What Are The Odds That We Enjoy Camel Up?
I detest gambling. My mother loves it, and she once took me to a casino and gave me some money to spend. It was the most sickening couple of hours of my life. Not only due to me wasting money on a cause where there was no guarantee of a favourable outcome, but also because I saw so many hollow human beings around me wasting their money too.
If I was betting money on whether I could finish a crossword or not, then the outcome would be within my control, somewhat, because I happen to be quite good at crosswords. I enjoy playing games of skill. I do not enjoy leaving my fate up to a fortuitous role of the dice. That is just plain being reckless. All that being said, I do really like this “Camel Up” game, which is essentially a game about betting on a camel race. So why do I like it?
Well, for one thing, the board and all the pieces look great. The wooden camels are well crafted and the illustrations on the board and the cards are colourful and appealing. In the game, the camels race on a track around a 3-D pyramid (which you build when first assembling the game). The pyramid is perhaps the most exciting object on the board – it has a hole in the top and a button on the side, and you use it to roll the dice. If you were fascinated by ancient Egypt as a child (weren’t we all?), then the pyramid design will only add to your enjoyment of this game.
Take Your Places
“Camel Up” (not “Camel Cup”, as some people think) can be played by a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 8 players. You play as a character who bets on the camel race – there are various genders and ethnicities to choose from. You start off with 5 cards in your hand (one to bet on each of the 5 coloured camels) and a ‘float’ of 3 money coins. The camels start on their ‘tents’, but before the game begins in earnest, someone rolls the five dice to determine the starting position of the camels. Each die is the same colour as one of the camels, and the dice only show 1, 2, 3 on them.
One player starts the first leg of the race, and play moves to the left. The following leg will start with the player to the left of who started the first leg, and so on. On your turn, you can do one of 4 things:
- Bet on an overall winner or loser for the race. Place your cards face down. This is not really advisable in the early legs of the game.
- Bet on a winner for the leg. You do this by taking a coloured card from behind the camel’s tent. First person to bet gets the highest reward.
- Place a terrain tile on the track. Choose either desert (which forces a camel back one space if they land on it) or oasis (pushes forward one space).
- Take a pyramid tile and roll a die. This advances one of the camels in the race and you get 1 coin at the end of the leg, presumably because you lost an opportunity to bet by moving a camel.
The leg ends when all 5 dice have been rolled. Each die is only rolled once in a leg, so when betting take note of which camels are yet to move, and which ones will not move again. The end of the leg is also when you collect your money (if you bet well) or lose some money (if you did not). This works best if one player handles the responsibility of the banker. All pyramid, terrain and camel tiles return to the board before the new leg.
You keep playing legs until one of the camels has crossed the finish line. Once the race is over, then the betting on overall winner and loser are revealed and the monies paid out. I’ve got this far and haven’t even mentioned the best part of the game – and that is what happens when camels occupy the same space. If a camel moves into a space already occupied, the piece sits on top of the camel already there. The pieces are carved so that they slot into each other.
It is unlikely, but you could (in theory) end up with a stack of all 5 camels on top of each other. This is, I suspect, where the name of the game finds its origin. If you roll a die and need to move the camel at the bottom of a stack of camels, then all the camels move – the bottom one carries the others! If a leg ends, or the whole race, and you have a stack of camels in the lead, then the top one is the winner, the second one down is second, etc. This is the main element that makes the game so unpredictable and tense as it enters its final stages.
I have only played this game twice at the time of writing this. My first time, I felt very resistant to it, as I was uncomfortable with the lack of control I had as a player. I was disturbed that I could not form a logical strategy to enable me to win, and so I thought back to that day my mother took me to the casino, and I decided that this game was too much like gambling for me to enjoy it. However, I am glad that the people I was playing with pushed me to continue, because I slowly started to revel in the lack of control, trusted my gut feelings, and ended up winning it.
Calvin’s Verdict: Camel Up
In the end, I think it is the sheer unpredictability of the game which makes it so enjoyable. This is not the kind of game that one of your friends will master and then win easily every time and lord it over you. They say that “anything can happen in a game of cricket,” and in a way, “Camel Up” is a bit like that. You may be approaching the home stretch, and it looks like there’s a clear winner, but one dice roll can change it all.
I’ve only played Camel Up once so far but as the winner, I enjoyed it. The concept isn’t one I’ve come across before and it took a round before I accepted that I was not in control of the camels, not really. When the game was explained to us, they pointed out that it’s not a good idea to bet on the overall winner so, of course, that had to be my first move. I am very much an impulse player so this is my jam. If the gambling aspect doesn’t bug you, Camel Up is a great family game. It’s bright, it’s colourful and boy, am I a sucker for that giant pyramid! Always bet on blue!
Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
Designer: Steffen Bogen
Players: 2-8 players
Play time: 30 minutes
Spiel des Jahres 2014
- The game is actually quite simple (in a good way) once you get the hang of it. It is well designed and thought-out; a real pleasure to look at.
- There really isn’t much I can complain about, except that I am still a little annoyed that your fate in this game is often left up to chance.