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Subject: A Quickfire Gamer Review – Camel Up rss

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JD Mofo
United Kingdom
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While others quest deep into the night, fight epic wars across huge battlefields and evolve entire civilisations, quickfire gamers seek a different gaming experience. For us a 'filler game' is known as a 'game'. These reviews are written for gamers who like their games to be short, relatively simple, and to include as many players as possible; but still want them to deliver in terms of strategy and theme.

Check out the full list of Quickfire Gamer Reviews here:

-- Camel Up –-

Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more camel racing games? Nope, me either. The theme didn’t immediately grab me when I heard about this game but having done a little research I thought this could be a good one for our Quickfire Gamer group, so I picked it up and we gave it a whirl. And then another. And another. Spoiler alert: I like this game a lot!

Camel Up (I agree with those saying it should be called Camel Cup!) simulates the ever-popular sport of camel racing. There are 5 different coloured camels which move around the track on the game board. Rather than having control of one of the camels in the race, players actually have little influence over the way they move and instead it’s a game of trying to bet on which camel you think will either win the current ‘leg’ of the race, or the race overall. A leg is defined as all of the camels moving once each (although some may move more than once if they are carried on the back of others, as mentioned below).

After setting up the game players will take it in turns to make just one action, from a choice of 4:

1) Take a pyramid tile + move a camel

When you decide to move a camel you also take a tile worth 1 Egyptian Pound (henceforth referred to as VPs, as that’s what they are.) At the end of the current leg you’ll cash this tile in for 1 VP and it’ll be returned to the board ready for the next leg.

Next you take the dice pyramid which contains 5 dice (one of each colour for the 5 camels), turn it upside down and press the ‘button’ on the side, which reveals one of the coloured dice. You then move the camel of that colour the number of spaces it says on the die face and put that die to one side (there are two 1s, two 2s and two 3s on each dice). Once all 5 dice have come out of the pyramid, the leg is over. Super simple.

The genius of the way the camels move is that when a camel lands on the same space as another, it is stacked on top of it and is considered ahead of that camel in the race. If the camel underneath then moves, it will carry the camel(s) on its back with it, but not take any below along for the ride. This means that a camel might move several times in one leg by being carried around by others, making each leg (and the race overall) far less predictable, as even the camel in last place through a bit of luck can race through the field to win the leg/race.

2) Bet on this leg of the race

This is simplicity itself. Instead of actually having to pay money to bet on a camel in this leg, you simply pick up one of the betting tiles. There are 3 betting tiles of each colour on the board. The top tile of each stack will be worth 5 points to you if the camel of that colour wins the leg, the next tile is worth 3 and the bottom one is worth 2. So if you grab that first one you stand to win more, but to do so you’ll need to grab it early, when it is less obvious which camel is going to win the leg. If your chosen camel comes second you’ll get 1 VP, and anything else will cost you 1 VP (to pay for the bet). You can pick up several of these tiles during a leg, spreading your bets by backing several camels or putting all your eggs in one basket by picking up multiple tiles of the same colour. Once the leg is over you’ll cash in (or pay for) any betting tiles you collected during the leg and return the tiles to the board for the next leg.

3) Bet on the overall winner or loser of the whole race

Again, a nicely streamlined action. Each player holds 5 cards, one of each colour. To bet on the race winner, simply play your card of that colour face down on the winner spot on the board, forming a stack of cards as the game progresses. During the race you can play several of these if you change your mind, but you can’t take played cards back. At the end of the race (once the first camel crosses the finish line), the card stack is turned face up (so the one played first is now on the top) and you go through the stack. The first player’s card of the correct colour nets them 8 points, 2nd is 5, 3rd is 3 and so on. Any card of an incorrect colour will cost their owner 1 VP each. You can also bet on the loser of the race in the same way, placing a card on the loser space on the board. Correctly predicting the loser first is also worth 8 points, then 5 etc.

4) The only other action you can take is to place your pyramid tile on the board in any empty space, so long as it is not adjacent to another pyramid tile. If any camel (or camel stack) lands on your tile you immediately gain 1VP and that camel(s) will either move an extra space forwards or will go back one space, depending on which way up you played your tile. These can be used to score you a few points and to hurry along or hinder the camels to try to influence the race/leg result.

And that’s the whole game. You continue taking turns and scoring legs until the first camel crosses the finish line. You then score in the same way as you do at the end of every leg, and then score the winner/loser cards. The player with the most VPs is the winner!

Do you think that sounds really simple? You’d be right! But don’t mistake that for meaning that Camel Up is TOO simple. There is just enough here to make you feel in control of your destiny, and with a game like this that’s all-important. Add to that the excitement of the unpredictable camel movements and the joy of seeing the camel you backed race through the field to take an unlikely leg win and you have an absolute gem of a game.

Bling in the Box: 4/5
While this game is not the best produced game I have ever seen, it’s pretty near the top of the list. The wooden camels are pleasingly chunky and stack well. The board looks great and with the pyramid in the centre of the track it really looks cool. I think the dice pyramid is genius, even if it only works 95% of the time (if a dice doesn’t come out just give it a shake and try again). I’m not usually so much a fan of ‘cartoony’ artwork but here it really fits. The developers deserve praise for making the betting/pyramid tiles actual thick cardboard tiles rather than cards, which would have worked fine but wouldn’t have been as nice. Even the money in this game is a cut above the norm. Overall a fantastic package for the price.

Initial Infodump: 5/5
Very simple to learn and to teach. I have given Camel Up a perfect score here not only because the rulebook is excellent and the game is a breeze to play, but also because the mechanics themselves are one of the main reasons the game is so straightforward. Picking up a tile or placing down a card to make a bet, rather than having to actually pay money to bet and then get it back later if you win is genius.

Immersion: 3.5/5
This is a tough category to score. Do I feel like I’m in the desert watching a real camel race? No, not really. Do I feel like I want to roleplay my character? Nope. But do I feel the tension of gambling on a race? Absolutely! There are stand-up moments in this game, for instance when a camel you have backed suddenly races through the field to win the leg/race. The cheering and groans of despair from everyone I’ve played this with prove that players very much feel immersed in the race itself, if not the desert/pyramid part of the theme. It recreates the highs and lows of a day at the races brilliantly.

Duration: 5/5
This is a perfect game for a Quickfire Gamer such as myself. The game tends to last around 20 mins or so, and that feels spot-on. This is one of those games where you’ll probably have several games in one sitting, which is great because it means you’ll never get to the point where you feel you’re hopelessly behind and there’s a long way to go. Just suck it up and do better next time!

Skill vs Fate: 3/5
Another tough one to score. You could argue (and many have) that despite the fact that you are trying to play the odds and maximise your chance of success with every move you make, the outcome is totally random. You could bet on the most likely camel to win a leg of the race and then an outsider suddenly charges past. The reason I’m giving it a pretty good score here is because I FEEL in control when I play this game; and that’s what matters to me. If I bet on an outsider and I win I know it was a lucky break. If I bet on the ‘dead cert’ and lose then I have the satisfaction of at least knowing I was unlucky. And that’s a perfect recreation of real world gambling!

Banter and Backstabbing: 2/5
This is not the game for stabbing people in the back or secretly plotting against them. There are times when you’ll pick up that bet the next player was desperate for, but you’ll most likely be doing so because you wanted it, not just to mess with them. You have limited opportunities to affect your opponents’ plans though the pyramid tiles, but not this is not a ‘take that’ style game at all (and it’s not intended to be, so that’s OK).

Longevity: 4/5
This game is going to be around for some time to come with my group as it hits all the right notes for us. While it doesn’t have random set-up or variable components to add replayability, the race itself is going to play out differently every time. Camel Up gets extra points here for being the kind of game you could play with any group (except maybe die-hard wargamers who might scoff at it). Camel Up is going to work just as well with family as with gamers, giving it more chances to hit the table. Also it goes up to 8 players and there’s precious few games we play that do that.

Fun: 5/5
This is loads of fun. One of the most fun games I’ve played! By our third playthrough players were chanting ‘Green 2! Green 2!’ etc and one player took to worriedly saying every time someone picked up the pyramid ‘Ohmygod, ohmygod, herewego, herewego’. This just shows how easy it is to really get into the spirit of this game. Very few games I have played with my group get played more than a couple of times in one evening before we move on to something else. This gets played 4+ times before it gets packed away and that says it all.

If you're in a hurry, just read this bit!

Do you like fun? You will like this. I don’t agree with those who have said that Camel Up is too random. What this game does is take the feeling of gambling on a race and boils it down to its base elements, without losing any of the excitement. Is it random? Yes of course! What would be the point of a gambling on a predictable race? The important thing is that you’ll have an interesting/difficult decision to make almost every turn. Will you bet on the camel that looks likely to win the leg even though two other players have already backed it? Or back an outsider who could net you more cash if it comes in? How early will you pick the overall winner/loser? When and where will you place your pyramid tile? There are also many clever elements to the game’s design. The way the camels stack and carry each other around makes the race infinitely more interesting. The simplified betting is brilliant. The pyramid is cool and unique. This is one of those games where all players enjoy the experience - win or lose - although winning is obviously a bonus! Simply put: If you like short, fun, exciting games then buy this now.

Overall score: 9/10
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