Monday, January 28, 2008

Shadows Over Camelot

This weekend my buddy hosted the final phase of a monthly AD&D campaign in which I've been participating for the past eight months or so. It's been my first exposure to the pen and paper RPG world after a lifetime of playing RPGs on the PC and at some point, on this blog, I might dig into that experience a little deeper. (It was a jolly good time.) But for this post it serves as a segue to the boardgame Shadows Over Camelot (from Days of Wonder), which one of the guys brought over to play after the AD&D campaign wrapped up.

I'm not nearly the board gamer Bill is, but I'm on that road as I've become a huge fan of games like Railroad Tycoon and Age of Empires III. And I've enjoyed playing some other titles to which I've been exposed over the past two years, including Shogun, Powergrid, Civilization, Ra, and one of the Lord of the Rings variants. (I forget the specifics, but it involves each player taking on a member of the Fellowship in a quest to destroy the ring.) I'm not sure I liked Shadows nearly as much as I enjoy playing Railroad Tycoon, but it is, without question, a fun game.

In Shadows Over Camelot each player becomes a specific Knight of the Round table. (Lancelot is absent, but you can select King Arthur.) The board is centered on an under siege Camelot and its Round Table. Around it are various quest areas where your knight can go to accomplish various goals like fending off a Saxon invasion, defeating a black knight, finding Excalibur, or going on the quest for the Holy Grail. Since each player is a Round Table knight, you each set off on quests to tackle either single-handedly or -in some cases- cooperatively. But you're all working towards the same goal, which is the defense of Camelot.

Each turn you must enact both an evil and a heroic action. Evil actions include turning over an evil card (which has some less than savory ramification), placing a siege engine outside Camelot (if 12 engines surround the castle, the knights lose) or losing a hit point (each Knight starts with four hit points, represented by a six-sided die). Heroic actions involve drawing heroic cards (if the knight is in Camelot), moving to a new quest location or playing hero cards (usually at said quest location). The Hero cards, for example, might involve getting closer to recovering the Grail or Excalibur. Some have special actions, like allowing all the knights to acquire another heroic card regardless of their locale.

Successfully completing quests results in multiple bonuses, but mainly the acquisition of white swords for the Round Table. Failing a quest (and a few other evil events) results in black swords being laid at the table. When all twelve sword slots are filled the game ends. More white swords equals victory, more black swords means defeat.

In this regard, it's pretty standard fare. It's fun, especially for the co-op aspect of it, but nothing special. What really added a great element to the game is the presence of a traitor in your midst. At the start of the game you're given a loyalty card that only you are allowed to see. It states whether your knight is true or a traitor to the cause. If your knight is the traitor it's your job to try and subtly steer the true knights towards defeat, while hiding your true aims for as long as possible. You can try to guess the traitor as part of your heroic action, but if you're wrong a black swords is laid on the Round Table. (You also can't guess until there are at least six siege engines outside Camelot.)

For our particular group (five players in all) this element of the game really took it to another level as we spent nearly an hour all working together, but not quite knowing who to trust until the traitor eventually revealed himself, doing considerable damage to our cause in the process. (For those in the know, he played the Guinevere card, which resulted in the loss of two of our quest battles.) Despite the setback, though, the four true knights (no, I wasn't the traitor) eventually prevailed.

You can never quite tell how you're going to feel about a board game like this from one play. Sometimes the exciting/fun elements of a game like this grow stale quickly. (I suspect if I get to play more Age of Empires III, that it would fall into that category.) But Shadows Over Camelot certainly looks to have that certain something that would make it a fun repeat play and I'm hoping to get another crack at it the next time our little gaming group gets together.