Sunday, 10 August 2014

Nights of Camel-ot

Saturday games! Two words that don’t go together nearly enough. Sam’s injured foot meant he was unable to accompany his family on a brief camping trip. And so, with the house to himself, he and I met up during the afternoon for some gaming and writing shenanigans, with the evening open to all for some leaderboard activity!

We wrote a bit while the other set up a game. At first, I was typing away while Sam sorted out a game of Camel Up (at first we erroneously called it Camel Cup, a name that I’m quite fond of now I’m used to it) which is a quick and quirky betting game. Five camels run around a short circuit, propelled by dice that go from 1 to 3. But the catch is that if one camel lands on another, then it is carried on the second one if it moves too. Therefore, it is rare for a camel to be completely out of the running, and common for the possibilities for the eventual winner to be very complex.

Add to this plenty of mid-race betting, and other ways to get money, and you have a quick half hour gambling fix that reminded both Sam and me of Manila, but shorter and sillier and more tense.

Andrew 46
Sam 36

Then, with about three hours before Ian’s arrival at six, we decided to try one of the epic games that have been taking up precious space in Sam’s games cupboard. First, we went for Colonial, with it’s lovely design and promises of politics and diplomacy on the high seas. But, as we were setting up, we noticed the rules suggested that the first game shouldn’t be a two-player game, since that’s a variant of the “real” game.

Not to worry, we thought, and we switched our attention to Terra Mystica. However, after painstakingly separating out the pieces, lining up the scoring tiles, we discovered that first-timers needed to follow certain rules... which we couldn’t find in the rule book. With time pressing, we put it away too, and broke out another new game.

This one, Lewis & Clark (nothing to do with Superman - apparently they were two pioneers of the American West) was quicker to lay out and easier to understand. Sort of. Sam struggled with some of the maths, and with almost every card having a different power, the options available towards the end of the game meant there was some analysis paralysis.

The game is simple. You need to explore the wild west of North America (as shown by the progress of your scout along a river from Saint Louis to Fort Clatsop) and to do this, you need to activate certain cards by using other cards to support it and, if necessary, some native Americans too.

This allows you to collect resources, turn them into canoes/horses to help you progress, but be careful: if you end up with no cards left and having to “set up camp” (ie, take all your cards back into your hand) while you have lots of resources and Native Americans, then you can find yourself being sent backwards down the river.

It’s not very intuitive, with lots of obscure icons clogging up cards and tiles. I got the hang of it quicker than Sam but, ultimately, my winning move was actually an illegal move that we’d been getting wrong all through the game (the number of Native Americans able to use each space in the village: I thought it was unlimited, Sam thought it was two, it turned out to be one). It would’ve been wrong to suddenly play by the real rules, but it still felt like a hollow victory. But a victory nevertheless!

Andrew won!
Sam didn’t.

An interesting game. Interesting and worth a second look sometime.

By now, Ian had arrived, and we had supper (Sam’s chili – very nice it was too), completed the Guardian’s cryptic crossword (Sam had already done most of it) and set forth on a real game.

Sam and I were keen to get Camel Up (still called Camel Cup at this hour) back on the table. We explained the rules to Ian, and we were off!

Sam 28
Ian 24
Andrew 22

The first game whizzed by so fast that we couldn’t resist the lure of a second game. Like the cheesy nibbles I kept scooping into my mouth, it was impossible to just have one. So we set the game up again, and they were off!

Andrew 45
Sam 28
Ian 25

I played the odds and bet early on that the camel in last would finish last, and the camel in first would be first, and I turned out to be correct! That alone inflated my win to huge proportions.

After this, I suggested 7 Wonders, since Ian had just learnt the rules, I thought it better to get him back on the horse as soon as possible.

I had the Pyramids of Gizah, so I concentrated on building that, with some military and the occasional blue building here and there but little else. Sam had the Gardens of Babylon (which he said were shit) and went for sciences, a little warfare and a general spread of cards. I don’t remember what Ian had, but he went the pacifist route. Meanwhile his wonder’s power of copying guilds was annulled by neither me nor Sam building any guilds. Ah ha ha!

Sam 57
Andrew 56
Ian 36

As we were finishing off, the doorbell rang. Who could that be, we wondered? Perhaps a neighbour with some pressing domestic crisis? No! It was Adam! We welcomed our friend from Easton with smiling faces and open arms. And then, perhaps foolishly, we gave him the choice of game. He plumped for Railways of the World. This was brand new for Ian, but he’ll have to learn one day so why not today?

We guided him through the rules, but there’s no substitute for experience in this game. Adam rushed off into an early lead, with me in hot pursuit, with both of us picking up bonuses and bounties. Adam had the lucrative north-east seaboard mostly to himself but, for some reason, he wouldn't deliver the many yellow cubes in the vicinity to Baltimore where I had a hotel.

My operations focused around Charleston and Mobile, simply because that’s where the service bounties sent me. Sam went for the big link from Kansas to New York, which shot him into second place midway through the game – a gap I couldn’t close. Ian built around the Great Lakes and, as you’d expect for a first game, never really got going.

Adam 92
Sam 76
Andrew 66
Ian 35

To finish the evening, Camel Up (now properly called Camel Up, thanks to Adam reading the back of the box) was brought back to the table. The rules were explained to Adam, and before he could properly assimilate them, the camels were unleashed! Adam often claimed he didn’t know what to do, but he seemed to know how weigh up the probabilities.

Sam 39
Adam 32
Andrew 29
Ian 25

And after this, we were away into the night. Adam remarked that he should take more months off, because everyone seems to pleased to see him when he arrives. Speaking for myself, I don’t think he should be given choice of games next time. Or any time. Just saying.

Meanwhile, on the Form Table, my reign at the top comes to an abrupt end, with Sam and new-boy Adam fighting it out for top spot.

Sam 1 2 1 2 1 7
Adam 2 1 1 2 4 10
Joe 2 2 2 3 3 10
Martin 4 2 2 1 2 11
Andrew 3 3 2 1 3 12
Matt 33 3 1 4 14
Ian 4 4 3 3 2 16
Hannah 2 5 5 5 5 22


  1. Camel Up was great! Adam coming was great! Railways was great! Drinking whiskey was great! Waking up with a hangover was great, as it was quarter past nine, three hours later than I'm normally swarmed over by tiny people asking for breakfast.

    Lewis and Clarke was.... mmmm. I really could not get my head around the maths, and as Andrew said there are a few symbols which meant we kept looking up what an individual card actually did.

    However by the game end we were rattling through it a lot faster. I don't know, I just have a funny thing about games where you're using cards to play other cards. And the board actually doesn't do a whole lot, even if it does look pretty.

    Lots of fun, thanks chaps.

  2. Also Andrew I'm surprised there is no mention of that thing we all laughed at. Apart from Adam, who is less juvenile than we.

  3. I've decided I like Camel Up, and that ROTW is the best game ever.

    But I don't remember what the thing we all laughed at apart from me was. I deny being less juvenile, maybe I just have elderly hearing.

  4. OK, the circular bit of cardboard I punched out the top of the pyramid in Camel Up Andrew insisted looked like a sphincter. And then I (inadvertently) said, as we were packing away, "We'll leave the sphincter loose"

    Oh my aching sides etc

  5. Hmm, I played Camel Up the other day and was really disappointed. It sounded like my sort of game but I ended up feeling like it was just a really inferior version of Winner's Circle. I'd give it another go though...

  6. Cuz tried to press Camel Up into my hands when I was in Area 51 last. He said "the first game will be rubbish", but after that it's brilliant.

    Certainly up for trying it - it's this years SDJ winner, after all...

    That's a joyous sounding game-a-thon chaps! Hearty reading on a rainswept Edinburgh Sunday night. x

  7. There's more to come Joe. And yeah Martin - I haven't played Winner's Circle but I pictured you cracking up in Camel Up the same way you do in Raj. Which I still can't find!!! Tragedy...