need to win?  Quests, of course. We are mighty Knights of the Round Table, after all. Anyone who is a fan of the legends of Camelot will find these familiar. We may battle the Black Knight, fight for Lancelot's armor, defeat a dragon, retrieve the Excalibur, search for the Holy Grail, or fend off the Picts and Saxons intent on infiltrating Camelot.

One Knight at a time may enter The Tournament Against the Black Knight. The Knight hopes to place two pairs of cards before four Black Knight cards are played. When either side has placed their fourth card, the total sum is calculated and the Knight with the higher total wins. The Quest for Lancelot is also a solo quest. This time the Knight must play a full house and there are five cards played on both sides. The highest total wins. The major difference between the two quests is that the first is repeatable while the second is a one time only. With Lancelot, when the cards have been played on either side, the board is flipped over to reveal The Dragon's Quest. If the Knight was successful, he takes Lancelot's Armor (as well as winning a white sword, four cards, and a Life Point) and places it near or on his Coat of Arms. This grants him the ability to draw two black cards rather than one and chose which to return to the bottom of the draw pile.


The Dragon's Quest plays similarly, but up to seven Knights may join the battle. They must place three 3 of a kind sets while the Dragon only has five cards to place before the battle ends. Again, the highest total wins. No matter the victor, the board is then withdrawn from the game and any further Lancelot/Dragon cards drawn will place a Siege Engine around Camelot.


The Quest for Excalibur is another group quest and is played by simply discarding white cards to move the sword to the Knights side of the river. This can be more difficult than it sounds, as there are cards that come up frequently that move the sword back towards the frozen side of the river. The quest ends when Excalibur reaches either side of the river and the board is flipped over. From this point on, any Excalibur cards drawn will result in another Siege Engine. If the Knights were successful in retrieving the Excalibur, the relic is placed on the Coat of Arms of the one who played the last card. For as long as he has this, he will add +1 to the outcome of his quests. he may also choose to sacrifice the Excalibur at any point in the game, to cancel one black card.


The Holy Grail quest is the most rewarding and usually the most difficult. It is also a group quest but the Knights must play a specific Grail card to try and fill the seven spots left to right while there are specific black cards filling the same places right to left. These cards often cancel each other out. When there are either seven white or seven black cards, the quest ends. The board is turned over and any future cards result in, you guessed it, another Siege Engine. If the Knights won the Holy Grail, the relic is placed on the last player's Coat of Arms. If a Knight should fall to zero Life Points, the Knight may choose to allow that player (or himself) to drink from the Holy Grail and restore his life. The Grail is then removed from the game.


The last few quests are more simple to play. The Picts and Saxons are on opposite sides of the board but have the same gameplay. Cards must be placed progressively in numerical order before the Knights are overrun by their enemies. Five cards from 1-5 must be played before four Picts or Saxons (depending on the battlefield) appear.


Camelot itself is not really a quest but if it falls, the game is lost. While in Camelot, Knights have two choices. They may either draw 2 white cards or attempt to destroy one the Siege Engines. This is done by playing as many Fight Cards (all numbered cards) as desired from your hand and then rolling an 8 sided dice on behalf of the Siege Engines.  If the total of the cards beats the dice roll, the Siege Engine is removed from the board.


All of these quests (with the exception of battling Siege Engines) result in either white or black swords, as well as losing or gaining life points and possibly receiving cards.  Again, the object of the game is to have a majority of white swords placed on the Round Table.


Each turn consists of the Progression of Evil (draw a black card, add a Siege Engine, or lose a Life Point) followed by a Heroic Action (move to a new quest, perform the quest's action, play a special white card, discard three cards to gain one Life Point, or accuse a Knight of being a Traitor). Each Knight also has a special power that belongs to them alone. For instance, Sir Galahad may play one special white card for free during his Heroic Action phase and King Arthur may exchange one white card with another Knight of his choice. This helps with the game play as well, as everyone chooses their favorite characters based on these powers.

The Bottom Line

This is a beautiful game, one I have played several times and hope to play several more. We played the first few times as a purely cooperative game and as it took a couple of games to win, I enjoyed it. But I was chomping at the bit to add in the Traitor. This was the twist that sold me on the game and encouraged me to use school budget money to order (we were studying the Middle Ages after all!) and I did like it even more with that possibility. I don't know what it is about working together while looking over your shoulder for that knife in your back, maybe it's more realistic, but it provided that extra challenge I'm looking for in a game.

The only problem I have is that I make a lousy Traitor. Oh, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed being sneaky and sabotaging my friends (Sh, don't let them know) but I can't lie. It's a curse (or a blessing?) and the first time I played as the Traitor, I was rightly accused rather quickly. This aspect of the game makes it for me though, so I'm working on my bluffing skills and hopeful for the future. If you have any tips on being a delightfully deceiving Traitor, I'm all ears.

Whether you play it straight or add in the twist, this is an enjoyable game that takes place in a world of knights and dragons. If you like cooperative games, the Legend of Camelot, and/or are simply in the market for a good adventure game, this one comes highly recommended. Already love it? Check out the expansion, Merlin's Company.



*****************************

I have been a big Knights of the Round Table fan since I was a kid. When I saw this game I knew that I would have to play it and was thrilled to find out that Lori had it.  Cooperative games are some of my favorites.  Don't get me wrong I totally love beating the other guy, but there is something rewarding about coming alongside your friends and taking on the bad guy as a team.  Another huge bonus in my opinion is that, as noted above, it's playable by up to 7 people (8 with the expansion).  This may seem trivial, but we play games with other married couples and when you sit down to play a game, too often you discover you have an extra person who has to sit out.  Not so with this game, and that small fact makes an already fun game that much better.  Totally recommended, you won't be disappointed.

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