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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).