BOARD GAME REVIEW: Shadows of Camelot

Table Friendly: 6/10 (3 player minimum, 5-7 recommended)
Accessible for Ages: 10+
Play Time: 2-3 Hours
Complexity: 8/10
Repeat Playability: 7/10
Quality: 8/10

Overall: 8/10   

In the world of board games, a notable variant has emerged in the last several years with much fanfare in the gaming community. In principle, these are cooperative games, which pit the assembled players against the game itself. An example of this type of game is exemplified beautifully in Fantasy Flight Games' 2008 release "Battlestar Galactica", which seeks to represent the struggle of mankind against Cylons as re-imagined in the award-winning Sci-Fi Channel series of the same name. All the while, hidden agents among the players themselves seek to undermine the collaborative efforts of the human players.

Days of Wonder, publisher of the well known "Smallworld", paved the path to games such as Battlestar Galactica (BSG) with its 2005 offering "Shadows over Camelot" (SoC). In this game, 3-7 players assume the roles of the Arthurian Knights of the round table as they seek to defeat their opponents, defend Camelot, and win glory for their cause. As with BSG, players must work closely together to achieve their goals while being threatened by a traitor within their midst. This unique blend of challenges makes for an exciting game with several different outcomes.

As the game begins, the Knights are assembled at the round table and must quickly decide on a strategy. Each must decide which task they will take up, with a handful of White Cards to aid in the decision-making process. From the sea, Camelot must watch for invading Saxons. From the forest comes the threat of Pict attacks. Challenges to the throne can cause Camelot to come under siege, and if the number of war machines massing around the great castle number too many, the Knights are defeated. Each Knight also has unique abilities, which also come into play when deciding on a course of action.

In addition to military threats, there are quests which may be undertaken with great reward. Knights may seek out Lancelot's armor, the famed sword Excalibur, or the legendary Holy Grail, all with powerful abilities. Other challenges face the Knights as well, with some having to be faced alone, while others can be tackled by multiple Knights at once. The key is for Knights to balance their resources in the form of White cards and abilities on the right tasks at the right time. As challenges are met and foes are bested, the Knights accumulate White Swords on the round table. When these blades reach a certain number, the Knights are victorious.

Though valiant, the Knights' efforts do not go uncontested. The forces of darkness seek to undermine the Knights and cause their efforts to unravel. On every turn, before the players are allowed to conduct heroic actions and play White Cards, evil first takes an action. This will either cause direct harm to a Knight, cause the military buildup around Camelot to grow, or force a Black card to be drawn. Black cards work to undo the efforts of the Knights in achieving their various goals, and even unleash the power of the dread Morgan le Fay, Vivian, and Mordred. But the greatest threat to Camelot is the traitor among the Knights. Until revealed, the traitor can undermine quests and challenges with hidden card plays. After the midpoint of the game, when they can be revealed, the traitor can adversely affect the Knights' efforts in much more significant ways, even drawing multiple Black cards and choosing the more damaging of the two to put into effect. As the Knight's efforts fail, Black swords are placed on the round table, and should they ever represent a majority of the allowable swords on the table, all is lost for the loyal Knights.

While the overall complexity and variety of outcomes in SoC pales in comparison to its newer, more refined cousin BSG, there is most assuredly a place for the Days of Wonder title on the table. SoC plays faster, is easier to pick up, and is therefore more accessible to a greater range of players than BSG. The game itself is well crafted, with a nice looking board and better than average components. The basic rules are very straightforward, but the strategies of the game and traitor factor are what make this title stand out. Playable in ~2 hours, this title is definitely recommended.

Article by: John  F. Beaty II
Images (C): Days of Wonder

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