OK, let’s get this one straight right from the start…. It’s called Camel Up not Camel Cup, as some countries seem to have adopted! You see, the name’s all in the game mechanic, rather than in the nature of the game. That said though, I can see why one could be easily confused.
There’s a lot of fuss about the Camel Up Board Game at the moment, and it’s not surprising because it just won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres 2014 award. What I like about the Spiel des Jahres awards, is that they are always looking at new and innovative gameplay to add to their shortlist and eventual winners list. Previous winners, Hanabi and Kingdom Builder have borne this out. But have they got it right again this year!!… Let’s find out shall we?
Camel Up is not about owning, grooming or getting your Camel to win!!
Camel Up Board Game is all about a Camel Race, specifically, betting on the outcome of each leg of the race, and the overall race results. Your objective is to convert your three starting Egyptian pounds, or coins, into the highest amount at the end of the race. The whole game plays out really quickly and takes place over a series of legs.
You each take turns at performing a single action in an attempt to increase your coinage. The four possible actions you can take are:
Lay or move your Desert Tile with either the Oasis or Mirage side face-up. This tile moves any Camel that lands on the tile, forward or back, one space depending on the facing of the tile, and provides one coin to the owner of the tile.
Take a Pyramid Tile, shake the Pyramid of Movement and then move the Camel that matches the die colour, the number of spaces indicated on the die. Each Pyramid tile that a player owns, gives them one coin at the end of the leg.
Take a Leg Betting tile of the same colour as the camel you think will be in first or second place at the end of the leg. You can take multiple tiles of any of the camel colours and you don’t have to only bet on one camel. There are three tiles for each camel that give five, three or two coins if that camel comes in first place during the leg. Also, if the camel that matches a tile comes in second the tile owner receives one coin. If they get it wrong though, the player loses a coin!
Place a bet, or rather a race betting card, onto the board for the Camel you think will either win, or lose, the race overall – This is done in secret and you only reveal these bets at the end of the race. The player who selected the winner, and placed their bet card first, gets eight coins and each other correct bet after that is rewarded with decreasing values of five, three, two and one coin. However if you back the wrong camel, you lose a coin!
A Racing Game…A Betting Game, You Want Fun Too – Welcome to Camel Up!!!
So how do the Camels move and when does a leg end? In the Camel Up Board Game, the camel’s moves are random and purely down to luck. There are five different coloured d3 dice, corresponding to the five different colour Camels. At the start of a leg the dice are all placed in the Pyramid of Movement. When a player takes a pyramid tile, netting him or her a coin at the end of the leg, they get to shake the pyramid. They then turn it upside down, press the release slot and see what colour die is revealed. The value shown on the die is the movement value, the camel that matches the die colour moves that many spaces around the track!
When the fifth die is removed from the pyramid, the leg ends. All of the dice are put back in the pyramid, leg bets are scored and players with pyramid tiles earn coins. Finally, a new leg begins! The whole game is made up of multiple legs and the race ends when the first camel crosses the finish line causing the end-game scoring. That’s it!
At this point you might be saying “Surely it can’t be that simple can it?!?! ”Well… Yes… It sort of is!!!
The simple ones can be the best!
With Camel Up’s very straightforward gameplay, you might wonder how and why it would win the Spiel des Jahres 2014 award. You might even be wondering if it’s really just a children’s game rather than an ingenious board game for all.
You see, the joy of this game is all in its mechanics, which are so simple and so cleverly used, that one can quite easily perceive Camel Up as ingenious! In fact, as I mentioned earlier, it’s these mechanics from which the game’s name comes. Specifically, if a Camel ends its turn on the same tile as another Camel, the moving Camel goes UP and on top of the Camel that was already there. The top camel is subsequently counted as “in the lead”. If there are two Camels in the pile already, the moving Camel still goes UP on top and into the lead. However, if a Camel at the bottom of the pile moves, it carries all of those lazy Camels on its back with him (or her).
So for example if you take a look at the third picture; if the Green Camel, which is last, were to move two spaces, it would land on the space with the other camels. It would then go UP to the top of the pile and be in first place. Furthermore if the Blue Camel were to move next, it would take the White and Green Camel with it, leaving the yellow and orange camels behind!
Judging the Judgment…On Spiel des Jahres!!!
Now and again a game comes along with a very simple and extremely clever mechanic, spiced with a few other interesting mechanics and flavoured with a pretty good theme or scenario. This recipe creates an exciting game with a massive replay–ability factor.
I can tell you now, Camel Up ticks all those boxes! It’s fun, it’s light and yet it’s still very engaging. Yes, there is a huge element of luck, but that becomes irrelevant, when everyone is craning to see which die will pop out of the Pyramid and later baying for their camel to maintain position. The Camel Up mechanic will always keep the winner of the race in doubt as it’s feasible for a Camel to come from way behind to either challenge, or win!
Camel Up Board Game has become an instant classic in my eyes and will remain so into the future. It’s very much a worthy winner of the Spiel des Jahres award, because it’s a brilliant family game that will also appeal to hardened board gamers and it will most certainly make my top ten games of the year!