The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Archive for the ‘Shadows over Camelot’ Category

Late July Gaming

Earlier this week, several of my childhood friends arrived into San Antonio, which meant getting together, eating, reminiscing and gaming. I played:

  • Ticket to Ride
  • Ticket to Ride Europe
  • Around the World in Eighty Days (twice)
  • Ra
  • Fast Food Franchise
  • Apples to Apples
  • Shadows Over Camelot
  • Can’t Stop

I also taught Puerto Rico (but sat out). We tried to play Battlestations, but it was too complicated and long and was quickly abandoned. It didn’t help that we started after a day of gaming, and I didn’t have all the rules down pat. I still want to try it again (in fact, I’ve already decided to order the expansion).

Shadows Over Camelot had the knight’s victorious (Six player game, a traitor, no accusations). I had my suspicions about one player (my wife) but decided not to accuse. [And yes, there were non-game reasons for that]. In the mid game I had decided that there had to be a traitor (since we’d gone through the white deck several times and never seen a few key white events played, I guessed that they were being held) but the endgame had us far enough ahead that I never accused, and by the end game I had convinced myself there was no traitor. The traitorous knight said he felt constrained and never saw a way to get an advantage.

Written by taogaming

July 28, 2005 at 5:25 pm

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.

Written by taogaming

July 13, 2005 at 9:21 pm

Shadows Over Camelot 2nd Play & Too Much Time

After a few rounds of Shadowfist, I played SoC again last night with the full complement of seven (five new players). A cut-throat group, and I was convinced we had several traitors. I played Tristan (I think? The “Move to a quest for free” knight) and almost had the perfect full house for Lancelot’s armor, so I opened by drawing cards. By the time I had the full house, the quest was occupied. Two players went to the grail, one went to Excalibur. But Guinevere pulled everyone back.

In short order, the grail was locked in a tie (two early desolations hurt), the Picts (backed by Morgana) were threatening to over-run, and we had five siege engines. More impressively, several players, perhaps not clear on the concept, were acting … funny. The lead player on the grail quest discards three grails to heal! [Mistakenly showing his discards]. I almost took a siege engine to accuse at that point (We were playing the variant where if there are no white swords, a false accusation adds a black sword). But I’m waiting for more evidence …

I defeated the Black Knight, but the grail and excalibur were locked. A group defeats the Saxons (who had gotten to three people) and lancelot’s armor is won. The grail discarder accuses the lead-excalibur hunter. Loyal. The bearer of lancelot’s armor accuses the grail-discarder. Loyal. Arthur accuses me. Loyal. At this point I have no idea (Arthur’s play up until that point had seem exemplary), we have five blackswords, eight seige engines, the picts almost over-running.

It took a bit to sort out, but no miracle escapes this time. Amusingly enough, no traitor. During the first accusation, the following exchange occurred:

“I accuse you!”

“See, I’m loyal”

“and incompetent.”

That pretty muched summed it up nicely.

I enjoyed it, in a frustrating way. The early game had some setbacks; just when I think we had a chance, the group self destructs. Ah well. I’ve heard of games where the knights spread out wily-nily and everyone lost early. That seems to have happened here.

Sharing the store: the local historical miniatures group, whom I admire in a “these people have too much time on their hands” way. WWI dogfight game, with miniature planes on telescoping rods. No big deal … except the hex map sat on a gigantic diorama showing trenches, tanks, barbed wire, smoke and men ‘going over the top.’ The scene was probably 6′ by 8′ (and deep enough for the terrain and miniatures) covered by plexiglass. I’ve got to remember to bring my camera.

Written by taogaming

July 6, 2005 at 6:02 pm

Shadows Over Camelot & Timing

Chris Farrell’s review of Shadows over Camelot hits on an important concept in games:

The Endgame: Games should, cooperative or not, ratchet up tension towards a climax…. In Shadows over Camelot things are not driven to conclusion adequately and there is sometimes not a clear finish line to strive for, and the game does not carry its own momentum to the end. The Knights sometimes seem to get into a holding pattern … I found the endgame ultimately unsatisfying.

Tension provides excitement. In fact, my first (& only) game of Shadows over Camelot ended exactly as Chris describes (but was fluky in other ways). I’m sad to hear that the endgame lack of tension shows up again.

Tension should build towards the endgame (perhaps steadily, perhaps with peaks and valleys), but you don’t want the fun to end before the game. Sometimes tension is artificially spiked at the end … how many games double their scores in the final round?

The TimJim/Prism line of games stands out for having mechanisms that clearly racket up tension — Throneworld removes the economics phase when someone is in a victory attempt, Suzerain requires the marriages, Time Agent can have the sudden shutdown of the primary time machine, as well as the resources building so that eventually one player can “guarantee the cut”. [Of course, my favorite of the bunch, Fast Food Franchise, doesn’t seem to have any specific rule to provide tension. You don’t necessarily want specific rules to push the game to a climax.]

I still have high hopes for Shadows over Camelot, but I suspect Chris is correct.

Written by taogaming

June 29, 2005 at 12:28 am

Shadows Over Camelot Initial Thoughts

Days of Wonder had a demonstration set for Shadows Over Camelot. As you can imagine, it was in constant use. I got to play one game.

The players take the role of the Knights of the Round Table (and Arthur) and go on quests to secure Camelot and win and lose as a group (ala Knizia’s Lord of the Rings). The catch is that one of the players will probably be a traitor (cards are dealt to indicate loyalty).

The mechanics of the game are unimportant, beyond that. I like the basic idea. Werewolf is very popular these days, but I don’t care for it because there’s not much of a system, just social dynamics. [There is, I suppose, a game there. Just not one that interests me.] Camelot has a game system that’s more interesting. On each turn a player must take a bad action (lose a life, draw a bad event, or add a siege engine to Camelot) and then gets to take a turn. If that’s all it had, I wouldn’t give this a second look.

Players can communicate, but may not show cards or give detailed information about their hand (card titles, values, etc). Sometimes cards are played face down (as are discards). So the traitor has some leeway. Initially, each of the knights has a power (that is often hard for other players to verify is being used ‘correctly’). The loyal Knights need to ferrett out the traitor (or lose VP) and the traitor wants to get enough VP to win (via false accusations and failed quests) or simply over-run Camelot.

I want to play Knights again, probably several more times. Our initial game was weird in that the traitor made a good (perhaps great) opening move; but the loyalists effectively won the game before it paid off. I’ve heard of other games where the traitor got a touch lucky and then won handily. I suspect the balance is off, but the traitor/loyal mechanic is one worth exploring.

Cooperative (or semi-cooperative) games are tough to design, so I’m encouraged by the attempt. I don’t know if this will stand up to repeated plays, though and worry that the random determination of characters and loyalties greatly influence how hard the game is to win, which would prevent balancing variants. I’d like to try the game “Gunboat” style, where communications are severly limited. That would probably be much harder for the loyalists, since the traitor does not need to communicate with other players. Interestingly, that would probably make it like Bang! with unbalanced sides.

So I’m unsure if it’s a good game yet, but it’s captured my interest.

Written by taogaming

April 18, 2005 at 8:08 pm