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Absolute chaos. A descent into unbridled madness. Anarchy in a board game form. I think that Tom Jolly's Camelot (Wingnut Games, 2005 - Tom Jolly) could easily fit any of those descriptions. Our first game was a madhouse, and subsequent games were no different. Camelot has made some news since the main mechanic of the game, the "Lightning System", was patented - something odd for a board game mechanic. Was the patent warranted, and the game any good?
Opinions are going to vary widely on the game. Some of the players absolutely hated the speed and chaos of the game. Others, including myself, reveled in it and had a blast! Either way, the Lightning system, which I found quite innovative, certainly prevents downtime, as players struggle to play the game as fast as they can. I found the insanity full of merriment, but it's certain that Camelot is not for everyone. Still, if you have someone who is afflicted with "analysis paralysis" (takes forever to do their turn), then Camelot is a lot of fun to introduce them to!
The theme of the game is based on the fact that there were many "Arthurs" in the days of ancient England, and each player uses their "Merlins" and others to try to get their "Arthur" to claim Excalibur. A mapboard is placed in the middle of the table, depicting a hex grid of England, complete with stone, forest, and water hexes. An Excalibur token is placed on a hex near the middle of the board, and each player takes fifteen adventurer pieces (five Arthurs, four Galahads, four Lancelots, one Merlin, and one Morgan) as well as four other tokens (teleport, fireball, death touch, and entry hex) in their color. Players place their pieces face up in front of themselves, and two players are randomly determined to get one each of the two "Turn" tokens. Players, in turn order (starting with a high roller), place their entry hex somewhere on the board - on the edge and at least five spaces away from another player, and the game is ready to go.
The way the "Lightning" system works is thus: When a player has a turn token in front of them, they take their turn. After finishing, they pass the turn token to the next player on their left who does not already have a turn token. Therefore, if a player takes a long time on their turn, the other turn token can pass right by them, and they lose turns as a result! On a player's turn, they simply place and/or move two units on the board, starting from the entry hex. Each character has different attack, defense, and move values:
- Arthur: Move 2, Attack 1, Defend 1, Range 1
- Lancelot: Move 1, Attack 2, Defend 2, Range 1, Sweeping blow
- Galahad: Move 1, Attack 1, Defend 1, Range 3
- Merlin: Move 1, Attack 1, Defend 1, Range 3, Teleport, Fireball
- Morgan: Move 1, Attack 1, Defend 2, Range 2, Death Touch, Resurrection
Players may move but not through water, rocks, or trees. If a piece is next to an opponent's piece, they may not move away unless both players agree to disengage. Players may not move through other pieces, even their own.
Players may declare attack, but must do so before they move. They can declare as many attacks as they wish, as long as the attack is possible. For an attack to succeed, a player must be able to EXCEED the defending player's defense number with one or more pieces. Ranged units are blocked by trees and rock, but not water. If the attack succeeds (everything freezes for a moment to check), then the defender dies and is removed from the game (not permanently, if Arthur). If the attack does not succeed - because of some oversight by the attacker, then one of the attacking pieces is killed. Each unit can only attack once per turn (except Lancelot, who can attack all adjacent units with one attack, rather than two.) Merlin and Morgan also have special attacks (fireball and death touch) that they can use for more damage, but the counter representing those attacks is then discarded. Also, Merlin can discard the teleport token to move anywhere on the board.
The first person to get the sword (which only an Arthur may carry) back to their starting hex is the winner! If the Arthur carrying the sword is killed, then the sword drops to that hex.
Some comments about the game…
1.) Components: The artwork on the box is pretty cool, and the humorous theme just has me chuckling at the insanity of it all. The counters themselves are hexes - each teams with a different background color. The hexes have useful information on them - swords and shields to show fighting values, and triangles to show movement. How to move and fight with each piece is fairly intuitive, but even if not, another large hex is provided that shows the stats of each piece. The two large turn hexes are fairly durable, which is good, because they are being thrown around the table at a fast clip for the entire game. The only problem I had with all the hexes was that they didn't punch very well and needed to be clipped to look nice. A pile of extra hexes were included in the bag - I guess you could add dozens of variants if you like. I had to bag everything so that it stored in the box, but once bagged, everything fit under the four-way folding map board. Camelot's components aren't stellar, but they are passable. Everything fits inside the small box, which is very similar in size to Fantasy Flight's Silver Line.
2.) Rules: The rules come in a four page booklet, and explain the game fairly well, although I think they could have been better written. Movement wasn't very clear, although Mr. Jolly did clarify it online. Still, the game is fairly easy to teach, although the game doesn't make for the best teaching atmosphere. See, when I teach games, I still end up teaching the rules during the first several turns. In Camelot, the game is moving at such a feverish pitch that it's difficult to keep track and make sure everyone's following the rules. Some rules questions came up, and the game does allow for a "time out" to answer rules questions. We used this a LOT.
3.) Speed: People who like to take a long time during their turn will HATE this game, as there is a constant pressure to hurry, hurry, hurry. In the games I played, people were getting passed continuously, and sometimes players moved, simply to move. Shouting and yelling occurred, punctuated by occasional (okay, frequent) attacks and "time outs". You can't take your eye off the game for a second, because there is something happening at all times.
4.) Benefits of speed: There are some good benefits to this type of speed in a game. For one, I would never play a game such as Camelot without it - it's a little too wargamish for me, even though I do enjoy the "capture the flag" type theme. But when you add in the speed, it's just my type of game. Secondly, the "analysis paralysis" types who can be quite annoying in a tactical game such as this, simply can't afford to be slow. And if they do insist on moving slowly, the rest of us can do our turns quickly!
5.) Disadvantages of speed: Obviously a game like this is going to annoy the snot out of a person who likes taking at least a little time to think. It's also hard to plan any kind of long range strategy, as things happen too fast for you to do anything but act and react with your troops. Also, it's entirely possible for people to cheat; and no one may notice, because they are watching their own pieces. Now I'm not so worried about intentional cheating with the players I game with, but accidental rule violations can happen frequently; and because the game is moving at such a break neck speed, no one may see them.
6.) Variants: There are several variants included in the game, along with corresponding pieces. In one of them, players vie for the "accoutrements of kingship", four different items, rather than a single sword. In another, coins worth varying amounts are scattered around the board, and players hurry to get fifteen points worth of gold so that they can "buy" the kingship. If you thought the game was chaotic, these variants don't make it any less so. It's like playing football with multiple balls in play. Interesting, but the basic game pleases me just fine, thank you!
7.) Strategy: The game is too fast to have any.
8.) Tactics: Players must remember to always be moving their Arthurs into position to pick up the sword. Several times, players would get caught up in a war with another player, while the others battled over the sword. Destroying your enemies is NOT the point of the game, yet players often feel it necessary, because it's so easy to get involved in. Mostly, there isn't much involved in the game, other than "He's got the sword! Get him!".
9.) Fun Factor: For me, the game was outrageously fun. Everyone shouts at the same time, yelling about the rules, who has killed who, who has the sword now, where are the turn tokens, what can Merlin do with the teleport?, etc. I don't normally want this level of chaos in a game, but every once in a while, it's just fun to let it all go. Camelot is sort of like Pit combined with a simple tactical war game. Sound fun? It does to me.
This is certainly a game that will be divisive. I think it's either a like it or hate it type game, because some of those who played swore they would never touch it again. Others said that it was a fun experience, but they had their fill. Still others, including me, thought that it was a hilarious game and were willing to play again easily. Which group do you belong to? It depends if you're in the mood for a frenzied, fast war-type game in which speed is important and strategy isn't.
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It's only a model...
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They did shut up, more than half a decade ago.