We had some friends over this weekend. They had heard me talking about Shadows Over Camelot before, both from playing and painting activities, so they requested that we break it out. There were five players, two of whom were brand new to the game and two others who had only played it once. If you are not familiar with the game, it’s a semi-cooperative game with a potential traitor element. The knights of the round table are working to protect Camelot (most of them 😉 ) and complete quests. You win when there are 12 swords (obtained by completing or failing quests) on the round table and there are more white swords than black swords.
Once we got started, the rounds went fairly quickly. The game is not difficult to teach because you only get to do two (or potentially three) things. First you “progress evil” which has three choices. Next you do a “heroic action” which also consists of a limited number of choices. After that, you’re done. I think that helps keep people stay invested in what’s going on because the turns are so short. Since it’s a semi-cooperative game, everyone is generally involved even if it’s not their turn. Oh, and the third thing? You can lose a life point to do a second Heroic Action if you so choose, but since you only start out with four points (and it’s fairly difficult to restore them) this is not an option that is frequently selected.
As mentioned, there are three options for progressing evil on your turn. You can sacrifice a life point (but as mentioned, you only start out with four), you can place a catapult (siege engine) outside of Camelot (there are only 12 spots) or you can draw and play a card from the Black Deck of Evil. 😈 Cards from the evil deck do nasty things like eliminate progress you’ve made on a quest, build up the invading Pict or Saxon forces, move Excalibur further away or cause Despair or Desolation on the Grail quest. None of them are helpful!
Heroic Actions are generally intended to counteract the Progression of Evil. A knight in Camelot can try to remove a siege engine. A knight can discard three matching white cards from their hand to restore a life point. A knight can travel to a new quest, or play a card intended to help complete a quest. So in theory you would think that the game is relatively balanced. That’s how the game gets you…just when you think you’re in control, something particularly evil happens! I’ve played it three times, enjoyed it every time, and never once have I won.
Board Game Geek users suggest that this game (which supports up to seven players; eight with an expansion) works best at higher player counts. I have a limited number of plays under my belt, but I agree with that assessment. Several of the quests (Grail, Excalibur) allow multiple knights to participate. If you only have one knight attempting to retrieve the Grail, and all of the other knights are potentially drawing black cards, it’s possible that before your turn comes back around all of your progress will be lost…and more! The same thing is true for the Quest for Excalibur. The sweet spot for this game seems to be 5-7 players.
In our case we managed to retrieve the Grail (and later used it to resurrect a dead knight). We were also able to retrieve Lancelot’s Armor. However we were not able to complete our quest for Excalibur before the game ended. Towards the end of the game we were looking at 11 siege engines (12 means you lose the game) and drew a black card that said every knight had to lose a life point or some number (I don’t remember how many) of catapults had to be placed. Since placing even one catapult would result in an instant loss, we all took a life point despite the fact that it resulted in three of our five knights dying! 😥 That only delayed the inevitable. We ended up losing a few turns later.
For this particular game we did not have a traitor. When you start the game you deal out a Loyalty Card to each knight. The more players you have, the higher the likelihood of a traitor in your midst. A traitor starts out working with the knights. They can try to be subtle about sabotaging quests in progress and make it to the end of the game (where they can flip two white swords over to black) or they can reveal themselves (or be revealed by a successful accusation). Once a traitor is revealed they no longer work in the shadows but instead perform different actions (like taunting the loyal knights). Insert favorite Monty Python reference here. 😉
You don’t have to play with the loyalty cards if that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to you. As I get more plays under my belt I will probably start to form a more specific opinion on whether that’s a good or bad thing. For example in Dead of Winter I love the idea that there could be a traitor because the game play mechanics can make it really hard to distinguish between a true traitor and someone who just has a weird secret objective. With Shadows Over Camelot the more players you have the harder it seems to be for a traitor to impact the game.
But I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this game hit the table again. 😎