Tuesday, May 21, 2013

♩♬ Mike Likes To Push The Pram-A-Lot! ♪♫ : "Shadows Over Camelot"

As I've mentioned before, my discovery of Settlers of Catan back in 1997 led to an adult board gaming Renaissance that continues to this very day.  Although Euros played a major part in this revelatory experience, it was the new wave of super-thematic thematic "Ameritrash" that really ignited my obsession.

One of those pivotal early titles was Shadows Over Camelot, a highly-evocative, Arthurian quest game that brought quality components and stunning graphic design to a whole new level.  Even more innovative were the game's unique mechanics.  Instead of competing against one another, players tried to work together as Knights of the Round Table in order to defeat the game itself.  As if that wasn't challenging enough, designers Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget also added a highly original "Traitor" component which allowed one of the players to achieve victory through deceit.  

Kinda sparks the old yen for adventure, huh?  Your quest, should you chose to accept it, is clearly delineated in this here blurb from Days of Wonder:

"As the incarnation of the Knights of the Round Table, you join forces against the game itself in an attempt to protect Camelot.

"Your victory hinges on the successful completion of legendary Quests, such as the search for Excalibur, the Holy Grail, or Lancelot's Armor; the tournament against the Black Knight; and numerous wars against the Saxons and Picts.

"But beware... all is not as it seems among these noble Knights. One of your number might yet turn out to be a traitor-in-waiting, biding his time while sowing havoc and destruction from the Shadows!"

Lookin' to get all Thomas Malory up in this be-yatch?  Then click on thine link to view the full Morte d'Arthur.


To save Mike some babysitting expenses we took our weekly board gaming night on the road to his place this past week.  After Mike expedited the bed-time process by giving his kids some Dramamine-laced Cheerios, we set of on our path of adventure.


Andrew...Sir Galahad - Yellow
Me...King Arthur - Red
Dean...Sir Palamedes - Black
Mike...Sir Gawain - Green

In order to take advantage of Arthur's special ability to exchange cards, I lingered in Camelot in order to pick up as many helpful White Cards as possible.  Unfortunately, Excalibur quickly started to drift away and I was forced to take the field in an effort to recover it.

The biggest challenge in Shadows Over Camelot is that you really have to pick and choose your battles carefully.  Indeed, unless your playing with a full contingent of knights, there's really no way to win every single challenge.  For example, in our game it didn't take very long for the Black Knight to get ahead of us and pretty soon we were forced to abandon it as a lost cause.  Instead, Andrew decided that Galahad's time was better served in recovering Lancelot's Armor.  

As Sir Palamedes, Dean tried to prevent the Holy Grail from slipping away into oblivion.  Unfortunately, the game's quest is just as challenging as its fictional namesake.  By rights, it really needs to be tackled by several knights at once.  As a solo quest, Dean really had his work cut out for him.  

Not long after our hallowed land was overrun by a bunch of Pricks...er, Picts.  Fortunately, Mike's Sir Gawain got down there post haste and started kickin' ass and takin' names.  By exerting Gawain, Mike managed to beat them all off (!), giving us a quick edge in the race for White Swords.   

In an effort to stem the incessant tide of Black Cards, we ended up plunking down some really early Siege Engines.  Most of the Black Cards we did turn up were pretty heinous.  After suffering through Morgan's blight, we were then forced to ditch a set of Merlin Cards in order to avoid the siren call of Guinevere.  Although it seems like an extreme reaction, getting dragged back to Camelot in the middle of a Quest can really screw things up.  

Although it was a hard-fought contest, Andrew secured the bridge and won the right to don Sir Lancelot's Armor.  This was a particularly valuable acquisition, since it gave Andrew the ability to banish some of the nastier Black cards to the bottom of the deck.   After this major triumph, Sir Galahad celebrated by popping back to Camelot to replenish his cards and ponder his next move.  

Meanwhile, I kept plugging away at the Excalibur Quest which turned out to be the epitome of frustration.  Just as I managed to get the legendary sword to within a few spaces, a damnable Black Card would come along and tear it out of my grasp!  After musing over my trials and tribulations, Andrew decided to come to my rescue.  I'm sure his motivations were entirely honorable and had nothing to do with his ability to waltz in and 'yoink' the sword away after I did all the heavy lifting.  Jerk.      

Dean also kept slogging through the Grail Quest but without any back-up all he could do was maintain the status quo.  With the rest of us occupied by our own endeavors, it was pretty clear that Dean had no prayer of completing this Quest.  Instead he set out to create as much "defeat insulation" as he could.  Despite the fact that I kept feeding Grail cards to him like Pez, eventually he was forced to turn his attention to some more immediate fires which were breaking out all over the board. 

Chief among these was the Dragon.  Although Sir Gawain was able to make some serious strides against the deadly wyrm, he exhausted his cards and had to bail out before sealing the deal.   

True to his questionable form, Sir Galahad appeared in the nick of time and helped to recover Excalibur.  In addition to scoring two White Swords for the forces of good, this freed us up to help out elsewhere.  Given the fact that every Black Excalibur card would now add a new Siege Engine to Camelot, it wasn't difficult to see where we were needed the most.  

Things got even more dire when those blasphemous Saxons, led by Mordred, swarmed over the land and added even more firepower to attack on Camelot.  Just two catapults shy of defeat, Dean whiffed on his initial attack but his second strike was true.  I also managed to destroy a few of the marauding trebuchets and with the crisis temporarily averted, I went off to help Andrew slay a Dragon.

After proving victorious in that titanic contest, we found ourselves with a significant White Sword lead.  In fact, we were so far ahead that we completely ignored the Black Knight's second challenge.  Even when the Picts turned up again like a bad case of the clap, their initial numbers were insignificant.  Better yet, Dean's hard work on the Grail Quest really paid off, keeping that particular issue in limbo for the rest of the game.  In fact, only the Camelot Catapult Crisis seemed pressing.  

Although our loyalties occasionally came into question towards the end of the game, it's didn't result in any serious Accusations.  In fact, I was pretty sure that we'd beaten the odds and no-one around the table was a dirty, filthy Traitor.  Andrew, on the other hand, was completely convinced that I was the rat bastard, probably because I gave a Fight Cards to Mike when I could have used it on my own turn.  For the record, that wasn't evil, just stupid.  

We were so confident of victory that we tried to end the game as quickly as possible.  While I remained on catapult-smashing duty, Dean and Andrew polished off the Pict Quest once more in order to garner the last Sword and trigger the finale.

And with that, we'd achieved a decisive victory with eight White Swords to two Black!  

That is, until the Traitor was revealed...  

Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Andrew had deliberately snuck a bad apple in amongst the Loyalty Cards.  The Quisling role fell to Mike, who actually turned out to be the perfect villain!  Since he wasn't 100% clear on the abilities of the Traitor, he ended up playing things very, very tight.  In fact the only outwardly sneaky thing he did was abandon a few Quests prematurely under the guise of "running out of cards".  Brilliant!

Since we'd failed to out Mike as a baddie, two White Swords were flipped to the Black side, resulting in a tie.  And since Evil always wins ties because Good is dumb, Mike (and the board) walked away with a shockingly unexpected win!  



I really can't believe that this game is almost ten friggin' years old.  Even though superior titles like Battlestar Galactica have since come down the pike, nothing will ever supplant the love I have for Shadows Over Camelot.  

How much do I love thee, SOC?  Let me count the ways:

  • Ludicrously gorgeous figures, board, cards and artwork.
  • Straightforward, follow-the-bouncing-ball turn flow makes getting into the game super-easy.
  • The Quest resolution rules are pretty straightforward.  
  • Special Abilities insure that every Knight is distinct.  
  • One of the earliest co-operative games and still one of the best.
  • The game pioneered the awesome Traitor mechanic, which insures that the game doesn't suffer from overt B.V.S. (Bossy Veteran Syndrome).   
  • Evocative theme bleeds through every aspect of the game.  
  • Some of the Quest protocols a bit fuzzy.  For example, can the three, three-of-a-kinds played during the Dragon Quest be the exact same Fight Card value?  We assumed that they can't be, but this isn't clearly explained in the rules.  


Shadows Over Camelot will always have a home in my collection.  If there are some sensitive folks in your gaming circle that aren't keen on cut-throat competition, I highly recommend adding this one to your game shelf.

I'm giving Shadows Over Camelot a noble five pips outta six!


Looking for excuse to plane down the corners of your dinner table?  Click on the link below to snag a copy of Shadows Over Camelot and help support my board gaming crusade!   

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