I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to cooperative games our group has really been struggling of late. I’m not sure why this is, but one game that has been a particular thorn in our collective side is the otherwise excellent Shadows Over Camelot . We have a lot of fun playing it, yet in the end the ominous clouds swell over the Round Table and reign supreme as Camelot falls. Perhaps that makes it seem a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth. One thing I will say is that we’ve gotten slightly better each time we’ve played it. We had the four person crew the other night, strapped on our plate mail, and decided to give it another shot. Going in we realized that helping each other out and behaving like gentlemanly knights was the path to success, we made that our primary strategy. No one would be running off on foolish quests for glory while the kingdom crumbled. We randomly drew knights as follows; I was Sir Percival, Katie was the Saracen Knight Palamedes, Mike the valiant and pure Sir Galahad, and Nick was King Arthur. We were ready to go.
In the first couple of rounds Percival and Arthur joined forces to defeat an army of invading Picts, earning some cards and our first white sword. That will teach those barbarians! Throughout the game we all frequently used the ability to sacrifice a life to take an extra action, usually when moving to a new area and then to immediately play a card. It’s very helpful. Knowing that if you defeat a challenge you will earn more life lessens the blow of the heroic sacrifice. Our victory was followed by a brave display of arms by Sir Galahad in the Black Knights Tournament, besting him soundly (despite the presence of what Mike deemed, in knightly speak, “a combatant of Jet Li type prowess”). In the meantime Palamedes was struggling by himself to save Exaclibur. Two other issues had arisen as well; the Lancelot Quest was bordering on being unwinnable due to the accumulation of several cards for Lancelot and none for us, the Grail Quest seemed extremely dire as well. The Dark Forest card came into play shortly after the victory in the Tournament. This card prevented any knight from playing a Grail card until a quest was successfully completed. At this point we were not even close to winning any, having just completed two. Plus, the Grail cards were piling up. The Grail Quest is sort of a big deal, it’s worth three swords for either side and a ton of white cards if the knights win it. This was where we really came together as true Knights of the Round Table. We all hustled to over to Excalibur to lend support to Palamedes and save the legendary sword. With the four of us working together on it we saved the sword from plunging into the murky depths of the lake. Fittingly it was Sir Palamedes who earned the sword (fitting because he has been there for a while and prevented it from being lost). Not only did we earn more white swords but we were now able to continue the quest for the Grail since the Dark Forest card was now out of play.
Right around this time we also discovered the great pairing that is Arthur and Galahad. Arthur has the power to, once a turn, give a card to another knight in exchange for a card. Galahad can, once a turn, play a special white card in his hand for no action point. Whenever Arthur had a special white he would pass it on to Galahad who could play it without the cost of a point. It worked out really well for all of us, especially since the special whites usually benefit the whole company it did not matter who played it. The net gain was several actions over the course of the game, which really goes a long way. The good knights were able to put their egos aside for the greater good of the kingdom.
At this point we had four white swords and two black ones, we could see how the end game was going to play out. To insure victory we needed to have seven white swords and last until the Round Table had a total of twelve swords. Galahad, Arthur, and Palamedes all went over to the Grail Quest to save the cup. Percival (myself) had nothing to contribute to the Grail Quest so I traveled to Camelot and began to battle the siege engines that were building up. The Knights had been unable to play any Grail cards for a while since the Dark Forest card was in play, so we had a bunch built up. The three of them were able battle the forces of evil and had the Grail on the verge of victory. Palamedes then played the Heroism card, which would earn us an extra white sword if we won. On the next turn Arthur saved the sacred cup and earned us four (!) more swords, bringing our total to eight! Victory would be ours if we could survive. With the Grail and Excalibur quests completed the siege engines were coming at a furious rate and Percival was being overwhelmed as the lone warrior defending the castle. The other knights joined him in defense, battling the invading forces. Palamedes fell in battle on the fields of Camelot, but was saved when Arthur, brave King that he is, sacrificed the recently earned Grail to provide him with new life. Such camaraderie.
We were in a strange position at this point. We had the game won once more swords were added to the table. However we did not want to leave Camelot to complete another quest because of all the siege engines, so we bided our time. Eventually the Black Knights Tournament was lost, placing a 12th sword on the Round Table. Sure, we were a bit ashamed to lose to such a coward, but the war was won! There was much rejoicing in the halls of Camelot that night.
I think that we took a big step forward in team tactics with this victory. Shadows Over Camelot is a game that really requires everyone to work together, the lone knight does not stand a chance. We also realized that it is very hard to win the game if the very difficult Grail Quest is not won. Seven black swords loses the game for the knights, and that quest alone provides three of them. I think that we did really well. At no point were we ever in serious danger. We recognized threats before they became mortal danger, cooperated, and helped one another. Perhaps we are actually ready to try the game with a traitor. And honestly the best part of this game is speaking in that bizarre Knightly vernacular that is encouraged by the game designers.