The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Shadows over Camelot 3 player game and thoughts

Once more valiant knights set forth. Unlike previous ill-fated adventures, we only had three players.

We played with the “three player” errata (you don’t deal out the loyalty cards until 6 siege engines or swords are played) and used all 8 loyalty cards. Everyone had played before (and was sane).

We quickly got lancelot’s armor, then grabbed the grail. After a regrouping, excalibur came quickly (and heroically). At this point, things look good except for siege engines, which weren’t horrific. I did wonder about the other knights (I was loyal). The player with lancelot’s armor seemed to draw lots of siege engine cards (a touch too many, if you get my drift). Arthur’s trading was erratic. We lost a few swords then the mists of avalon came out, helping us, as one more failed quest won. [We weren't playing the "12th sword must be white to end for loyalist victory" variant]. The dragon filled up and we won. (All loyal).

Ok, I’ve now played four times. To recap:

  • Easy victory

  • Hopeless loss

  • Tight loss (inexplicable play)

  • Easy victory

Let me reference Chris Farrel’s review, which I assume you’ve read.

Only one game (out of four) was tense. I think I’ll lobby for the “End with white sword” variant among experienced players. It may make the game harder, but that’s fine. [Part of the reason the last game was easier is that I've finally figured out the Merlin cards ... did you know they can remove picts or saxons? It's not on the card ...]

Once you’ve played a few times, the game is all about management. I mean, I don’t think that there are differing grand plans you can take. In that sense, it’s like Puerto Rico. (I realize that my thoughts on this issue are not in the mainstream).

You’ve got plenty of options. Making an accusation or two just to prove someone loyal (so that you can safely let them have the armor) vs. not. But these are management issues.

What keeps this from being solitaire is that you can have reasonable disagreements, and these are caused by hidden information.

Shadows over Camelot, it’s fair to say, has more hidden information than Lord of the Rings. There are more types of cards (even ‘rare’ cards that are only in the deck). And, of course, the traitor represents a huge amount of information. Knowing that the traitor isn’t in the game would make it a pointless exercise.

But the randomness tends to detract from tension. Lord of the Rings has episodic buildup (each board) and the inevitable march towards (or through) Mordor. Shadows over Camelot has lots of simultaneous quests, any one of which may be nearing completion, but it just feels less compelling. (Personally, at least).

Because the events aren’t simply ordered and tied to a suit (again, as Chris noted), the randomness looms large. Imagine a black event “You lose unless this is cancelled.” If that hit early, you are down three Merlins. If something bad happens you can choose to risk never drawing it. Very anti-climatic. On the other hand, knowing that the card existed, but was on the bottom 10% of the deck would provide dramatic impetus. But that’s basically what “The Ring is Mine!” does.

Apart from randomness and tension, there are two other complaints. (Not just repeating what others have said, I think!). Shadows feels like a a fixed fun game. I certainly had more control and did more in the three player game than in any of my seven player games. Now, there’s an arguement that adding players increases the fun, because you have more back-and-forth deducing the traitor.

The other problem is that the special powers (and basic moves) do give the traitor some leeway, but sometimes provide (via randomness) the convincing illusion of treasonous behaviour. On the other hand, outright treasonous behaviour (or it’s imitation) is easy to spot. So your stuck trying to guess if you are seeing evil, or a sigma or two of bad luck. So, instead of a psychological game, I’m weighing odds.

Nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t buy Camelot to argue with everyone else about the differences of our particular evaluation of the situation. In short, I wonder if the traitor’s too constrained and the randomness can put you on or off his trail. The threat of a traitor constrains you, but the traitor fears implementing a strategy.

And let’s face it: One easy outcome is a fluke. Three games out of four is a distressing pattern. The win ratio is right, but I’m looking for compelling wins and losses. I’m still playing a few more times, but I’m souring.

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Written by taogaming

July 13, 2005 at 9:21 pm

2 Responses

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  1. You should email Shannon Appelcline and get him to comment. He just wrote a glowing review on Rpg.net after 4-5 plays and seems to have felt tension in each of his games.

    Personally, I suspect the problem you are seeing is that the game is very likely tight and interesting IF you have a compentent traitor. But if you have a passive traitor, or no tratior, the game can be anywhere on the random continum from easy to impossible (with easy being more likely). Whether that is exactly true or not, it is true that there is some X% at the start of the game that, based on the random shuffle of the deck, the game will either be too easy or too hard, and there is nothing the [traitor/knights] will be able to do affect the final outcome. Now X may be small, but its very existance concerns me. I play few enough games that I would probably rule out playing any game where the chance of a lack of fun was 10% or greater. And frankly, 5% would give me serious pause. Right now, it sounds like SoC is running around 20% at best, and that takes it right out.

    Lou

    July 14, 2005 at 8:14 am

  2. I’m not calling Shadows a bad game, but it’s rating is slipping. I initially called it a seven. Now it’s a six. I suspect that this will be a game that I don’t play very often after an initial burst. Middle of the pack.

    Brian

    July 14, 2005 at 5:54 pm


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