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Subject: Comparison: Shadows Over Camelot vs Pandemic rss

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Cooperative games are still rare. I have only played a couple of them and these are my favorite two. Even though they feel and play very differently, there is no denying how similar they are. This brief review discusses the similarities and some other aspects of these games.


Theme

Both games have great themes. The Arthurian Legends have inspired books, movies, games, etc... over time and remains fresh and surprising. The threat of an infectious disease epidemic is present in our daily lives, especially in an age of bioterrorism and, more importantly, where several million people live under fertile situation for the spread of these diseases (low income, poor level of education, precarious living-condition... you name it). So, Pandemic's theme is current and has also been source of inspiration.

Both games do an amazing job integrating the theme with the mechanics and gameplay.

I think Pandemic has a more appealing theme as it has not been as much explored as Shadow's at least regarding boardgames.


Gameplay

There are obvious similarities between the two games:

1 - Cooperative
2 - Each turn you do a good and an evil thing
3 - Two decks
4 - The white cards go into the players hands
5 - The black cards are imediately placed against the players

It is interesting however how even aspects that may seem disparate at first also keep amazing resemblance. For example, the conditions for defeat:

1 - Seven or more black swords vs eighth outbreak. These both are usually reached by events originated from the black deck and they have a lasting effect on the game as, in general, once black swords are on the board or the outbreak marker is moved, they cannot be directly changed anymore. Shadows allows you to indirectly change the allegiance of the swords by unmasking the traitor, for example, but, as a concept I think they work similarly to each other.

2 - Twelfth catapult vs exhaustion of cubes of a given color. These are similar because these pieces are physically added to the board and can be directly fought and physically removed. They are there purely to put pressure on the players. The players don't defeat these obstacles to get closer to winning the game. They do that to delay defeat and to buy time.

3 - Equal or greater number of black swords at the end of the game vs exhaution of the players' deck. These are basically the clock that is ticking for each game. If they are reached, you have not completed enough quests or you have not found enough cures.

4 - Death of all loyal knights is unique to Shadows, even though I have yet to see a game end this way.

A close look also reveals that the winning conditions are not very different.

The white swords are gained through quests which are ultimately won by managing to put together the right combination of cards. Cures are found the same way.


Random Thoughts

The duration and number of players are generally better in Pandemic as it is usually easier to put together 2-4 people to play for 30-45 minutes than to find 5-6 people (arguably the sweet spot for Shadows) to play for a little over one hour. Plus, the play is rough since it is hard for a newbie to play the traitor. Pandemic is also easier to learn.

Shadows has the better bits even though Pandemic does also a great job in this department too.

The variable player abilities add a lot of flavor and strategic depth to both games helping them to stay fresh.

Pandemic's victorious endgame is a bit better. Shadows feels awkward sometimes as you need to wait some quests to be lost so you can secure vitory. Also, with the game finishing if the players' deck gets exhausted, Pandemic has a more reliable duration. Shadows can, on occasion, drag for a bit.

Even though both games are highly thematic, a cynic can put either one down. For example: "how come to defeat Lancelot I need a fullhouse?", preferring to ignore the entirely asymetry of Shadow's deck and the strength of the value of the cards as the quest may end prematurely by the board filling up with Lancelot cards and the quest still being won by the player and the rarity of cards of higher numbers. The same could be said for Pandemic as you need "five-of-a-kind" to find the cure, plus, the basic players' deck is almost identical to a regular deck of cards.


Why do these games work?

Shadows Over Camelot works because of the traitor. It raises the level of tension as the players are always wondering if somebody is sabotaging their plans and if two swords will turn black in the end.

Pandemic works because of the Epidemics card. It increases the risk of outbreaks by making sure that the same cities are always at the top of the deck and getting reinfected and it brings a random city into play which was not a threat up to that point and comes to the game with the risk of immediately outbreaking.

One could fairly say that Shadows Over Camelot is not a true cooperative game. On the other hand, the presence of the traitor is highly congruent with the theme and may make the game more replayable than a "true" cooperative game is.


Conclusion

These great games have a lot in common but each provides an entirely different experience. Shadows Over Camelot has been established as one of the best boardgames and Pandemic has had a very solid start but still needs to pass the test of time.

I think Pandemic belongs in every gamers collection but I can't recommend both games enough.
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Peter Folke
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I really like how you compare the two games, but could you please provide a little more detail on your own opinion?

Also, it seems that you like both games a lot, and that you think one should own both. But after a long (and great) description of how alike the games are, what is your justification for this?
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Curt Keller
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Ronaldo wrote:
The duration and number of players are generally better in Pandemic as it is usually easier to put together 2-4 people to play for 30-45 minutes than to find 5-6 people (arguably the sweet spot for Shadows) to play for a little over one hour.


In our experience, a game of Shadows Over Camelot is likely to last 2-3 hours with 5 or 6 players. A game with fewer players takes less time, but doesn't work as well. For this reason, Pandemic, which surprisingly works well with 2 players, will see the table much more often. It won't even be close.
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ckvt wrote:
Ronaldo wrote:
The duration and number of players are generally better in Pandemic as it is usually easier to put together 2-4 people to play for 30-45 minutes than to find 5-6 people (arguably the sweet spot for Shadows) to play for a little over one hour.


In our experience, a game of Shadows Over Camelot is likely to last 2-3 hours with 5 or 6 players. A game with fewer players takes less time, but doesn't work as well. For this reason, Pandemic, which surprisingly works well with 2 players, will see the table much more often. It won't even be close.


Depending on how many friends you have, yes, Pandemic might see more play time. I however have many people over when I game, so I doubt I would even bother with this game.
 
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Falke wrote:
I really like how you compare the two games, but could you please provide a little more detail on your own opinion?

Also, it seems that you like both games a lot, and that you think one should own both. But after a long (and great) description of how alike the games are, what is your justification for this?


Thank you for reading and for the nice comments.

I don't know if I said that one should own both as much as I said that one could own both. The reasone leading to this is that the games are great, provide different gaming experiences and strike different demographics.

If you play games mostly with a smaller number of players, then you don't really want Shadows Over Camelot. If you like cooperative games and has the opportunity to play either, you may want to consider having both. If you want a sureshot gateway game, you may want to buy Ticket to Ride instead.

Right now I prefer Pandemics. I play mostly with my wife and we are both Healthcare professionals and her area of interest is Public Health, especially, tuberculosis. So, you can see how this game hit the right spots with us.

But, I don't want to be unfair to Shadows Over Camelot which has won important awards, has been around for a longer period of time and its weaknesses are already known.

Pandemic is arguably the hottest game at BGG right now and probably only one year from now we will really know its true value. Maybe, in the end, Shadows Over Camelot will be the most replayable and durable of the two and I am trying to keep this review fair and unbiased.

I think the main conclusions of the review are:
- Both games have a lot in common.
- They still differ from each other in gameplay experience.
- Both games are great and worth having.

One unrelated point. Where I said "five-of-a-kind", I meant "flush".
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ckvt wrote:
In our experience, a game of Shadows Over Camelot is likely to last 2-3 hours with 5 or 6 players. A game with fewer players takes less time, but doesn't work as well. For this reason, Pandemic, which surprisingly works well with 2 players, will see the table much more often. It won't even be close.


I generally agree with this statement even though it only takes us a little more than one hour to finish a 5-player game.
 
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Chris Farrell
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I think you may be reaching here for connections which are somewhat ephemeral. The way infection cubes and catapults move off the table may be similar in the two games, but within the narrative of the game they behave completely differently. A catapult has no inherent threat other than as a simple timer. The infection cubes may also be a timer, but they count down against multiple different clocks at the same time and at different rates, they have an on-board threat (that of spreading infection further) beyond this, and different types of cubes have different levels of threat depending on their location, proximity to other cubes, and availability of cures, all in an interesting balancing act.

For this and many other reasons, I actually find that the two games are very, very different. Pandemic seems to have covered all the things that annoyed me about Shadows Over Camelot: much more effective pacing, good tension management, no phony and unworkable limitations on players' communications, and the constant involvement of all players vs. the frequently unbearable stretches of boredom in Shadows, especially with large player-counts. In general, while Shadows over Camelot is full of restrictions (you can't freely communicate; you can't play cards outside of your quest; you can't leave your quest without paying a penalty), Pandemic doesn't tell you what you can't do, and as a result is a very open game and gives the players great flexibility to fight a rapidly-escalating threat. Plus of course Pandemic has a much more sensible playing time (although it's not the raw length of time I object to in Shadows over Camelot as much as the downtime and frequently problematic early and late game).

But one thing I'll say for sure, I find Pandemic's theme much better than Shadows'. In Pandemic, the game "winds up" much more effectively through the use of the stacked player deck and the re-stacking of the outbreak deck when the epidemic cards hit. The various diseases spread in a plausible manner, slowly at first but quickly accelerating as outbreaks threaten, while the narrative still has a lot of variability within this reasonable constraint. So the game tends to develop and go through interesting phases, but does it organically, without lots of rules to coerce it. On the other hand, Shadows' single draw deck in which you just get random stuff each turn contributes to a scatter-shot feel that doesn't manage tension effectively in my opinion.

Anyway, this all may be moot if you are a Shadows over Camelot fan. But if you thought Shadows wasa little boring for reasons similar to what I did, I anyway find Pandemic to be a much more engaging and interesting game.

For the record, I was a play-tester for Pandemic. So it's naturally more to my tastes.
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I haven't played Pandemic at all -- what mechanic is there to keep it from becoming a solitaire game played by the most assertive player? There seem to be enough opportunities to trade cards and information that one person can take over...
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There isn't an in-game mechanic really to keep that from happening, though trading cards is so difficult unless you're the researcher that it doesn't really came across as worth the effort unless you can do it in a turn and a half. Alpha-gamers will have a good chance to run things, unless you have in-house rules about such thing. (It was suggested elsewhere to have a no touchy other people's pieces rule, which I approve of.) The game operates as a team effort, really, and the role each person has is randomized, so strategy for each individual player will change every time.
 
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Edit: a couple of cross-posts. This is in response to cfarrel's post.

I, actually, think that other than the catapult/disease cubes aspect, our posts are in perfect agreement.

The communication issue was supposed to be on the review but I forgot to include when typing late last night and I was just waiting for my next opportunity of a reply to talk about it. But, thankfully, you beat me to it.

I think the way Shadows Over Camelot deals with the communication is sketchy and brings some stress to the game table. A clear rule of all communication allowed or no communication allowed would make the rules cleaner and would more to my liking. The decision in Pandemic to keep all the communication free is another point where this game edges the other one.

Regarding the catapult/disease cubes aspect I think you raise some important points. There is no denying in my mind that they are very similar. They are "dealt with" in a very similar fashion, when they are exhausted the game is over and defeating them bring the players no closer to victory. There is no question the cubes serve for different purposes but finding them similar is far from a "reach" or stretch.
 
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Chris Farrell
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Morganza wrote:
I haven't played Pandemic at all -- what mechanic is there to keep it from becoming a solitaire game played by the most assertive player? There seem to be enough opportunities to trade cards and information that one person can take over...


I think as in all these games, the appropriate mechanic is to not play with that player All cooperative games will break down in the face of an over-domineering individual, just like auction games will be unsettled by a player who can't do math. Them's the breaks.

As in Shadows Over Camelot and Lord of the Rings, players do have ultimate control over their (hidden) cards and their piece, so in that sense anyway everyone has to make the ultimate decision to play a card or move their guy or take an action, even if someone else is telling them what to do. There have been times in all these games that I've done something other than what the group decided because I felt they were wrong.

Unlike Shadows or Lord of the Rings, no player faces elimination. So you don't have the "I want to stay in the game" motivation to get a player to make a more personally favorable move that might not be optimal for the group. But that was always a fairly weak pull, as player eliminations tend to happen very late in the game and the eliminated player shared the win.
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Curt Keller
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cfarrell wrote:
Morganza wrote:
I haven't played Pandemic at all -- what mechanic is there to keep it from becoming a solitaire game played by the most assertive player? There seem to be enough opportunities to trade cards and information that one person can take over...

I think as in all these games, the appropriate mechanic is to not play with that player All cooperative games will break down in the face of an over-domineering individual, just like auction games will be unsettled by a player who can't do math. Them's the breaks.

I completely agree. One rule we use with coop games is you can only touch the board and your own pawn if it's your turn. Otherwise, hands off.

Coop games can also break down if players are too timid or afraid to make a decision. If that's the case and someone starts trying to play for that person, I'll make sure to point out several alternative approaches in hope of the timid person picking up on the game and gaining more confidence over time. If that person is still too uncomfortable, well, then it's time to find a new game like Ticket To Ride as someone else above suggested.
 
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One thing I DIDN'T like about Pandemic was the fact that you couldn't select what "bad" thing you were going to do. In SOC, you can at least take a siege engine or lose a life point. It serves the same effect, but I think you are less at the mercy of the cards.

Pandemic does seem to be a little more streamlined, but I think I prefer SOC.
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San Il Defanso wrote:
One thing I DIDN'T like about Pandemic was the fact that you couldn't select what "bad" thing you were going to do. In SOC, you can at least take a siege engine or lose a life point. It serves the same effect, but I think you are less at the mercy of the cards.

Pandemic does seem to be a little more streamlined, but I think I prefer SOC.


I agree with you. This is another good point I had thought of including but ended up leaving out. You do add some options and some strategy too. The wise use of these possibilities can some times make the difference between winning or losing.
 
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cfarrell wrote:
I think you may be reaching here for connections which are somewhat ephemeral. The way infection cubes and catapults move off the table may be similar in the two games, but within the narrative of the game they behave completely differently. A catapult has no inherent threat other than as a simple timer. The infection cubes may also be a timer, but they count down against multiple different clocks at the same time and at different rates, they have an on-board threat (that of spreading infection further) beyond this, and different types of cubes have different levels of threat depending on their location, proximity to other cubes, and availability of cures, all in an interesting balancing act.


Now I am happy. I just explained Pandemic to my friend and as soon as I explained the disease cubes, he said the magic words:

"Just like catapults."

Joy!
 
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This has all been very helpful. I want to buy one of these two games. Maybe you can help finalize my purchase.

So my wife isn't a real gamer but I'm trying to get her into them. Started simple with Ticket to ride, 7 wonders. She likes settlers of Catan, but not the expansions. Agricola and Power grid is to much for her, which game do you think she would prefer?

I have gamer friends and none gamer friends, which would more likely appeal to both? I personally like the theme of SOC better, but Pandemic seems like an easier theme for newbies to accept. Your thoughts.

Both look like excellent games that I would love to own, but for now what should I choose? If you could only pick one, which one would it be?

Thanks
 
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bluearmenian wrote:
This has all been very helpful. I want to buy one of these two games. Maybe you can help finalize my purchase.

So my wife isn't a real gamer but I'm trying to get her into them. Started simple with Ticket to ride, 7 wonders. She likes settlers of Catan, but not the expansions. Agricola and Power grid is to much for her, which game do you think she would prefer?

I have gamer friends and none gamer friends, which would more likely appeal to both? I personally like the theme of SOC better, but Pandemic seems like an easier theme for newbies to accept. Your thoughts.

Both look like excellent games that I would love to own, but for now what should I choose? If you could only pick one, which one would it be?

Thanks


Pandemic, hands down. To really enjoy SoC you need a lot of people. My wife and I play Pandemic with just the two of us and love it.
 
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Justin K
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Thanks Stephen, I was leaning towards that and now it's confirmed
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bluearmenian wrote:
Thanks Stephen, I was leaning towards that and now it's confirmed


I suggest getting the expansion On the Brink also. It makes the replayability endless. My wife and I have probably played this game about 300 times and still enjoy it. Check back in after you try, I would be interested to hear how you like it.
 
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