If your exposure to Arthurian legend has only been through movies and TV, try some of the literature.
There is a wealth of it, from Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur to T.H. White’s The Once And Future King, or Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists Of Avalon told from the women characters’ perspective. For something completely different, try Camelot 3000, a DC Comics graphic novel where King Arthur and his knights are reborn in a future era.
Or simply lift the lid off this box and dive into the intrigue and action of Camelot Legends.
It has been around since 2004 and is easy to get into if you’re familiar with collectible card games (though everything you need is in this box). If so, skip the Beginner level and go straight to the Standard game.
There’s an Advanced level, but even experienced players should get used to the Standard game mechanics first.
For easy sorting, Beginner-only cards have a white gem in the top right corner; Standard cards a blue one; and Advanced cards, red.
What … is your quest?
There are knights, so the game is all about completing quests (called Events). Each is worth a number of victory points and the player who collects the most points wins.
The game is played on three locations – Camelot, Cornwall and the Perilous Forest. Each is represented by a 15cm x 11cm card. You’ll need a play area large enough to arrange them about 20cm-30cm apart from one another and room around the sides to place cards.
The two main types of cards are Characters and Events.
Each Character card features a personality from Arthurian legend. Besides the name, art, special rule and flavour text, a card also lists his/her score in six abilities: Combat, Diplomacy, Adventure, Cunning, Chivalry and Psyche (or strength of will). The higher the score, the better. Don’t be surprised to find characters with scores of 0 or even -1, though.
Characters with shields in the top left corner are knights, and are subject to all Events, abilities and rules that affect knights, for good or ill.
Character cards are shuffled and dealt out five to a player as a starting hand. The rest go into a deck from which you can draw additional characters on subsequent turns.
Event cards get shuffled and placed face down as an Event deck. On each player’s turn, an Event card must be drawn and revealed.
Some events are location-specific – they have “Camelot Event”, “Cornwall Event”, or “Forest Event” printed on them. When one of these is drawn, it is immediately placed on the appropriate location card.
What … is your favourite colour?
Every location also has a different coloured label on each of its four sides – red, green, blue and yellow. Each player picks a colour, and plays his or her cards on only that side of the location throughout the game. For example, if I choose red, then for the whole game, I must play my cards on the red side of a location.
Standard Events usually have one or two ability icons corresponding to the abilities on each Character card and a number. For example, the Cornwall Event “Trial By Combat” has “(Diplomacy icon) 6” and “(Combat icon) 9”. So to resolve it, you must play Characters from your hand with a combined Diplomacy score of six and Combat score of nine.
It is not a cakewalk, because you are limited to only two card actions per turn. You may draw a Character card, play a card from your hand, or move Characters from one location to another. Characters played to a location are collectively known as a Company.
Your opponents can always sabotage your questing by playing Characters to the same location that can sabotage your Company. Some can capture other Characters, some (ahem) seduce them, or even force you to discard a valuable Character!
A typical turn goes like this: 1) draw and reveal an Event card (mandatory); 2) use optional card text (rules that say an action “may” be performed); and 3) perform two card actions in any combination.
Camelot! (It’s only a painting.)
Each location has two ability icons on it, to show the requirements for completing Events there.
Camelot Events are Combat and Chivalry-heavy; Adventure and Psyche are needed to navigate the Perilous Forest; while Cunning and Diplomacy will help you survive the intrigues at Cornwall.
Some Event cards don’t belong to a location but either have an immediate effect on the game or become “special locations” with quests of their own to complete.
Some Events also give players control of special items – Excalibur and the Love Potion – or make them the High King. Each grants a bonus, but your covetous opponents can steal them … or worse.
The Beginner game ends when the Event deck is empty and all Location Events have been completed. For Standard and Advanced, one Final Event card is placed at the bottom of the Event deck. When it’s drawn, the race is on! Completing the Final Event ends the game immediately, even if there are other unresolved Events.
We have to do the maths a lot
Two things hindered our play-test sessions: keeping track of so many unique Character abilities and special rules; and doing all that math – adding up ability scores to resolve Events. It can be trickier than calculating the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow.
Many times, a golden opportunity to nobble a rival Company slipped by simply because I forgot that one of my Characters had a special rule that could shift the balance of power.
So you may be a tough and able gamer, but you’ll need a fair amount of brain power and endurance to succeed at this one.
At least the Characters’ abilities are faithful to their roles in the classic stories, a testament to designer Andrew Parks’ in-depth research of the mythos.
For example, Sir Turquine in The Ill-Made Knight, the third book in The Once And Future King, is a knight whom Sir Lancelot bests in combat to free 63 captive knights.
In this game, Sir Turquin’s (where’d the “e” go?) special ability at the Forest location is to “capture” any knight (i.e. place that card under his card) with a combat score lower than his. If Turquin survives to the end, each knight under his card is worth one victory point to the player who controls him.
And Lancelot himself, the sly old dog, gets a +1 to all his ability scores when he’s at the same location as Guinevere (say no more, squire).
Easy to get into but with lots of things to keep track of, Camelot Legends packs a lot of detail into one compact box. If it ever gets a revision, a bit more humour would be welcome.
Sure, Arthurian legend is all very doom-laden, but a French Taunter or Constitutional Peasant Event would just make this one immortal. Now let us sally forth and sample as much peril as we can.
Novel Games is a monthly column in which we review board games inspired by books, reading and storytelling.