Shadows Over Camelot Review
Stats at a glance
The castle is under siege by the forces of evil. Rally the troops!
It’s up to Arthur and his court of noble knights to push back the oncoming assault. The bravery and courage of the Knights of Camelot are unquestioned, but what about their loyalty?
Not all is as it seems within the realm, the enemy is already at the gates… and perhaps they’re already inside. Check out the full Shadows Over Camelot Review below.
Brief Overview of Shadows Over Camelot
“In the midst of the lake Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in that hand.” —Sir Thomas Malory Le Morte d’Arthur, 15th century
Shadows Over Camelot is a cooperative fantasy-themed board game in which players take on the role of Arthur or one of the Knights of Camelot. Players must work together to complete quests for honor and glory. Some of the major quests include:
- Seek the Holy Grail.
- Defeat the Black Knight.
- Retrieve Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.
The tasks, however, won’t be easy. Each turn, the forces of evil become stronger and if left unchecked, will overrun Camelot. To make matters worse, hidden in plain sight is a traitor among the Knights of the Round Table. One of the players is a traitor, secretly undermining the forces of good.
Versions & Expansions
Shadows over Camelot: Merlin’s Company
If you can manage to track down a copy of Merlin’s Company (a heroic task in itself) you’ll be able to expand Shadows Over Camelot to include a total of 8 players. Merlin’s Company adds several new knights and characters to the game, including Merlin. Each character comes with their own unique ability and player mats.
Merlin’s Company also adds additional cards and rules and can expand the number of traitors to two. If you find yourself breezing through the game or just want to add more players to your table, Merlin’s Company may be a good choice for you.
Shadows over Camelot: The Card Game
Unboxing Shadows Over Camelot
“As erst in Badon’s fight,–
With Arthur of liberal ones
The head, with long red blades;
Through feats of testy men,
And a chief with his foes.
Woe be to them, the fools,
When revenge comes on them.
I Taliesin, chief of bards,
With a sapient Druid’s words,
Will set kind Elphin free
From haughty tyrant’s bonds.”
—Mabinogian, 12th century Welsh Arthurian Legend
Shadows Over Camelot is a relatively large game. There are a lot of different sections, quests that players can go on, and there are a lot of enemies coming at you from all sides.
To contend with such an epic confrontation, Days of Wonder has produced a very well-done game.
The board is colorful and all sections are clearly marked. Each knight character also comes with a player mat that holds the completed quest objectives to keep everything organized. It also has an extremely handy turn cheat sheet printed on the board so you don’t have to constantly refer to the rulebook.
Shadows over Camelot has beautiful artwork and comes with a lot of nice little minis.
The Knights of the Round Table like to dance when they’re able… wait, what?
Nevermind. ‘Tis a silly place.
The minis are all well done and come with color-coded bases to make everything easier to see, so if you’re not a professional mini-painter you can still see who’s who at-a-glance.
I absolutely love the little catapults. The only problem I have with them is that they don’t shoot little peas. I have high standards.
How to Play Shadows Over Camelot
“Merlin made the Round Table in tokening of roundness of the world, for by the Round Table is the world signified by right, for all the world, Christian and heathen, repair unto the Round Table…” —Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, 15th century
In Shadows Over Camelot, players take on the role of one of the Knights of the Round table. Together they must fight to defend Camelot from the forces of evil and complete quests for glory and wealth.
Shadows over Camelot can be a difficult game but luckily, everyone (or mostly everyone) gets to work together to support each other as fellow knights. Unfortunately, not everyone is who they seem. One of the players will be a traitor.
At the beginning of the game, each player receives a hidden role card. There’s always a possibility that nobody will be the traitor, but it’s a rather small possibility. You’ll need to simultaneously rely on your fellow knights and be suspicious of their actions until the traitor is revealed.
Each player will play as one of the heroic knights of Camelot that has a special ability that they can use.
- King Arthur – Can exchange cards face down with other knights.
- Sir Gawain – Draws 3 cards in Camelot instead of 2.
- Sir Galahad – Can play an additional white card for free.
- Sir Kay – If on a quest after combat, Kay can play another white card after the black card.
- Sir Palamedes – After participating in a successful quest, regain 1 life point.
- Sir Percival – Can peek at the top card of the evil deck and choose whether to draw it or perform a different evil action.
- Sir Tristan – Departing Camelot is a free action.
Lancelot is noticeably missing from the cast of characters. He’s probably keeping Guinevere company…
Each turn has two phases: the Progression of Evil & Heroic Actions.
Progression of Evil
Part of the fun of Shadows Over Camelot and cooperative games, in general, is that the board is actively working against you. The fun part comes in when you get to actually pick your own demise. Shadows Over Camelot forces each player at the beginning of their turn to perform an evil action. There’s really no getting around it and whatever you pick is going to be terrible. It’s always somehow worse when the reason you lose a game is because of a decision that you’ve made.
Your choices of impending doom are:
- Draw a Black Card: As you may have guessed all of the effects of black cards are terrible. Some are more terrible than others, but all of them suck. Enjoy.
- Place a Catapult: Catapults, although adorable looking, are one of the end game conditions. If too many come onto the field, the game can end with Camelot losing to a siege.
- Sacrifice a Life Point: Instead of the above, the Knight can fall upon his sword and take damage instead of any other bad stuff. This is a losing strategy and should probably only be used when all of the other options are worse. Having everyone die is another end game condition and Progression of Evil isn’t the only time where you may get injured. You could inadvertently injure yourself and get killed on the next turn.
Okay, now that you’ve helped destroy the kingdom you’re trying to save, you finally get to do some good.
There are 3 heroic actions that you can choose from on your turn, and remember that every Knight has a special ability that they can use on their turn. If you forget to use it, there’s a high probability that everyone is going to call you the traitor.
Move to Start a Quest: Simply move your knight mini to a new location. There are some issues with this, though. If you’re already working on a quest and you cannot progress it or perform any other actions, you have to move. That means if you’re 1 space away from completing a quest, but can’t perform any other actions, you’ll be forced to abandon a quest, and that’s a devastating blow.
Play Cards to Complete a Quest: Heroic actions to complete a quest usually involve playing white cards. Typically, the more white cards you have, the better the odds of success. It’s sometimes best to head back to Camelot to stock up on cards before attempting a hefty quest. There’s always the possibility of another card forcing your knight back to Camelot, which can be extremely frustrating.
7 Swords (White or Black) = Game Over: You may have noticed the sword-tracker on the board. This is basically the scoreboard. Typically, every completed objective will grant a white sword and failure adds a black sword. Seven is the magic number here and you want to aim for 7 white swords.
12 Catapults = Game Over: If you’re ever in Camelot, you can sit around the Round Table and collect cards or you could do something about the impending siege engines sitting outside the castle walls. If the 12th catapult is placed, BOOM. Game over. There’s no rebuttal. The game ends immediately as a loss.
To get rid of siege engines, you’ll be fighting against a die. It’s almost like gambling. You’ll need to play as many fight cards as you want and then roll the 8-sided die. The 8 sided die is the catapult’s strength and your cards need to exceed the roll of the die. Ties go to the forces of evil, so you should have tried harder.
Everyone Dies = Game Over: The most obvious end game scenario is if all of the loyal knights of Arthur die. For those of you who hate player elimination, there is a rule that allows players to rejoin the game. If there’s still leftover knights who aren’t dead, players can rejoin using an optional rule. They won’t be as strong, but it may help if you want to hop back in the game and don’t want to sit on the sidelines for too long.
Your First Game of Shadows Over Camelot
“He who wants to do more than he is able must admit defeat or retire.” ―Chrétien de Troyes, French Poet of Arthurian Romances, 12th century
There are a lot of things happening all at once. If you’re playing with someone who already knows the rules, it’s very easy to pick up.
If it’s your first game and nobody has played before, it is possible to play without the traitor for the first game or two. It helps everyone get a feel for the rules and understand the objectives of the game.
I highly suggest somebody plays as both Arthur and Gawain. Their abilities are extremely useful. Arthur can easily move cards between players and Gawain can basically sit in Camelot and gather enough cards to quickly plow through quests.
Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to feign ignorance as the traitor and destroy everyone.
“Oops, I forgot to draw my extra card.”
“Oops, I didn’t mean to discard that card, I didn’t know what it did.”
You get the idea.
There’s a lot of prioritization for Shadows Over Camelot. Should you tag team objectives together? Do you all split up? Do you have a player dedicated to pushing back the forces of evil?
All are valid strategies, so instead of trying to be the most efficient, I would suggest simply going with your gut to experience everything the game has to offer. After you get a few games under your belt, you can start to really strategize.
Pros & Cons
“For many a petty king ere Arthur came
Ruled in this isle, and ever waging war
Each upon other, wasted all the land;
And still from time to time the heathen host
Swarmed overseas, and harried what was left.”
―Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, 19th century
- Easy to learn
- Doesn’t play well with low player count
- Can be brutal
I absolutely love the hidden traitor elements in Shadows Over Camelot. If it wasn’t for the traitor, Shadows Over Camelot would be a fun cooperative game but it wouldn’t be a great game. Adding the ever-present threat of a traitor takes this game over the top for me.
So many actions can be misleading. If you legitimately forget to make a move, everyone else will notice, or when cards are played facedown, the traitor can burn a ton of useful cards while seemingly working towards the greater good. It adds so much tension and depth to the game and elevates it far past just a generic cooperative experience.
A Gateway Game?
Shadows Over Camelot can be a good gateway game, depending on who you’re trying to get into the hobby. On the one hand, the rules are incredibly simple and can easily be explained and picked up within only a few rounds. On the other hand, the game can be downright brutal, especially with the addition of the traitor.
Typically with a gateway game, you want all the players to jump in quickly and start enjoying the game. That can be done here, but oftentimes you’ll jump right into the game, only to be completed smashed. If your players are type-A personalities that can’t stand losing and want to jump right back in after a failure, this will be perfect. If your players are happy only when they win… maybe not so much.
Low Player Counts
Shadows Over Camelot scales well. I like the fact that the first thing that anyone does on their turn is an evil action. It basically forces you to choose your own demise. That’s pretty messed up if you think about it.
With more players, evil actions will begin to pile up much more quickly and it actually becomes harder for an individual to do anything about it. It forces you to rely on other players. At lower player counts (2 or 3 players) it’s very hard to have a successful hidden traitor game. It becomes pretty clear who the traitor is early on and just doesn’t work as well.
Shadows Over Camelot is an excellent cooperative game and the addition of the hidden traitor element makes it even more compelling.
It’s easy to learn for beginners but can be quite challenging at times. Some players may be put off by the difficulty. It all depends on who’s sitting around the table.
If you attempt to play with 3 players, the hidden traitor elements don’t work well. Whereas at higher player counts, it works wonderfully.
I really like both cooperative games and hidden traitor games. Hidden traitor games, by their nature, have to be semi-cooperative, but Shadows Over Camelot feels like more of a cooperative experience. Games like Avalon or Resistance simply don’t feel like cooperative games. They’re more of deductive reasoning and lying-to-your-friends kinds of games.
That level of player interaction (that doesn’t simply end in a shouting match) should raise a few eyebrows. It’s definitely one of the most successful hidden traitor games in that regard. The loyal knights get an immediate threat and get an enemy to face instead of a faceless board, and the traitor gets the opportunity to lay down some seriously devious plans.
The interactions between players are so good and, unlike most hidden games, it truly forces players to rely on each other while simultaneously being suspicious of each other. It’s not as simple as pointing a finger at another player and continually shouting that they’re the traitor. You can do that, but it’s not helpful.
On a completely unrelated note: If you’re a fan of the Arthurian Legends, I highly recommend reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmerman Bradley. It’s told from the druid/female perspective of the events of King Arthur from the viewpoint of Morgan Le Fey. Also, if you’re interested in the original Welsh legends that Arthur is based on, you can find a copy of The Mabinogion.
What did you think about Shadows Over Camelot? We’d love to get your thoughts on gameplay, strategies, and how you deal with hidden traitors in your midst. Drop a comment below!
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