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Subject: Camel Up - a Light Bites review rss

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Mike Poole
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Light Bites – Amuse-Bouche Reviews.
Enough that you get a taste, not too much that you choke.


Camel Up

What’s it about?

Have you ever come across a game with a bit of an identity complex? Well, I think this may be one. Exhibit A – its name. Is it Camel Up or Camel Cup? B - a game about betting, dressed up in very kid-friendly, wacky graphics. C – whatever camels want to get up to in their own time in the privacy of their own sand dune is their own business, but should they be doing it on the board of a family game?!?!

Forget this amateur psychoanalysis. The really important questions to ask about this Spiel des Jahres nominated, camel racing game are, is it a winner and is it worth putting a bet on it?

So, what happens?

Camel Up (I’m going with the BGG entry on this one) is a family game where players bet on the outcome of a camel race taking place in the middle of a desert. The competition takes place over one lap round the 16 spaces at the base of a cardboard pyramid and is broken down into legs. At the end of leg there is a scoring round where bets are cashed in and you start accumulating Egyptian pounds depending on how well you can pick a speedy even-toed ungulate. The wealthiest camel backer at the end wins the game.

You don’t actually own your own camel; instead each player is given a set of cards representing an individual who is betting on the race, as well as an oasis/desert tile for their character. Five dice matching the colours of the five wooden camels are rolled to see who gets a head start and then the wooden camels are placed out on the board on either the 1st, 2nd or 3rd spaces of the race track.

Should any camels have the same outcome on the die, then one of the camels casually hops onto the back of the other. If several have the same number, a camel tower forms. Cue much tittering. Once that has subsided and you have laid out the betting tokens and the money, and with the musky scent of excited camels in the air, the camel games are ready to begin!



There are four actions open to a player on their turn: move a camel; take a betting token for the camel you think will be out front at the end of the current leg; place your oasis/desert tile out on the board; or stick your neck out and predict the eventual winner or loser of the overall race. Only one can be taken each turn.

To move a camel, a pyramid token is taken, as is the pyramid itself from the centre of the race board. Contained within the dusty recesses of the pyramid are the five coloured dice, one for each camel, so following a quick shake it is upended on to the board and the lever pushed in. This drops a pre-rolled die on the board and the pyramid is lifted, with great fanfare, to reveal the colour and the number of spaces - either 1, 2 or 3 - that that camel will move.


Picture by Daniel Danzer (duchamp)


If the camel happens to have a companion on its back when it moves, that camel also goes along for the ride as they move as a unit. Double humped Bactrian camels are quite accommodating you see, and will happily give a camelback ride to their mates. You learn something every day.

Alternatively, on your turn you can take a betting token of the camel that you think is going to win the current leg. There are three for each camel, with the topmost one for each camel paying out a better dividend than the one below it.

Once all of the dice have been revealed, the leg is complete and a scoring round takes place to see if anyone has earned any money from their leg bets. Whoever has the topmost betting token of the leading camel at this time, gets five pounds, whoever took the second token of this camel gets three, and the last token owner nets two. There is a consolation single pound pay out if the camel on your token(s) is second. However if they are outside those places, you will have to pay a pound back to the bank for each failed bet. Each pyramid token taken gains you a pound as well at this stage.



You can also place out your oasis/desert tile on your turn which will give you a money bonus if a camel unit lands on it during that leg. If it is oasis side up, the camel unit will get a burst of speed and will move an extra space forward; if the dusty desert side is up, the camel unit will, hampered by its thirst, move back a space. Both the leg betting tokens and the oasis/desert tiles are returned to the board/owner at the end of each leg.

Your last option is to place one of your character cards face-down in the race winner or loser’s enclosures. As soon as a camel, either individually or with some lazy so-and-so’s on its back crosses the finishing line, the game ends. At this point the cards played on the winner’s enclosure are revealed one by one in order played, with the first player correctly predicting the winner getting eight pounds, the next, five, and so on. If you backed the wrong one, you have to once again pay back a pound as a penalty. Same process for the bets on the loser. Tally the dosh to see who’s got the best eye for a winner.

Any good?

As befitting an SdJ nominee the rules are relatively easy to explain. Once the notion of not actually owning a camel yourself is hurdled and the camel movement and tower building is grasped then the game moves quickly. The only slight sticking point was to remember that when a camel unit had to go back a space due to landing on a player’s dusty desert tile, the camel unit has to go under the one currently in that space.

The artwork is colourful although the cartoony nature of it may put off the serious gamer or make it slightly harder to convince non-gamers to play this ‘kid’s game’. The stacking camel tokens are nice and while they may elicit some sniggers from adults regarding the frisky nature of the camels, there will be no problem explaining to kids the helpful nature of the camels, happy to give a ride to their mates.


Picture by Thomasz Miedzikmerchie poletter (medicus)


The dice pyramid has garnered a bit of attention for this game and following the small amount of cardboard origami necessary to put it together, it does look good on the game board and attracts interest. It may be a bit of a gimmick but it works well, creating a nice bit of theatre as the dice is revealed.

There isn’t really much strategy to explore though and sometimes the action to take can be very obvious, especially if a few camels have already moved and the betting tokens of the leading camel are still available and their dice is yet to come. Placing an oasis/desert tile can also come across as a less valuable action to take as there is no guarantee that you will either get any money from it or that it will influence the race.

I’m also not sure about playing the game with 6 to 8 players as it is conceivable that you may get only one turn (or possibly even none!) with these high player counts. The game can end abruptly too which can frustrate some players if they didn’t get their betting cards out early enough.

But this this a light game, one with dice at that and so, combined with the artwork, nobody should be entering this game under the false pretences of it being a zero-chance, strategy fest. At first glance the race can seem quite pedestrian with obvious winners and losers but due to the camel coupling mechanism and the oasis/desert tiles there can be some exciting charges from the back or unexpected changes in the race leader.

The end game reveal of the winner/loser cards is also fun as people complain about how that last mad dash for the line from the thirsty camel at the back scuppered their dead-cert winning bet or revel in having managed to cash in on some last minute change of the leader that they ‘saw coming’.

The betting aspect is also lightly delivered as is befitting the rest of the package and doesn’t feel too in your face for a game that is clearly aimed at playing with kids as well. On the other hand, you may want to think of a cover story in advance to explain what happens to the camel in the loser’s yard though. Perhaps they go to a camel spa for rest and recuperation rather than the knacker’s yard to be made into glue and exotic dog food.



So Camel (C)up is a light, fun betting game that won’t tax your grey cells overly, more suited to family play rather than ‘serious’ games nights but has the fun inherent in having a bit of a bet and has a short running time. That being said is it my gaming cup of tea? One hump or two?

Probably just the one for me. I’m watching my waist.


Camel Up by Steffen Bogen for 2 to 8 players and is published by eggertspiele/Pegasus Spiele.


Author: Mike Poole
Rating: **** reasonable

1 horrific, avoid like the plague
2 bad, few redeeming features
3 subpar, not for me
4 reasonable
5 good
6 excellent
7 perfect, brilliant. Stop reading and go out and buy it.

Also posted on here - http://boardgameshed.com/2014/05/28/camel-up-review/ - The Board Game Shed is a little old place where we can get together.
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Eric Nolan
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Nice review. I want to point out the (thematically dubious) red cross on the guy sitting next to the knackered camel. Looks like it is going to be looked after!
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Mike Poole
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Phew. As long as he can keep the vultures off.

You're right. Shouldn't it be Red Crescent?
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Steffen Bogen
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Funny review! Perhaps you underrate the problems of timing that scale differently with the number of players, even for serious gamers... But I shouldn't say this, because... I am the eggman, I am the walrus, I am the camel! (with identity problems) shake
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Mike Poole
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Hi Steffen. Or should I say Eggman. I haven't played it yet with the higher numbers but will shortly be off on a family holiday with 8 of us going and I'll be taking Camel Up along with me so I have a shot at giving it a go!

And congrats on the SdJ nomination!
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Steffen Bogen
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mischip wrote:

And congrats on the SdJ nomination!

many thanks, and happy gaming
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Roger Howell
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I love reviews with pics, so thanks for posting this! I think I am going to have to buy this when it comes to the U.S.
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Nibble Wut?
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Anyone who comes into a betting game expecting a "zero chance strategy fest" clearly doesn't understand anything about gambling
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Mike Poole
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Indeed! This most definitely not a "zero chance strategy fest" but fun none-the-less!
 
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Andy Holt
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This is not the cat you're looking for - some other cat maybe?
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parp wrote:
Anyone who comes into a betting game expecting a "zero chance strategy fest" clearly doesn't understand anything about gambling


Unless they have been introduced to "Cripple Mr Onion" by Granny Weatherwax devil
 
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