Clubbing – Shadows over Camelot

…you better hope that this week’s Clubbing article gets proof-read by someone else. I’ve been working my arse off this week. I’ve been able to find enough time to write this but my mind feels like …like …something not mind-like. Shit. I need some sleep… 

…still, hope I’m okay for going to the Board Game Club this week. Might have to work. Sleep would be nice.Yet I need new material to write about next week and it’s always fun. I could do with a drink too. I’ll try to soldier on…

I’ll put my hands up and admit that I am a complete sucker to the fantastic production value of Days of Wonder board games. They may not have the most pricey models or the most breathtaking art, but the general quality is very high over every aspect of their games. I have a dedicated pile just for my copies of Memoir’44, Small World Underground and Ticket To Ride Europe (+India/Switzerland). I find myself pawing through their catalogues longingly at the loveliness within. But I’ve yet dared not venture past the games I already have because their other games to me seem …odd

I don’t really get games with lots of “theme” as their primary focus. The idea of just going off on an adventure in board game form is a foreign concept to me. I think my programmer brain breaks down the game into numbers, possible moves and how to win blocking out the silly fun of it all. Shadows over Camelot is one of these games that confuses me. But hey, it looks lovely so here we go…

Shadows over Camelot is a co-operative game for 3-7 players where you take the role of Knights of the Roundtable. Each knight has special abilities, some of which activate if they are the ones who complete a quest, and it’s up to you if you want to hand them out randomly or not.

There is one large board representing Camelot and it’s surround regions surrounded by 3 different invaders who each make up quests. In the centre is a field that fills with siege engines that once full will topple Camelot. Outside of the main board are other quests such as the search of the Holy Grail, or Excalibur and the Lady in the Lake.

As Knights of the Roundtable it is your duty to complete quests by travelling to the area and playing white cards you receive during the course of play numbered 1-5, or grails or special cards. On some you must place cards in order to fight off the enemy, or others you have to build 2 sets of similarly numbered cards, or place down grail cards on the holy grail quest, etc.

Complete a quest and you get various bonuses like picking up more white cards, extra life, and most importantly white swords to be placed upon the roundtable. Fail a quest and you get black swords. The aim of the game is to get more white swords than black swords. That is, if you get to the end of the game before the siege engines fill the field or everyone dies.

The threat in the game comes from you having to do something negative before each turn. Either lose a life, that starts with 4 and can go up to 6 as represented by a die, place a siege engine in the middle field or pick up a black card. These black cards can represent enemies in the various quests. Some just fill in spaces and the quest is lost once all the spaces are taken, others have points that your white card points placed down must be able to defeat once either the white or black card sets have been completed.

Quite a few black cards are extremely evil and bring about horrible conditions like missing turns and whatnot. In the white deck are similar special cards that give more lives, allow you to remove black cards, etc.

I’ll not go into much detail as each section is simple enough and well explained by the art on the board. What caught me a little by surprise is that you can only do one thing on your turn. If you want to move to a new quest, that’s it! That’s your turn. I have a full set of cards for a quest but I can only play one per turn. This forces teams to gang up on quests to complete them faster before your each of your negative moves spirals the game out of control.

What’s worth mentioning is that you build up a hand of white cards but you can’t show everyone what you have. But you can suggest strategy. The reason for the secrecy is that one of you could be a traitor. You’re all given a loyalty card at the start of the game that you keep secret. There is only one traitor so it’s quite possible that none of you could be traitors…but you’re not going to take that risk, are you?

Traitors spend the game undermining the efforts of the team without getting caught. The key is to screw things up while looking like you’re doing it for a good reason. “Oh no!” someone will cry as they place yet another siege engine on the field, “the alternatives are far worse!”

On your turn you’re allowed to accuse them of being a traitor. Get it wrong and that’s a black sword against you on the roundtable and just that little bit closer to losing. Get it right and their character changes and has new abilities that makes them still a threat, but at least a lesser one.

That’s about it really. A few twists here and there per quest and per special cards. Nothing I need to divulge or I’d want to spoil. Go forth, place down some cards, check for traitors and hope the game doesn’t give you a good kicking.

I had a very pleasant time playing Shadows over Camelot. I don’t think the game itself can take all of the credit, as the joy was more playing it co-operatively with others, but I suppose that’s what makes this kind of game fun. Any more complex, any more involved, or indeed any better a game, and the magic of just having fun with it may have been lost.

Theme focused gaming is still something that baffles me. My brain still broke the game down into its basic components and went for the win. I never felt like I was a Knight of the Roundtable. No one said “verily”. Yet some aspects still broke through to my cold, calculating brain like the rushes of players to gang up on a quest that we thought we could quickly power through or fleeing back to Camelot because the fortifications were about to be broken through.

We were a team. Strong together but never trusting of each other because we knew that one of us could be a traitor to King Arthur. Early on we’d accuse each other, each incorrect guess another black sword against us, but eventually trust would build as we’d work together to vanquish foes. In the dying stages of the game, and we were indeed dying, the revealing of a traitor among us when many of us finally thought there was none was really shocking.

Then my unfeeling natural instinct returned to assess the game as a computer would. I think Shadows over Camelot is a nicely balanced game that even with experience you are never going to defeat every time you play. Your fates are in the cards! It never feels like the game is cruelly against you. Just that you can occasionally have bouts of bad luck that can quickly turn the game against your favour.

The actual mechanics of taking part in the quests by laying down cards in your hand seem simplistic and abstract. Doing anything in the game seems glacially slow as you can only do one thing of value per turn. Move once. Play one card. This only really bothers you early on in the game and later it adds to the tension. With something negative happening before each turn, so much happens all over the board and the game becomes about deciding when to play on or when to move and go on the defensive.

Each component part of the game looked at separately doesn’t look like much and you may well turn your nose up at the beginning of the game. Unlike Amun-Re that I played last week this game becomes more than the sum of its parts.

The game itself does scale well but I was told that it’s much more fun the more players you have. We had 5 players and that was a fine number. It says 3 minimum but I think the game could technically work with less if you’re just having a run through of the rules.

To break things down into cold, unfeeling numbers again…at £35-£40 it’s a bit expensive to take a chance on if this might not be your thing. That said, being a Days of Wonder box you do get lovely stuff for your money. I think the biggest barrier for most people will be roping in 5-7 people to play regularly. If that isn’t a problem for you then I heartily recommend that you all chip in to get Shadows over Camelot.


AK Bell –  Twitter: @AK_Bell – Google+: AK Bell

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Author: AK Bell

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  1. It’s not a roleplaying game. You’re not gonna “be” a knight, any more than you get to “be” a railway entrepreneur in Ticket To Ride.

    I’m not sure whether I like it. Apparently it’s great as a family game with kids — minus the traitor, until they’re beating the game reliably.

    What bothers me a bit is the rules on revealing your hand. Cards are numbered 1-5. You’re not allowed to say “I have a 4″. You’re allowed to be more vague. But inevitably people end up saying “I’m able to help you there. I’m not as strong as I could be, but stronger than average…” So that’s a 4, then?

    … and nobody is strongly motivated to police that rule anyway. It’s very tricky.

  2. While not a roleplaying game, it does make something of a bigger attempt of getting the theme over. Mostly to mask that it’s a pretty simple game at heart and needs that extra “umpff” to make it a bit more compelling.

    I think in normal people’s heads they think “I’m playing a knight” and not “I am a bit of plastic”. Otherwise all games would just be abstract.

    But I’m not sure. I always see the underlying game and not the theme…


  3. A friend of mine owns this, but thus far for co-op we’ve always just gone with Arkham Horror – it doesn’t suffer from that terrible feeling of slowness that ‘one action per turn’ games can give off, and I do feel like there’re more things to do, more strategies to play and more variation between individual games.

    It lacks the traitor mechanic which you appear to have enjoyed, though. Personally I feel like traitor mechanics are rarely done very well and are kind of just a hook to lure competitive-only gamers into giving a co-op game a try, and besides a few rare examples end up hurting the game because their only purpose was as that hook. BSG is meant to do it very well, however, so I’ll reserve absolute judgment till I’ve played that.

  4. I gather Arkham Horror is much longer than Shadows. I’d be really interested in a better co-op game that fits in the 2-3 hours our club nights last.

    Cut-throat Caverns is good; but more of a card game than a board game, and at some point the co-operation turns to backstabbing.

  5. Flash Point games seem to last an hour and that’s co-op. Feels a different kind of co-op to Shadows or Arkham horror though.

    I’d be willing to turn up early on occasion to fit an extra hour or so in for some games that don’t quite fit. So what games do people think would fit into a medium-length session?

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