I have now played a couple more games of Shadows over Camelot, and I wonder if my review was actually far too generous. Quite simply, I realize that I find the game boring. In my last game, I noticed that I was rarely doing anything at all. A couple other Knights and I had gone on the Grail Quest; every few minutes I was just flipping a black card, reading the text, and playing a grail card. I had literally no decisions to make for probably 20 minutes. Then I moved to another quest (Picts) which also offered me zero turn-to-turn decisions. Finally I got to think a bit during the endgame as we figured out how to pull out yet another loyal Knight victory. The only thing I was doing most of the game was watching for the traitor. But since there seems little opportunity and even less motivation for the traitor to really be traitorous (at least not in any way the other players could possibly detect), and since as it turned out there was no traitor in the game anyway, even that wasn’t very exciting.
I am almost at the point of being done with the game, after only 5 plays or so. I’d play again if friends wanted to, but I’d strongly argue for smaller numbers of players (4-5) and with the more-likely-Traitor rules – I don’t think I would play with 7 players again; too tedious.
It’s been a source of some disappointment that my lukewarm review has been essentially the only one that has any reservation about the game at all; both Tom Vasel and Shannon Applecline have had unreserved praise for the game (Tom tells you flat-out to buy it, regardless of your gaming tastes). The main dispute in the boardgamegeek reviews seems to simply be about just how great a game it is. The only exception seems to me the usually incredulous Rick Heli; even he speaks in solid positive overall terms, but at least he does mention some of the issues, and his Geek rating is a modest 7. While I won’t say that the people who like it are wrong, or that there couldn’t be overall strongly positive reviews for a game I’m not that impressed with, still the fact that the reviews have been so uncritical (with the exception of Rick’s) has certainly been a disappointment to me – especially given that the actual BoardGameGeek users have been somewhat more reserved in their response, at least by the standards of major new releases with flashy bits.
If our hobby ever wants to seriously broaden the player base, we’re going to have to start acting less parochial. My theory is that there is no such thing as a non-gamer; everyone has played games. It’s just that they don’t have exposure to good, more sophisticated games, for reasons that may be part cultural, but perhaps are mainly due to the stranglehold of Hasbro, Toys R Us, and Walmart. It’s not a matter of selling people on games; it’s a matter of directing them to the good ones in our niche. There are, after all, probably hundreds of thousands of people playing Scrabble in America, which is a fairly euro-ish game, and games like Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, and Cranium have sold a lot of copies. Generally uncritical reviews are not helping our cause. People may have time and energy for the couple best or most appealing games, and will not give our branch of the hobby a second chance if they play a few games that don’t grab them. It’s the job of the reviewer to point them, and the gamers who indirectly recruit them, towards the great games as quickly as possible. Compare to movie reviews; people in general clearly have an appetite for concise, well-written, critical reviews. Why are game reviews different?