You walk into the Black Cat tavern and all eyes turn to look your way. Beneath your long leather coat you hide your wares, treasures of unimaginable value. You spy another group of merchants, their trinkets piled high on the table, squabbling between themselves on how to split up the loot to make the most profit.
One of the greedy old men spots you, beckoning you to join them, a sly twinkle in his eye. You glance through the window of the tavern, you can hear music from across the way, the Hooting Owl tavern, the melody calls to you like a siren song. Perhaps you would have better luck over there, but then, as they say, the other merchant's cloak is always greener…
In Kameloot you take on the role of a merchant trader trying to get the most gold by scoring sets of cards. The players are split between two “taverns” and when a set is scored, all players in that tavern get a share of the loot. Can you position yourself to take advantage of the most scoring opportunities and gain the biggest share of the cash? Let’s take a look inside the box...
Deck of 96 Cards
Like many other Blue Orange Games before it, Kameloot comes in a nice magnetised box, everything fits snugly inside and there are rules included in around six different languages. The cards are bright and colourful and dual function, doubling up as point counters and removing the need for extra tokens.
The symbology on the cards is clear for the most part, although you’re going to want to have a copy of the rules on hand for at least the first game so players can look up what each card does.
The title is a bizarre one. The game has nothing to do with Camelot, you are merchants trading magical items in a tavern, even in the flavour text there’s no mention of Avalon, the round table or King Arthur, so I’m not sure why they went with this puntastic title.
Where the production falls down for me is in the rules. Clarity is not a strong point here. Kameloot is not a difficult game to play but the rules do add to the complexity of learning the game. For example there is a setup diagram but then no in play examples which would have really helped clarify how the game works.
Also some sections are over-explained, for example putting a card in the discard pile gets this four sentence explanation: “Use the power of a magical object you have in your hand: to do this, turn over the corresponding card so it is face up next to the pile. Apply the power indicated on the card. The card that has been turned over will not be visible through the whole game. Only the last card to have been turned over will be visible to everyone.”
While other aspects of the game are more ambiguous. For example I would have added a line or text to the part where cards are scored and shared out that “All members of the tavern, whether they contributed cards or not, are given a share of the loot.”
Overall it is possible to learn the game from the rules, but you really need to play a hand to really wrap your head around how the game plays out on the table.
A Quick Overview
In Kameloot, each player is dealt a hand of 4 cards and a tavern token. This token is randomly flipped, placing that player in the Cat or Owl Tavern.
On their turn a player either plays a card to the discard pile to perform a special action or plays one or more cards of the same type to form a set in front of them and then draws back to 4 cards in hand.
If at the end of a player's turn there are enough cards to complete a set amongst all the players in the same tavern, then the set is scored. All the cards are collected and dealt out evenly amongst all players in the same tavern, starting with the player that triggered scoring.
The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
The special cards are the meat of the game, as they allow you to manipulate the game state. The Cloak and the Potion allow you to change your tavern, or another player's tavern. The Scroll allows you to swap card sets, even across different taverns. The Glove gets you more cards. The Twig allows you to play more cards. The Horn is wild. And the Rings allow you to call out any other card type and take all of those from the discard pile.
To begin, a disclaimer, I have only played Kameloot with 3 and 4 and it is my firm belief that the game plays best at its player count extremes, i.e. 3 & 6 but with Covid, getting 6 players in the same room has proven tricky.
Once you digest the rules, Kameloot is a straightforward game of set collection with the interesting twist of having the sets spread between the players. Its delightfully colourful exterior masks a pretty mean, “take that” experience.
Sharing a tavern with multiple players means that you’ll score more often, but you’ll score fewer points. So the game becomes about manipulating the game state to your advantage. Because, for the most part, you can only do one thing on your turn, the game is entirely tactical, reacting to the state of the table, rather than planning ahead.
For example, if you’re holding a ring card and you know there are 8 cloaks in the discard pile because you’ve been counting cards you could play your ring and score but you’d have to share those points with the other players in your tavern. However, if you play a cloak, moving yourself to your own tavern, everyone will assume you are trying to score on your own and follow you before you get a chance to play your ring on your next turn. So do you take the small score or do you hold on to your ring and bide your time because this game is all about timing.
The puzzle of not only what to play on your turn, but also when to play it is an interesting one. In a three player game being on your own can be more lucrative than sharing a tavern with the other players, however as the player count increases this becomes less true, as you are taking 1 turn to every three turns of the other players in a 4 player game.
And because of this the four player game felt flat, as players largely wanted to be where the action was and so often ended up all sharing the same tavern. When this happens the game is all about scoring marginally more points by being the one to initiate scoring.
The three player experience in contrast is much more dynamic as players and cards move more freely between the taverns trying to get the best return on their played cards. Although I haven’t managed to play the game at higher player counts I would assume this dynamic returns, especially as there would be more cards in play and more reason to flit from one tavern to the next in search of a bigger score.
In Kameloot, turns are fast and simple but the game demands engagement as you monitor the constant flux state of the table and try to keep track of exactly what cards have been, played, scored and discarded. But the game is also very mean as you swap sets or take more than your fair share of points. I think, if you know what you are getting yourself in for with Kameloot then you’ll have a good time, this is not a sedate game of set collecting with passive participation, it’s a cutthroat game of turning the tables at precisely the right moment.
What Did Others Think?
Dave - “Fun game with more strategy and backstabbing than would first appear. You have to balance the short term benefit of a big score at a pub on your own with the long term benefit from collecting a share of other people's trades.”
Aspirations Play Game Shop - “I want to stock this.”
Richard - “It’s a fun little strategy game which has more depth to it than it first appears. Knowing exactly the precise time to switch tavern for the most benefit is in equal measure exciting and frustrating but it’s an excellent mechanic”
Kameloot is a lovingly produced but inexpensive filler game of set collection and back stabbing. The meanness really rises to the fore, especially in low player count games, but if you’re on board with that then a raucously good time can be had by all. The weight, complexity and length all combine to make this a great opener or closer to any family game night.
Disclaimer: Coiled Spring Games provided a copy of this game for the review.