Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Steffen Bogen

Pegasus Spiele

No. of Players:
2 - 8

Spiel des Jahres 2014



Gamebox author Marco Klasmeyer writes about the game:

Camel Up is a simple and quick betting game about an exciting camel race in the deserts of Egypt. The players try to guess the winner or the loser of the race and place their bets accordingly. But the excited camels do not simply line up in the course of the race, instead they push and hustle where they can, thus most of the time you have to estimate the winner of a pile of camels. The camels move with a simple but tricky mechanism which makes the movement harder to predict.

Camel Up is a fabulous family game: simple rules, quick to play, nice design and a good mixture of randomness, surprise and a hint of tactic. It works well with the whole range of players 2-8, however, the more players the more fun. No wonder that it has been elected as the winner of the famous award “Spiel des Jahres 2014” (game of the year) – it is the exciting mixture of all these facets that makes the difference.

5 camels, up to 8 betting characters, 40 race betting cards (5 per character), 8 desert tiles (one per character), 15 leg betting cards (3 per camel), 5 pyramid tiles, a game board, 5 dice (one per camel) and a pyramid and some money tokens (Egyptian Pounds) are the components of Camel Up. When looking at the box and the title some one might be confused and call the game Camel Cup, which still makes sense. May be this little word play was intended.

Before playing Camel Up the first time one has to manage a bit more than detaching paper tiles from their frames: You have to assemble a pyramid (interior and exterior part) with a slider mechanism at the top of the pyramid. This tricky mechanism shall release only one die at a time from the interior of the pyramid and keep the remaining dice still inside. The pyramid is the essential part used to “roll the dice” and thus let the camels move. The central element of the game board is the race course with the pyramid in the middle. Above that there are several places for the different card piles. First to mention are the 5 colored places for the leg betting tiles, one for each camel. Each pile is composed of 3 tiles with values 2 (bottom), 3 and 5 (top) and represents the amount of coins (Egyptian Pounds) one will gain for a successful bet. At the very top of the board above the camel bet tiles there are fields for betting the overall winner and loser camel and a place for the pyramid tiles needed for camel movement.

But let’s start now with the rules, which are not too complicated. There are 8 characters from which the players can choose, but they all have the same properties. Each character has a set of five betting cards, one side shows a picture of character and the other side shows camel and color one for each race participant. With these cards the player can bet on the camels only once in the course of the game. Furthermore each playing character has a two sided desert tile which can be placed on the game board to speed up or slow down camels reaching this field and making the race more difficult. The players can carry out one of the following actions per turn until the current leg ends when all camels have moved:

  1. The first action to take one pyramid tile and place it in front of the player. A pyramid tile yields one bonus coin at the end of the leg. With the pyramid tile the player is allowed to take the pyramid with the dice from the middle, shake it and put it upside down into the middle again. Then the player has to push the lever and thus let one dice fall out of the pyramid. However this might fail the one or the other time because of dice blocking each other – simply shake again. Finally if one die has been released from the pyramid it is lifted to reveal the dice result. The die is placed on the same colored camel field below the leg betting fields. The camel with the same color as the die moves the corresponding number of fields (1-3) of the dice result. If there is already a camel on the field the movement ends, the moved camel will not stop or line up behind, instead it jumps onto the already standing camel building now a stack of camels. The funny thing is that now this stack of camels may also move as a whole, so any camel bearing other camels takes them piggyback all the way. However, all camels under the camel about to move remain on that field and thus the stack of camels is split. This up and down of camels is an element of the game which adds a lot of fun along with some unpredictable race results at the same time. Once the dice are taken from the pyramid the camels with these colors will not move on their own for the current leg, but they still can move if they are carried by other camels. Please note that the top most camel of a stack is the leading camel, there is no draw position. The idea of a camel stack and its composition and break up is an excellent way to resolve the common gaming situation of “tokens on the same field”, a big plus for Camel Up.

  2. Players can bet on the overall race winner or loser camel by placing one of his 5 cards on the appropriate bet pile in the course of the game. They may do that only once and are not allowed to remove the once laid card, but of course they can place another bet on the same betting field to improve their chances. The order of placed bets among all players is important, early and successful bets are more honored than late ones (8 - 1 coins). You should not forget to bet on the winner and the loser camel as these bets are both equally evaluated at the end of the game. You should also notice that wrong, unsuccessful bets have a penalty and you will lose one coin.

  3. Another betting action is to draw a leg betting tile from one of the camels pile, meaning to bet on the winner of the current leg. The drawn tile is placed in front of the player. A whole camel race consists of several legs, usually 3-5. The player taking the first leg betting tile of a camel will gain 5 coins, but only if that camels wins the current leg, the second player will get 3 and the third player will only get 2 coins for the bet. Since up to 8 players may participate it’s obvious that only few players will win something with betting. However there is the small condition, that the camel must win a race leg, i.e. be the leading camel at the end of a leg. If your chosen camel is only second this will still earn you 1 coin revenue, but if your bet is not first or second place, you even have to pay a penalty of 1 coin. Thus you should carefully chose the leg betting tiles and only bet on camels with good prospects.

  4. The fourth action is to place or relocate the character’s desert tile on an unoccupied field of the race course. The desert tile cannot be placed next to another desert tile or on a field with a camel. If a camel movement ends on a desert tile the owner gets one coin revenue, therefore each desert tile displays the portrait of the character clearly identifying the ownership. Each desert tile has two sides, one side displaying an oasis, the other side showing dry desert. The player has the choice which side is visible. This doesn’t influence the revenue. However, camels ending at an oasis must move one step forward (jumping refreshed on top of any camel on the next field) and camels ending in the dry desert must move one step back (crawling tiredly under any camel on the previous field). The desert tiles are the only way to directly exert some sort of influence on the race and building of camel stacks. However, this will only take effect if a camel stops on the desert tile.

All players make their turn clockwise by choosing one of the four possible actions. If a player takes the last pyramid tile and thus moves the last camel, the leg immediately ends. The bets for the just ended leg and the bonus for pyramid tiles are evaluated and the players get their revenue. Any laid-out desert tiles are passed back to their owner. The player next to the player ending the leg starts with the next leg.

The game ends of course if a camel crosses the finishing line of the race course. In this case the end of the leg is evaluated (leg bets and pyramid tiles) and then the final evaluation of the race bet immediately takes place afterwards. The race two betting piles are flipped over as a whole, thus showing which character has placed the bet first. If the camel displayed on the card matches the winning camel, the player gets 8 coins. The next correct bets yields 5, 3, 2 and lastly 1 coin. For any camel falsely placed on that pile a player loses one coin. The same evaluation is performed for the loser camel - although not a favorable place in the race it is still worth a bet! The player with the most money is the winner of Camel Up.

After having played Camel Up several times with different numbers of players of different ages, I am still fascinated how well the game works for all these constellations. The rules are quickly explained, which makes it easy to play this game with families and friends, with or without children. The design is very appealing - not to mention the pyramid which is an eye-catcher in itself. I must admit I have never before seen such an extensively constructed dice cup. But beside the nice design the dice shaking pyramid bears another strong characteristic of Camel Up: The players do not own or really control the camels, they just bet on them and use the dice pyramid to let one camel after another move in a random order. In this sense it is a cooperative and competitive game. The second important characteristic is the way camels on the same field are handled. The idea of having a stack of camels which can move as a whole in the course of the race is funny and ingenious at the same time – however this often results in a 3D-photo finish. Placing bets and guessing the winner or loser of the race is a well-balanced mixture of luck and estimation. The overall playtime is approximately 30 minutes. It does not matter how many players consider taking a pyramid tile, once the 5th tile has been chosen and the 5th camels has made its move, the leg resp. the race ends. Considering all these points Camel Up is clearly a fantastic family game and has been rightly chosen as the award winner of “Spiel des Jahres”.

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Copyright © 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany