Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Shadows Over Camelot

Shadows Over Camelot is a cooperative game with a twist. There may be a traitor among the players. Camelot is threatened, and the knights of the round table need to go around fulfilling various quests to protect Camelot from downfall. The traitor (if one exists) needs to pretend to be a good guy, and to secretly thwart the good knights. At the start of the game, the role cards are shuffled and distributed. There is a same number of loyal cards as the number of player, and one traitor card. That means usually there is a traitor among the knights, but the players can never be sure. It is possible no one got the traitor card.

The round table has space for 12 swords. To win the game the good knights need to complete quests to earn white swords to put on the table. The good knights need 7 white swords to win when the table is filled. Failed quests give black swords. If the traitor exists and is never discovered until game end, 2 white swords became black. If a wrong accusation is made, that's another black sword. Other than having black swords on the table, the traitor can also win by having all knights killed, or putting 12 siege engines on the board.

The quests are all handled by card play. Bad things also happen via cards. Normally, you draw a bad card at the start of your turn, and bad things happen, usually at one of the many quests, e.g. Viking forces build up and threaten to attack. If you are at Camelot, you can draw good cards, which you need for fulfilling quests. Often it is beneficial for the knights to work together on quests, in order to complete it quickly, making use of one another's strengths. Also knights who are present when a quest is completed get one life point.

Chong Sean, Simon and Han, and a very full-house Carcasean.

That's me, and the knight I was playing in front of me.

The good looking board and components of the game.

Three of the knights in our game. I was black, and I keep getting confused with the green piece. Too used to being green.

The good cards in my hand. Numbered card are fight cards, used for most types of quests. The holy grail cards can only be used for the holy grail quest. There are some special action cards too.

All four knights, hand in hand, looking for the holy grail.

I think the most interesting aspect of the game is the possible traitor aspect - how the good knights have to try to catch the traitor (which might not exist), and how the traitor needs to avoid detection and at the same time try to spoil the plans of the good knights. The rest of the game mechanics are nothing very interesting to me (just some problem solving), and their role is to support this interesting game of psychology. Maybe Saboteur has done this better, with quicker gameplay and simpler rules. But then of course in Saboteur there is always at least one saboteur.

In our game, in which two have played before (Han and Chong Sean) and two have not (Simon and I), everyone appeared to be a loyal knight. We could not detect any wrongdoing or treachery. It felt like playing Lord of the Rings, when everyone was focused on how to solve the problem together. We gave up on some quests, getting some black swords, and focused on others, completing them successfully. Towards game end, it became obvious there wasn't any traitor. The knights were on track to win the game, and even if the traitor had intentionally made a wrong accusation, or had stayed undetected, there would not have been enough black swords on the table for the knights to lose the game. So we won the game. It was a little anticlimatic, since there was no traitor.


Notso said...

Well, this answers my question on whether you have played Shadows Over Chamelot. I have a few questions.

1) I played Sabetuer for the first time this weekend too. It was interesting but I wished there was more meat. It was a little too simple.
Is Shadows Over Chamelot a little meatier?

2) Do you think the good knights could ever lose if there is no traitor?

3) What is your favorite co-op game besides Pandemic?
Space Alert? Or is Space Alert not too great because it needs more than 2 players?

Hiew Chok Sien said...

1. SOC is definitely meatier, but despite so, I find it more abstract. For the various quests / challenges, you need to play poker-like hands, which doesn't feel thematic to me. In Saboteur, at least you feel you are digging tunnels.

2. I think it's hard to lose if there is no traitor. I think once you realise there's no traitor, the game becomes less interesting. It just becomes a not-too-complex puzzle solving exercise.

3. My fav is Lord of the Rings. I'm not sure what I think of Space Alert yet. I still suck at it. Very badly. But I know I want to play it again. I'm still at the tutorials!

Notso said...

I got this game for Christmas out of the bunch I had on my list. I played it a few times with my family, and I am now shocked you think the game is too easy to win without a traitor. We played without a traitor and got crushed each time. We thought the game was very hard. I think we weren't "gaming the game" right, but I don't want to just figure out how to beat the game via its weaknesses; I want to win via strategies developed as the game goes along. Anyway, we thought it was tough. I am thinking this game needs easy, medium, & hard difficulty levels like Pandemic does. Then we could have fun on a easy level (instead of getting frustrated because it seems too hard), and maybe eventually after playing it a bunch, then maybe it might feel like the regular rules are too easy without a traitor.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

In Shadows Over Camelot, I think the design intent is that when there is no traitor, the players should still be hindered by the worry and doubt of the existance of the traitor. In our game, that didn't quite work out, because about two thirds through the game, we all realised very clearly that there was no traitor, so that last third of the game became rather anticlimatic.

It may also have been because we had pretty good cards, or we had played pretty well for the first two thirds of the game.

I have only played one game of SOC, so my experience may not be a good reference. Chong Sean, who owns the game, did say to me that he thought the game was tough. But he had also seen a group of newbies beat that game easily, which amazed him, because he's a veteran player and he thought it was tough.

Mikal said...

IMO this is the best co-op game on the market, with Lord of the Rings a close second. If you're looking to make it easier just adjust your life points to 6 at the beginning of the game and use all 8 knights no matter how many players you have (after you die bring in another knight until they're all dead). Also there are alternate rules in the rulebook to ramp up the difficulty (squire mode, etc.)

I highly recommend getting the Merlin's Company expansion which really fleshes out the game (new characters, abilities, white cards, black cards, travel cards, etc.) and balances any weaknesses you could expose in the original.

There is also a Monty Python "Spamaolot" spoof available for download at boardgamegeek.com.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

:-) Good to know that I still get some readership for some of my older posts. I have not played Shadows Over Camelot for a long time. Partly because I don't own a copy myself.

I would separately classify SOC as a traitor game, together with Saboteur and Battlestar Galactica, as opposed to being a cooperative game, like Lord of the Rings, Pandemic. Well, maybe traitor games should be a sub-category, since the non-traitors do play cooperatively.

Have you tried Battlestar Galactica? I liked it better than SOC, but it has more rules and thus takes more effort to learn. Overall game structure is not complex though.