Pimp My Camel
First up, let’s talk about what is different between this Camel Up, made in 2018, and the original from 2014. The pyramid here is plastic, not cardboard, and some of the camels are now crazy. That’s pretty much it! There is a new art design and some other minor tweaks, but this is all that changed. So, should you buy this if you have the first edition? Only if your pyramid is destroyed! This was the reason I think they upgraded this component to plastic. The original one was way better in my opinion, but became damaged quite easily with wear. If your original pyramid is ok, then stick with it and maybe look at the Supercup expansion if you want more gameplay. However, if you own neither, then get this version. It is the superior edition in many ways and will be more durable with the new components.
With that out of the way, lets talk about the game!
The Race is On!
Camel Up is a brilliant family-friendly race game that incorporates several mechanics to ease your family into a lifetime of board games. Or gambling, depending on your persuasions. You are playing as people from all over the world who have come to bet on the outcome of a camel race. The camels are controlled by dice, rolled from a plastic Pyramid dice roller, which sits in the middle of the board adding both a practical use and enhancing the atmosphere and theme of the game. The dice roll one to three and you move the camels accordingly.
Each round you can either move one camel by rolling a die or make a bet on the camel that will be in the lead at the end of this round. Alternatively, you can try to predict the final outcome of the race by betting on the overall winner or loser. Or, finally, you could place your character token on the race map in the hope, for some reason, that a camel lands on your space! I am unsure on what is happening thematically here. Maybe it's like paying for premium front row seats with added trampling? But if it happens, you can win some money. Perhaps it simply falls from the camel as it tramples over you. Or maybe it's thrown to you from the baying crowd as they reward your foolhardiness?
But rules-wise, that’s it! It’s a very simple game. However, there are three delicious twists which make this race game so much fun!
Royal Ascot, this ain’t!
Firstly, the camels can ride on each other's backs. If, for example, you move the red camel two spaces with the roll of a die, and it lands on a space already occupied by a green camel, they do not then ride side by side. No, the red camel rides on the back of the green one. This means, if you roll a green die on a later turn, both camels move! You always move the bottom camel, no matter how many other are stacked on its back!
Second, the dice rolls are random, you see. All of the dice are inside a pyramid. You press a button and one random one rolls out. So, you not only have the random nature of a die roll determining how far a camel moves forward, but you also have the random nature of not knowing which die will come out. There is also one less turn per round that dice. So not all camels will have their die come out. This doesn’t mean it won’t move; it may be riding on the back of another camel that does. But it does mean it’s harder to predict the outcome of each leg.
You can never be certain which camels will move, how many times they will move and how far they will move on each turn! It makes Camel Up a delightful puzzle that cannot always be solved. You have to go with the random nature of the race. It's camels after all.
And lastly, this game has crazy camels! There are two camels on the racetrack that are not part of the race. They start at the back rather the front and race backwards. If a camel racing forwards lands on the space of a camel racing backwards, and the backwards racing camel moves next, the forward racing camels starts to move back towards the start again. In truth, this doesn’t happen that often in a game and it takes a while to even get close to happening as you start them so far away, so we have ‘house ruled’ this a little, and start the crazy camels in the middle of the track.
All this makes for a fun and frantic race game that is very hard to predict. With all of your actions other than rolling a die being to try and predict the movement or outcome of the race, you will quickly find this game is more about luck than strategy. However, as the game nears conclusion, you can start to add some probability into your bets. Nothing is ever for certain in this game, but you can try to beat the odds. This makes the game very accessible for families but can be frustrating if you are looking for something more skill or strategy based. If you are, I would encourage you look at Flamme Rougue or Rallyman GT, or for a level up, Lewis & Clark.
Your New Family Favourite?
If you are looking for a game to play with your family, then I would highly recommend this. Especially if the group has not played many modern tabletop games. It is so accessible and fun that you will have anyone from four and up playing within minutes. You may have a slight advantage if you have a masters in advanced chaos theory. In most cases, this game is a good leveller. You will find that not only can every one play this game, they can all play it fairly evenly. Even when I make a move I think is pretty smart, the Camels do their own thing and I often still end up losing.
This game is much more about the experience that the winning. The points tally at the end is arbitrary really. It is a simple case of adding up the money you have accumulated on your bets through the race. This is done with denominations of one and five Egyptian pound coins. So, it is a pretty simple thing to add up and a good way to encourage your young children to start developing their maths skills.
When you are betting on the outcome of the race, you can place a betting slip on either the winner or loser side. You play the cards face down so no one knows which camel you are betting on. You can bet multiple times on both the winner and the loser if you change your mind as the race goes on! The incentive to bet early is that the first person to predict the winner or loser receives more money than whoever guesses second or third. But if you get the bet wrong, you lose one Egyptian pound. This is a nice mechanic that makes your choices here a lot more fun.
It is the accessibility of the game that I think appeals to me the most. It works for so many groups. I take it upon my self to convert everyone I know to tabletop games. It is my life’s calling if you will. One game night with three other friends who were not into games at all, it was Camel Up that saved the night. It was a night with a lot of live sport on TV. All three of them were mainly on their phones checking the scores and making bets as we played other games. I thought Camel Up might appeal.
Just before I decided to give up and head to the pub to watch the footy, I suggested we give it a try. They all seemed reluctant at first; in truth, it does look like a child’s game. They decided to try one quick game, as I promised them it was quick, and then we would leave. But when they realised it was largely a betting game, they all got into it. We raced through the first game and I started to pack up when they all asked if we could play one more time.
To the Races!
This game gets a lot of play time in my house. Whenever a family with young children come to visit, this is the first title that comes to mind when they ask to play a game. It works for all players and visually just looks so fun! It instantly appeals to all and is relatively quick to play. Games take anywhere between 20-40 minutes, so it never outstays its welcome. Generally, after one game, people are asking to play more games. I feel with its gateway style appeal, and the fact that playing it teaches you some bluffing and race style mechanics, I like to move on to something like The Chameleon or The Quest for El Dorado. Camel Up is brilliant at bringing new people into this wonderful hobby and for that reason alone you should definitely consider it for your next purchase.
Camel Up is a brilliant game that I would highly recommend for any collection. Even if you don’t play with families (or gambling degenerates) often, this is a fun filler game to play in-between more meaty game nights. It is bound to raise a few laughs and create some crazy camel capers!