Hear ye, hear ye. We are gathered here at the Round Table to play a game of Shadows over Camelot. We will draw cards, roll dice and rue the day we decided to visit the knight table at the jobs expo, because questing is bloody difficult.
It’s hard out there for a knight
Shadows over Camelot is a cooperative game that sees you take on the minions of Mordred (no, not those minions) as they attempt to take over Camelot. You can either play a fully cooperative game where everyone is on the side of good – recommended for beginners – or you can turn it into a hidden role game in which one person may be a traitor.
The game is essentially a card collection game – you draw cards and use them to complete quests, fight off evil and stave off your impending doom. Completing a quest lets you add white swords to the Round Table, while failing results in black swords. Get more black swords than white and it’s goodbye to Camelot. Get a majority of white swords and you win.
Each turn is played in two phases: the Progression of Evil phase in which a no-good horrible thing befalls Avalon, and the Heroic Actions phase in which you get to do something awesome at the speed of molasses.
During the Evil phase, you will need to choose between drawing a black card, adding a siege engine or losing one of your four life points, presumably from stress-related injuries. If 12 siege engines surround Camelot, you lose the game.
Losing all of your life points is a marginally better fate – you’re out of the game and your brave companions honour your brave sacrifice before getting back to knightly business. The black cards set you back in your quest progress. Thankfully, these can be counteracted using white Merlin cards.
You have five possible heroic actions to choose from, ranging from fighting off a siege engine to progressing a quest. The problem is that you only get one of these per turn, and considering that even moving takes a whole action, you quickly find yourself with many fires to put out and not enough actions to do it.
Unboxing the Holy Grail
The front of the box sets the Arthurian theme nicely. You’ve got Merlin, Arthur, the black knight, those damn siege engines and…is that Khal Drogo in a kilt? The illustrations are suitable for the theme and set the tone nicely.
Inside, you get a surprising amount of components, all in the same lovely illustrative style – the main board and several smaller quest boards, two sets of cards, cardboard swords and purty wooden dice that look nice until they roll a one and result in you dying.
As if that wasn’t enough component porn, you also get a bunch of plastic miniatures depicting Picts, Saxons, catapults, quest items and your very own brave knights. Everything inside the box, from artwork to the materials used, is great quality and you really feel as if you get your money’s worth here.
Spamalot (of siege engines)
No-one ever said leading Britain into a golden age was going to be easy and in Shadows over Camelot, the cards are quite literally stacked against the knights. The difficulty is jacked up with fewer players as you have limited access to the unique special powers each player gets.
You will, no doubt, make many Monty Python jokes when you begin the game only to fall silent as desperation takes hold and you edge closer to defeat. Like most cooperative games, things can snowball very quickly as catapults seem to sprout up around Camelot like rock-slinging weeds.
This brings a lot of replay value to the game, which is fairly mechanically simple once you have the rules down. You are extremely unlikely to beat the game in the first few tries, but as you play it more, you can start to narrow down the best strategies. And really, who wants an easy cooperative game anyway?
The traitor mechanic adds a welcome element of uncertainty and deduction to what is otherwise a straightforward collective game of managing your actions effectively. Everyone needs to be on their toes – the loyal players in order to spot inconsistencies in behaviour and the traitor in order not to get caught. It’s also possible for there to be no traitor at all, which means you could waste your valuable heroic actions shouting accusations at each other and racking up black swords. Yay for unnecessary paranoia!
Unfortunately, compared to the similarly Arthurian treachery of Resistance: Avalon, Shadows’ traitor mechanic seems a bit toothless. You really don’t have to do much to watch the brave knights of Camelot fail as the game does the heavy lifting for you. When I played the traitor, I didn’t even get to do any subtle backstabbing as it was clear the knights were doomed very early on. I suspect this is something that improves with more experienced play, but the game felt heavily balanced in the traitor’s favour in our games.
Shadows over Camelot is a game that’s strong enough to leave you wanting more. It’s a good mix of Eurogame mechanics and social gameplay with just enough tension to make each game interesting. It’s not the flashiest game or the one you might reach for first on games night, but it’s a solid enough addition to any collection.
Board game supplied by Boardgames SA (www.boardgames.co.za)