Dale Yu: Review of Tournament at Avalon

Tournament at Avalon

Tournament at Avalon is a new trick-taking game, well really a trick-avoiding game, from Wizkids – it is a standalone expansion to Tournament at Camelot – a game which we reviewed here about 18 months ago: https://opinionatedgamers.com/2017/09/15/tournament-at-camelot-game-review-by-chris-wray/

The publisher describes it thusly: In the game, you play as a legendary character, battling opponents with weapon cards: arrows, swords, deception, sorcery, and even alchemy. The more you injure your opponents, the better you fare in the tournament. However, even the most injured characters can make a complete comeback with the grace of Godsend cards and the aid of their special companions. This trick-taking game ends when one opponent has been injured to the point of death. The player with the most health is then declared the tournament victor!

Each player takes a protagonist and a companion at the start of the game.  The protagonist shows the player’s special power that is always available for use.  The companion shows a special power that activates only when a player goes below a certain health threshold.  There are 10 different pairs of protagonists/companions in the box. 

Each player also takes a set of “health cards” and denotes that they have 400 health.  The tournament will end when one player has no health left. At that point, the player with the highest health wins.

The “weapons deck” — the deck used to play out the trick taking — consists of 84 cards.  60 of these are standard cards numbered 1-15 in four suits (swords, arrows, sorcery, and deception).  15 cards are “alchemy cards” — which stand in for any suit — and nine are special cards, which inflict extra damage (and allow the player to specify suit and number value).     There is also a deck of Godsend cards which are shuffled and set aside. These will come into play at the end of each hand.

The weapons deck is shuffled and each player receives 12 cards.  After shuffling and dealing cards—but before the Combat Phase begins—each player passes three cards of their choosing to the player next to them. Begin by Passing LEFT and alternate the direction of Passing between Tourney Rounds.  There is a nice little marker to keep track of this. The marker can also be used to remember who the start player is for a given round. Then the trick taking begins.  

A player leads, and then players must follow suit if they can.  Merlin and Sorcerer’s Apprentice cards can be played, but must be of the suit led.  Players may choose to play Alchemy cards at any time, including in place of basic Weapon cards of the Lead Suit which may be in their hand. If the lead player uses an Alchemy card to begin a Melee, all following cards played are considered “in-suit” If they don’t have a valid card to play (or choose not to play an Alchemy card), they are “shamed” and they put their card straight into the discard pile and immediately lose 5 health points.    If certain cards are played, then a Location card may also be added to the table.

In determining who wins the trick, cards of equal value are turned over, and then the player with the lowest card wins, and will lead the next trick.   If all cards are canceled out, then the whole trick is set aside and a new trick is played. The winner of the subsequent trick takes all the cards including those from the set aside trick. 

 At the end of the hand, which occurs whenever one or more players no longer has cards in their hand,  injury points are added up. Most cards cause a player to lose 5 health points, but poisoned cards (there are a few in each suit) cause 10 points damage, and Special weapon cards can cause up to 25 points.  

Then, players with the worst health will get a “godsend” card (there is a chart in the rules to tell you which players get cards based on the game round) –  which is a special power that may help. Some of the cards give an instant ability while others can be played to a specific player to give them a bonus or handicap in the round to follow.  Players can also get godsend cards for being far below the leader. These act as a sort of catch-up mechanic, either giving the player health points, allowing them to inflict extra damage, or other bonuses.  (Of course, if they fall below their threshold, the companion card also acts as a catch up. It’s easy to draw a bad hand, but the catch up does help.)

The game ends when one player’s health reaches zero.  At that point, the player with the most health wins.  

My thoughts on the game

As I have gathered (and there is a nice one-page summary of this in the rules), the game is related to, but not identical to, Tournament at Camelot.   There are more special weapon cards and the Location cards are new as well. Furthermore, it appears that there is more latitude on how/when to play the Alchemy cards.  Of course, I only know this from the rules because I hadn’t actually played the original version of the game prior to getting the review copy of Tournament at Avalon.

I’m normally interested in trick-taking games; heck, I have gone to a local con two years running now where the focus is on playing TTs!   This one is interesting because it adds a few things to the mix. First, this is a game where you essentially want to lose all the tricks! Well, or lose most of them.  With all of the special abilities and extra rules, there are times when it’s not so bad, or possibly advantageous for you to “win” at times, but for the most part, each trick that you win means damage to yourself.

Though I’m rarely in the position to have this choice, I guess there might be times when strategically you want to take damage (my guess is usually thru shaming) to either get your companion into the game or maybe to affect how the godsend cards are distributed.  I have not had the best card luck in my plays thus far, and it usually feels like I’m just doing all I can to not take ALL the tricks each hand!

I like the strategy present in each play.  There is a lot of room for clever card play.  Sometimes it’s just playing a special weapon card at the right time to turn a trick on its head.  Or, sometimes, it’s playing an alchemy card of matching number to suddenly change who wins a trick.  There are also some interesting choices in deciding when to play an alchemy card (assuming you have none of the led suit) and when to not play one and automatically shame yourself into a negative 5 pt penalty.  When you shame yourself, you’re always guaranteed to take damage, but it’s limited, as you have no chance to “win” the trick. Of course, if you didn’t play an alchemy card on this turn, you’ll still have to figure out how to safely play it later in the hand…

There are plenty of special abilities on the cards, the protagonists, the companions, the locations, etc – and it will take a bit of work to make sure that everyone is aware of and following all the rules correctly. More than one gamer that I have played this with has remarked that it feels a lot like Munchkin, but with tricks.  I would agree with that, and not in a bad way – there are plenty of rules that change on the fly, and the player who learns to adapt the quickest will do well.

The game is short, usually only taking 15-30 minutes – almost all of my games have ended after only 3 or 4 hands.  Because of the short duration of the game, I don’t mind wild swings in fortune due to the ever changing rules. The game ends up being more of an experience type game, especially at higher player counts, because each card played possibly can change things up.  The only time that you have a real sense of control is when you’re the final player to play to a trick – that is the only time in the game where you know the current state of the rules and that there is nothing that anyone else can do to change them.

This level of zany interaction is highest in the combined Avalon/Camelot game where you add in a few extra suits of cards from Camelot and then up to 8 players can play.  While this is generally not my thing (I like games where I can predict the action); I don’t have many games in my collection that can handle 8 well, and I will likely combine the two sets into a single box to allow me to have that option for convention play or for large game nights.  

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.  John P
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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3 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Tournament at Avalon

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  3. elcoderdude says:

    My gaming group just played this game, for the first time, in our first gathering post-COVID. We loved it. (For background: we tend to play medium- to light-weight games; perhaps the heaviest we’ve played are Pax Porfiriana and Oceans.) We had five players.
    The game is a bit chaotic, which we enjoyed; in that, it reminds me of Innovation. In the way that players gain powers which alter and break the ordinary rules, the game reminds me just a little of Cosmic Encounters.
    I am slightly discouraged that although your review is over a year old, you haven’t corrected the errors in your rules explanation. The glaring error that jumps out at me is: a player cannot choose to be Shamed rather than play an Alchemy card (the rulebook states this explicitly). In contrast, you can choose to be Shamed rather than play one of the Special Weapon cards, even though they are a legal play. A more minor error is that there are only 83 cards in the Weapons deck, not 84, because only 8 Special Weapons cards go into this deck, not 9 (you do *not* shuffle the Merlin card into the deck – the rulebook also states this explicitly.)

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