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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sorry about not talking more about Camelot Legends. I traded it away a couple of months ago. I agree with the poster that said it has all the components for a theme rich environment and I can see where the numbers would work for someone who enjoys crunching numbers, however it just did not work for me.

There are a myriad of decisions to be made during a game turn. The company aspect of the game works in theory, but I just could not get past the adding and subtracting of the numbers. It just felt like a rudimentary mathematical exercise for me. To do anything in this game you have to juggle the numbers and I feel that is the main problem with this game. The number crunching overwhelmed the theme for me.

As for the comment on challenging the game players to make a decision, I really think that the frequency that you drew cards really pushed that on the back burner. I never felt the need to make an agonizing decision because I felt that after a few turns, I would be able to draw the requisite number to complete a quest. I just didn't feel any turn angst playing against others. There always seemed to be enough quests to work on and I didn't feel rushed to complete them and if I didn't complete one, another one would take its place.

Jason (WotR) >> Nothing Like Starting Out On The Right Foot

Ahhh... The first game to be discussed since I joined just had to be War of the Ring, eh? Well, I know my views aren't very popular on this game, but I might as well say my piece, as it usually tends to elicit some good feedback and discussion. And that's what it's all about.

I'm not a fan of War of the Ring. My recent attempt at giving War of the Ring another chance is well chronicled by my lengthy review and session report at BoardGameGeek.com, where I'm better known by my login ynnen. I'll summarize my thoughts as best as possible for this blog.

Current War of the Ring Rating: 3.5 / 10

I am convinced that War of the Ring is a game I will never enjoy. It may have a rich theme by virtue of the event cards, but the sheer number of special exceptions, nested conditional requirements for certain actions and the various streams of luck kept me from ever feeling that I was playing the game -- it felt more that the game was playing me, and I was merely a spectator.

I find WotR to be a mish mosh of fairly good (production quality) and very bad (virtually everything else). Very strong theme, excellent looking components (which don't fit neatly on the board, by the way, and make identifying borders and regions nigh impossible). But the complex, arduous gameplay greatly detracts from the experience. I haven't felt so uninvolved and disinterested in my role in a game since playing Tenjo or Risk: Godstorm. Decisions are not very compelling or clear, the exception-riddled rules are confounding, and the gameplay bogs down into a herky-jerky pace that really squeezes any enjoyment out of this.

While I can appreciate that different choices can have a significant impact, I felt that at several times, there were no obviously "good" choices to choose among, while at other times, there was no way for me to evaluate the value/worth of a given action/choice at a particular time. The order of performing actions eluded me, the investment in actions/turns to activate and maneuver certain troops seemed inefficient compared to other options (despite other options seeming equally unappealing), and many of my personal goals seemed incompatible with the event cards and action dice available to me.

If the entire gameplay experience (setup, teaching another player, actual game time, clean up) took 1.5 hours or thereabouts, these issues wouldn't have as negative an impact on my perception of the game. But given the amount of time involved (3+ hours for my 3rd game), these issues were magnified, and ultimately the payoff does not match up with the investment.

War of the Ring

Well, the Camelot Legends thing seems to have gone into stasis or something. Everyone involved in that thread email me your final comments, please.

So let's get the next one started!

Feel free to post at any time, and as often as you'd like (within reason, I guess).
Try to respond to the posts above you so that it's a flowing conversation.
At some point either post (or email to me at tomvasel@gmail.com) your rating of the game out of 10.
Make sure your name is with each post - not just your ID.
If you haven't played the game, don't worry, we'll do another one soon.

So the first game we'll do is War of the Ring.
I'll start with an introductory paragraph, and then we'll proceed.

Tom: War of the Ring, by Nexus and Fantasy Flight Games, has certainly made a splash in the gaming world. Yes, it piggybacked part of its success with the blockbuster Lord of the Ring movies, but this was a serious game developed by a trio of designers. War of the Ring attempts to cover almost the entire trilogy of the Lord of the Rings books by J.R.Tolkien, and in my opinion, succeeds on a fantastic level. With thematic elements plastered all throughout the game, I would have a hard time imagining it being rethemed as anything else. Indeed, I could easily imagine all the scenes that happen in our games because the game evoked the theme that strongly. Not only this, but War of the Ring is a lighter wargame with plenty of rules - something I usually shy away from, but in this case - I embraced the game with open arms. I stand by my initial statements that this is the definitive Lord of the Rings game, and I expect it to win the IGA two player category of 2005.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

OK, I don't want to rush this - but everyone (Nick, Paul, Mike, me) make one final post, then we'll finish out Camelot Legends and get to the next in the series.

Mike: Well, sure, the numbers constitute part of the theme. We need to know who the best warrior is, how tough a dragon is, and whether you can die from a lucky arrow shot. More to the point, the game is driven off of sending the right people to do the job. All good stuff. Combine that with the art work, and the narrative building blocks - they are all there: characters, plot, events, drama - and we should have a theme rich experience.

So Tom, who should be standing by his guns, thinks the theme holds up, while others are looking at it from the other side and pointing out failings. I think this is down to transparency. Do the systems allow us to experience the situation without the penny dropping? We are all looking at the same numbers, and doing the simple math. It sounds like either the frequency of the calculations is breaking the spell, or there just isn't enough there in the first place to conjure the illusion.

Another aspect may be the ludic quality. Is there really anything here that challenges us? That forces us to make a game decision? I don't think 'agonising' is ever called for, but it is nice to have a problem to solve, especially in a mission based game.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Tom: For me, the numbers were the theme. For example, if one person had a "4" in fighting and another a "1", I could easily tell who was the better fighter to add. Some of the charaters, like Lancelot and Arthur, were exceptional at their stats - and that just added to the flavor for me. I thought the adding together of numbers was fairly easy.

I will concede the point about the amount of time it took to look at all the numbers and modifiers for some quests. For me, this wasn't a big deal - most players calculated their totals when it wasn't their turn. But I can see how this would turn people off who want snappy, quick play.

When I go into Camelot Legends, I expect to take a bit of time to read the text on the cards. But since only a few cards are added each turn - it really isn't that hard to remember what the other players have. And, the deck is fixed, unlike a CCG, so players shouldn't be surprised by cards after the first couple of games.

After reading my comments, I feel like I'm defending a game with flaws perceived by others, and trying to gloss over those flaws. Perhaps Camelot Legends isn't the most intuative game. Perhaps it has too much number crunching. But for some reason, and I'm pretty sure it's the theme, I like the game. I simply like it, regardless of perceived flaws.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Hey everyone, this is Nick from Cleveland. Thank you Tom, for inviting me on to this blog. This is the first time I'm doing this, so please take it easy on me :)

I so wanted to like this game. I have always liked the tales of King Arthur and Camelot. Unfortunately this game did nothing for me. Too put it bluntly, It was an exercise in mathematics. I understand that the game should evoke a feeling or transport you into the realm, but all I felt like doing while playing this was pull out an abacus and make the calculations.

Here is my background. I am an old school wargamer. I cut my teeth on the old AH, VG, SPI wargames in the eighties. I stopped gaming after I finished school and just got back into it over the past three years. I like playing euros, but my heart is still with the wargames. I don't mind adding numbers; most wargames have you trying to add up your counters to get better odds on an attack. In this game it seemed that's all you did. You had to juggle the numbers to complete the quests. It just didn't click with me. Since I do not have experience with CCGs (the only one I'll play is Blue Moon) maybe I'm not the best person to speak about this game.

Playing Camelot Legends was like studying for the GRE with flashcards. The game was too number heavy and completely overwhelmed the gameplay, hence I could never get into the theme. I liked the text on the cards and read them, but it was when I wasn't playing the game. When you're in a game, you really can't concentrate on the theme, you're too busy adding up the numbers and juggling lineups. Maybe others are able to look beyond the numbers and enjoy the experience, but for me it just did not work.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Okay, so here goes. Initially I will throw in the token, but sincere, comment about really wanting to like this game…

Problem one is that we go through a lot of grief to satisfy the various quests, only to simply compare numbers. Admittedly they are often modified numbers, and one must deploy a modicum of skill in making sure you have the right type of numbers, but this is not rocket science. Nor is it particularly interesting – that prosaic phrase ‘no brainer’ does seem to fit here. It is also a huge anti-climax given what I for one was hoping for (and which Tom seems to have found) – a flavoursome, challenging game about Camelot.

This is the latest episode in the ‘mission mechanism series’. The challenge here is to make a mechanism that prompts decisions and which can provide a solution to a known or random mission. Star Trek CCG tried it (and got much the same result as here), other CCGs followed, Thunderbirds tried bravely, and Shadows over Camelot came up with pretty good stab, though one that is deceptive because of the co-operative nature of the game. And if you stretch definitions a bit, it is done well in Richard Breese’s Key games and in Louis XIV. But comparing numbers is the weakest possible solution. It is a five-minute answer for almost any of us. I expect more, especially in a package that has gone to town on some lovely artwork, and is charging a chunk of change for a card game.

Problem two is the card text. This really grates with me as I like card games with effects and, more importantly, effect combinations and ‘engines’. That is a saving grace of Magic for me, so I will happily look for it in any other game. What should happen here is that the card text should add to (or indeed build) the narrative and flavour in pleasing and discrete ways. What in fact does happen, fairly quickly, is that you move from excitedly reading card text to re-reading and re-reading, and then checking and adding every blinking card for almost any game event. This is because some of the cards’ special abilities are persistent, or semi-permanents, and can also be local or universal in compass – their presence can affect other cards at any time, usually by applying a modifier or blocking an action. The biggest issue is when an influential card is on the other side of the table – the text is tiny.

On top of this, there are factions and character linkage. It is a task that a computer can perform in a millisecond, but which takes the human brain and eyes much longer. A game that suffered similar problems was the Sim City CCG. While nowhere near that horror of game design, the net result here is pretty grim. It is poor structural choice, and one really wonders if a single playtester pointed out the impracticalities (though see below).

Two other smaller points so far. These problems may not seem much to you, but for me they put two big holes in the hull of Camelot Legends and it started to list very quickly. It was a sunken vessel even before the end of the second game, and is now packed away in its box awaiting a rule fix. I have just spotted the Lords of Camelot official variant, so that may help.

The other, extremely puzzling, observation is that one of the lead playtesters is Coleman Charlton. Not a name to rank with the Knizias and Teubers in recognition perhaps, but nevertheless the hugely talented designer of my favourite game: Middle Earth: The Wizards, by I.C.E. His presence leads me to wonder if he spotted anything amiss, and if not, adding in Tom’s praise, wonder whether I am missing the trick here (I concede this is a possibility).

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mike; Sorry, waited for tom, then got delayed myself with a deadline. More tonight.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Tom: I'm curious about the complaints about the amount of text on the card. Yes, that means that the cards can't be thrown down and quickly played, but Camelot Legends isn't meant to be played that way. It's more of a story, with each added knight completing a part of the story - participating in a different event. So the reading of the text on the cards, as well as the events, etc. - all forms a large tapestry of theme and fun. Camelot Legends, for that reason alone, would be a tremendous game for me.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Helloooooooo! [Helllooooo] Hellooooooo]

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Introduction and Initial Thoughts on CL

Paul: Hi, everyone. This is Paul Burkhard, a gamer from Colorado. I am a big fan of Camelot Legends, having originally picked it up based upon Tom's good review posted on Boardgamegeek.com.

Actually, it was not at all the sort of game that I would ordinarily purchase. I tried playing Magic: The Gathering many years ago and found that I just didn't like the idea of playing this card to nullify that card and combining these cards to give me some other power, etc. I had a great deal of difficulty keeping track of What was What and Who was Who. So, for the most part, I stayed away from CCGs and other similar games.

But I am a sucker for theme, nice artwork and King Arthur, so I bought the game.

For a "non-card-game-with-variable-powers" person, such as myself, the first look at the cards was a little overwhelming. Lots of text and lots of numbers. However, I talked my 11 year-old into trying it with me. We stumbled through the first couple of games and found that we liked it! Soon, my wife and father-in-law learned to play as well and it was declared a big hit.

As many have mentioned, the game is high on theme. There are a ton of Character cards, each extremely well illustrated by a number of renowned Fantasy artists. The game's designer has done an excellent job of formulating character skills and statistics that are true to the stories and legends surrounding King Arthur.

Gameplay consists of forming Questing Parties from the character cards in your hand. These cards are played into each of three play areas: Camelot, The Perilous Forest and Cornwall. As the game progresses, Quests are revealed for the play areas. For the most part, the completion of a Quest requires a combination of skills and abilities across a number of characters in a party. Some quests will require characters with Chivalry, some with Cunning, etc. When a player completes a quest he is rewarded with Victory Points and (sometimes) extra skills and abilities.

As I previously stated, I am not much of a fan where "This Card" cancels "That Card," but for me, Camelot Legends works, on many levels.

Mike: Hi all. Apologies in advance but I don't much like this game, so this will be a slightly more discursive exchange!

We are going to disagree on several things later Tom (!), so let's start with a positive. I too love the theme, and that was the main reason I bought the game. I also agree the artwork is excellent. As poor as this game is, I will keep the cards. I may try and make the game work, but I probably won't. The only point to note is that this is high medieval style art, not the gritty Anglo-Roman look of the recent movie, which was dictated by the latest Arthurian research that tries to place Arthur in context. Either way, top marks for aesthetics. All the characters are here, and plenty of flavoursome card titles and pictures besides. Fancy graphics help the atmosphere, but you need a decent game as well.

Camelot Legends

Welcome Paul and Nick! You two, and Mike Siggins and I will be doing the next Musings On... about Camelot Legends. I'll make the opening statment, and then everyone else can chime in at their leisure. Just post your responses here, and when we have enough, I'll make a document out of it. You can look at the previous one (about Shadows over Camelot) for an example of how it works.

So here we go!

Tom: Camelot Legends, designed by Andrew Parks and produced by Z-man Games, has some of the most beautiful artwork of any game I've seen. Basically, it's a card game that uses the events of King Arthur and his knights as a framework for a game. Camelot Legends reminds me of a collectible card game, since the cards - with a vast amount of text - provide different effects and have different statistics. For me, the game is very thematic, evoking the legend of Arthur in a way I've seen no other game do. If you're seeking for a game that faithfully recreates the legend of the Round Table, then Camelot Legends is probably your best choice.

Monday, August 08, 2005

I had fun too and will look forward to doing another in the future.

And Chad, you came across just fine, and raised good points.

That was fun!

I had a fun time in my second musings as well. I don't do a lot of reviewing, so it's kind of intimidating when I'm arguing against more prominent reviewers such as you guys. I hope my writing was up to snuff!

I'd like to participate in one in the future where I actually like the game. I think the last one I did was Aladdin's Dragons, which was another game I dislike!

Thanks to Tom for setting these up! I always enjoy reading them.


Thanks everyone for participating! I'm sure, with the tremendous writing that everyone does, that I'll ask you guys to participate in this again someday.

I'm going to reformat the writings, clean it up, and then publish it in the next couple of days. Then I'll be kicking everyone out of the group, so that I can start a new Musings On.. afresh.

Thanks again for all your help!

Tom: For me, Shadows over Camelot is a top notch game. The natural appeal of the theme (who doesn't like the Round Table?), the fact that it handles quite a few players, and the tension the traitor brings makes this a clear winner in my book. I think that replayability is quite high, and haven't seen a drop off in interest yet in my groups. As Mike said in a previous essay, it's often difficult to assuage what exactly makes a game "great." The sheer likeability and fun factor of Shadows over Camelot would put it in my "great" column.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Mike here: Thanks to all.

Shannon, thanks for that comment on reviews. I have copied all the comments into my PDA and I will go off and digest them! Oh, and kudos for brokering Arkham Horror.

I actually enjoyed using Blogger.... a worrying development.

Chad's Bio: Chad Krizan is an avid board game player and a regular at BoardGameGeek. He is a member of a number of game groups, including the Kansas City Kingmakers and the Tabletop Blockheads. Outside of board gaming, Chad enjoys his job as an urban planner for a small architecture firm in Lawrence, KS, and also enjoys frisbee golf, ultimate frisbee, and thrifting/garage saling.

Chad: Overall, I just need to feel like I'm making more important decisions if I'm going to devote this much time to a game. If Shadows was a light, fluffy, 15 minute game, I'd be happy with the number of decisions invloved. But, as a game that takes 1.5 hours to play, making four meaningful decisions the whole game just leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

I'll agree that this game was sort of fun the first time or two I played it, and that the game will probably appeal to a lot of people. I also agree with Mike, however, that this one will quickly wear out it's welcome after about 5 plays or so.

Chad's rating: 4/10

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Off Topic:

A pleasure talking with you all on this Musings.

Mike, in relation to your question on Tom's recent blog: I thoroughly agree with his sentiments, and it's much the same tactic I take when reviewing.

Some games are broken, no question about it, and those I will harsh in a review. However, I entirely agree that there are many games that might be appreciated by different categories of people, and I do my best to highlight those, if I fall into the group (and think it was great) or if I don't (and was less enthusiastic).

Some philosopher once said that the job of a reviewer was to say what the creator attempted to do, then say how he succeeded at the goal, then say whether it was worth doing. No where does personal preference enter into that, and although it's a lot easier for me to review a game I really liked, even if I didn't like the game, I try and identify if that was personal preference, in which case someone else might like it, or if it was just a core problem with the game, in which case it probably wasn't worth doing.

Shannon: I can see Shadows dropping off over time too, but it hasn't happened for me yet, and the color & fun level both remain great. I expect this to remain high on my less-strategic playlist throughout the year, and it's the exact type of game that I'm more likely to play with less experienced gamers.

Thus far I think Days of Wonder has had an astounding record at producing games. Not only is this one no exception, but it's also not a carbon copy of their other successes, but rather a very different type of game.

I rate it an "8" out of "10" and am pretty sure it'll always be an above average game.


My Bio:

Shannon Appelcline is a game player, reviewer, and kibitzer. He's written over 200 reviews to date at RPGnet, and continues to add to them on a weekly basis. He was also a developer for the Mythos CCG, brokered the recent reprint of Arkham Horror, and is currently working on a few game designs of his own. Shannon's fondness for the Arthurian genre, demonstrated by his published Pendragon game books and the short story "Keystones", no doubt influences his continued enjoyment of Shadows over Camelot.

Mike: In the game press, you sometimes see a 'likely play value' chart. I suspect SoC will have a curve that starts high and dives away rapidly. There isn't enough variety here, once experienced a few times, to keep it coming off the shelf. To an extent Lord of the Rings has the same issue, though is much closer to 'long life milk'. Why that should be is the subject of another article. The corollary here is that I would happily put SoC in front of anyone who hadn't played it before, and would expect to get five games value from it for most gamers. How many games can say that? Apart from perhaps the end game, this is a very well developed system and one can see that the designers have worked hard, and love the subject. It also looks incredibly good. More generally, this game is the first to make me think Days of Wonder might actually make some games I enjoy playing and, as previously indicated by Terra, that they are willing to take risks. A co-operative game is not for all, but a flavoursome, co-operative game with a traitor is well worth trying.

I rate this game a 7 currently, expecting it to fall off over time.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

OK, everyone make their final comment, and then give me a rating out of 10. Shannon and Chad, I'll need a short bio from you to stick at the end of the Musings On... Thanks for participating!


Tom: Well, I'm not too far from thinking that 7 is close to the optimal number myself. Possible traitor + high number of players = fun. When I teach the game to people nowdays, I teach the game with the traitor - and we play with only one more loyalty card than the number of people playing. I've found that pretty much anybody can understand the traitor concept, and while not everyone knows how to play it well, everyone has fun. I've played the game a dozen times now, and haven't yet been the traitor, but I continually imagine how cool it would be to be the traitor, because anyone who has been has had a blast.

I'm almost ready to classify Shadows over Camelot as a gateway game. I know that a lot of people would disagree with me, but I have yet to see many games that grab people in this manner. No matter what type of group I play the game with, it always seems to work.

Off topic: I read and posted at Tom's blog re reviewers. Would be interested in your view.


Friday, August 05, 2005

Mike: Just going to the detail level for a moment, and referring to Chad's comment, in the first game I played I was the traitor. Okay, so I am not inexperienced, but still a newbie to the game. About an hour in, I needed to know what would happen if I was exposed so I could make a judgment on timing and tactics. I read the rules, and they directed me to the reverse of my playmat for more details! So in the middle of the game, when you are trying to remain anonymous, you are expected to check an inaccessible chart! Okay, so one could claim double bluff, but not exactly ideal.

Again though, to restress the point, I found playing the traitor great fun, and considerably more interesting than a normal knight. I suppose this appeals to my long term interest in secret agendas - I have always enjoyed games where you reveal, at the end, that you were seeking to steal x or marry y. This is akin to Cosmic Encounter or Dune, where the interplay of powers rarely fails to fascinate, but with that hidden element that makes it so much more... life-like?

The replayability angle comes down to one thing for me. Not so much whether the decisions are obvious or even discussed, because I can live my life without playing another negotiation game, but because the game conjures a real sense of atmosphere, of Camelot under pressure from all sides, a traitor working cleverly in its midst. I found this much stronger with the full seven players.

Mike: Hi, someone changed the web security settings at work so my last post needs to be re-posted. Will try and do it tonight.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Shannon: I will agree with some of the concerns that other folks have had.

Chad is quite right, and the experience of Shadows for a new player can be daunting. I think the whole traitor mechanic doesn't work that well for a new player. My suggestion there is simply to have a new player always be loyal. Then he doesn't have to deal with figuring out how to be a good traitor with no experience (my concern), nor does he have to deal with being accused of the same (Chad's concern). This isn't elegant, nor does it work if you have more than one new player in the game, as that chances throwing the dynamics too far off, but it does solve the problem in most cases.

And, like Mike, I do have some concerns with the game's ultimate replayability. My brain says that this will get played out. However my actual gaming experience says that every game has continued to be great fun, and that's what I have to go with at this point.

I think that calling Shadows the same game as Werewolf is largely hyperbolic. There are actual game systems in Shadows and because of those game systems you have real basis to make decisions about other peoples' actions, something often missing in Werewolf. However I'd agree that if you don't like the style of play of Werewolf, you're at least somewhat less likely to like Shadows because they are kin.

This ain't Tigris & Euphrates, and that isn't a fault; they're just very different styles of games that will probably appeal to very different people.

Chad: I'll agree that arguing is great fun, but I can get into much better arguments by calling up my mom about coming to pick up all of my crap that I left at her house, or by belching in front of my girlfriend without saying "excuse me". From what I've heard from you guys so far, it seems to me that people enjoy the player interaction in this one much more than the actual gameplay, and the awesome bits and stunning presentation are what are getting people to buy it to start with. If not for the bits, this game would boil down to a game of Werewolf. This might partially explain why I didn't enjoy this game; I hate playing Werewolf!

Anyways, on to another problem I've noticed with this title, which is the introduction of newbies to the game. I can't imagine how frustrating and annoying it would be as a newbie at this game when playing with people that have already played Shadows. In all of the games I've played, the newbie rarely gets to make a decision of his own. All of the experienced players tell the newbie what to do, because they've played the game before and "know how to play the game" because of it. If the newbie listens, all of the fun is sucked out of the game for him since he doesn't get to make any decisions. If he doesn't listen, he is accused of being the traitor which will probably hurt everybody. Talk about a sucktastic game experience!

Tom: With every group I've played with, the decisions WERE obvious - to me. But not everyone agreed with me, and that's the fun of the game. Everyone knows exactly what should be done - and arguments ensue because of this. Now, someone's advice may be suspect because they are the traitor, and this is the key to the game.

In fact, this "kibitzing" is the key to the game. The fact that everyone gets extremely involved in the discussions, with barely concealed distrust of everyone else, really makes Shadows over Camelot shine where other cooperative games don't. When playing LOTR, Vanished Planet, or Arkham Horror, it's easy for a domineering player to dictate everyone else's moves. This won't happen in Shadows, because that demanding player just might be the traitor. Without the traitor, Shadows is a decent game. With the traitor, Shadows over Camelot is a great game.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

MS: Hi guys. Sorry about delay. The invites weren't working, so I am now signed in as Tom. I have just sent some libellous messages to fat lawyers, but on with the review.

Shannon, pleasure to share a blog with you. Love your reviews and analyses. Chad, I am in awe of your every word. Tom, well, he has potential.

MS: I empathise will all the comments so far. I very much enjoyed my first couple of games, as did most of those playing, but can see that the decisions were pretty obvious and that the appeal almost certainly won't last. The key to the game is indeed the traitor. Without it, the game would drop several points. With it, it is an intriguing, atmospheric romp.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Waiting for Mike...

Before anyone else posts, let's pause a moment and give Mike Siggins a chance to register and add his comments.

Once he posts, it's open to anyone once again...

Shannon: I suppose the best way that I can explain why I like this game is to outline what excites me during a turn.

To start off with, there's a decision point as to what evil action to take. *This* is the important decision during an individual turn, not the putting down of another card. I constantly measure and second-guess this, based on whether I think there's a traitor in the game or not (as siege engines are a lot more dangerous with a traitor than without). If I decide upon a black card draw, there's a lot of tension here. Am I going to have something bad or something really bad happen?

The heroic part of my turn can be relatively set, but every three turns or so I feel like I have to make a decision as to what to do next.

Then, on other peoples' turns there's constant kibitzing as to what people should or shouldn't do. Compared to tactical games, which often have terrible downtimes, this is another place that the game really shines.

Finally, if I ever have a bit of breathing space where I'm not putting down my next card, not figuring out my next move, and not plotting with other players, my brain will wander as to who might or might not be a traitor in the current game, with a full accounting of their actions runing through my head.

With all that said, I can understand your not liking the game, but I think it has to do with what you're looking for. I came in looking for a social experience with great Arthurian color. I got it, and I assure you my speech is full of flowery prose when I play. It sounds like you're coming in wanting a deeper system, with more important decisions that you can personally make each turn, and by that criteria Shadows clearly fails.

Chad: Oh great! So I have to argue against two good reviewers, how fun!

Anyways, I see your point about the larger strategic decisions being made every four or five turns, but it still seems to me that I'm not doing a whole lot on my turn. Most of the time, I'm going to flip a black card, and then a play a card according to which quest I'm on. That's the majority of the game, outside of the large decisions that you refer to which only happen once every half hour or so. That means it takes a full half hour of fairly mundane turn-taking before you come to a point where the players need to make any meaningful decisions again. I feel like I'm being forced to watch the fight against the black knight frame-by-frame, rather than seeing any exciting action take place.

Even though I do agree that there are those grand strategic decisions to be made, they are entirely driven by the game, and not the actions of the players. If I draw a hand of grail cards, I'm most likely going to the grail to monotonously spend my next few turns there. It's not like I did anything to get good at grail-finding; the game simply handed my a hand of grail cards. In this way, it feels like the game is essentially playing itself.

Shannon: I've heard the complaint that there aren't a lot of decisions to be made on a turn, and I think that's because some people mistake what a turn is in Shadows over Camelot. You make decisions, but they're big things, what are usually termed strategic (as opposed to tactical) decisions. You discuss player's various strengths (within the limits of the game) and then you decide: Kay's going to fight the Black Knight, Arthur will continue the Grail Quest, etc. Afterward you have a few chances to play cards, and then because of your success or someone else's impending failure another big set of decisions comes along.

I think you could use Spades, Hearts, or most other traditional card games as a good analogy. Most of your turns are rote, but every three or four turns, as the overall picture slowly changes, you have to make some new plans. It's these meta-turns and their meta-decisions where the gameplay really occurs-in Shadows over Camelot, in Hearts, in Spades, and in a lot of other games.

Overall, through four games thus far, I've found Shadows to be great. It's got wonderful theming, wonderful production, enjoyable gameplay, good socialization, and great anxiety thanks to the traitor. I'd never call it the most strategic game I play, but it's definitely one of the most colorful with one of the most interesting social aspects.

Chad - I'll admit that I, as well, was initially very excited about Shadows over Camelot for all the reasons you mentioned, Tom. I have played and really enjoyed Days of Wonder's last few big box games, including TtR and Memoir '44, so another big hit was to be expected. Shadows over Camelot seemed as if it would continue in this lineage of rich theme, stunning production quality, and engaging gameplay. However, after a few plays I have to say I'm not very impressed. While they nailed the theme and production quality on the head, the gameplay is just plain boring. It seemed as if there were little to no decisions to be made on each of my turns, and that the game was essentially playing itself. I will agree with Tom about the traitor aspect being interesting, but rather than being the icing on the cake, it is Shadow's only saving grace. Even with all of the game's glitz and glamour, in the end, it just seemed like a complicated Werewolf variant.