Shadows Over Camelot
Players: 3 to 7
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Camelot! The name invokes images of wise kings and brave lords, of knights on white horses riding to the aid of damsels in distress. The legendary court and castle of the great King Arthur has always been a symbol for justice, chivalry and honour despite being, as most scholars believe, entirely fictional.
According to legend, this kingdom is also famous for its tragic fall. Various factors, including internal squabbling, an affair between the queen and a trusted knight, and the emergence of a traitor, caused Camelot to fall. Its fictional legacy, however, still persists until today.
In Shadows Over Camelot – designed by Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala and developed by Days of Wonder – players can re-live the rise and fall of King Arthur’s kingdom through a thrilling board game that combines elements of both cooperation and competition.
Each player takes on the role of one of the Knights of the Round Table. One of the most charming things about this game is that it sticks pretty closely to the most widely-known of the Arthurian stories, so it has all the famous names, such as Sir Gawain, Sir Galahad and Sir Percival, and they are all playable.
Choosing your character is vital, as each knight has a special power: Arthur, for instance, can exchange cards with fellow players, while Sir Palamedes, the Saracen Knight, gains additional life whenever he successfully completes a quest.
Indeed, the only knight you cannot play is the notorious Sir Lancelot: however, he does have a presence in the game, along with other beloved characters such as Merlin, Guinevere and The Lady in the Lake. (More on this below.)
Players start the game by drawing Loyalty cards, known only to them, which will determine their allegiance. While most will end up “Loyal”, those drawing “Traitor” cards must do all they can to secretly sabotage other players and cause the fall of Camelot.
Each player’s turn is divided into two: the first phase, or the “Progression of Evil”, is when the dark forces strike. This is represented by either the addition of a siege engine token to the board (representing armies out to destroy Camelot) or a knight losing one of his life points. Alternatively, the player can draw a black card, which causes a negative effect on the game.
The second phase, the “Heroic Actions”, allows the knights to do something good to balance things out. These actions range from healing themselves, playing a white card (which brings positive effects) or even uncovering the Traitor.
Most importantly, Heroic Actions allow the knights to embark on quests, which range from joining the Tournament Against The Black Knight, securing the Holy Grail, fighting the Pict and Saxon Wars, and more. Some quests are solo outings, while others require teamwork.
Each quest is a mini-game with its own rules and victory conditions, most of which involve collecting cards or accumulating higher scores than your opponent. Succeed in the quest, and you get bonuses: most notably white swords for the Round Table, which symbolise loyal forces to Camelot. Fail and get black swords, which are the opposite.
The game ends with 12 swords on the Round Table. If there are more white swords, the Loyal Knights are victorious; if there are more Black, then the Traitor wins. The Loyal Knights also lose if they are all killed or if there are 12 siege machines on the game board. Verily, it doth be difficult to be a Knight!
These are a very simplified version of the rules of Shadows Over Camelot; if you think they sound complicated, well, they are. The game can be an absolute knightmare (sorry, couldn’t resist!) to set up, especially for first-time boardgamers. With various quests and other things going on at once, this game can get rather overwhelming. Indeed, on my maiden attempt, my friends and I spent almost as much time arguing and understanding the game’s rules as we did actually playing.
The game’s many boards also mean you should have a lot of space when you begin play – Merlin help you if you decide to play this on a tiny table. I personally feel it should be played on a large Round Table for the full effect!
Once you do get the hang of everything, however, Shadows Over Camelot can be quite a lot of fun. Defending the honour of a legendary kingdom against evil is really fun on an epic level, and plotting decisions with your friends (who may not all be on your side!) is enjoyable.
Personal tips: keep a close eye on the siege engines (they build up faster than you’d anticipate!), use your knight’s special powers wisely, and get relics such as the Holy Grail and Excalibur as fast as possible!
The game recommends that during the first time you play, you should not include a Traitor, to allow everyone to get used to the gameplay without fear of sabotage. While this is a good idea, I’d recommend players to start playing with a Traitor as soon as they can, as this is where the game really takes off. I feel this role is a little overpowered – then again, this could be because the traitor won in both games I played.
But who knew that paranoid second-guessing of your friend’s every move could be so suspenseful? Or that betraying everyone else could be so much fun?
(Disclaimer: We are not responsible for any arguments, frayed friendships or sleepless nights that may come from playing this game!)
Novel Games is a monthly column in which we review board games inspired by books, reading, and storytelling.