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[Review] Camelot Legends

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Joined: 03/23/2011

If you’ve read many of my reviews, you know that I absolutely love theme in games. The story of King Arthur and his knights is a theme that I’ve always wanted to design myself into a game, and it’s one that is certainly underrepresented in board games today. I was very glad to see Camelot Legends (Z-man Games, 2004 - Andrew Parks) when walking through Origins, and quickly picked it up. I was not sure what to expect, having played Z-man games such as “Grave Robbers from Outer Space” - fun games to be sure, but certainly not games that are based on game mechanics. Still, the lure of Arthurian legends beckoned, so I got the game to the table as quickly as possible.

And I was impressed; as the game was fun, involving, with excellent mechanics and chock-full of theme. It felt slightly like an excellently done, self-contained collectible card game (without the collectibleness), and is one that I want to play often. The game is for two to four players, but I found that it works best with three or four. The artwork is incredible on the cards, and the game is simple to play. Runaway leaders seem to threaten the game, but the endgame can cause some drastic swings, and it’s easy to regain a lost game. It’s one of the best games I’ve played in 2004 because of its fun, easy to enjoy theme, and simple, yet vivid game play.

The game comes with three sets of “rules” (shades of Eagle Games). Each card has a small oval in the corner, designating whether it is for the beginner, standard, or advanced game. There are some major differences between beginner and standard game, but the advanced game is the same as the standard game, just with different cards. I’ll explain the standard rules - far superior to the beginner, in my opinion. Three large cards are placed in the middle of the table, representing Cornwall, Camelot, and the Perilous Forest. Three special cards (Excalibur, High King, and Love Potion) are placed near the board. Two decks of cards are shuffled: a character deck (of which five are dealt to each player) and an event deck (of which a certain number according to the number of players) are dealt into a new deck, with a random final event card (one of three) placed underneath the new deck. The remainder of the event cards is placed into the box - not to be used in this game. Each player chooses one of their characters and places it at one of the three locations on the side that matches their color.

Each character has six statistics: combat, diplomacy, adventure, cunning, chivalry, and psyche. Each statistic is represented by a specific icon, and a number from “- 1” to “6”. Characters who are knights also have a shield in the top left hand of the card denoting their allegiance (some have no allegiance). Most characters also have text on their card, giving them special abilities.

One player is chosen to go first, and then play goes clockwise around the table. The first thing a player does on their turn is drawing an event card. There are four different types of event cards, each with a different effect.
- Special events: The text on these cards is resolved immediately, then the event is discarded.
- Heraldic events: This event is placed face up on the table replacing any other heraldic event in play. These events give benefits to one certain allegiance of knights. (giving them a +2 bonus to a certain statistic)
- Bidding events: This event is placed face up on the table, being worth a certain amount of victory points, with two statistic types shown on the card. The starting player makes a bid of one character (face up on the table or from their hand). Each player, in turn order, bids a character or passes. Once all players pass, or they reach the maximum allotment of characters allowed by the card the bidding concludes; and the player who bid the highest amount (highest total numbers of those two statistics) wins the card, placing it face up on the table in front of them. All characters that were bid, whether the player won the bid or not, are discarded.
- Location event: These events are usually placed on top of the corresponding location card (two cards become new locations), with a maximum of three events allowed per location. Each event has a requirement (for example 16 fighting, or nine chivalry and nine psyche), and an amount of victory points. The location event stays on the table until someone can complete it.

After drawing an event card, the player can use optional card text of any character on the table. Some characters can discard other characters, can temporarily add to their statistics, etc. After doing so, the player checks to see if they can complete any location event on the table. If a company (group of characters) of theirs at any site has the total necessary to complete that event, the player removes the event and places it face up in front of them. The event may have a reward in text; or the player may also gain one of the three special cards, which give the player powers and more victory points. A player can only complete one location event per turn.

The player then has two actions they can take: drawing a character card (hand limit is five), playing a character at any location (limit of six characters per Company), or moving up to two characters from one location to another location. Play then passes to the next player. When the final event card is drawn - a special location event - the game can end, as soon as any player completes the final event on their turn. At that point, all players total the victory points on the cards face up in front of them, and the player with the highest point total is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The game comes in a small box, with two stacks of cards (that fit easily in it), three large location cards, and four help cards that detail the meaning of the statistic icons and briefly outline the phases of the game. The card stock is of good quality, but the artwork is absolutely amazing! Looking over the credits, Z-man games really pulled from a large pool of artists; and the result is very thematic with top-notch quality. The box is sturdy, and has some more of the incredible artwork on it.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is nineteen pages long, is in full color, and is nicely formatted. The beginner rules are extremely basic (excluding the special cards, the final events, and almost half of the character and location cards), but I suppose some people would like them. I can’t imagine playing the game any other way than advanced; it’s fairly simple. I found that the game was extremely easy to teach and learn, and the only place where people got a little confused was over the character’s text.

3.) Text: The only small quibble I have with the game is the text on the cards. I’m a fairly experienced CCG (collectable card game) veteran, so I’m used to massive amounts of text on cards. However, people who are prone to analysis paralysis and/or have a hard time reading could really slow the game down to a crawl. Some of the text on the characters really has the opportunity to make or break a game, depending on whether the controlling player utilizes it to their best advantage. Some of the players complained about this and stated that they would enjoy the game more the second time through, after seeing what each character did.

4.) Balance: At first glance, some characters seem tremendously powerful - such as Sir Lancelot or King Arthur. And indeed, some of the cards ARE better than others. Yet events, card text, and other happenings, can target certain characters; and the ultra powerful characters have huge bull’s-eyes painted on their chests. I’ve drawn Lancelot in several games, and he’s helped me tremendously; but he’s never lasted a game yet.

5.) Theme and Fun Factor: If you read different tales of King Arthur and his knights, you will discover hundreds of variations. Some of them are infinitely better than others, and this game follows those. I was pleased to see many minor characters from some of the more obscure tales included in the game with correct thematic text and statistics. The artwork also helped enhance the theme, which certainly did not feel pasted on at all. We had a lot of fun changing some aspects of the story, such as crowning Lancelot king, having Mordred wield Excalibur, and other strange changes. Often, however, the games we played came true to the tales.

6.) Strategy: There is a lot of interesting strategy in the game. I found that the bidding events were nerve-wracking, because you knew that you would lose the characters you bid which could cause you to be unable to complete other locations, etc.

With about a seventy-minute time span, Camelot Legends is a tremendously fun game; one I enjoyed immensely. Being a fan of Arthurian legend certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment, and I imagine that most “purists” would be pleased. For those who tend to like pure abstract games, I think you may wish to pass this one up. But for those who enjoy theme-filled games with a bit of meat to them, and ones with a lot of “historical” flavor, this is certainly one of the best I’ve seen this year - especially for the fairly inexpensive price. Forget the new King Arthur movie; get this game, it’s much more entertaining!

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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