Pairs well with: Mead (straight from the Holy Grail)
There’s a lot to be said for a game with a traitor mechanic. And that’s not just because we’re a group of ruthless, soulless, naturally traitorous types who like nothing better than to yell accusations at each other across a table, floor or other flat surface. I mean sure, we are that, and such qualities do lend themselves to particularly enjoying traitor based board games, but still. There are also objective reasons to love a traitor game!
For example, co-operative board games, which the team love (see Letters From Whitechapel), can sometimes suffer from a bit of the ol’ problem where one person knows the game slightly better, or perhaps has a slightly better mind for tactics, and so effectively ends up controlling everything all of the other players do.
“Hmm, what should I do for this move…”
“Probably go throw a sword in that lake.”
“Well, I could, but also-”
“Yeah but seriously, the lake.”
And nobody wants that.
There are several solutions to this kind of problem in co-operative games, but one trusty solution is the traitor mechanic. If there’s a chance that the person offering you advice is secretly a duplicitous scum bag trying to con you then you’re maybe not going to be so ready to take that advice after all.
This review was written during a particular game of Camelot with Dr Photographer, three other friends not yet quite fully immersed into the board gaming world and a hamster. And Lizzy ‘usually the traitor’ Blogger, there for journalism and science. The Misery Farmers: Having Fun So You Don’t Have To since… earlier in 2015.
In Shadows Over Camelot the team all play a group of plucky Knights of Round-Table fame. There are several to choose from: these range from the old favourites like King Arthur and Sir Galahad to various lesser-known characters to the farmers such as Sir Tristan ‘the purple one’ or Sir Bedevere ‘the blue one’. (‘Bluedevere?)
With your character you get a die, a little knight to move around, and a character card with some sorts of special abilities and spiel. Our particular band of plucky adventurers for the evening contained a couple of friends who were still, as mentioned above, fairly new to and slightly wary of all of these board gaming shenanigans, but we had thankfully managed to rile them up get them into the spirit of things with a few rounds of The Resistance first. As such, everyone was ready and willing to start yelling at each other straight from the get-go. Characters were still being dished out when our dear friend Sophie started screaming:
“I’ve seen his card! IT SAYS TRAITOR ON THE BACK!”
Of course, each of the character cards have a ‘traitor’ side on the back with an alternative set of tips and instructions, for if the traitor ends up being revealed. A quick cup of tea and some reassurances later, we persuaded her to stop screaming accusations until the traitor cards had actually been dished out.
“You can be the traitor even if you’re King Arthur?”
“Nobody ever suspects King Arthur.”
*Lizzy looks guilty from a previous game*
Shadows Over Camelot is an excellent example of a traitor-based game. It has all of the best elements: mystery being one. The traitor card is shuffled into a deck with a bunch of ‘regular old good-guy’ cards and there are always more cards than there are people who receive them. That means that you have no idea whether there’s actually a traitor in the game after all! All of these wild accusations you’re throwing round might all be for nothing. Maybe everything’s fine! Right guys?
It also has the important traitor-game element of hidden cards. The actions available to any brave knight at any given time will be difficult to predict because, quite rightly, players are forbidden to say exactly what cards they have available to them, in terms of specific values and such. For example, one common card is a sword card, which can have a number from 1-5 on it, and the different numbered swords can each be used for very slightly different things. Players aren’t allowed to say specifically which kind of sword they have. (Although they will keep trying to forget this rule and someone (Lizzy) has to play the spoilsport and keep reminding them to shut the hell up)
This does, of course, lead to questionable gesturing and hinting at points which definitely seems to border on maybe not quite following the rules properly.
“Right, I’m making an effort to get rid of these bloody Scots again. I’ve got some… little swords, kind of more like a variety of knives, really. Can someone come and help me out next turn with … uh… some medium sized swords? You know, swords that aren’t that big and aren’t that small… nudge… nudge nudge…”
The beauty of having the full range of options for any one knight hidden from the rest of the table means that it’s always a little bit unclear whether any given person is having a run of bad luck, a traitorous scumbag or are just being plain incompetent.
On her first couple of turns, Sir Sophie of new-to-board-gaming fame had trotted off to an area where she could only be of use if she had a 1-Sword card, and promptly in the next turn complained of having no such card and being unable to help. Instead, after only the mildest of chastising, her fellow brave-knaves directed her to the opposite side of the board where some “medium-sized-swords” could be useful instead.
Another round of loyal knightery, holy-grail finding and throwing things into a weird lake later (and other Camelot-themed activities that make the game up) and Sir Sophie’s turn came again. This time, she protested, she was very sad to say that she was unable to help with the current quest at all, the only swords she had on her were 1-Swords!
The keenest of detectives among you will notice that there seemed to be something suspicious afoot.
“Oh, golly gosh, did I say that I didn’t have any of those last round? Oh! Oh my, my bad. I’m just not very used to this game yet. I think the card must have been hidden behind my other cards, sorry chaps!”
It’s a real testament to the team’s faith in Sophie that they all still carried on for several turns believing that she might actually just be playing the game incompetently rather than be the traitor.
Sir Dr Photographer-friend even went so far as to formally accuse Sir Lizzy of being the traitor for what seemed to be ‘the-hell-of-it’ rather than to doubt Sir Sophie. EVEN THOUGH Sir Lizzy had been the only knight to have actually won the good guys any points that far in the game. (definitely not bitter!)
All of the elements of mystery in Camelot not only make for great yelling at your friends but also for great gameplay. The game can be won or lost depending on how many black or white swords fill up the round table at the end of the game, and good swords can be converted into bad ones if you falsely accuse someone of traitorhood or if a traitor remains hidden and undetected right until the end.
This week the brave knights suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Sir Sophie of Traitorville. Like any good co-op game there’s plenty of suffering and plenty of horrible ways for the good guys to die. We lost by drowning in enemy siege engines, and we lost shamefully early with no hope in sight.
Luckily, this isn’t necessarily reflective of the game as a whole. We’ve had a fair few victories and a fair few terrifyingly close losses as well.
The real winner is the traitorous scum.
*Sorry to mislead you all so early in the review. We actually played this on the floor.
Credit for the photos, of course, goes to Sir Photographer-friend.