I’ve always been a fan of the random probability found in board games. Most of the games that I’ve reviewed in this blog have had an element of chance to winning, something that I am very fond of in games. You could be down on your luck for the majority of the game, but still come out on top and win. Of course, there’s also the flipside, where you’ve been leading the entire time, only to be snubbed in the end. Regardless of which side I’m on, I still enjoy these types of games.
So when I heard about Camel Up, I had to get it since it had to be one of the most random games of chance I’ve seen recently.
Camel up is a betting game designed by Steffen Bogen and is the winner of the 2014 Spiel De Jahres. In this game, you act as one of eight gamblers, who are trying to earn the most Egyptian pounds by betting on camels in various legs of a race. The player who can correctly identify which camel wins (or loses) a leg will win money, and the player who earns the most money at the end of the race will win the game.
Essentially there are two sides to the game, the camel racing side and the betting side. For the camel racing, players can move the camels using a specially designed dice roller that s in the shape of a pyramid. With this tool, players randomly select and roll one of five coloured dice. The colour of the the die will establish which camel to move and the number will determine how many spaces the camel moves. The unique part of the game is that when camels share the same space, the camels will stack on top of each other. Because of this mechanic, groups of camels can move at the same time, which changes the player’s decision to bet. Players can also alter the track by using desert tokens on their turns, which can cause camels to move back and forward one space.
On the betting side, players can pick up betting tokens on their turn, indicating that they are wagering on a camel to win the leg. A leg is completed when all the dice from the pyramid have been rolled. If the camel is currently leading after the leg or is in second place, then the players who selected those camels will win money. However, if they picked wrong, then they will have to pay money to the bank. In addition to betting on the leg, players can also speculate on an overall winner and loser for the race by using their betting cards and voting on a camel secretly. What players need to understand is that in order to maximize the winnings earned, they need to bet as early as possible. If a player is the first to bet correctly on a particular camel, whether it be in the current leg or for the entire race, then the player will receive the highest value of money indicated by the board or the betting token.
I know this sounds really lame of me, but the first thing that really intrigued me about this game was not the gameplay itself, or well designed board. It was actually the pyramid dice roller. Whether it was a cheesy ploy to get people to buy this game, or an intricate way to roll dice, I actually enjoyed rolling the pyramid. I mean, sure you can get a cloth dice bag, and accomplish the random drawing of dice the same way, but the pyramid puts a sweet touch to a pretty cool game.
I personally enjoyed the fundamental trade offs that run throughout this game. You are constantly asking yourself when you should perform certain actions to get the most money. Rolling the dice can earn you an instant coin and progress the camels forward, but give the rest of the table an advantage in knowing which camels are going to move next and have them potentially win more money. Do you bite the bullet and pick a camel that you think is going to win based on the information provided currently on the board, or do you wait for more dice to be rolled, or even roll the dice yourself? The choices of screwing around with how the camels are going to go will also affect your decision-making. The game is all about timing and luck and you hope that those choices will go in your favour.
When I played this game with different groups of people, there are mixed reviews. With one group of friends, you hear people cheering on their favourite camel, having a good laugh while sabotaging other camels, and just generally having a good light-spirited conversation about the game. However, some other friends complained that there’s no real strategy to the game, and you’re predicting the outcomes of what essentially is a random number generator. I argue once again that it is the people that you play with that make the game. I don’t care if you have the most amazing game in the world that’s rated decently in BoardGameGeek and has won countless awards. The excitement and thrill of gaming can only come from the players, not the game.
Camel Up has all of the fun of race track betting with none of the sadness of ACTUALLY losing money on a race track. If you have a light-hearted group of friends who want to enjoy a simple and fast game, then Camel Up is definitely a game you want to purchase. It’s straightforward to set up, quick to learn, and even quicker to play. The game takes about 30 – 45 minutes and you can play another round with not much effort in resetting.
- Quick and easy setup. Quick and easy to teach.
- Great betting game in which odds can be altered by the choices of other players.
- Some of the most unique game components I’ve seen in a game thus far.
- Successfully supports eight people (10 if you get the expansion)
- Not for those who prefer strategy in their game play. There’s very little of it in here.
- Not much depth; the game doesn’t change much for each play.