SdJ Re-Reviews #36: Camel Up

  • Designer: Steffen Bogen
  • Publisher:  eggertspiele, Pegasus Spiele, Z-Man Games, Others
  • Players:  2 – 8
  • Ages:  8 and Up
  • Time:  20 – 30 Minutes
  • Times Played:  > 10

Camel Up

How do you say that?  Is it Camel Up, or Camel Cup?

In 2006, Steffen Bogen began developing a game around a “dice machine” (pictured below) that he had invented.  He wanted there to be double randomness in the game, with the outcome being affected by both the order in which the dice appeared and the numbers on the dice.  He went through a couple of different versions of the machine, settling on the pyramid after later came up with the idea of stacking camels.  His family and friends were enthusiastic about what he had designed, and Steffen started to show it to publishers.   Peter Eggert saw the game’s potential, realizing it would make a great family game and party game.  

Camel Up Dice Machine

The game was in development for several years, with the publisher making minor changes.  Originally a player could take a pyramid tile (i.e. drop a dice out of the pyramid) and make a bet during the same turn, but in the final ruleset a player must choose one of the two.  

The game’s name also changed.  There is often a debate about whether it should be called “Camel Up” or “Camel Cup.”  The former is correct, as Bogen explained: “The first idea was Camel Cup. But then we saw that there is a Camel Cup in Australia.  And somebody was misreading the cover that was already produced.”  So given the stacking of the camels, Bogen and the publisher ultimately decided to go with Camel Up.  As he said, “Now it is a great thing that people can talk about.”

Eggertspiele and their publishing partner, Pegasus Spiele, released Camel Up in early 2014.  The game immediately garnered Spiel des Jahres buzz, and it was nominated in May 2014, alongside Splendor and Concept.  In giving Camel Up the award, the jury praised it as an excellent party game, noting the game’s high-quality production, quick playtime, and tendency to inspire laughter.  I asked Bogen if he was surprised by the SdJ win, and he cleverly said, “It is like betting on camels: you hope you will win, but you will never know.”

Camel Up received an expansion (Camel Up Supercup) last year, which the Opinionated Gamers reviewed.   Bogen had ideas for the expansion even before the SdJ nomination, but he and eggertspiele really hit the ground running after the nomination and win.  Bogen said there are two types of Camel Up players: (a) probabilistic player, and (b) push-your-luck players.  He said he wanted to create an expansion for both types.  A small promo — The Referee Camel — was released at Essen this year.  

Camel Up received an iOS adaptation this year.  Bogen had calculated the probabilities in the game when he was developing Camel Up, and a similar feature made its way into the iOS version.

Bogen has published more than a dozen games in the past few years, and he continues to design new titles.  

[Author’s Note: A big thanks to Steffen Bogen for answering my questions on the history of Camel Up and for sending me the above prototype picture.]

The Gameplay

Players are members of the Egyptian high society, gathering in the desert to gain the most money by betting on the right camels to win legs of a race or the race overall.  The game ends when one camel crosses the finish line, and at that point, the player with the most money wins.  

CamelUp

The game features a 3D pyramid which can release dice.  The five dice — one for each color of camel — are put in the pyramid and then released one by one.  The camels are put on the board according to the dice rolls.  The dice are then returned to the pyramid, and each player picks a character and is given 3 Egyptian Pounds.  

The game will lasts a variable number of “legs”.  Each leg ends when the last of the five dice have come out of the pyramid.  Whoever holds the Leg Starting Player marker goes first.  On a player’s turn, he must do one of the following actions:

  • Take one leg betting tile.  There are three in the stack at the start of the leg — one worth 5 Pounds, one worth 3, and one worth 2.  If the camel of the corresponding color is in first at the end of the leg, that amount of Pounds is paid out.  If that camel is in second, the player gets 1 Pound.  If the camel isn’t in first or second, the player holding the leg betting tile loses one pound.
  • Place the desert tile.  The desert tile has two sides: one that makes a camel landing on it advance one more space, and the other that makes the camel landing on it go back one space.  In either situation, if a camel or camel stack lands on it, the player placing it earns 1 Pound.  Desert tiles cannot be placed next to other desert tiles.  
  • Take a pyramid tile.  This will earn 1 Pound at the end of the leg.  The player releases a dice from the pyramid and moves the corresponding camel as described below.
  • Bet on the winner or loser of the race overall (i.e. not just the leg).  The player takes his character card of the color of camel he is betting on and places it on the winner or loser space.  Being the first to call the correct camel is worth 8 Pounds, second is worth 5, third is worth 3, fourth is worth 2, and fifth is worth 1.  Calling an incorrect camel forces the player to return 1 Pound.  

When a camel’s dice comes out of the pyramid, the camel moves that many spaces, adjusting for any desert tiles.  However, all camels on top move with the camel.  Thus if, white was on top, green was below it, and blue was on bottom, if the blue dice were rolled, the entire stack would move.  

Each leg ends when the last of the five dice have come out of the pyramid.  At that points, leg bets and pyramid tiles are paid out, desert tiles are removed, and the dice are put back in the pyramid.  The Leg Starting Player marker moves, and the next leg begins.  

The game ends when one camel crosses the pyramid.  The leg scoring occurs, followed by the scoring for the overall winner or overall loser.  The player with the most money wins.  

Does it stand the test of time?  My thoughts on the game…

Camel Up is a fun game, worthy of the 2014 Spiel des Jahres title, and my family and I have enjoyed our dozen-or-so plays.  Camel Up is, at its core, a party game, one best played in a big, rowdy crowd.  The 3D pyramid gives the game an eye-popping appeal, and the gameplay always offers one or two I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened moments.

It is tempting to think of Camel Up as a race game, but that isn’t really the case: this is a betting game centered around a race.  To win you’ll need both a little luck and a little skill: the dice rolls need to be on your side, but there’s skill in choosing when to take an appropriate action.  Timing is everything.  

The best part of Camel Up is its unpredictability.  The stacking and camel movement rules make it that predicting the winner of any given leg — not to mention the entire race — is quite tricky.  My plays have all featured more than one laugh-out-loud moment, and I haven’t had a dull play.

Camel Up is a party game, and like most party games, it succeeds or fails based on who it is played with.  I could see this game falling flat — or carrying on way too long — if people didn’t take the right approach to gameplay.  Decisions should be made quickly, which tends to happen since this isn’t a game that rewards overthinking.  This isn’t a game for everybody — there isn’t much depth here — but it is a good time in a short timeframe.  Our plays last about 20-25 minutes.  

I prefer to play with 5-6 players.  Less than that isn’t conducive to the party atmosphere that makes Camel Up enjoyable, and more than that results in too much downtime between turns.  The game is very easy to learn, and I’ve seen it succeed with a variety of different crowds.  I’ve played Camel Up with both my game group and my parents, and both seemed to enjoy it.  

I’m generally anti-expansion, but I’ve really enjoyed Camel Up Supercup.  It lengthens gameplay by a few minutes, adds a catchup mechanism for the last place camel (which can be a bit of an issue in the base game), and adds a photographer, which rewards big stacks of camels.  I don’t play without the expansion anymore.  

Would Camel Up win the SdJ today?  Like any recent nominee, I think it’d have a good shot: the jury hasn’t changed much in the past few months. Camel Up hits all of the right notes: it is lightweight, family-friendly, original, and well-produced.  I think it compares favorably to many recent nominees and last year’s winner.  

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Mark Jackson (2 plays): My first play was just OK… while my second play was very enjoyable. The components are quite nice, gameplay is simple but not simplistic, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Patrick Brennan: Takes the old Russelbande piggyback movement system (which is an excellent and fun mechanic) and jazzes it into a non-kid’s game by adding various forms of betting to the game. Betting isn’t my favourite genre – I’ve ditched Manila previously – so this has upside and downside. There’s no hidden information, you’re just making decisions based on the odds, and to reap the big bucks you need to make decisions on what to bet on before the odds are in your favour. Which makes it a so-so guessing game really, but at least the game goes fast and provides some cheer/groan factor as the movement dice are finally revealed. I can see why it might be popular but it’s nothing more than an occasional outing for me.

Joe Huber (4 plays): I find Camel up to be a pleasant game.  It’s not one I call for – but I’m fine with playing it.  The fact that it’s hit the table four times, and I’m still happy to play it, is a good sign – it’s more play than nearly 75% of games get from me.  Otherwise, my feelings largely echo Patrick’s..

Greg Schloesser:  Sometimes the gadget makes the game.   Sometimes, however, it is just a gadget, and the game itself doesn’t measure-up to the niftiness of the clever gadget.  I am afraid that the latter is the case with Camel Up.

As a family game, Camel Up is, in the damning words of my good friend and fellow gamer Jim McDanold, “fine.”  Aside from the nifty pyramid gadget, there really isn’t much here to set the game apart.  Children will certainly enjoy stacking the camels and delight when their favorite gets carried an extra space or two, but adults will likely find the game rather mundane.  The betting is done with a bit of knowledge, but the ultimate results are beyond the control of the players.  Children likely won’t mind this absence of control, but adults and even teenagers will likely find it frustrating.  

Larry (1 play):  Played this once and that was enough.  It’s pretty much a luckfest, with just enough decision making to give the players a false sense of control, which unfortunately only serves to slow things down.  The players at my one game actually made the experience fun, but the game didn’t do much to impress me.  I’d play again if the group wanted to, but I’m also perfectly happy avoiding this in the future.

Michael Weston (1 play): 1 play was also enough for me. Actually, about ⅓ of a play was enough, so I was very thankful it’s as short as it is.

Dan Blum (1 play): I still think it’s pretty silly to call this a “party game.” A good party game is much simpler than this – I can’t imagine trying to teach this to non-gamers. There are not only much better party games, there are simpler light chaotic racing games if that’s what you want. That’s why this is my least-favorite SdJ winner, although admittedly I haven’t played Rummikub so that might be worse, although I doubt it.

Eric:  Once again, I’m late to the party to comment — and speaking of parties, Camel Up is totally a party game. The gameplay itself is minimal in terms of control, as others note above, and it’s essentially a fun-facilitating device, with folks getting into the gambling spirit and not worrying about control, but rather enjoying the ups and downs of the race and their fellow players.

I’ve played Camel Up with serious players who were calculating the odds and dryly making a move with all the energy of someone hanging up a towel, and I couldn’t wait for the game to end. Thankfully I’ve also played plenty of times with folks were rolling with the punches and pumping their fists and otherwise enjoying the party spirit created by the game.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  
  • I like it. Chris W., Mark Jackson, Eric
  • Neutral. Patrick Brennan, Joe H., Larry, Craig V.
  • Not for me… Greg Schloesser, Michael W., Dan Blum
Advertisements
This entry was posted in SdJ Re-Review, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to SdJ Re-Reviews #36: Camel Up

  1. Thank you for this great review. This has quickly become one of my favourites and I”m excited to try it using the expansion. Thanks again for sharing.

  2. omesjtollie says:

    great review. I especially liked the origin story for the game.
    To be completely honest, this game really is not for me, I just don’t enjoy the betting mechanic.

  3. jeffinberlin says:

    I’ve heard the critique from German game store owners that this is not particularly easy to teach to the casual game buyers the award is aimed at.
    It’s also called “Camel Cup” by every German who doesn’t read gaming blogs. Correcting them reveals that you are a “game title lawyer”:-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s