- Designer: Phil Walker Harding
- Publisher: Buffalo Games
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 30-45 mins
- Review copy provided by Buffalo Games, 3 plays so far
Phil Walker Harding is one of my favorite modern game designers – I have been impressed with both the quantity, quality and variety of his designs in recent years. I’ll admit that my summer research has been a little less that usual this year (thanks Coronavirus!) – so I actually hadn’t heard of this game until the shipping notice showed up in my inbox. I quickly found the game online, and I was immediately interested in the game which is briefly described as a competitive deckbuilding game.
However, when I read the rules, it turns out that there are a number of differences that help set it apart from the some of the stalwarts of the genre. First, there is a modular board – essentially a 3×3 grid of path tiles (Each 5 steps in length) which has a lake board above it. Players have a pawn on each of the three paths that they move along based on their card play.
Interestingly, in this game, there is a base deck (essentially filled with starting cards) and then 7 minidecks, each themed after a summer camp idea- Adventure, Arts+Crafts, Friendship, Outdoors, WaterSports, Cooking, Games. In any given game, the table chooses three of these decks to play with. Each deck has achievement badges – place these to the right of the path. Also, place the two base deck badges (Participation and AllStar) on the top lake board.
Each player starts the game with a base deck of 7 Lights Out! Cards and then a Move 1 Space card from each of the three chosen mini-decks. The card tableau is placed to either side of the board. To the right, place the three cards from the base deck: Smores, Free Time and Scavenger Hunt. To the left, place the three mini decks in a column, and then reveal the top 2 cards of each deck. When you are done, you’ll have 9 cards face up in the tableau. Finally, each player gets a single Snack Bar token to put in their supply. Each player shuffles their deck, the starting player draws a hand of 3 cards, the next player draws 4, then 5 and 6 (if you have that many players). This is a special rule for the first hand; after this, all players will draw 5 cards each hand.
LIke most deckbuilders, someone is designated the start player, they take a turn, and then the next player goes, and so on… On a turn, you use the cards in your hand – either playing them for the action printed on their hand, or using them to buy other cards. When you play a card, do what the card says. If it tells you to move forward on a path, do so, and if you move over a symbol printed on the path, take the associated bonus. If you are going to buy cards, you simply discard cards from your hand for one energy each. You can also discard a Snack Bar token for 1 energy. The cost of any card is found in the red circle in the lower left corner. Add the newly purchased card to your discard pile. You may play and buy cards in any order. When you are done doing all the things you want to do, discard any unused cards in your hand, then draw a new hand of 5 cards (if your deck runs out, shuffle your discard pile to make a new draw pile), and then replenish the left side of the display if any activity deck cards were purchased. Keep any unused Snack Bars – these are the only things you take from round to round. You are limited to a max of 6 Snack Bars at any time.
Finally, check to see if any achievement badges were gained. For each of the three activities, you will gain an achievement badge if your pawn makes it to the end of the path for that particular activity. Take the highest valued badge in the stack. You can also earn the general badges on the lake board up top if you have ALL three of your pawns past the first or second river breaks on the path.
The game ends whenever a player collects all three of the activity badges (i.e. all three pawns are at the end of the track). Players now calculate their final score:
- Points for achievement badges
- Points of cards in their deck based on the star icons in the bottom right
- Points for pawns that did not finish the path (see the scoring chart on the board
The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the most snack bars left.
My thoughts on the game
Summer Camp is a new twist on the deckbuilding genre. It is a more tactical game as the activity cards on offer change each turn. Also, as the interactions between the three chosen activity decks (from 7 possible) change with each combination – you’ll have to constantly assess which cards work best for you. Each game should play slightly differently, and while I think the end result is small, changing the arrangement of the nine path tiles makes the order of the bonuses a little different each time as well.
Unlike many other deckbuilding games, this one is all about getting the needed actions into your deck. As you do not add inert victory point cards to your deck, there is no transition point (a la Dominion) where you have to decide when you are going to stop building your deck and concentrate on acquiring victory points. Here, nothing dilutes your deck – just keep churning on the victory! This does raise the spectre of a runaway leader, because there is nothing to slow down the progress of a good deck; but thus far, this has only been a theoretically issue – we haven’t really seen anyone construct a deck that was that superior to the rest.
Each of the mini Activity decks has a different theme to it, and that should change the game play with each combination. However, I do wish that some of the “easier” decks had a bit more oomph or variety in them. There are enough duplicates of each card in the activity decks that it sometimes didn’t feel like I was making a deck any different than my opponents, and that was my one wish for the game – that the deck construction was more interesting. By about the midpoint of the game, I was mostly just looking for cards that added VPs to my deck.
I do like the scoring system here – allowing players to race both on the individual tracks as well as to the interim river breakpoints to get the general Achievement badges. You can also pick up points based on some of the cards that you buy; but this amount tends to be small in contrast to those awarded for the Achievement badges. Depending on the relative point standings and the location of each player’s meeples on the track – you might end up changing your strategy to try to nip a particular opponent out of an Achievement badge!
The art in the game is cartoony and fun. The illustrations are great on both the cards and the board. The only comment we had is that we wished that some of the card suit colors were a bit different. We also had to make a house rule of leaving the card box of the activity decks out on the table near the draw piles. Sometimes it was hard to remember which color “Cooking” or “Watersports” referred to – and it was nice to have the printed title on the box to remind us where we were going. And kudos to the staff at Buffalo Games for throwing in an actual cotton Friendship bracelet as one of the promotional items! Seeing one of those definitely reminded me of my summers at Camp Kern and Camp Campbell Gard way back when…
The packaging is nice – no shrinkwrap here to save on plastic. The insert is well done, and the individual boxes all come in nice pre-made tuckboxes – this keeps everything neat and tidy. Based on the amount of space left in the box, it looks like there is plenty of room to hold onto future expansions – and this game is ripe with opportunity for this as the modular activity deck choice system makes it easy to slide another themed mini deck right in…
Once again, PWH has surprised me with a design in yet another genre. We ended up playing two new PWH games this week (the other being Super Mega Lucky Box) and both were really inventive takes on well-established genres. We also played Snakesss earlier this month which was more of a party/trivia game. With these continued releases, the designer is certainly setting himself up as a one-stop shop for a full game collection solely based on only his output! This will be a great entry point for deckbuilders, but will probably leave veterans wanting a bit due to the lighter level of complexity with these starting Activity decks.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it.
- Neutral. Dale Y, John P
- Not for me…