- Designer: Steffen Bogen
- Publisher: eggertspiele
- Players: 3 – 8
- Ages: 8 and Up
- Time: 20 – 30 Minutes
- Times Played: > 15 (3 with 2018 version, the rest with the original)
This critically acclaimed game has made another appearance. For those gamers who have yet to experience the fun with the craziest camel race ever, a new version has been released near the end of 2018. It’s not just a straight reprint, so it might appeal to even those gamers who already have the original!
We have reviewed this game twice already, and I thank Chris Wray for letting me use some of his previous review which included some great insights from the designer himself.
Areas which talk about the new changes will be in italics.
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.
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), 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 as well.
Camel Up received an iOS adaptation. 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.
[During the Christmas season in 2018, the game got another release from Plan B games – the company which now controls Eggertspiele.
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.
The 2018 game features a plastic 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. When you open the board, you’ll also see the nifty 3-D pop up palm tree as well…
Then, the crazy camels are placed on the board – these camels are colored black and white. They are placed on one of the last three spaces on the board (based on a die roll) AND they are placed facing backwards. Over the course of the game, these camels will go the wrong way around the track. If a camel lands on top of a crazy camel, it is possible that it will be carried the wrong way! There is a sixth grey die which is used for the crazy camels – it is now also placed in the pyramid. This die has both black and white numbers on it to tell you which crazy camel gets to move!
The game will lasts a variable number of “legs”. Each leg ends when the fifth of the sixth dice have come out of the pyramid – this means that in each leg, one camel WILL NOT move. 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. Note that you cannot bet on the Crazy Camels – as they are going the wrong way, they will never win the race!
- Place the spectator tile. The spectator 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. Spectator 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.
- In the 2018 version, there is also a partnership rule which is used when playing with 6+ players. Each player gets a partnership card, and you can use your action to exchange partnership cards with any other player who is not yet committed to a partnership. They may not refuse your offer. You will each be able to score one of your partner’s leg tickets at the end of this leg.
When a camel’s dice comes out of the pyramid, the camel moves that many spaces – which can also be modified by a spectator tile on the final space. However, all camels on top move with the camel (in whichever direction the bottom most camel is moving!). Thus if, red was on top, green was below it, and blue was on bottom, if the blue dice were rolled, the entire stack would move clockwise. If black was on the bottom, the entire stack would move counterclockwise!
Each leg ends when the fifth die has come out of the pyramid. At that points, leg bets and pyramid tiles are paid out (you always ignore the crazy camels when figuring out ranking for leg bets). If you are playing with the partnership cards, you may also score one leg bet of your partner. Then, return all the partnership cards to their original owner. The spectator 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.
My thoughts on the game (2018 version)
Well, to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting a new and updated version of the game – usually when a game wins the SdJ, it becomes a commercial success due to the award, and this generally results in a number of reprints as it will be sold for years to come… These games tend to be perfect gifts or starter games for people – I know that I tend to lean towards SdJ winners when trying to introduce new people to gaming, and if they like the game, it’s likely that they’ll go out and get their own copy!
While in Essen, I had a chance to talk to Peter Eggert a bit about the game, and he mentioned that he was really excited about the new version. The graphics and components were updated – and they felt that the plastic pyramid was a step up from the somewhat precarious cardboard/rubber band original. After a few plays, the new pyramid is certainly a bit sturdier, but there are still times when it seems like you have to shake it to get a die to come out.
The gameplay is still chaotic, and I personally like the changes made in the game. To summarize:
- Two crazy camels that go the wrong way
- Only five out of the seven camels move each turn
- Partnership cards when playing with more than 6
- no current ability to add the Supercup expansion
The crazy camels obviously don’t have much effect early in the game as they start at the end of the track and move backwards… But, due to luck of the die roll, they will erratically move towards the camels in each race. Sometimes, it seems like they come full speed at you, and in other games, they stay close to the finish line to really screw things up right at the end!
The one effect that they do have is that one die always remains unrolled each round. If luck has it that a certain regular camel misses a few turns in a row, that camel can get permanently lost in the back of the race with very little chance to catch up to the rest of the pack. This can make the betting on the last camel a bit anticlimactic as it becomes apparent early on who might come in last. (Though, I say that and I should mention that I have seen a 4th place camel ride the wrong way on a crazy camel on the last turn and come back within one space of that forlorn rearguard camel… and man, that would have been a memorable finish!)
I also like the partnership cards as they give you a chance to ride along with someone who may have gone early in turn order and was able to place a juicy bet that you would have otherwise not had a chance to take yourself. I feel that this makes the game much better when playing with larger numbers. I have mistakenly played with the partnership cards with only 5 players – and it still seemed like a plus.
Overall, I prefer to play this game with more players, as it increases the unpredictability of the game. This is the sort of game that shouldn’t be for planning… I mean, yes, you can calculate odds and all that, and take 3 minutes to decide what you want to do. But, I’ve found that this game wants to be played in a frenzy – making excited bets and then watching with rapt attention as the dice fall from the pyramid and you see what happens. When you have a higher player count, there is a lot more things that happen between each of your decisions, and it tends to lower the amount of control you feel that you have over the game – leading to a more spontaneous (and hopefully more fun-filled) experience. The partnership cards are definitely a help in this as well.
The board is now an oval, and this will make it hard if not impossible to use the Supercup expansion to make the race longer. I don’t mind this at all as I prefer the shorter track and shorter game experience. Of course, YMMV. But it won’t matter to me, because I’d probably never be playing your Supercup game :)
A number of people have moaned about the components because this new version is mostly plastic – even the camels and coins are now plastic! For me, this change is not bad. I personally don’t have a huge preference to cardboard chit coins versus plastic coins – the only difference to me might be that I really like to stack my money, and the smooth plastic pieces are somewhat less willing to stay atop each other than the cardboard. As far as the camels go, it doesn’t really make much difference to me at all.
The new board is fine. I am overall neutral on the tree – there are parts I love, and parts that… I’d cut into firewood. I mean, it looks beautiful, and it is definitely something that catches the eye and causes people to come by and see the game while it is being played. However, if you are like us, in a 4P game, you tend to sit with one player at each side of the board. The tree has the unfortunate effect of blocking that one player’s view of the game. It also really gets in the way of picking up the leg tickets. Our tree already has a slight bend in it from a player who accidentally mushed it with his arm while trying to get a ticket. So, while the tree scores a 10 for beauty, it really gets about a 4 from me for functionality. Most of the gamers that have played with me really seem to prefer the visual aspect of the 3D tree, so maybe I’m just grumpy about it. As it stands, I know well enough about it, and I’ll just make sure that when I’m setting up the game – that I’m never the person who is sitting on the tree side!
I do approve of the storage system. The vac tray is custom made for the game, and everything fits in snugly. Small touches are quite helpful – many of the bays in the tray have embossed reminders of what goes inside that particular area of the tray. There is a tight cutout for the board which must be pressed into place – and this acts as an internal lid to keep all the pieces in their place while the game is in storage – even if you’re like me and you store games on their side! Definite kudos to PlanB/Eggertspiele on this – they did a similar thing with their Century games, and I most heartily approve. I wish more publishers would spend a little extra time on the storage issue; it definitely makes for a more pleasing setup (and if you are a little OCD like me, it even makes clean up a little more pleasing!)
Finally – I must say that I love the new cover art. For the pictures and the dude in the upper left who looks a bit like my favorite detective, Hercule Poirot? Not exactly. I love the fact that the typography now makes it clear to everyone that the game is called Camel Up. Not Camel Cup. The arguments about the game title can now cease for good.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers on the 2018 Version
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers on the 2018 version
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…
(Though this might be confusing, I thought I’d leave in the original ratings and comments for comparison as you could play with the original rules and simply leave out the crazy camels and the grey die…)
Does it stand the test of time? Chris Wray’s thoughts on the original 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 about the 2014 Version
Mark Jackson (2 plays, 2014): 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: (2014) 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, 2014): 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: (2014) 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, 2014): 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, 2014): 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, 2014): 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, Dale Y
- Neutral. Patrick Brennan, Joe H., Larry, Craig V.
- Not for me… Greg Schloesser, Michael W., Dan Blum