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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Shadows Over Camelot (P)review

Over the weekend, Joe (Jmezz), Judson (of BA.Net) and I all got to try out a game I've been wanting to play for a bit called Shadows Over Camelot.  I'd heard the game described as "Battlestar Galactica in Camelot".  Naturally, this had me intrigued!  So I watched a few clips of Sean Connery in First Knight, and off we went!

The game's concept is quite simple: Complete a series of quests while defending Camelot from invasion.  There are 3 major quests: the Search for the Grail, Excalibur, and Lancelot's Quests.  The 3 major quests not only get the heroes closer to victory, but earn them a relic. That comes in handy: the grail allows a dead hero to be resurrected, Excalibur makes the knights fight a bit better (more on this later), and Lancelot's armor mitigates the bad cards (also, more on this!).  These special quests can only be completed (pass or fail) once.

There are also three minor quests.  These quests can be passed and failed any number of times. These quests are: Pict and Saxon invasions, and the jousting tournament.  These quests are relatively easy to complete, but ultimately don't provide as much of a reward.  But leave them unchecked and they will fail- and it adds up!
The game board

Each player's turn is divided into 2 phases.  The first phase is the "evil" phase where the player draws a black card and does what it says.  The majority serve as a pressure point on all of the quests, moving them all towards failure.  One card, for example, is placed on a 7-card track representing the grail quest.  If all 7 of the cards are "evil" then the quest is failed.  This forces the heroes to pick and choose their battles- inevitably some quests will likely be failed.  This is a great mechanic, that causes the conflict element in the game and works really well!  There are also a few special black cards that do even worse things.  One makes you draw and apply the next 3 cards.  One hurts all of the heroes for 1 point of damage.

The second phase of a player's turn is the heroic action.  A hero can choose to move or perform a heroic action.  Moving from one location to another is an action, but requires no fancy rules.   There is one location for each of the above mentioned quests, as well as 2 locations for Camelot- the round table, and the wall which is under siege by the siege weapons mentioned above.

Performing a heroic action depends on the location the hero is in.  For most of these, the location is a quest area and the heroic action is playing a white card that moves the heroes closer to victory.  When at the Round table, the heroic action is drawing 2 cards (and is one of the only ways to get cards).  When outside the wall, a hero can attempt to kill a siege weapon with a simple mechanic combining white cards and a d8.  Heroes may also sacrifice a life to take a second heroic action.  Dropping to 0 life obviously kills the hero.

Finally, when a quest ends (either in victory or defeat), a number of swords are placed around the round table.  White swords for victory, and black swords for defeat.  Easier quests obviously provide fewer swords.  The heroes lose if 7 (out of 12 maximum) black swords are placed on the table.  The heroes win if 12 swords are on the table and the majority (7+) are white.  Beating quests also nets a number of white cards (which the heroes who participated in the quest may share however they please), and nets the heroes a life point or two.

Okay so that's the basics!  But there's a few minor twists.  The first minor twist is that each character (who are, of course, Knights of the round table!), get a special action.  Maybe it's the ability to draw an extra card, or the ability to move for free when leaving the round table- all of these abilities help make the team a bit more capable at specific tasks.  But there's one more sweet twist!

Just like BSG, there are loyalty cards.  Unlike BSG, there isn't *always* a traitor!  In fact, there is just 1 traitor card who may or may not even show up.  Each character has a reverse side for their traitor ability (when outed).  It takes a heroic action to out a suspected traitor.  A traitor who makes it to the end of the game without being outed may flip 2 swords from white to black- which may sneak the victory out right at the last second!  The traitor basically has to try and subtly make the heroes fail without being caught.  It's a great mechanic that keeps everyone on their toes!

*Fast paced.  Player turns take less than a minute once you get rolling.
*Great components.  This is a given this day and age, but the little figures are awesome and everything has great graphic design and is on nice thick cardboard.
*Cool theme!

*Isn't quite as nail bitingly, paranoia inducing as BSG.  On the other hand, it plays 2 or 3 times faster.
*Understanding what each quest needs to be defeated was a bit tough at the beginning- takes a play through or two to have it fully down.  Nothing too bad though.

Conclusion: Awesome game for sure!  I give it a B+.  I will definitely be bringing this along to conventions as it's easy to teach and plays quickly.

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