Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sir Dances on Tables - A Shadows Over Camelot Review

Shadows Over Camelot
  • Designed by Bruno Cathala and Serge Lagent
  • Published by Days of Wonder in 2005
  • Playable for 3-7 players (5-7 recommended) 
  • Plays in around 90 minutes

The Knights of the Round Table
They like to dance on tables.
Shadows Over Camelot, now referred to as "Shadows" transports players to the time of King Arthur.  Chivalry is the order of the day, Knights fight with honor, but the Mists of Avalon lurk in the distance, and someone is destined to betray Camelot into the hands of evil.  Shadows is a co-operative game, where one person might be secretly working against the other players.  Each player is a knight of the round table, or King Arthur himself.  Players seek to complete quests, earning white swords, and avoid failing quests which earn black swords.  The game is a challenge, even if all knights remain loyal, which is a great feature of Shadows.  It was one of, if not the, first games to have a hidden traitor.  For that reason alone, Shadows is worth a look.

Camelot is under siege from the Catapults
Days of Wonder is known for their outstanding components.  They go above and beyond when it comes to unique pieces in their games.  Shadows exemplifies this idea with 7 unique knight sculpts, Picts, Saxons, catapults, Excaliber, the Holy Grail, and Lancelot's Armor.  The detail on each of these pieces is fantastic, and some of the pieces that look great even unpainted.  

Shadows thrives on two main mechanics. The first is card management, meaning, players need to know where to best use their cards, and when the right time to use cards is.  The second mechanic is the hidden traitor.  This injects a certain amount of paranoia/distrust into the game, and it keeps players from following the leader since the leader might just be a traitor.
The Saxons attack
The Picts attack as well
Shadows thrives on the hidden traitor.  Without that going on, the game doesn't have enough depth to keep gamers interested.  I have played with my family where we don't pass out loyalty cards, and it works ok, but we tend to handicap ourselves with some starting black swords to make it harder.

Shadows requires players to work together.  If everyone tries to do their own thing, everyone is doomed.  There are limits in place to prevent players from working too well together.  You can't openly discuss what's in your hand, but you can say something like "My good King, I would be best suited questing for the Holy Grail."  The whole idea here is allowing players to work with each other, without plotting everything out. It also gives players a chance to think for themselves, which is greatly needed in any co-op game.

All the Knights at Camelot
The knights have won
unless there's a traitor
Shadows is dripping with theme incorporation.  If you know even a little bit of the Arthurian mythos, you will immediately get into Shadows. Yes, Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail counts in knowing Arthurian mythos.  Every part of the game feels right.  Saxons and Picts slowly invading, Catapult siege forces looming, the challenge of the Black Knight, questing for Excalibur and the Holy Grail, and lastly, fighting Lancelot for his armor, and a Dragon for his treasure.

Learning Curve
I'd call this a medium-long learning curve.  The game doesn't take long to explain, but in order to know what to do on your own, you really have to see a couple of games play out.  There are a lot of cards, and knowing when to play them, how to play them effectively, and how to manage your hand, are all things that take some time to do well.
A sampling of the white cards

Why I like Shadows Over Camelot
Shadows has a great theme, and solid gameplay.  Trying to deduce the traitor is an enjoyable challenge.  The artwork is gorgeous, the rules are very well written.  Shadows is a solid experience from start to finish.

Why I don't like Shadows Over Camelot
A sampling of the evil action cards
Shadows does have a predictability flaw. What I mean by that, some games are going to go one way or the other no matter what the players do.  Sometimes the shuffle on the cards is completely one sided.  Those games are rare, but they can happen.

I've played Shadows 33 times, 22 of which were base game only.  Those plays have been spaced out over the last 3 years, the bulk coming in the summer and fall of 2010.  I haven't played it much lately, but that's due to the lack of a large group.  The key for me has been playing this with a lot of different people.  If I played with the same group of 5 or 6, Shadows would get boring. Everyone would have their traitor tells, and the game lacks intrigue at that point.  If you keep the group changing, even a little bit, Shadows is great fun.

Shadows is a 2 thumbs up. It's a keeper for a very long time.  The theme is accessible to new players, the co-op with a traitor is a nice change.  I have a few pure co-ops, a team game (BSG) and the hidden traitor maybe game in Shadows.  It makes for a good blend of games, and lets me pick what the group feels like.

What else is like Shadows Over Camelot?
Some similar games to look at are Battlestar Galactica and Mafia/Werewolf.  In both of these games, players have hidden loyalties, and figuring out who is on your side is a key aspect of the game.
There is a Shadows Over Camelot card game coming out soon, I think by Christmas 2012, so if you like the sound of Shadows, but not the playtime, give that a look.

Want to buy Shadows Over Camelot and support BoBG?

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