Somehow, I never did a full “proper” review of Tournament at Camelot. I did, however, include it in my Top 5 Family Card Games. So, let me crib my own work and include my summation of that title:
“A trick taking game that comes with asymmetrical powers and mitigates the luck of the draw with a thematic double tiered catch-up system all while framing it around a melee to the death. It's not only a mouthful; it can be a handful. Like a skillful juggler, Tournament at Camelot has a lot of plates in the air and, sometimes, it can break a few plates due to it's over ambitiousness. It is not that it is too complex, it is that the flow can be broken as more and more rule bending/breaking powers come into play. It features a Feint system that strategically pushes “tied” cards out of a match that can be used to focus your assaults on a player of your choice... assuming it doesn't backfire. Godsend cards and special companion powers that trigger as your hit points become low are the aforementioned catch-up mechanisms. When you put it all together, it provides an experience that makes you forget you are playing a trick taking game and not actually engaged in a tournament of Arthurian proportions.”
And now here we are, years later, with Wizkids saying “Let’s put everything we learned from Tournament at Camelot to work in this sequel/sister game/co-conspirator." As a devout fanatic of the orginal game, Tournament at Avalon was one of my most anticipated releases of this year and it did not disappoint.
If Tournament at Camelot was a skillful juggler keeping a half dozen plates in the air, Tournament at Avalon said “Let me make that easier for you.” and replaced the plates... with battle axes... in a good way. Some combat rounds will make you feel like a true jester, swirling all the blades in the air and even managing a sly wink to the wench in the front row. But, just as suddenly, what you thought was going to be your grand finale can leave you with egg on your face, blood on your brow and a two-handed axe lodged in your knee. I'll explain why but let me give you a little more information first.
Merlin and Apprentice cards in Tournament at Camelot were all smirk worthy when you played them: Super Powerful (You would simply say this is a 1 million of Swords...and so it was) and, in the case of Merlin, extremely damaging. Now, you have Morgan La Fay cards that allows the person playing her to change who takes the wounds from this trick from the lowest card played to the highest. “Ah! The tables have turned!” (except it is a round table and I’m not sure if turning a round table would really influence anything and I’m rattling on again, aren’t I?) Merlin still rears his druidatic head but isn’t included in the default deck that is dealt out, instead showing up like a “Special Guest Star'' occasionally in a Melee.
So, back to the battle axe in the knee. My wife (Jessica) was playing with a character whose power is that, if they play a Sword card, no one can play a card higher than her card. So she confidently lead with a Six of Swords. The next player played a played Morgan Le Fay card which, as mentioned, flips this trick so that the highest card now takes the damage and counts as a "1", the next player...plays ANOTHER Morgan Le Fay card, causing a Feint which pushes both cards out of the trick (and brings out the rulebook to see if playing two Morgan cards cancels thier power out. No, it does not) and I play my card...a 1 of swords, causing a three-way Feint and sending all the cards to Jessica's Weapon Hit pile, turning almost assured victory into an extremely high-damage defeat.
Alchemy cards have been modified in this release to be more Wild Cards than a trump card. You can play them even if you have a card of the lead suit, which can be key to creating more feints or snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
As with any game with asymetricial powers, it pays to know your enemy. The Fey Changelings rule requires each player to pass 3 cards to another player (either to the left or the right depending on the current round direction) Seems simple enough, just junk your lowest three cards,right? This is where “Know your enemy” comes into play. The variable player powers mean that some characters can manipulate a specific suit. Passing Arrow cards to Sir Percival, no matter how weak they are, is never a good idea since his power allows him to direct any arrows he takes as weapon damage to other players during the Dusk phase. Merlin has a similar power that makes passing him Sorcery cards inadvisable. While this is nothing to the extent of, say, Root, you should know each player's powers before passing them cards but it is as easy as reading their character card. And that is to say nothing of intentionally trying to short yourself of a specific suit in order to slink away with a modest Shame damage of 5 points instead of possibly getting smoked for 10x that amount. You may be asking “What is Shame?” Well, break out the cowbell for a rousing chorus of Shame! Shame! Shame! When you show up to the archery competition sans any actual arrows. If you lack the ability to play a card of the lead suit (or one of the Alchemy wild cards), you must bow out of that hand and take 5 points of damage as “Shame.” And if that just made you mull over the stragetic applications of that mechanism, you are my kind of player.
The rest of the game has remained mostly the same as Tournament at Camelot: The Godsend cards are a pure “plot twist” catch-up mechanism. In short, when you hit Dire Straits, you get your money for nothing and your chicks for free. In a Three/Four player game after the first round, the person with the lowest HP is given a Godsend card. After the second round, it is the two players with the lowest HP. This varies a bit on the round number and the player count but the only constant is that the top HP player NEVER gets a Godsend card. If you can think of an over-powered twist to the game rules, it is probally in the Godsend deck. Like the card that allows you to make everyone pass the entire damage taken during a tourney round to the person to thier left or right (the player who executes the Godsend card gets to choose). And, while it sounds crazy, it just “works.” Playing a card on your Nemesis that will DOUBLE all the damage they take this round and then watching as they literaly take zero tricks is a painful/perfect moment (let me do the math here, nothing into nothing, carry the nothin').
The second catchup mechanism is that Player Powers that are two-tiered, with the second power/companion only being triggered when you HP reaches a certain threshold. Like the orignial game, it will be a constant debate over which players have the best combos. Like Galahad having a medicore basic ability but he has the Holy Grail as his companion, which brings him back from the dead with 150HP if he hits zero HP.
The Mists of Avalon card was my official entry into “I always get at least one rule wrong™” When this card is played, it removes the lowest card played into the Melee, gives that player “Shame” and acts as in “in-suit” 25 (which with normal weapons capping at 15, gives you that advantage). I was playing it so the Mists removed the card at the end of the Melee, it actually removes the lowest card WHEN it is played. It is spelled out directly in the manual but, in my excitement to get it to the table and, with my assumption that I MOSTLY knew how to play TAA because I have played TAC so many times, I missed it my first play-through.
And STILL, after all of the tweaks and changes, you have a disclaimer at the end of the Manual for which rules take precedence over others. That may sound disastrous but it, quite frankly, it is sort of part of the socialization in the game. Instead of just playing cards and resolving, it encourages the interaction with other players: Deals will be forged, oaths will be broken, moistened bints will be lobbing scimitars at players.
And combining the two games together? Oh, now that is the stuff of Game Night Legend. Make sure everyone knows the game, preferably thoroughly, because things are about to get medieval on your ass. This mode, called “The Chaos of Battle '' is “optimized” for 7 to 8 players but can be played with as “few” as five players. It involves shuffling in two of the suits from Tournament at Camelot and usually removing one of those suits and replacing it with another at the end of each round (*boo*). This is done via the Location cards which add, gasp, even another additional layer of madness. I don’t think this mode will be coming out on a regular game night basis but as an planned “Event” with seasoned players? The constant feinting and reversal of fortune caused by eight separate players firing off powers and Godsends will keep the local Bards in business for years.
I would be lax if I didn't at least touch on the Art and the Tarot-sized cards. Both are a complete joy and really help “make” the game what it is. The damage cards used to track how much life you have remaining now use normal-sized Health tokens (Tournament at Camelot had a big heart...literally).
Tournament at Camelot is/was my absolute favorite game that uses Trick Taking as the main mechanic. Tournament at Avalon now sits on that throne directly beside Camelot, co-ruling as the King and Queen of Tricksters.As Morgan La Fay was fond of saying (Or maybe that was King Margo in The Magicians) Ovary up bitches, the tournament is about to begin...again.