Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 30-45 mins
Setup Time: 15 mins
Value For Money: High
I’ve often said in this series of Spiel Des Jahres winners that there are two things that are not often regarded but significantly increase your chances of SDJ success, one is a solid tabletop presence, the other is fulfilling (or creating) a category or sub-category that there hasn’t been a winner in before. Camel Up nails both these criteria and rides doing so right into the award.
Gameplay is fairly simple, players can place bets on camels in a race, or roll dice to move those camels. They bet on the camel coming in a range of places, not just first, and the sooner they place the bets the better for their score. When they chose to roll dice they pick up a large pyramid (cardboard or plastic depending on your edition) and use it to both roll and dispense a random dice, then moving the camel matching the colour of the dice around the track depending on its number. If camels move on each other they stack up, moving together until one hops off the stack from then on. That’s pretty much it.
The game is, putting it mildly, chaotic. It is a betting game, which is a popular category not well represented in the SDJ, and it presents it in a unique and family friendly manner, which explains a lot of why it took the prize. However, for many players the value of a betting game is on some form of long forecast predictability and Camel Up really doesn’t give you much chance of that. It certainly lets the young play with and possibly beat the old, but it’s not certain that it’s the most finely balanced and award-winning example of betting in games ever created.
As far as inventive mechanics, its manner of encouraging early betting is smart, but far from original or world shaking. Its manner of dice delivery is cute, but ultimately a slightly over-produced solution to a not particularly complex problem. Arguably the smartest mechanic in the game is the actual camel stacking. It appears a piece of throw away foolishness in a game about betting, but there is a good reason that the first edition box chooses those piled up dromedaries as its cover image. Not only is stacking the camels fun and attractive in a tactile toy fashion, and younger players find it endlessly amusing, but it smartly and slickly creates unpredictability that can be taken advantage of by betting players. Without it the camels would all move at around the same rate, or need some form of slightly fiddly advantage or disadvantage to movement to make the game interesting. With it, they hop on, you move them as a stack, they hop off, its intuitive, tactile, and smart.
At root though, that smart mechanic is simply providing what raindrops falling down a window do, semi predictable random movement that people can bet on if they choose to. Having done so in a smart and amusing fashion the game then applies a simple betting structure to the process and has the player with the best bets win. Its interesting in allowing players to bet on losers as well as winners, though not unique, and its reward structure for early betting is effective, but again, not totally original.
Camel Up is an extremely well-presented game which allows experts and novices to have fun playing together, which is good. It took an obvious game category that was under-represented in the SDJ and presented a good, smart take on it, and good luck to it. If you love betting games or have slightly younger children to play with then it’s a nice game. If you want something with a real intellectual edge, its probably best avoided.