The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Shadows Over Camelot

Sentinels of the Multiverse

While playing my solo obsession (new high score — 187) I finally got my copy of Sentinels of the Multiverse. The TaoLing and I played a game (each controlling two heroes).

I have a soft spot in my heart for co-ops … they make a good family games (everyone wins or losses together). But there are problems with coops:

  1. The big bossy pants. This can be avoided by group dynamics, but games with more hidden information encourage it.
  2. Replayability / aka “cube-pushing.” Once you’ve saved the world a few dozen times it gets samey. This isn’t just Pandemic’s problem, the original Lord of the Rings game had theme pasted on, but you were just managing resources. Both games still feel tense, but there aren’t that many surprises. Ditto Shadows Over Camelot.

Sentinels takes replayability seriously. Each hero has a deck of cards that only he uses … So while you alwasy have the same deck/bag/whatever for most coops, right away you cut out a scope. A hero you haven’t played (much) is new to you.

And there may be interesting team dynamics. For a four hero base set (10 possible heroes) you have (10 choose 4 == ) 210 possible teams. That number quickly rises.

And for every team you then pick a deck for the villain, and a deck for the environment (where you fight).  By my calculation, the base set gives over 3000 combinations, and this number grows (incredibly) quickly as you add expansions.

Thematically, the game rocks. Each deck has art, flavor text, and a good feel. The comic multiverse is invented (not licensed) but feels right. When fighting the Grand Warlord Voss you draw space ships, minions, aliens and have to worry about the earth being overrun (an alternate loss condition specific to him). If you are fighting A’khash’bhuta (a malevolent Gaia spirit) you’re going to be facing vines, trees, triffids, and whatnot.

As for the environment — fight in the Ruins of Atlantis you’ll stumble across hydras, automated defenses, collapsing walls. But if you are fighting in a time portal you’ll deal with a rampaging T-Rex, temporal anomalies, and apparently a computer room. The environment deck is a mixed bag. Some cards  help, some hurt, and clever play can turn the environment to your favor.

Right now I’ve had good games, full of theme. Probably the only weak point is that sometimes it becomes obvious when the good guys are going to win, but takes a few turns to finish it off. (This is not a flaw to a ten year old.)

After a few games, I sprung for a full set (promos, expansions, and whatnot). It’s a splurge, but enjoyable.  And my son and I saved the world.

Rating — Suggest

Written by taogaming

May 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Gaming with Seven

Last night I got in a few ‘large’ games. Started with Shadows over Camelot. Since there were plenty of new players, we didn’t use my expansion. Actually this was one of the more interesting games, as the traitor managed to set himself up with a fairly surprising win (although we were clearly on the ropes after a run of bad luck). Someday there will be a great game using this idea (loyal, traitor), but for now I’ll settle for this pretty good one.

We also played Citadels with the Dark City expansion. I’d never played with the expansion characters before. Ignoring the rules, we just shuffled both sets together and picked randomly (instead of only exchanging one or two). That seemed to work well enough. I got knocked out fairly early, losing a turn to the witch (the replacement for the assassin … not quite as bad, but still nasty) and then having one of my 3-cost buildings destroyed by the warlord. But I had fun, and the game didn’t drag as much as I recall previous 6+ player games.

I’ve been teaching Flaschenteufel again. There are plenty of hands where the play revolves around ditching a key card (or winding up in Hell), but the game keeps growing on me. There’s quite a bit of room for skill.

Written by taogaming

June 2, 2007 at 6:39 pm

More Shadows over Camelot

We played an 8 player game (using Sir Bediviere, the ‘expansion’ knight) and my variant.

First things first … 8 players does something weird where the player’s deck often has a handful of cards. This does weird things because players can toss Merlins wily-nily, and then just draw them back instantly. By the rules, this reshuffles both decks, which can make the evil deck unbalanced.

I think if you are going to play with 7 or 8, playing with the squire rule is helpful.

Anyway, as our game progressed, Arthur was in a position to finish a quest, traded, then announced he didn’t have the card he needed. After shock around the table, he ‘found’ the card. I considered this too blatantly stupid, but everyone else considered it a smoking gun. And they were right.

I keep trying to find the right combination of rules to nudge Camelot into greatness. But, since I don’t care for Werewolf, I doubt I’ll find it. But other people in my group like it quite well.

Written by taogaming

July 29, 2006 at 11:54 am

Latest Gaming

Last night I got to try Fury of Dracula. Despite (or because of) my high hopes, the game disappointed.

Our game took about three hours. The first hour was spent stumbling around looking for Dracula (just like Scotland Yard). As we closed in, a random event let him teleport to any space. Later, we cornered him in England and had all the hunters converge on him. During the day. Cool game-theoretic matrices didn’t matter nearly as much as seeing Dracula roll higher. One player commented “Dracula played the escape card 8 times during our turn this round.” He didn’t win all of those rolls (obviously), but he went through 12+ rounds of combat taking little more than a scratch. Then he escaped to sea and won when we couldn’t get to him again. Dracula doesn’t seem very furious, except in a running-away-screaming-at-how-hard-it-is-to-get-good-help kind of way. Damn Lazy Victorian zombies.

Part of the problem (which Fury shares with Scotland Yard) is that this is a fixed-fun two player game, stretched to cover five players. In any case, I’ll play again but my enthusiasm is diminished.

And I got to play another game of Shadows over Camelot with my variant. But it turned out not to matter, as everyone’s spidey senses were tingling on the first round, and right when before the 6th siege engine was played we got glaring confirmation of the traitor. Here’s some advice for traitors: Don’t take a grail card in the opening convocation, then go to Lancelot’s Armor. And if you do go to lancelot’s armor (as Sir Kay, who can play a card after it ends), have at least a legal hand to finish the quest. Lancelot wins by a point. Kay, you just have to play a two. You don’t have another fight card? J’Accuse)!

But despite the easy revelation, the cards just dictated that we’d lose. Just a spiral of siege engines and swords, with little control. I have no idea why I still want to play. Many games just aren’t compelling, the range of black cards just has too much variance. I have an inkling of why people play Werewolf.

Update: Here’s the full session report.

Written by taogaming

March 28, 2006 at 7:24 pm


Played a lot of games last night, and the write up is already done. But I got to try my Shadows Over Camelot variant.

We played with 5 players, with 7 cards (one traitor). To make things interesting, I was the Judge. [I lose if the traitor is not revealed before the end game]. I thought that the game went wonderfully. One player got the armor, which always arouses suspicion. After the armored player dropped a nasty event, I was tempted to accuse, but really wanted someone else to accuse. Meanwhile, the knight who can play special cards for free is holding onto them (we know he got passed some via messenger). We aren’t in too much trouble, yet, but it’s tight. And I decided to announce that I was the Judge. I figured I was going to make an accusation sooner rather than later, so may as well get it out in the open.

Well, several turns later the traitor reveals (via Fate). At this point I’m toast, as he can super taunt (and I have two life). We’ve lost the dragon once, and the grail came perilously close to failure (despite my playing four early grails as my first five plays), and I’m still leading it. I get super taunted (card + life) sucking out a grail, but then the traitor decides not to kill me next turn. With all of the knights available, we manage to finish off the grail for our 12th sword while there are 11 siege engines. But one knight doesn’t have a victory condition unless he gets 7 points of fighting in the card payout. And with seven cards, exactly seven fighting show up. So all the knights win.

I thought it added tension and provided some room to manuever, but the traitor didn’t agree. Perhaps the game is just too easy. I certainly felt we were in trouble, but I expected to die.

We also played Antike and I’m pretty much done. I’ll play it again, but I think I’d rather just pull out Vinci or Mare Nostrum (or try Tempus, or …)

Our game did have combat (trading a few cities, three temples sacked), and took a mere 80 minutes or so. I think that if we played it slower, there’d be more calculation and it could be quite good. But that would slow the game down and I hate that. Still, it’s a limited edition game, so someone will be willing to take it off my hands … right?

And all of the little filler games were lovely, so I have nothing to say about them.

Written by taogaming

March 21, 2006 at 5:18 pm

A theory of semi-cooperative games, applied to Shadows over Camelot

Since we’ve seen a published paper on cooperative games, and I’ve been playing some “semi-cooperatives” recently, I’m thinking about how to make one that just glows. Obviously, I don’t know exactly what to do, but here’s what I’ve got:

  1. The “Cooperate/Compete” decision should be a spectrum, not just binary. Sabotuer gets this right. All of the “good” dwarves want to find gold, but they don’t want to enable the next player to be the finder (then they get the least gold).
  2. Parts of the “good” group can win without the full group.
  3. Players must have strong incentives to act differently. These incentives should not be obvious to other players.

Let’s apply these criticisms to Shadows over Camelot. The decision is binary. Either you are a traitor, or you aren’t. In fact, loyal knights win even if dead. The players, via their special abilities, do have reason to act differently. But this doesn’t help the traitor or add tension, because everyone knows why. Sir Kay should go to the fight-total quests, etc.

OK, let’s imagine a variant. Each player is dealt a “loyalty” card as before, but also a “motivation” card. The motivation what your victory conditions are. (Motivation cards may not be shown). For simplicity, we’ll assume that the traitor ignores his motivation card. For a loyal knight to win, camelot must survive (as per the normal game) and they must fulfill their card. These may not be balanced. (I’m literally making these up as I type).

  • “Warrior” — You crave the fight. You only win if there are 8 or more siege engines in play at game end.
  • “Collector” — You seek an artifact. You only win if you are in possession of Excaliber, Lancelot’s Armor, or the Holy Grail at game end. (You may be dead and still win, assuming you had the item when you died).
  • “Judge” — You punish the guilty. You lose if the traitor was not revealed during the game. (No effect if there was no traitor).
  • “Power-Monger” — You crave leadership. You only win if you have 15+ fighting in your hand at the end of the game.
  • “Champion” — You must prove your worth. You only win if you have personally defeated the Black Knight at least once during the game.
  • “Apprentice” — You want mystic knowledge. You only win if you have two (or more) Merlin cards in your hand at the end of the game.
  • “Flawed Knight” — You are just ornery. You only win if have been accused of being the traitor. You may not make an accusation during the game.
  • ??? — You have a healthy sense of self-preservation. You only win if you end the game with three or more life.
  • ??? — You think there are too many knights. You must be alive to win, and you only win if one (or more) loyal knights died during the course of the game.
  • “Druid” — You seek balance between good and evil. You only win if there are 3 or more black swords on the round table.

You could easily have 15 or more roles (for real variety), but I’m out of time. Adding these makes the game harder; perhaps you should start each player with an extra card. The Judge and Flawed Knight can really add pressure to the game, but all of these gives players some incentive to snipe on each other and give the traitor room to manuever.

Now, there’s a (valid) accusation that these rules constrain the players. But that’s the point. The players don’t have enough individual constraints that aren’t obvious to other players.

Perhaps I’ll print these out and try them soon. Others are welcome to, as well. And add roles/names in the comments.

Update 3/12 — I’ve uploaded a rules file and a list of the cards (to be cut out). I upped the motivations to 16. Who knows if they are balanced?

I’ve also added a rule — the super taunt. Simply, a revealed traitor may guess someone’s motivation. If they are wrong, the knight loses nothing (not even the card). But if the traitor is correct, the knight loses a random card and a life. So, Knights will be loathe to reveal their motivations. I may also allow a traitor to ask for a card in hand instead of a random card, but that has issues with the Dragon/Picts/Saxons. In any case, I don’t need to write up rules on what can and can’t be revealed, as there is an in-game cost to openness. I wish the rules on other communication had some way to make a traitor punish knights, instead of a blanket declaration of “No naming cards” (Especially one that is easy to circumvent).

Perhaps the traitor should be allowed to self-reveal (without the “Fate” card) just to allow them access to the super-taunt. Off the top of my head, I think I’d allow it, as long as it was their sole action that turn (no accusation, then reveal). Actually, on second thought, no. The knights who want to keep X cards in their hand somewhat want the traitor hidden (since he may knock a needed card out of their hand). That’s enough reason to keep the traitor from being able to reveal without a card.

I just realized that the “Keep X cards” in hand knights also have an unwritten condition … stay alive. Since you discard your hand. Perhaps I need to allow them to win if they had the cards in hand when they died. But the basic idea is still sound.

Written by taogaming

March 11, 2006 at 2:11 pm

Session Report

It’s a rare week when I play four new games, but Saboteur rounds out the quadfecta. It’s another ‘semi-cooperative’ game, and part of Z-Man’s line of cute filler card games. The players are dwarves digging for gold, but a few of them are Saboteurs. These roles are dealt out ala Shadows over Camelot. There’s a start card and three goal cards. One is sweet, sweet gold. Two are lumps.

It’s the standard “Play a card, draw a card.” Most cards fill in the dig, which is an empty grid. You need to walk at least seven cards to get to a goal, so it will take a while. Cards can also hinder your opponents (broken tools), repair breaks, discard a previously played card on the grid, or peek at one goal card.

If the dwarves exhaust the deck (and cards in hand), then the saboteurs win, and each get a flat amount (based on the number of saboteurs). If the dwarves find gold, the ‘good’ dwarves draft a number of gold cards … with the finder getting first pick, and usually an extra pick. You draw gold equal to players, but skip over any saboteurs, so a few players will get gold.

The last part is clever, in that it encourages you to aim for the gold, but in such a way as you don’t get last pick. This blurst the line between betrayal and simple greed. In fact, I don’t think anyone really caught onto it until after a round or two, so the dwarves always found gold. This made the game fall a bit flat, but I’d like to try again.

We also played Shadows over Camelot. Unlike last time, we did have a traitor, who managed to get lancelot’s armor without arousing much suspicion, but he outed himself in the endgame, when things looked desperate. Another loyalist win.

Now that I’ve played a half-dozen times, I have to say that Camelot works well in theory, but in practice it’s a bit off. The game just isn’t as tense as expected. I had suspicions about the traitor, but they were wrong. In any case, I think this game is “OK.” It’s a change of pace,
certainly better than Arkham Horror. I should pull out Lord of the Rings.

Also hitting the table:

Update: I’ve been informed that the gold is distributed counter-clockwise, which changes things.

Written by taogaming

March 11, 2006 at 1:24 pm

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

Yet Another Shadow Over Camelot

Another night, another seven person game. Things opened up nicely with the grail quest moving along nicely, while one player race Lancelot (playing 5-5 then 1-1-1, but Lancelot only ever had one card). Soon enough, both were finished. Five White Swords. Meanwhile I defeated the black knight (I was Arthur, and Loyal).

Of course, seige engines were troublesome. The knight with Lancelot’s armor (Yellow — can play a special card for free) then drew two events using the armor, played Mists of Avalon (all failed quests produce an extra black sword) and accused Kay (? gains an extra life on a finished quest). Kay was loyal.

This is clearly the most traitorous move imaginable … but the player seemed fairly incompetent last game. I accuse. Loyal. Sheesh.

Next the player to my left is putting out seige engines instead of spending his (3-4) life, is dinking around instead of finishing quests. I’m screaming for Kay(?) to accuse him. He delays finishing excalibur so that he will get the sword (and puts a seige engine on the field in the process) and complains when I trade cards with him. This proves to be too much for the others and he gets accused. Loyal. We’re at 11 swords (four black) and racing the picts. I suicide to hurry the picts along (and keep anyone from acussing me) after trading a card that should end it that round after the (proven loyal) knight plays his four. But he doesn’t have one! Everyone pauses to regroup (via a convocation), then races back. The picts are defeated … by the traitor! Two swords flip. Six to Six. Traitor wins. [Actually, the rules confuse me a bit. Seven black swords end it instantly. But if you get to six black swords you can’t win, can you? I mean, you lose a six-to-six tie and there’s no way to flip a sword to white, is there?]

Annoying to have two players unclear on the concept (If you are loyal, you don’t go out of your way to act disloyal) but it came down to the wire and played relatively quickly.

To salve my wounded ego I chalked up many San Juan victories.

Written by taogaming

July 12, 2005 at 12:44 am

Posted in Session Reports

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