Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Board Game Review - Shadows Over Camelot
It's not often that I get to compare a game to prison rape, so I've been looking forward to reviewing Shadows Over Camelot. I'm not going to tell you not to buy the game. I'm just going to warn you to bring plenty of lubricant.
Shadows Over Camelot is an interesting game because, unlike most games, it's cooperative. Shadows Over Camelot has you trying like hell to prevent the fall of the Round Table. Players take on the roles of Sir Gawain, Sir Galahad, King Arthur and a bunch of other knights as they do their best to stop Camelot from being abused in the showers by the forces of evil.
Every turn, each player has to start off by doing something that hurts Camelot, and then something that helps it. Hurting Camelot can be one of three things - put a siege engine around the castle, play a black card to further the progress of evil, or just take it in the shorts and get wounded. The good things tend to be a little harder to pull off - you play white cards to save Excalibur, stave off the Picts, find the Holy Grail, beat up Lancelot and otherwise keep from wearing a dress. Even moving takes a turn, so by the time you move to a place and do something, the bad guys have been able to go like a dozen times. The game is designed to kick you in the teeth right from the outset.
To make matters worse, one of you is a traitor. One of the knights is operating in secrecy, telling the worst bad guys when you take naps and bribing the guards to make sure you work in the laundry. He's doing all the same bad stuff and good stuff, but he's actively working to make sure Camelot falls. At some point he might be revealed, but usually that happens once he's won the game. He's like that friend who sits next to you at every meal and then shivs you for your cookies.
You fight the forces of evil by completing quests. Every quest you complete gets you white swords sitting on the Round Table, and every quest the bad guys win gets you a black sword. The best case scenario is that the game ends when the Round Table is full of swords, and more of them are white than black. The worst case is that the castle is surrounded by siege engines and the Saxons corner you behind the tool shed when everyone else is in the yard.
In case the heavy-handed metaphor is lost on you, Shadows Over Camelot is one hard damned game to win. It's ridiculously frustrating, and for some players is an exercise in futility. Last time I played it, most of us wound up ready to pitch it out a window. It's incredibly frustrating to be parked at the Grail quest, and every time you think you're making progress, the game slams you against a wall and steals your virginity.
It's not all bad, though. The game does have some fans, so it can't be completely worthless. I played this with my wife and kids, and we managed to squeak out a win. Of course, we didn't play with the traitor and we cheated a little besides, but it was nice to win, so we didn't care. After all, who wants to lose to a cardboard box?
This is a Days of Wonder game, so it's pretty as a pinup. You've got 40mm scale miniatures to represent each of the knights. You've got wonderfully illustrated game boards and cards. There are little plastic siege engines and miniature Picts and Saxons. It's like opening a box full of toys - until they beat you half to death and make it hard to sit down.
Shadows Over Camelot is widely considered a very bad game, but there are people who love it. It's so incredibly frustrating that only the most seasoned players tend to win very often, and even then they have to work together and have a razor-sharp strategy. Playing a game where you all end up walking funny is not my idea of a good time, but I have found a way to enjoy the game.
I cheat. And I never bend over to pick up the soap.
EDIT (1/17/08): In the interest of full disclosure, Shadows Over Camelot has a fairly decent rating at BGG, and as you can see from the comments below, it has a lot of fans. I still say it's really hard, and I know a whole lot of people who hate it. So there are two morals in this story - first, don't base your purchases on just one review, and second, some people actually enjoy prison sex.
Interesting mechanics mean that everyone has to work together
It's very hard, but you can win if you're smart and a little lucky
The game looks mighty nice
The game thinks you look pretty, too
Shadows Over Camelot is one hell of a hard game to win, but if you're into pain, you can get it here:
Posted by Matt Drake at 7:31 PM