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Subject: Shadows Over Camelot - The Good News and The Bad News rss

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Nate Owens
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The idea of a cooperative game intrigues me. It represents such a paradigm shift in the mindset it takes to play a game, so Shadows Over Camelot seemed like a good idea for a Christmas list addition. Since I've had it, I've probably played about 10 times, and it is growing into a highlight in my collection. The theme appeals to most people, and the social interaction is second to none. Add to that the fact that its a pretty unique game, and this one will get a lot of play in most circles.

The Good News

Surprisingly Simple For all the rules this game has (and there are many; more on that in a minute) the core gameplay is straightforward and approachable. Even though it takes a while to explain, once the game gets humming, about any player can catch on quickly. That makes it a popular game with non-gamers, especially after they have played it once already.

High Tension Many will disagree with me, but for as often as we've won this game, it STILL feels like everything is in the balance every time we play. Truthfully, it can be a tough game, and its all the better for it. I attribute this to two things. First of all, the difficulty ramps up as the game goes on. For example, once the grail quest finishes, each "Despair" card adds ANOTHER siege engine. This makes the game climactic and exciting. The second reason is...

Great Theme Another complaint I have heard is that the theme is "pasted on," which strikes me, in the words of Douglas Adams, as a load of dingo kidneys. The theme is terrific, and its easy to get into the game. You honestly feel like you are saving Camelot, and victory and defeat are felt deeply. The closest thing I can equate it with is Bang!; for all that game's problems, it still makes players talk in silly voices, and creates a lot of laughter. SoC has the same effect.

The Traitor The traitor in SoC is one of my all-time favorite game mechanics. It gives the game its soul, and makes it more of a challenge. Even when there is no traitor, the shadow of betrayal is long over the whole game, and can turn all the players into paranoid knights, forever looking over their shoulders for the potential traitor. Wrongly accusing someone can be devastating, but it is equally devastating to never discover the perp, and that makes for a great game. One caveat: the traitor can be daunting for first time players, should the card be dealt to them. Still, I will never play without it again. It's just too cool.

Just So Different Although there are other co-op games out there (in all fairness, I haven't played them), they are uncommon enough that many gamers haven't played them, let alone noobs. That means it will stand out to people, and the game usually feels fresh because of it.

It Looks SWEET This is kind of a given with Days of Wonder, but the game looks fantastic. It's just satisfying to set it up, and I love that.

The Bad News

Loads of Rules For as simple as the game is, there are a buttload of rules, and explaining the game can be a real headache. I have had to do it a lot too, and it's always a pain in the neck. Maybe I just need to fine-tune my explanation, but this is far and away my least favorite part of the game.

Not That Deep This doesn't bug me much, but the appeal of the game is getting to work together, and the human interaction, NOT the deep and satisfying (but fun) gameplay. I have one friend who simply doesn't care for the game much, because its not that strategic. She's kind of right, because this ain't Puerto Rico or Caylus. I personally don't feel that's any reason to diss the game, since the social interaction is its main strength, but it is noted that your options aren't particularly varied on your turn.

A Bit Easy Without a Traitor I especially notice this with smaller groups, but when there's no traitor, the game isn't as tough as all that (at least not usually). Still if a three-player game has a traitor (something that hasn't happened with us yet) that sounds FAR tougher to me, so in my mind it kind of balances out.

Can Drag a Bit This is a real problem with more people. The kibbitzing and gabbing can bog it down a little, meaning that a seven-player game will always take longer then it should. It's not a game-breaker, but it can get irritating when you are in a hurry. I have seen games dominate game nights, and that's no good. If you're going to play SoC, you kind of want something else too, like Ra or El Grande, and this can keep that from happening.

The Bottom Line meeple

I love this game. For its few shortcomings, it is an experience. The theme, the components, and the uniqueness make it a popular choice with most people. It is immensely satisfying for me, and I give it a very high recommendation.
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Shadows does have a lot of rules, but I think that most of them refer to specific quests or players -- each quest has its own rules and actions, each player has a special ability. The base rules are very simple (do one bad and one good -- there's a list on each character sheet). When I explain this game, I explain the basic rules first, then do a rundown of each quest. Then we look at each player and discuss the special abilities. Dividing things up like that seems to work pretty well.
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Hélio Andrade
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i explained this game to 4 players that are new to board gaming and had no problem at all, besides some minor rules that i forgot to tell until we were playing the game.

They loved it so much that after the 1st game they wanted to play again =) Consequence: we went to sleep at 6am
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As far as the learning curve goes, I will say it IS kinda up there, but still very manageable. Compare say, to Settlers of Catan (SoC whereas Shadows Over Camelot will be known as SOC) where it's a eurogame which is supposed to be simple by design, but there's alot to learn to play that game too.

Nobody in my regular game group has this game, so I'm back to considering getting this game to bring to them to play. Maybe one day perhaps.

Oh, and when I played 2 sessions of this game, the host decided to just shoot for 7 white swords for the 1st game with no traitor and 9 white swords for a game with a traitor to end the game. FOlks have pointed out that those swords can get turned back to black or seige engines can reach a 12th before the round table fills up completely, but we had to balance our time. We played on a weeknight where everyone had to go to work the next day. I'd still rather have played 2 incomplete games than just 1 complete game. Especially since our 2nd game was w/a traitor. If it so interests you, more details here....

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/251377
 
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Good review, thanks! I decided to buy it and got it a few days ago! It's a keeper Have played it with two players (to learn the rules) and with three. So far, the game is very beautiful and a lot of fun but a little less immersive than say Arkham Horror (another cooperative game). It is obviously a more lightweight game which is also suited for the non-boardgamegeeks out there. I found the rules easy to learn, and all our questions regarding "can I do this with that card" have been answered in the appendix of the quests booklet. Very good rulebook and there are not that many rules once you go through it (but you need to work your way through it--just take a buddy open the rulebook and start playing [with open hands and without a traitor] and you'll be an expert in an hour). With new players I found playing one session with open hands (and without a traitor) made explaining the game very easy but I second Nate Owen in that it can be hard to explain, especially to gamers who have no frame of reference from similar games.

If you've played Arkham Horror, and want a more lightweight cooperative game, you should give this game a look. The fun part, for me anyhow, is that like Arkham Horror it forces you rather often to make a sacrifice to ensure the game is not lost. So no matter how much you'd like to complete a certan quest you started for example, sometimes you have to abandon it halfway through and start fighting the siege engines or the game might be lost. A lot of, small scale, strategic decisions like that make the game a ton of fun in a group and I'll be playing this game a lot laugh
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