Alec Chapman(ALGO)United Kingdom
As well as trying to act as a social secretary keeping an old university crowd together ish, with all its pitfalls and stresses (not least the podcast it led to), I make it my mission to try and use gaming as an antidote to the structured, boring parts of my life and, where they are interested, other peoples’ lives as well. It was by this method that I started adding other games in between the sessions of Zombies!!!, which was never my favourite game system anyway although we would usually have a good laugh for the first hour of each play. There was a semi-regular period three years ago where a group of five or six of us met up monthly for what started as “Friday of the Dead” (Zombies!!!, Zombie movies) became “Saturday Of The Dead” (same, but with additional Say Anything) and morphed into “Day Of Fun” (board games and computer games, with movies when eating). Then two of the guys moved to the states and things got away from us somewhat, adult life got in the way, we got lazy etc etc.
Various things sit differently with different people:
*Settlers and Formula D (“Dice Hate Me!”),
*Cranium (“Go, Team Sofa!”)
*Say Anything (What is the best T-Shirt Slogan? “I put porn on my expenses and all I got was publicly humiliated”)
While these all had their place in the route to gaming acceptance by my buddies, one game sits head, shoulders and helmet plume above all the rest. That game is Shadows over Camelot.
In a major reunion of the old crowd (sans the two in the USA) this weekend it got rolled out yet again, making me hit a quarter century of plays.
It’s hard to say why this game became, and remains, the one key component in our gaming weekends. I do have my suspicions though.
Let me explain the game quickly for anyone that doesn’t know it already. I’ll be brief.
A semi-co-operative game, in Shadows Over Camelot the players are knights of the round table, tasked with facing the not inconsiderable forces of evil that are invading or poisoning the land. Both evil and good are represented in SoC by cards (black and white) and in each round, the danger is scaled by having each player assist the cause of evil before they can do anything themselves to combat it. At the time this was a reasonably unique approach, made even more fun by the rather genius introduction of a traitor mechanic – something that I absolutely adore.
This traitor cannot openly harm you – nor would they wish to since they are rendered all but impotent by exposure (well, they’re a pain but nowhere near as dangerous). The life of a traitor in SoC is one of quiet contemplation and judicious timing. While you don’t want to be obviously hindering the knight’s progress, you do want to be making a difference wherever you can, and pouncing on the opportunity to win as it arises.
The joy of being the traitor is heightened by two things. First, all discards are face down, meaning that your burning of the crucial “dispel” card to keep a horrible permanent effect in play is not spotted until later. Secondly, there are certain ways you can set the team up for a fall – doing heroic deeds to win their trust, gaining the Holy Grail or Excalibur that could make the difference between winning and losing later and then refusing to use it at the crucial moment. I remember at least two games where an undiscovered traitor took great pleasure in refusing to use Excalibur to prevent a game losing card or choosing the definite loss via Lancelot’s armour. Choices on cards give you the opportunity to refuse to take the beneficial path at crucial times and watching the loyal knights’ faces fall.
These are the moments the traitor lives for.
Yeah, it’s probably more fun as the traitor – but unlike Battlestar Galactica I actually enjoy the teamwork of combating the rest of game when I am a loyal knight. This is particularly the case when your abilities nest well – for example, when Arthur passes Galahad a special card because he knows it can then be played for free, leaving him his whole action to use somewhere else. The unlikely joy when you finally beat the Holy Grail quest or, even more rarely, the dragon.
So why do I suspect it does so well with my friends? They clearly like the traitor mechanic, coupled with the shorter playtime (BSG was an absolute disaster) and there’s a massive dose of already knowing the rules. That being said, the most important thing is that we do have a massive store of good memories from the twenty odd plays we’ve had before, and this speaks as much of the people as the game. Great stuff.
Another new game taught this last weekend was I’m The Boss. A game my wife basically refused to play when I was explaining it, but immediately asked to join after watching the first playthrough.
This game is again mostly about how the gamers at the table play it, rather than the rules, which as anyone who knows anything about me will tell you is my sweet spot for gaming. Someone calls for a deal. The value of this deal is set by the space the pawn is on at the time and the stage the game is at (a deal worth £8,000,000 early on could end up worth £20,000,000 later). Once we know how much money is up for grabs the calling player (The Boss) starts to negotiate with the rest of the table for the necessary prerequisites to make the deal happen. These prerequisites are the six investment dynasties represented by the family cards. If you have one of these cards in front of you it can be used to get you in on the action – so long as your opponents don’t send the crucial negotiator on holiday! There are lots of other ways to spike a deal too, or in the right circumstances you can take control (“I’m The Boss”) and start playing hardball.
The game is all about shouting, threatening or in a pinch you could always politely negotiate about how much you want to help make the deal happen. Or you could just destroy the deal completely. It’s really up to how people want to play it. A nice group is preferable, with people who don’t just form cartels or offer ludicrously cheap investors without good reason.
We ended up playing three times in a row. It was that much fun.