Friday, August 26, 2005

Shadows Over The Castillo

Well, no fancy first-person narratives this time, just straight reporting.

We were joined by the lovely and talented Sonja this week, who proved to be both an able teammate in Shadows Over Camelot and a cagey competitor in El Grande. Everyone seemed to get along famously and we're hoping she can join us again in the future.

Shadows Over Camelot began the evening. We have played and discussed the game here on the blog before, so I won't get into details about mechanics or components. SoC remains a somewhat so-so game for me, though I do look forward to playing it when it is brought out. I say "so-so" because I can't help feeling that the challenges are too many and the sense of accomplishment too little - much less than LotR. I enjoy SoC slightly more than LotR, but for different reasons.

This time, with five players, we thought that there might be the chance to accomplish more. We actually did, losing only 7 black swords to 5 white, and two of those black swords were flipped over white swords by the traitor, who managed to remain (mostly) undetected throughout the game. More on that later.

With all of us, including Sonja, knowing pretty much what had to be done, there was a lot more table talk about where to go and how to assign people. Also, people took more time to make sure they used their special powers effectively. Sonja was Sir Palomedes, Shemp was King Arthur, Hapi was Sir Kay, I was sir Percival. I believe Easy was Sir Gawain. Due to some cognitive dissonance, some of us kept moving the knight that was their traditional colour, but after a few rounds, we got straightened out.

I went immediately to the Black Knight quest, while Hapi beelined for the Grail, Shemp to Excalibur and Easy stuck around in the castle to draw extra cards.

We made a good dent in the grail quest early through a combination of removing desolation and despair cards with Merlin cards. We might have won it earlier but for a string of despair and desolation cards which seemed to come up in rapid succession. I managed to pull off the Black Knight joust, winning handily. Shemp attempted the Excalibur quest, but hadn't made much progress when he flipped over to the grail quest. We were slapped with a Mists of Avalon card and voted against stopping it (we would regret that later). I had moved over to the Saxon invasion while the rest alternated between the Picts and the Grail. Sonja and I fought off the Picts, and the others won the Grail quest with some teamwork, but in the meantime, the catapults were piling up and the Lancelot quest was lost. Someone (Hapi, I believe) had played the heroism card on the Grail quest, so we earned a whopping four white swords from its completion.

Around this time, Sonja played a card which she misread as revealing the traitor. In actuality, it said "reveal yourself if you ARE the traitor". Unfortunately, this caused Shemp to begin turning over his card. When someone pointed out that the card didn't say to reveal the traitor, Shemp quickly flipped his card face-down again. Sonja and Hapi missed this subtle hand motion, but both Easy and I noticed his slip. However, as this was an error, both of us decided independently to proceed as if we didn't know who the traitor was, though certainly we scruntinized Shemp's moves from then on for any excuse to believe that he was the traitor. Unfortunately Shemp was a cunning enough foe that neither of us felt that his actions were traitorous enough to warrant an accusation for the rest of the game.

Ignoring this accidental revelation, we continued playing, fighting off the Pict invasion and starting the Dragon Quest while simultaneously killing catapults. We were actually up to seven white swords and four black when a failed quest caused another black to be placed, ending the game. Because Shemp had gone undiscovered, two of our seven white swords were flipped to black.

In the end, the tally was 4 white swords for succeeding at the grail quest with heroism; 1 sword each for the Black Knight, Pict and Saxon Quests. (7 white)
Black swords came from failing the lancelot quest (2 black, due to "mists") and the Excalibur quest (2 or 3 black?). I can't remember which quest was failed that earned us the final game-ending black sword.

Once again, this game is challenging, but it's apparent that it's not all luck. Luck IS a major factor, but good teamwork, experience and skillful gameplay can help to mitigate. One thing that did happen this game is that poor Hapi got stuck on the grail quest for a major portion of the game - he was basically doing the same thing over and over every turn. Easy mentioned that this is an occasional complaint about the game in general.

El Grande with five players is also challenging - and a little too slow for my liking, but not bad. Sonja did excellently in picking up the game quickly and catching on to the ebb and flow of caballero placement. I managed to alter my strategy from a wargame-based "take and hold territory" strategy to the more sucessful "fluid placement and grab points whereever and whenever you can" strategy. This approach was much more successful for me this time, and I managed to earn first place as a result. All of our scores were higher than usual, which is promising, since I believe the tendency is to get lower scores with more players. Sonja finished with a respectable score, even more respectable for the fact that this was her first time playing, in a five-player game, with relatively experienced players, no less.

A very enjoyable evening, made even more enjoyable by a new and friendly face in the form of Sonja. (And everyone loves the Castillo).


  1. Re: Shadows over Camelot

    My original thoughts still stand. I quite enjoy playing the game, but I prefer LotR. I felt bad for Luch, who was stuck in a holding pattern for most of the game... but I hope that the other events and the strategizing kept things interesting enough for him.

    As interesting as the "traitor" aspect is, I almost feel that we shouldn't be playing with it until we can beat the game somewhat regularly without one. Shemp didn't play his part (as the traitor) too much, because he didn't need to. His best chance at winning was helping us (since we were likely to lose anyway)! I just feel happy that if there hadn't been a traitor, we would have won!

    Highlight: When I decided to play a black card face down in the hopes of getting the last grail card we needed to finish the track... and got one!

    Re: Kozure's victory...

    We all had a decent shot, but we collectively lost when we allowed Kozure to snag 27 points in one action WHILE ONE OF US HAD A VETO AVAILABLE (Luch had one).

    If not for that blunder, Luch and I would have tied for first!

    I'm glad that Kozure is willing to play the game despite it not being his favorite... I love it. Even though the downtime can be a little long, there are very few games where I feel as "engaged" as this one.

    Re: Sonja

    Always nice to have new players, hope we'll see her again!

  2. Anonymous3:46 PM

    now let us never speak of THAT again


    there should be a 'win by catastrophic failure by other player(s)' statistic

    kinda like domaine and the huge land grab