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Subject: Review: Shadows over Camelot rss

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Chris Farrell
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The original of this review can be found, with links, here: http://homepage.mac.com/c_farrell/games/reviews/ShadowsOverC...

Follow-up games to breakthrough masterpieces are always hard to evaluate. For example, none of GMT's card-driven games can avoid standing in the shadow of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, which makes a fair evaluation somewhat difficult. Take Wilderness War; a decent enough game, but a just a shadow of Hannibal. Should we judge it more harshly because it didn't seem to learn from the example, even though Hannibal is a top 1%-type game and would be hard to match in any event? Or perhaps we should be careful to cut it some slack because comparisons with its over-achieving older sibling are bound to be unfavorable?

This is, of course, relevant to the game under discussion: Shadows over Camelot, which is a new cooperative game from Days of Wonder that clearly owes a very large debt to Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings. Did the designers learn from Knizia's masterpiece? Is it evolutionary or is it a knock-off? Or is just another game from journeymen designers?

At its core, Shadows over Camelot is a very close sibling to Lord of the Rings (if you haven't played or know nothing about Lord of the Rings, this review will ultimately make more sense if you my review of that game at some point: http://homepage.mac.com/c_farrell/games/reviews/lotr.html). Each player is a different Knight of the Round Table (Arthur, Galahad, Kay, Gawain, even Bedeviere if you download him from the Days of Wonder site ... but, shockingly, no Lancelot, depriving us of some of the best jokes). You have a hand of cards, which you spend to accomplish quests. These can be numeric fight cards, useful for defeating the Black Knight, Picts, Saxons, finding Sir Lancelot (where is he anyway? Only his armor shows up), or defeating the Dragon. There are also Grail cards, which – shockingly – help in finding the Holy Grail. The grail in the game looks more like the sort of cup that would get you disintegrated if you drank from it; if you should ever run into the sort of situation in which this kind of knowledge would be useful, remember to choose more wisely. Maybe that's why they had such a hard time finding it. And there are also special cards, which allow various sorts of actions.

The Knights all begin at Camelot. But rather than all progressing together through linear adventures, as is the case in Lord of the Rings, they now are able to split up and pursue quests as individuals or smaller teams. Some may choose to stay in Camelot gathering more cards. One may go to face off with the Black Knight in a tournament. Or one or more Knights take on a larger quest, heading off in search of the Holy Grail or Excalibur. Once you've made your way to your quest, each turn you may play a card: if it's a fighting quest, you play a numbered fight card to try to get high scores in various patterns (the Black Knight requests two pair, the quest for Lancelot a full house, the Picts and Saxons a straight). For the Grail quest, each Grail card simply advances a track. Once you run out of useful cards to play on a quest, you may move about amongst these available quests, although if you abandon an individual quest, you have to lose one of the played cards for your faintheartedness.

While you are doing this, each turn you (generally) draw one card from a black deck. These will usually make one quest harder, by canceling progress, upping the target total of fight cards required, or by counting down a clock.

As each quest ends, either because the Knights played enough cards, the bad guys maxed out their strength, or the clock counted down, you figure out who won. Some quests – the Saxons, Picts, the Grail, Excalibur – end in failure as soon as the clock counts down, or success if the good guys play all the required cards first. Combat quests, like the Black Knight, involve counting up the total card values played when the quests ends one way or another. Regardless, the major side effect of ended quests is Swords, which can be black or white, which are victory points. If, at the end of the game, there are more White than Black swords, the good guys win. If not, they lose.

If this was all there was to the game, I could write its obituary right now and save a lot of time: "A less thematic, less challenging, less well-balanced, and less interesting Lord of the Rings that has noticeably more down time. The only thing it has more of is, arguably, complexity. Oh, and the endgame can be tedious". Fortunately, there is one more detail which really makes the game: the Traitor. The Traitor plays as a normal Knight, but with different goals: he is trying to both a) keep his identity concealed and b) make sure the loyal Knights lose. You can throw around accusations of treason, which will score a white sword if accurate or convert white swords to black swords if not (very nasty). If the traitor is still unrevealed at the end of the game, two white swords will be converted, which will make it harder for the good guys to win (whether this will actually be hard is still an open question in my mind). The doubt and suspicion engendered by there being a traitor in the player's midst is fun, and amusingly out of proportion to the traitor's actual ability to slow the other players down, which is not that considerable. At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a loyalty card - either Loyal or Traitor. I recommend in the strongest possible terms the optional rule which includes as many Loyal cards as there are players, plus the Traitor, instead of always including all 7 Loyal cards. As I say, the Traitor makes the game; if the odds of having one are too low, the game loses substantially in flavor, challenge, and interest. This variant will ensure that there is usually a traitor, but keep open the small but entertaining possibility that there isn't.

Although we are still a little ways from the end of this piece, I will now give you my bottom line. I enjoyed Shadows over Camelot. There are more cooperative games out there than you might think, but almost none are in this somewhat heavier weight class, or at the level of sophistication and professionalism of good German games. It's certainly not on the same level as Lord of the Rings, but the Traitor adds a very nice twist, with each player's moves being analyzed for possible disloyalty (hmmm ... I can sense some sort of comedic, Soviet-era spinoff coming. Maybe Paranoia: The Board Game). If this is the analysis you want to hear, you might want to stop reading now.

Because even with those strengths, and even though I'm ultimately giving it a thumbs up, Shadows over Camelot has a number of problems, some potentially rather significant. The two most obviously problematic are a) a suspect endgame, and b) clear replayability questions. Another has to do with game balance. To take them in order, then ...

The Endgame: Games should, cooperative or not, ratchet up tension towards a climax. This is why many Battle of the Bulge games end at the German high-water mark rather than after the Allied counterattacks despite the appeal of symmetry. Once the Germans have succeeded or failed in reaching their objectives, most of the tension has drained out of the game. In Lord of the Rings, you have the agonizing struggle over the last board to the final goal of Mount Doom as your resources dwindle to almost nothing. In Shadows over Camelot things are not driven to conclusion adequately and there is sometimes not a clear finish line to strive for, and the game does not carry its own momentum to the end. The Knights sometimes seem to get into a holding pattern, where they are trying to not lose the major quests like the Holy Grail while they wait for some minor quest, like the Black Knight, to fill up so they can lose it, thus filling up the Round Table with swords, ending the game, and winning (because there are ultimately more White than Black swords). If there is a Traitor out there it can add a little tension, but I found the endgame ultimately unsatisfying. There is also a mechanic of Catapults outside Camelot: once 12 show up, the good guys lose. Unlike Sauron's implacable advance, though, Knights can dedicate their turn to the elimination of catapults. So as the threat grows, more and more Knights are just sitting around rolling dice to blow up catapults, which is a drag and not fun ... so the game actually develops more inertia and becomes more plodding towards the end, just when it should be accelerating, cranking the tension up to painful levels.

Replayability: A game tends to be replayable if it has decent variability, which is usually tied up in a well-done theme. Even though Lord of the Rings is linear, the challenges presented by the wide variety of different events, rewards, and penalties is hugely varied, as is the flavor of the game depending on the rate at which event tiles come out. This gives it thematic depth as well as guaranteeing no two games will be alike. Shadows over Camelot is clearly a far less rich game. You're just trying to rack up various poker hands (what is it with poker these days?), and the event cards on both sides of the table are limited in numbers and fairly bland. There is some pacing with the different quests, but the rewards and penalties are very abstract, homogenous, and not not very thrilling either thematically or in terms of generating compelling choices or game play. Also, the special powers of the various Knights are neat, but with the exception of the clever card-trading power of King Arthur, and perhaps Gawain and Galahad, most are not so different that playing different ones would lead to a significantly different game experience. A couple Knights will, in fact, never use their special powers. Virtually without fail in the eurogame genre, a lack of fundamental variability translates into a lack of replay value.

Balance: One of the great strengths of Lord of the Rings is that Knizia understood that players were going to start from a low baseline, and then learn and improve fairly quickly. So the 15-level game is interesting for newbies, but provisions are included to take you up to the 10-level game, which is a finely-balanced game where players will almost always be challenged. It is not clear that the same level of attention to detail in terms of balance has not been put into Shadows over Camelot. My first early games had comfortable and relatively non-challenging wins for the Knights (even with a Traitor), which was worrisome. The reports I had heard indicated a substantial win edge for the Knights. For this game to work, I feel that the pressure really has to be on the cooperative side. If the good guys win too easily, or are not feeling constant pressure, the game lacks interest and staying power. I've heard that in the Sauron expansion for Lord of the Rings, Knizia aimed for a 50/50 win split between Sauron and the good guys, and this feels right to me – not in terms of fairness necessarily, but in terms of keeping the game compelling.

Subsequently, I started hearing of a few Traitor wins, and witnessed one myself. However, my worries in this respect have not really been mitigated. The Traitor win I saw was explicable mainly in terms of bad luck. There is enormous variance in the power of the black cards – several Morgan cards are extremely nasty (with all Knights losing cards, life, or forcing the immediate draw of three new black cards), so seeing these early and often (after a reshuffle) will really whack the Knights. So my perception has shifted a bit ... the question is still "is the game balanced?", but not so much in terms of win/loss but whether or not player skill will dominate the chaos of the game.

Regardless, I find it hard to imagine that any serious, minimally-cooperative group will be significantly challenged by the basic game, that is, playing without a Traitor – even on their first game. Given average luck, I really don't think the Traitor is going to win anywhere close to half the games of Shadows over Camelot, although it's also true that I think the game could work with a lower ratio. My games have been enjoyable, but I (as a Knight) simply have not felt under the gun to nearly the degree that we do in Lord of the Rings, with dire things closing in from all sides and – critically – feeling like I have the options to deal with them. In Lord of the Rings, when things start to get tense, you still have a lot of options, and even when things start to snowball, you can aim for a respectable score (or at least not having to enter one of the lowest scores on the high-score sheet) or cut your losses on the current board and try to better on the next one. In Shadows over Camelot, it seems like once things start to snowball your options become extremely constrained for the rest of the game (and so it feels more like you just got hosed by the cards) and you can't even play for an honorable loss because there is no scoring, so you have to play longer with no real hope "winning", and nothing else to shoot for.

It is also worrisome that the designers have not clearly staked out a path from inexperience to experience in the rules, with just some various wishy-washy suggestions about how to increase the difficulty, which indicates to me that they haven't thought that much about this important detail or paid enough attention to the overall game balance, instead hoping that the players will work it out for themselves, or "solving" the problem with a big chunk of randomness (and I should mention that one of the difficulty options, the Squire's Game, where players start without a Knight card and must earn one is almost totally uninteresting to me since the special power of your Knight card is a decent chunk of what flavor the game has). This is the difference (or one of the differences, anyway) between Knizia and the rest; Knizia has the attention to detail to identify and nail down these things.

This leads in to my ultimate frustration with Shadows over Camelot, I think, even though I like the game well enough in the short run. That is that Knizia has clearly shown the way on this. Lord of the Rings will not be for everyone, but given what it is trying to be and the theme and the inherent limitations of the genre, I feel it is an example of a game that has almost achieved perfection, a game that after dozens of plays it's hard to imagine any significant way in which it could be improved. Shadows over Camelot is highly derivative from Lord of the Rings (you could argue – perhaps not entirely successfully, but still – that Shadows is little more than a Lord of the Rings where you have to spend a turn moving between the quest lines, and with a Traitor), and yet it simply seems not to have grasped the important fundamental lessons illuminated by the prior game: the importance of randomness and variability, pacing, short-, medium-, and long-term planning, balance, player experience, flavor, and tension, and how these challenges can be successfully tackled. With more attention to detail, Shadows over Camelot could have been a top-tier game. As it is, it's a decent game, and it'll be fun for a while, but its unlikely to be one I'll be playing next year – never mind 5 years hence.

© Chris Farrell
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ChToHe
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Always great to hear the flip side of the story. There has been nothing but heaps and praises for this game.

I wanted to hear more about its weaknesses
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Matthew M
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cfarrell wrote:
if you abandon an individual quest, you have to lose one of the played cards for your faintheartedness.


I believe the rule is that you lose all white cards played if you leave a solo quest before its completion.

-MMM
 
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Chris Farrell
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Quote:
I believe the rule is that you lose all white cards played if you leave a solo quest before its completion.


I can see how this rule would be confusing, and interpreted in multiple ways (the rulebooks are not this game's strong suit either).

But, it says:
Quote:
... abandon the quest before completion, any White card played on it thus far is automatically removed from the quest as a penalty, and discarded


Emphasis mine. Given the singular use of card, and not "any white cards", I think that they are saying to discard only one card of your choice, presumably the active Knight.

I think it's genuinely unclear. But forcing you to discard everything seems like it would be excessive to me.
 
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Mik Svellov
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Quote:
I think it's genuinely unclear. But forcing you to discard everything seems like it would be excessive to me


Maybe so, but that is nevertheless the rule as clarified several times here and on the DoW (and at several conventions) by the designer and the publishers:

All white cards on a solo quest must be discarded when the knight leave the quest.

The rationale behind the rule is that since you didn't finish the guy off during the duel he will live to fight another day and is completely healed from any wounds you have given him.

Mik
 
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Matthew M
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I agree that it's unclear, however the question has been asked both here and on the DoW forums. Neither Bruno nor Eric has answered either one personally, but all answers given indicate that all white cards are removed. Since neither Bruno nor Eric have contradicted those answers I'm compelled to believe them.


-MMM
 
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Chris Farrell
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Hmm ... this is not going to improve my opinion of the game.

I'd want to hear it from the designer, to be honest. It's really hard to read that interpretation into the rule, and publishers have been known to be out of touch with designers on these things.

The problem is, it's going to further reduce the already limited number of real choices the players get to make. It's not a major deal (I certainly haven't seen many people abandon quests), I don't know that the game can afford to lose any of the choices its got.

It'll also make Guinivere incredibly powerful if she comes out at a bad time.
 
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Matthew M
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The description of Guinivere in the Quest books already makes it explicit that she causes all white cards to be discarded from Solo quests, which makes the ambiguity of the normal rule all the stranger to my eyes. But both Eric and Bruno have been actively reading these and their own forums, so I'd be surprised if the answer given in both places slipped by them.

-MMM
 
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just one word to confirm that if you abandon a solo quest, all white cards present on that quest are dicarded
 
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Mik Svellov
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cfarrell wrote:
I'd want to hear it from the designer, to be honest. It's really hard to read that interpretation into the rule, and publishers have been known to be out of touch with designers on these things.


Absolutely. But never Days of Wonder - they always do their utmost to clear the rules with their designers.

Mik
 
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Robert Martin
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Although Shadows over Camelot is beautifully produced, to me it feels like an elaborate game of multiplayer Rummy. The game mechanics don't really immerse you in the theme because they are fairly abstract and disconnected. The gorgeous components provide some sense of atmosphere, but they cannot disguise the fact that the game underneath is essentially just a set-collecting card game.
 
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Ray
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Quote:
But rather than all progressing together through linear adventures, as is the case in Lord of the Rings, they now are able to split up and pursue quests as individuals or smaller teams.

FWIW, I don't think "choosing which obstacle to confront" contrasts with the linear nature of LotR. I think SoC compares to a single board of LotR (So both are non-linear in the same way). In both SoC and LotR you choose which track to pursue based on what cards you have in your hand(Just as say a hand of grail or friendship cards would).

The difference between the two is in LotR what is a whole game of SoC is just one part of a larger LotR metagame.
 
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I completely agree with this review...

I love the look of this game - it really is top notch. I thoroughly enjoy playing - my group has had a blast ferreting out the traitor and running off to complete missions of derring do.

But in the end, I know this game isn't going to remain on the table precisely because of it's lack of tension in the endgame and the limited re-playability of the system. The game would be dead-on IF tensions mounted and choice (esp. for the traitor) more directly impacted play (over mere handling of a hand).

 
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Mark D Lew
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toucana wrote:
Always great to hear the flip side of the story. There has been nothing but heaps and praises for this game.

I wanted to hear more about its weaknesses


I wasn't looking to come in here and be a wet blanket, but if you're looking to hear more about the game's weaknesses, I think I can help out. I found Shadows Over Camelot boring and stupid, and I'm flabbergasted to see that it has such high ratings on BGG.

Two caveats: I only played the game once. It's entirely possible that our game was unrepresentative. Second, all of us were new to the game, and I'm not sure that the guy teaching us the game got all the rules right. Possibly I wouldn't dislike the game so much if I had another chance. But since I don't intend to play again, we'll never know.

So here's what I didn't like.

(1) There's not much game there. Lots of fluff and pretty pictures, but basically just multi-solitaire rummy, as someone else on this thread said.

(2) Cooperative games generally aren't much fun. We're gamers, so we like to compete. If you make a non-competitive game, it's an uphill battle to make it fun. Does this game solve the problem? No, it's just like any other cooperative game. Boring.

(3) Maybe we were interpreting this rule wrong, but as we understood it, the rules said that you can discuss your hand, etc, in general game terms (eg, "I really feel I could help you against the Saxons right now"), but you can't talk about specific cards (eg, "I've got a 3 in my hand"). In other words, you're allowed to talk but only if you don't speak clearly. I guess they thought that would be fun and make people get into the role-playing, but in reality it's just stupid. You spend the whole game talking in code, and it's frustrating when the other players are too dense to understand. (Or maybe they do understand, but you're too dense to realize that they heard you and they just don't care.) Now you might think that it would enhance the game to add a barrier that makes communication more challenging, but if that were true you could make a house rule that says before playing the game you have to set off all the car alarms in the neighborhood. It's not fun, it's just annoying.

My other complaints have to do with our specific game, which maybe was atypical. In our game we got up to nine white swords fairly quickly. That meant that even with a secret traitor we couldn't possibly lose on swords. We did, however, have a lot of catapults up, and since two of the quests we did early were the Grail and Excalibur -- a bad idea, I see now -- that meant more of the black cards were putting up catapults, too. After a while, we lost on catapults, and the traitor won.

(4) Once the nine white swords were up, the best thing for us to do strategically was to forget about winning any more quests, and try to lose some instead, so as to fill up with swords and end the game. Therefore we should draw as many black cards as we can, hoping for Picts, Saxons or Dragons, and spend all our time at home fighting catapults to keep them down. Unfortunately, not all the good guys got that (and thanks to the dumb no-talk rule, I couldn't tell them), and a few of them wasted time fighting more quests. Worse, some players continued to place catapults instead of drawing cards.

So my complaint is partly against my colleagues for not playing smart (an inevitable annoyance of cooperation games), but in their defense they were at least playing in the spirit of the game. You're a virtuous knight, so shouldn't you be out there trying to do good? Well, no. Strategically, you're better off to go home and hope to be overrun by enemies. That's pretty dumb design when your best strategy is to try to accelerate failure.

(5) Toward the end of our game, several us had a strong suspicion of who the traitor was. (It was my girlfriend.) I thought about accusing her, but I couldn't see any good reason to waste a turn on it. Maybe someone will correct me here, because I feel I surely must not have all the rules right. What is the point of identifying the traitor? As far as I can tell, the only advantage is that an unrevealed traitor gets to turn two white swords black at the end. Other than that, what do you get? In exchange, the revealed traitor can start using his special traitor powers, which, as I understand it, aren't available if the traitor is still concealed. My girlfriend told me afterward that she wanted to be revealed.

So what's wrong with my reasoning here? Were we playing wrong, or is it really more strategic to not accuse a known traitor? If so, then that's pretty dumb design, too. Hmm, come to think of it, when you make a false accusation, doesn't that put a black sword on the table? If so, then what we really should have done in our game is take turns accusing each other falsely to get those last three black swords to end the game. The traitor scheme is the only redeeming quality of the game, but unfortunately it's broken.

Anyway, that was my impression of Shadows Over Camelot. Flame away, or explain to me how we weren't playing right and therefore I'm all wrong. Like I said before, I normally wouldn't write an article here just to rag on a game, but seeing after seeing all the glowingly positive reviews, I think a contrary opinion might be refreshing.
 
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Matthew M
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iglew wrote:

(5) Toward the end of our game, several us had a strong suspicion of who the traitor was. (It was my girlfriend.) I thought about accusing her, but I couldn't see any good reason to waste a turn on it. Maybe someone will correct me here, because I feel I surely must not have all the rules right. What is the point of identifying the traitor? As far as I can tell, the only advantage is that an unrevealed traitor gets to turn two white swords black at the end. Other than that, what do you get? In exchange, the revealed traitor can start using his special traitor powers, which, as I understand it, aren't available if the traitor is still concealed. My girlfriend told me afterward that she wanted to be revealed.


You get one white sword for revealing the traitor, so it would have helped you accelerate the end of the game. The traior powers aren't that significantly different than what the traitor can do as a knight. The traitor gets to steal one random card from a knight and then either plays a black card or a catapult, the latter of which is usally the more significant of the two traitor actions and something the traitor can do while still in hiding anyway.

Quote:

Hmm, come to think of it, when you make a false accusation, doesn't that put a black sword on the table? If so, then what we really should have done in our game is take turns accusing each other falsely to get those last three black swords to end the game.


A false accusation turns a white sword into a black sword, so it would not have helped your situation.

Quote:

The traitor scheme is the only redeeming quality of the game, but unfortunately it's broken.


I agree that the traitor element is one of the main attractions to the game. It isn't broken, due to the clarifications above.

Also, it does sound like you played some of the communication bits incorrectly. You can't give any information that reveals anything about your hand - so saying "I could help you against the Picts right now" is illegal. However it also sounds as if you were too strict in other areas. There's nothing against explicitly sharing your thoughts about not questing in favor of fighting off siege engines at the end of the game.

None of this changes the events leading up to the anticlimax that you experienced, though.

-MMM
 
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Matthew Fisk
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Iglew,

I am also curious as to how many players you had in the game. My first four games were with four players and we were 50/50 in beating the game with that volume of players. The next two games had six players and I have to admit it was a cakewalk. Both my wife and I agree that 4-5 players would be optimal with this.

That said this is the second game to put a spark in my wife as she actually likes the cooperative nature of the game. It is something unique to her and she enjoys sitting with friends for 1.5 hours without having to work against all of them. You are right, if competition is the only reason you play a game then this certainly wouldn't be the game for you.

We were a bit more liberal with communication at first but we now keep it to a minimum to increase the challenge. As long as you spell out how you want communication to work ahead of time it should work for everyone.
 
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William Hoyt
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Iglew,

Considering your thoughts on Coop games. As you say you (guys) are gamers and like to compete. Doesn't do alot to add credence to your report. Nor does only playing the game once. But I agree the end game is a bit well anti-climactic. I wonder if something could be done to make it a bit more tension filled and epic till thee last swords are lain. (The rules are also very vague about communication... maybe a page or two of an example game would have been usefull to us ignorant sods.)

Incidentally, the ones whom were continuing to do quests (and not play strategically as you stated) played within the spirit of the game. And very much(i think) what the creators had intended.

New games always start off ranking high because there are fans following it's developement and are usually the first to play and chime in with their response. Give it a few months to even out and see how the numbers fall(for as much as they can tell you anyway). You know the saying one mans junk is another mans treasure.

To each his own and all that.

-Floyd

 
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Eric Hautemont
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Octavian wrote:
I agree that it's unclear, however the question has been asked both here and on the DoW forums. Neither Bruno nor Eric has answered either one personally, but all answers given indicate that all white cards are removed. Since neither Bruno nor Eric have contradicted those answers I'm compelled to believe them.


-MMM


I confirm. If you abandon a solo quest for any reason, you remove all White cards played on that quest up to that point.

Eric
 
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Graham Wills
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There's not much game there. Lots of fluff and pretty pictures, but basically just multi-solitaire rummy, as someone else on this thread said.


This, to me, is the strangest accusation that can be made against the games. Looking at the quests, stating that they are all "muti-player solitaire" is a hard position to defend.

BLACK KNIGHT: Yes
LANCELOT: Yes
DRAGON: This is a group quest; essentially unattainable alone. As communication is limited, it requires guesswork and interaction. It cannot be achieved solitaire.
EXCALIBUR: Not rummy, not solitaire.
HOLY GRAIL: Not rummy, not solitaire
PICT/SAXON: Not solitaire, and you can leave and come back and others can join. I have never seen anyone go there with a complete solitaire set to play. I guess it's possible, but it's sub-optimal.
SIEGE: Not rummy, not solitaire

So, for solitaire rummy, we have 2/8. For ANY form of rummy (i.e. collecting sets) we have 5/8.

And even this is a gross simplification of quests. The other players progression of evil play massively affects these quests. As a player on the "solitaire rummy" quest for Lancelot, who has had Guinevere played by another player, stating that other players' actions do not affect me rings very, very hollow.

So, for quests alone, they are at best 25% solitaire rummy, and I'd say the progression of evil choices makes that more like 15%.

But the quests per se are not the whole story. Each cannot be attempted without considering each other quest (should you go for Lancelot when there are 8 catapults around? Should you if two others are slowly losing the grail quest?). That makes it even less solitaire.

And then finally there is the traitor. The fact that you have to continually consider every other player's actions -- the fact that the traitor might deliberately pick a "solitaire rummy quest" just to screw you over, the fact that they can progress evil against you, all make that way less multi-player solitaire. At least 5% less.

So for me, it looks like at most 10% solitaire rummy.

And, looking at some of the best games on the geek, they are WAY more multiplayer rummy. Lost Cities, the highest-rated 2 player game, is a solitaire set-collecting game. Modern Art, my personal favorite, is explicetly about set collecting.

So maybe it's a design flaw that it's note MORE multi-player solitaire
 
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Thomas Phinney
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Portland
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iglew wrote:
I found Shadows Over Camelot boring and stupid, and I'm flabbergasted to see that it has such high ratings on BGG.

Two caveats: I only played the game once. It's entirely possible that our game was unrepresentative. Second, all of us were new to the game, and I'm not sure that the guy teaching us the game got all the rules right. Possibly I wouldn't dislike the game so much if I had another chance. But since I don't intend to play again, we'll never know.


I was in that same game (and it was my copy of the game being played). It is clear that we got a couple of aspects of the rules wrong - mostly by allowing too much communication.

But nonetheless, what was interesting was the range of reactions among the players. Ross and I quite liked it. Charles was fairly indifferent, wouldn't bother playing it again. Ericka about the same. But you hated it.

So here's what I didn't like.

iglew wrote:
(1) There's not much game there. Lots of fluff and pretty pictures, but basically just multi-solitaire rummy, as someone else on this thread said.


I think that has been largely debunked. But even if it were true, I wouldn't mind it. I enjoy Roads & Boats even when there's not a lot of cutthroat player interaction.

iglew wrote:
(2) Cooperative games generally aren't much fun. We're gamers, so we like to compete. If you make a non-competitive game, it's an uphill battle to make it fun. Does this game solve the problem? No, it's just like any other cooperative game. Boring.


Here I disagree violently. For me, it's the challenge that's the thing, the play. Not the competition against another person as such. So your generalization about "we" isn't holding up so well.

iglew wrote:
(3) Maybe we were interpreting this rule wrong, but as we understood it, the rules said that you can discuss your hand, etc, in general game terms (eg, "I really feel I could help you against the Saxons right now"), but you can't talk about specific cards (eg, "I've got a 3 in my hand"). In other words, you're allowed to talk but only if you don't speak clearly. I guess they thought that would be fun and make people get into the role-playing, but in reality it's just stupid. You spend the whole game talking in code, and it's frustrating when the other players are too dense to understand. (Or maybe they do understand, but you're too dense to realize that they heard you and they just don't care.) .... It's not fun, it's just annoying.


It seems we were being too liberal here in our understanding of this rule.

But nonetheless, you were the only one in the group who seemed to be frustrated by this. It was quite odd seeing you get upset about it when the rest of us were in a much more mellow state.

iglew wrote:
(4) Once the nine white swords were up, the best thing for us to do strategically was to forget about winning any more quests, and try to lose some instead, so as to fill up with swords and end the game. Therefore we should draw as many black cards as we can, hoping for Picts, Saxons or Dragons, and spend all our time at home fighting catapults to keep them down.

... but in their defense they were at least playing in the spirit of the game. You're a virtuous knight, so shouldn't you be out there trying to do good? Well, no. Strategically, you're better off to go home and hope to be overrun by enemies. That's pretty dumb design when your best strategy is to try to accelerate failure.


This point I really agree on. It is definitely a weakness of the game, that you can get into such a situation where it's good to lose to cement your victory. Feels very contrary to the theme.

iglew wrote:
Unfortunately, not all the good guys got that (and thanks to the dumb no-talk rule, I couldn't tell them), and a few of them wasted time fighting more quests. Worse, some players continued to place catapults instead of drawing cards.

So my complaint is partly against my colleagues for not playing smart (an inevitable annoyance of cooperation games)....


Hey, it was our first time. Be gentle....

Cheers,

Thomas
 
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Charles Cook
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As someone else who was in the game with Mark and Tom, I feel the need to chime in.

As Tom says, my opinion falls firmly between Mark's and Tom's. I wouldn't choose to play the game again, but it didn't hate it as much as Mark did.

We were in a six player game, and it took about an hour and a half to explain the rules and about three hours to play, so it was a big investment of time for not a lot of return, in my opinion. Thus my somewhat ho-hum feelings.

My observations:

All the bits of the game are quite nice. The game feels good when you first get it out, and I think that's what swept us into playing.

I don't think anyone had read the rules all the way through before we tried to play it. Forgive me if I'm wrong, Tom, but I felt like you were reading the rules for the first time as we went through the explaination, and I think that's why we missed a lot.

I think this really affected Mark, Erica and my view of the game. Because this is a game against the system, you have to understand the system to play effectively, and we didn't understand the system.

The communications weren't annoying to me at all. I never felt like we were limited by the rules as we were playing them, but, as with other parts of the game, I'm still not sure how they were intended to be played.

Mark's frustration seemed to come because he was trying to say he had cards to help against the Vikings. No one paid attention to him because that quest was almost lost already. I knew exactly what you wanted to tell me, Mark, it just didn't matter, and we all had better things to do at the time.

The cooperation aspect seemed fine to me. I think only Mark was really frustrated by it. Personally, I think we weren't that far off. Three of us were hanging out in Camelot killing off catapults (until two of us got killed) and the rest of the crew was trying to finish of one last quest before we were overwhelmed. I certainly felt like I was making the best use of my cards and powers, and I didn't feel like anyone else was slacking off.

We probably should have been drawing more cards, but there was still one card in the deck that would have added two siege engines immediately, and that would have killed us, so I was taking the add one engine, kill one engine tactic.

My real complaint about the game was that the quests just weren't that much different or fun to me. Mark's comments about multi-solitare rummy really rings true. I never felt like I was making real decisions. Two pairs? - its off to the Black Knight. A straight? - go kill the Picts. Lots of grail cards? - Guess we know what to do with those. Lots of random attack cards? - Looks like we have too many catapults.

The hard decisions were what to do to advance evil, and when to spend a life to take that extra action, but as the game progressed, even those choices got pretty limited. For example, my last several turns as Percival in Camelot went: (turn 1) Add a catapult, draw cards, spend a life, kill a catapult. (turn 2) Add a catapult, play cards to get a life, spend a life, kill a catapult. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Overall, I liked the parts, the theme, and the concept. I disliked the length of the game, the execution of the concept, and the feeling that my play was set by the cards I happened to draw. Ultimately, there are so many other games I'd rather play, that I doubt I'll give this one a second chance.

-Charles
 
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Mark D Lew
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Kirkland
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Thanks to all who replied, especially Matthew for providing clarification on the rules I wasn't reading correctly.

I actually didn't hate the game as much as my long and flowery post may have suggested. But yes, it's true that I didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of you. (Hard to judge what Ericka's feelings about the game were, since she was the traitor. She told me she enjoyed her role but wouldn't have wanted to be one of the good guys.) De gustibus and all that.

If it were a question of SoC or nothing, I probably would give it another try, but there's so many other games I'd rather play.
 
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Erik Moore
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It took you and hour and half to explain the rules? It took me about 20 minutes tops to explain it to non-gamers who had never heard of it before. And it was my first time playing as well. Our game took about three hours as well.
I'd definately agree that this game isn't for everyone. Most of my gamer friends have quite the competitive streak and might not like playing nice together (although they'd probably kill to be the traitor!). However my non-gamer friends (and I) really enjoyed SoC. We spent a lot of time discussing how to deal with quests and how each of the knights could help the others. The tension caused by the ever-increasing march of the catapults was very exciting and we talked at length about how to deal with them (they came fast and furious once the Grail Quest was complete).
King Arthur really helps with interaction of players with his ability to swap cards. We were able to say things like "The Holy Grail is within my grasp", and the others can feed grail cards to the knight (or knights) performing that quest via Arthur. Though it is a slow process, there is a great sense of collective achievement when the grail is won.
Now having said that, we did lose the game. You folks had the same problem at the end of the game that we did. After the Grail quest was finished the catapults started mounting and it was all we could do to keep them from overwhelming us. And of course we eventually failed. But we all agreed that the issue was poor planning from the beginning of the game. None of us felt like we were cheated out of victory. On the contrary, we had fun, we fought the good fight, and are eager to try again!
To recap, I can see how some could be put off by a game like this. The cooperation-against-the-game mechanic can be boring, especially if there is little actual interaction and cooperation among knights who are not accustomed to it. I am considering requiring that King Arthur is in every game as a house rule, since he sort of 'links' all the players together and greatly increases interactivity and I think would reduce that multi-player solitaire feeling you folks had. And he is the king after all! Although he would be a devastating traitor...
 
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George Shanahan
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Hmmm...

With all due respect to the author of the "rebuttal" review and his friends, I really have to chime in here...

1)It took and hour and a half to explain the rules and three hours to play??? In my case, I had read the rules myself and taught four of my friends.We played and completed three games in four hours including the tutorial.Last night, myself and two of those friends taught 3 twelve year olds to play, two games went off in about three hours with six total knights playing (the kids loved it, by the way).

2) Reading some of the posts it sounds as though some rules(particularly communication) were not well understood . I have a bit of a problem with someone referring to a game as "stupid" after one play in which the rules were poorly understood.Had you told me that you had played four or five times correctly and then said that you found the game boring, I would find the argument more persuasive.

3) I am somewhat in agreement with the criticisms regarding the endgame.At times we have found ourselves (one time in five games) playing out the card draw while killing engines at Camelot, but the other times, win or lose, it has gone to the wire.No one else has complained about the endgame with whom I have played.

4) If you are against coop games, this hgame may not be to your liking.I have found,however that my group, as a bunch of old RPGers,works naturally right into the game's coop mode, we're used to it, except this time, the old GM gets to be on the team .

As for me, I have found this game fun and diverting and plan to play it again soon.It may, as some have said, have a limited lifespan on replay.Some of my group have begun grousing that the traitor always seems to win in our games(traitor has won 4 of 5 and only lost the demo game when the loyalty cards were only looked at after six swords were on the table, for a first five player game we used the three knights rule with five knights).We think we may do a look at loyalty cards after three or four swords rule next time for balance.

just my two cents...

EW1
 
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Noel
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In all the disagreeing going on, I wonder if anyone noticed that one of the game designers posted an answer...
 
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