Shadows Over Camelot is a co-operative (or semi-cooperative) game for 3-7 players, from designers Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget and publisher Days of Wonder. Each player represents a knight of the Round Table who work together to gain white swords on the round table before Camelot falls. To do this, the knights must overcome a number of quests, including searching for the Holy Grail and taking on the Vikings and Picts, invading at your shores.
The heroics of the knights is counter-balanced by the actions of the black knight, taken each turn before the players act. You must choose whether to add a siege engine to the grounds of the castle or take a black card and suffer the negative effects. Or, if you’re truly heroic, you can sacrifice a health to avoid any bad consequences. Be careful what you choose though. Your actions are all observed by your fellow knights, who are watching to find out whether you are a traitor.
There may be a traitor in each game, determined by the loyal or traitor cards dealt at the very beginning. The traitor wins if Camelot falls or if the round table is filled with majority black swords through failed quests or negative black cards. Playing the traitor is hard, but very interesting to try and fly under the radar! Sometimes you might just have a bad hand of cards – if you place them out against the Picts, it might look suspicious, but you might not have any options. This co-operative game really promotes communication, but not 100% open information, so it’s hard to know who to trust.
If you enjoy Shadows Over Camelot, you might want to expand the game with Merlin’s Company, expanding your game to eight players, allowing for two traitors, adding new characters and new game mechanisms. The new travel cards really change how you move from quest to quest and the new black cards add new dimensions to the game.
Player Count: 3-7
Time: 60-80 Minutes
Shadows over Camelot is a two to seven player, best with five to seven players, semi co-operative game set in Camelot. Players take on the role of a knight of the round table as they collectively try to advance the forces of good and hold off the forces of darkness.
It is not dissimilar to Battlestar Galactica (BSG) in terms of gameplay, and is very much in the same family; same semi co-operative with the possibility of a traitor, the same hand management, and the same deduction process. A game should take 90 minutes or so, so is a bit shorter than BSG.
Players are each given a knight, they can be selected by choice or done at random, or however the players decide. Each knight has abilities which vary slightly from one to another.
The genius of Shadows over Camelot is that within the game there is likely a traitor, and that each turn every player must take two actions, an action for good and an action which benefits the forces of darkness. Not only does this serve to hide the potential traitor and serves to keep suspense in place, but it is the core dynamic for raising game tension and reaching the win or lose conditions.
So every turn the players are going to take one step closer to losing, often these steps are small but they accumulate, pretty soon players are going to be trying to work out what is the least damaging option whilst worrying about who might be the traitor amongst them.
Possible good actions may be to participate in quests or a variety of other actions to help for forces of good, but quests tend to be the key. There are a variety of quests from searching for the Grail which is super hard, finding Excalibur, holding of Saxons, fighting dragons and so on. Completing quests leads to great benefits but may take some turns to achieve and this may also require a fair degree of planning and co-operation between players.
Generally speaking these actions are carried out by playing cards from hand, so the game has a strong hand management feel, and because it is co-operative players can help, advise or generally banter.
Similarly, there are a number of possible actions in support of darkness, all of which progress the game towards the good guys losing. One of which, and a key part of the game, is event cards. Players will in all probability try to avoid drawing event cards, but as the game progresses they become harder to avoid. The event cards can do any number of things including making it harder to complete quests, adding forces of darkness to the game board and so on. Of course the traitor will be wanting to ensure completing those quests is as difficult as possible or even better made to fail, whist if possible remaining hidden.
There is a mechanism to accuse and reveal a traitor, but it tends to cost, so making that call is unwise unless players are pretty certain. Should they be right then from that point the traitor plays openly in opposition and is free to taunt all the other players as often as possible.
Play continues, turn by turn until the victory or lose conditions are met. Often it is fairly tight or a very close run thing, and generally the good guys will win around 50% of the time.
As expected with Days of Wonder, Shadows over Camelot is a high production quality game. All the boards and counters are on good stock and well printed. The minis are OK and obviously can be painted if you are into that sort of thing.
The cards are good quality, in a game that is primarily about hand management and playing the cards, they will stand up to a good bit of wear and tear, but if you are going to play a lot then card sleeves might be a very good idea. The rule book is clear and reasonably well written. Visually the whole game looks very good and is very thematic.
Merlin’s Company brings some new challenges, adding Merlin, some new knights with new abilities, and expands the game to eight players. It is an interesting expansion and with eight players the possibility of two traitors will certainly add to the challenge.
Final Thoughts on Shadows Over Camelot
Shadows over Camelot is not a complex game and is one that does not take itself too seriously, like BSG it does benefit from a bit of role-playing of the characters and maybe a good few Monty Python Holy Grail jokes. It is the sort of game that plays well with a larger group of players in a fairly informal setting.
This or BSG might be something I’d reach for in the evening after a long hard game of Twilight Imperium, and which of the two might depend mostly on which theme the players prefer. Shadows over Camelot is not particularly deep, is easy to teach and learn, and is very forgiving of inexperienced players.
The game is definitely better with the traitor in play. I’d go as far to say there should always be a traitor in play, the traitor adds a great deal to the tension and fun. This is why it is better with a larger number of players, because with fewer players it is harder for the traitor to remain hidden.
Like all co-operative games it can fall foul of the alpha player, but the traitor mechanic and that the game is highly social tends to reduce this possibility – another good reason for having the traitor in play.
Shadows over Camelot is extremely thematic and highly interactive, these are the strongest points of the game. The components, the cards and the quests all lend to the feel, as does the growing darkness that needs to be held off. Players will, at times, need to balance striving for various objectives against simply holding off the forces of darkness.
The possibility of a betrayer adds to the fun and the theme, leaving players never quite sure how the game might progress. It is one of those rare games where the theme and the mechanics complement each other and because it is so thematic it lends to play being treated as a story rather than what might be a dry mechanic of cards and hand management.
Ultimately, it is a game of hand management, collecting and using the right cards. Players need to plan to be able to draw cards, use them, and collaboratively problem solve to complete the quests and avoid the bad stuff, or in the case of the traitor to facilitate the bad stuff. What really makes Shadows over Camelot fun is the theme, the role play, and that as a game it does not take itself too seriously.