The Shadows Over Camelot Board Game
Playing Shadows Over Camelot - A King Arthur Themed Boardgame
Shadows Over Camelot from Days of Wonder
Days of Wonder publishes some of my favorite board games. They all have artwork that fits the style of game, all of the pieces are high quality, and the rulebooks clearly lay out every little detail so that when you start, there is little reason to go and check on them again. The first game I ever purchased from them is the Shadows Over Camelot board game, and it remains one of my favorites.
The premise of Shadows Over Camelot is that you and the other players are facing off against the board, and perhaps one evil traitor that lingers amongst you. Every turn, the board gets a little harder, while the team of players have to band together to try and defeat the five or so mini-games quickly enough to save Camelot. Retrieve the Holy Grail, find Lancelot's Armor, or defeat the invading hoards of Picts & Saxons, these and a few more are all some of the quests that you must undertake as Knights of the Round Table.
How to Play Shadows Over Camelot
This game can be a little daunting at first. When you open up Shadows Over Camelot, there are four boards that come with the game. You choose your knights, all of which have their own special power, and your loyalty card which determines whether or not you have the best interests of Camelot in your heart. There is the potential that you might be the Traitor, which means you are fighting with the board against the players, but it is in your best interest to hide for as long as you possibly can.
Everyone is given cards with a range of numbers and purposes, and each turn is broken up into an 'Evil Phase' and a 'Good Phase'. On the Evil Phase, you are doing something that is going to help the invisible enemy win, and on the Good Phase you have a number of things you can do to try to stave off your end. As the game wears on, the balance is such that the board always seems to be at the edge of victory, so your decisions become more and more important. In my years of playing, I have only seen one or two games where the players had all of the conditions well established due to the luck of the card draw. I've seen just as many games where the board is a merciless dictator that destroys without reserve.
Shadows Over Camelot Rules
Each player begins at the Round Table, the home base of operations. Everyone is dealt five cards, and the only way to get more cards is to win quests, or waste your turn remaining at the Round Table. Each turn you sit and collect cards (which are necessary items for winning quests), the enemies continue to try to knock down your door.
On your turn, as mentioned before, you first go through the Evil Phase. This consists of taking a card off of the top of a special evil deck of cards that pushes one of your quests towards its poor end. That might mean that the Black Knight is closer to winning the tournament, Excalibur becomes harder to retrieve from the Lady in the Lake, or the numbers of Saxons or Picts increase. Each quest has its own card that tells you that it is to be moved one notch closer to a loss for the knights.
If you don't wish to pull a card, you can instead put a catapult in front of Camelot or selflessly choose to remove one of your own life points. The catapults are the worst of the threats to the Kingdom. If ever there are too many in front of the castle walls, the game is immediately over as you are overrun. This is the only mini-game in which loss equals an end of game condition, so it's the one that you have to keep the closest eye on.
After you have completed your 'Evil Phase' - you now have to continue on a good quest. Assuming you have collected as many cards as possible, discuss with the other players what would be the best course of action. Certain cards only work with certain quests, where other types of cards have a more universal use. Numbered cards are used to defeat the Black Knight, the Saxons & Picts, retrieve Lancelot's Armor, or destroy catapults. Grail cards are used to collect the Holy Grail. Any card can be used to retrieve Excalibur, but it takes the longest.
The brilliance of the game is that almost all of these quests are going to need a group interaction. Even quests that can only be done by one person (such as facing the Black Knight) take five turns to complete, so while you are doing that, you still have an Evil Phase, and the other players should be off doing other things. At its essence, Shadows Over Camelot is a game of extreme time management with horrible consequences. If the catapults start getting too high, there is the possibility that a couple of players will have to abandon their current quest to go make sure the game doesn't end prematurely. If the Picts have almost reached their numbers to attack, you must make a group decision to let them, and deal with the problems that creates.
Every quest you complete grants you white swords, while every quest that fails places black swords on the Knights' Table. Too many black swords and the game is over, and you have failed to save Camelot.
Shadows Over Camelot Strategy Tips
Before we get into one or two strategies for the good guys, let's discuss the villain for a moment. There is a chance that one of the players is a villain, as determined by the loyalty card you drew at the very beginning. Finding the villain helps you restore order to Camelot. Once they are found out, their abilities become limited. The problem is that accusing someone takes your action for the turn, and if you're wrong, that sowing deceit amongst the knights causes you to lose morale (gain black swords). A good traitor is knows that, and he makes sure that as many accusations fly before they are finally noticed.
If you happen to get to be the traitor, try not to cackle with glee every time you get the players to do what you want. Just sit, seethe happily, and await your victory.
Now on to the good guys.
Special Powers - Each of the knights has a special power that should be utilized as much as possible. From moving quickly around the board, to card trades or mystically knowing what is going to happen on the deck of Evil, these powers are your edge - use them!
Joint Decisions - The key to Shadows Over Camelot is that it isn't you trying to win alone, it is your entire team of knights. This concept is hard for some people to grasp, given most board games have a very solo-minded mentality. If one person says they have what it takes to go win any one quest, ask yourself if you have anything that you can offer them.
Catapults! - The traitor is watching the catapults, so you should too. When the catapults get up past five or more, you might want to send one of the knights that doesn't seem as busy to try and get rid of them. As you complete quests, the frequency of catapults increases, while the difficulty of removing them decreases. Keep them at a low number, and later they won't become a guaranteed end to your game.
The Shadows Over Camelot board game is unusual because most games don't want you and your friends to play together. The aspect of the traitor means that even though you are working together, you are still watching each other warily. These basic dynamics make Shadows Over Camelot a unique experience, with vibrant art, an excellent selection of miniatures, and a game that will take up an afternoon and still leave you wanting to play again.
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