Saturday, August 18, 2012

Co-Op Fantasy: Shadows Over Camelot (3-7+ players)

"Shadows remains one of the best cooperative games on the market."

Shadows Over Camelot is a cooperative game of epic fantasy for 3-7 players (8 with the Merlin's Company expansion), ages 10 and up. Players take on the roles of Knights of the Round Table, including King Arthur, Sir Galahad, Sir Percival and Sir Kay. These knights must work together to finish quests before Mordred completes his siege of Camelot.

What's a Cooperative Board Game?

Cooperative board games allow the players to work together against a timeline built into the game's mechanics. Each cooperative game handles the timeline concept differently, but this allows the players to work as a team to achieve a goal instead of working against one another. Cooperative games are excellent gateway games for people who have only played Parker Brothers-style games. They are also excellent introductory games for younger players.


Each player's round consists of the Progression of Evil phase and the Heroic Action phase.

In the Progression of Evil phase, the player MUST do one of three things: draw a black card and do what it says (these are never good), place a catapult in front of Camelot representing Mordred's siege of the famous castle, or, finally, the knight may take a point of damage instead of doing something evil. As knights start with only four life points, the last option is typically saved for desperate times.

The Heroic Action phase allows the knight to do ONE of the following: Move to a new quest, Perform an action to further that quest, Play a Special White Card, Heal yourself (requires discarding cards) or Accuse another knight of being a traitor. You may also take a point of damage to peform a second action, but that second action must be a different action; for example, if you play a card to further a quest you cannot sacrifice a life point to play a second card on that quest. You can, however, sacrifice a life to move to another quest or play a Special White card to help your allies.

The knights work together to track down the Holy Grail, win Lancelot's Armor and receive Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, all while defending Camelot from attacking Saxons, Picts and siege engines. Completing a quest requires a knight to play 4-7 specific cards, one per round, in a specific order. Since a knight must Progress Evil before he takes a Heroic Action every round, that means Evil progresses 4-7 times before a knight can complete their quest!

Completion of quests reward the knights with White Swords, as well as life points and additional cards. Losing quests punish the knights with Black Swords. When a total of 12 swords have been collected, black or white, the game ends.

The Knights lose the game if:
  • There are ever 12 catapults sieging Camelot
  • All Loyal Knights are killed (see Traitor below)
  • There are ever 7 or more Black Swords on the Round Table
The Knights win the game if:
  • After 12 swords are collected, there are more White Swords than Black Swords.


Setup of Shadows is relatively quick.

The game spans four boards: the main board includes Camelot, the attacking Saxons and Picts, as well as the Black Knight tournament. The other three boards hold the quest for the Grail, Lancelot's Armor and Excalibur.

On the Table

As there are only two things for each player to do (Progress Evil and perform one Heroic Action), rounds go incredibly fast. Every knight has the same basic abilities (4 life points and the same Heroic Actions to choose from), as well as one special ability. Abilities are straightforward (trade cards, play cards for free, move for free, etc), which helps maintain the fast pace of the game while allowing each knight to feel unique.

The game builds tension in two ways--the Traiter (see below) and by accelerating the siege when quests are completed. Once Excalibur and the Grail are found, Black Cards that had affected those quests negatively now add a catapult to Camelot. This forces the players to focus their efforts on defending Camelot while still trying to gain White Swords from other quests.

Once Lancelot's Armor is found, a dragon is released. Defending the countryside from the dragon requires the attention of multiple knights. We try to have more White Swords than Black before the dragon arrives, giving us a victory buffer even if we don't manage to stop it.

After dozens of games, Shadows stills surprises me. In one game, we did so well that we had time to face down the extremely hard-to-kill dragon. In another, we had so many catapults on the board that three knights had to sacrifice their final Life Point so that our fourth player could play a key card and win for us--postumously.

Though Shadows can be fun with three players or seven, we find the game is most enjoyable with 4-6 players. Three players will find it difficult to reach and complete key quests, while seven (or eight with the expansion) escalate the number of Progression of Evil phases, potentially shutting certain quests out quickly.

Games average 90 minutes to play, but can be much faster with experienced players.

The Traitor

Most co-op games have variant rules to introduce conflict among the players. For Shadows, this rule is called the Traitor. During setup, each player receives a Loyalty card. The game includes 7 Loyal cards and 1 Traitor card. In the basic game, the eight cards are shuffled together and one is dealt to each player. The more people playing, the higher the chance that one of them is a Traitor.

The Traitor's job is a subtle one--to stand in the way of the other knights' success, while keeping their identity a secret. If the Traitor makes it to the end of the game without being caught, two of the knights' White Swords become Black before deterimining the knights' success. This means that the knights must have at least 9 white swords to win, instead of 7 (bad guys win all ties in Shadows).

The Traitor only reveals themselves if certain cards are played or when another knight uses their Heroic Action to accuse them. An accused knight must reveal their Loyalty card. If the accused knight is not the Traitor, one of the knights' White Swords becomes Black; infighting is never pretty. If the accused knight is the Traitor, the knight flips over their character card and removes their miniature from the table. The Traitor then acts against the knights openly by continuing to draw Black Cards on their turn, as well as forcing a knight to discard one card per turn from their hand. In addition, if the Traitor had the Grail or Excalibur in their possesion, those artifacts are discarded. If the Traitor had Lancelot's Armor, that artifact's powers are used against the Loyal knights.

You can vary the Loyal card to Traitor card ratio any way you like. If you have four players and want to increase the chance for a traitor (but not guarentee one), limit the deck to 4 Loyal cards and 1 Traitor before dealing.

Final Verdict

Released in 2005, Shadows remains one of the best cooperative games on the market. After one or two introductory games, setup is fast, rounds are quick and every game feels different. The addition of the Traitor mechanic increases the anxiety of the game as you wonder if someone is working against the group. Too many false accusations can sink a game, especially if there's a chance that no Traitor actually exists! The number of players is flexible enough to accomodate large groups, and the rounds move fast enough that players don't have to go make a sandwich while they wait for their turn to come around.

I particularly enjoy playing Shadows with younger gamers. The fantasy aspect of the game grabs attention, the mechanics are simple and it's a great opportunity to teach basic math as well as Arthurian mythology.


Please remember to support your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) whenever possible. Many FLGSs have demo copies of their most popular games available to flip through. They may also have game nights, tournaments and open demos as well.

Living in the San Diego, California area? Visit my favorite FLGS: Game Empire. You can also check out gaming organizations like the San Diego Board Games Group, the College Area Board Games Group, and Geek Girls of San Diego.

Living in the Owensboro, Kentucky area? Check out my new favorite area store: Big Bang

No comments:

Post a Comment