Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Shadows over Camelot" by Days of Wonder

As a child, I enjoyed reading Edith Hamilton’s books about mythology. I read about Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, and Odysseus. I read about their incredible deeds as well as the wickedness of man and gods alike.

One interesting myth was of Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam and Hecuba of Troy. She was given the gift of prophesy by Apollo, yet she was cursed never to be believed.

Cassandra predicted the Trojan War and the eventual sack of Troy. As a result, she was locked in a tower by her father, but her prophesies were nonetheless soon realized.

As a result of this myth, I have long held the fear that there would come a day when I had something to say and that, for whatever reason, people would not believe me.

That day has finally come. It started when I opened a game entitled "Shadows over Camelot."

Designed by Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala and produced by Days of Wonder, "Shadows over Camelot" takes you back to the days of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Three to seven players assume the roles of knights and work cooperatively to defend Camelot from the omnipresent evil of outside invaders.

The object of the game is to fill the famous Round Table with twelve swords, awarded from various quests around the board. White swords are won from successful quests; black swords are added when a quest is failed. At the end of the game, if there is a majority of white swords, the knights win.

During the game, knights must take one evil action and one heroic action per turn.

Evil actions may be: paying one life point, playing one evil black card (the stack of black cards contain a variety of evil actions), or placing a siege engine or catapult outside of Camelot. Over the course of the game, these evil actions add up, and Camelot runs the risk of being conquered.

Heroic actions consist of: drawing white cards (the stack of white cards contain a variety of helpful cards), moving to a quest, playing a card or spell, battling a siege engine, or discarding three like cards for life. Each knight has a special ability which he or she may use each turn for free.

Up to this point, the game sounds fairly simple, right? As long as the good guys finish enough quests before all of the forced evil actions topple Camelot, then the game is won.

Ah, if only it were so easy.

Among the knights is a traitor who works covertly against the throne. The existence of a traitor creates an atmosphere of distrust among the knights.

The game is further complicated by the ability to accuse someone of being the traitor. During the game, one knight has a one-time-per-game ability to accuse another of treason and may do so as his or her heroic action. The accused then reveals his or her identity. If the accused is innocent, a white sword on the Round Table is exchanged for a black one, and he or she loses one life point (this rule seems counter-intuitive, but it makes perfect sense during game play). If the accused is, in fact, the traitor, a white sword is added to the Round Table, he or she reveals her identity card, and the traitor continues to take turns, this time being overtly evil.

"Shadows over Camelot" is an amazing psychological study, as well as an extremely fun and satisfying game. It is so well-balanced that the game’s outcome is uncertain up until its final moments.

However, its true triumph is what I like to call the Cassandra complex. All players have his or her own truth to tell, and no one is there to believe them. It is a cruel and mean trick of the gods to encourage feuding between knights sworn to brotherhood.

On the other hand, I swear by my sword that I have loved every minute of it.

Cost: $49.95
Players: 3 to 7
Age: 10 and up
Time to play: 2 to 3 hours
Rating (1 to 10, 10 being the best): 9
Additional Comments: A truly incredible psychological game. Best with 7 players.


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