Shadows over Camelot (Visual Design Review)

Image by Erich

Shadows over Camelot is a game which, from a visual design point of view, is a hallmark example of Days of Wonder's production values. Here, we have a board - or really a collection of boards - that are really stunning to look at, cards with intricate, nicely executed designs and plenty of plastic pieces to play with. As we have come to expect with DoW, the graphics and production of the board is top notch, second to none.

Image by Verti

The boards, all four of them, are the finest that I have yet seen in a game. I cannot imagine how much time went into them, but can guess from experience that the artist must have easily clocked in the 100s of hours here. From time spent refining the layouts to fit all the cards and pieces to the incredible attention to detail that I'll talk about, it is a magnificent thing to behold. The artist who has worked on all DoW games is Julien Delval. The graphic designer out of France is Cyril Deaujean. With respect to the board, I'm not clear who is responsible for what, but congratulations to them both for the outstanding work here. On the primary central board, we find Camelot's court and the area surrounding the castle with the spotted siege engine positions. It is here in Camelot, that we find the glowing amber "Knights' Round Table" which serves as a container for the victory/defeat swords. The detail here is exquisite. From the subtile Celtic weaving patterns on the arms of the chairs to the ornate metalic cross in the center of the table, it is clear the artist went to great pains to spare no detail. Such details are not only thoroughly rendered, but also balanced well in the context of the board so that they don't overwhelm critical information. This balance is critical and can be easily take away from a game if one is not careful. Also, on the board are three areas where adventures can happen. Each area is just as well layed out and executed as the rest. On two of the sides of this board we have invaders sailing onto the beaches. With the beautifully painted beaches, you can almost hear the water splashing along the sand. This board and the others picture the areas from a viewpoint of looking straight down on them, much as DoW's other games like Pirate's Cove and Mystery of the Abbey.

There are also three smaller double sided adventure boards which have similarly pictured adventures. The boards are rich with detail and color and are a delight to look at. They go a long way to enhancing the game feel, play and overall experience, which is all one can ask for in a board. Icons are used in all the adventure areas to indicate adventure rewards and penalties, which work well to communicate the necessary concepts. Again, simple details like a metalic rendered times (x) sign and the rendering of a die in the rewards/penalties key are top notch. Other visual cues, such as circles that indicate player counts all work well to quickly indicate key rules details.

With such thoughtfulness and craft, any critisism can only be minor, but I do have one. As the game is primary a card driven game, knowing how many cards and what kinds are needed for each adventure is important and, as mentioned, the board provides all the necessary spaces and visual cues to make things easy. That said, my one complaint here, revolves around the artwork used to indicate card placement on all the boards. Cards are illustrated using the exact same artwork of the cards themselves at the same scale as the real thing. As such, during the game, it can become a bit confusing where placed cards are as opposed to the printed graphics as they both look alike. This can be quite annoying and I actually have found myself reaching down to the board to see if a card is real or illustrated. Better it would have been here to include a mini picture of a card within this space. Though while annoying, it is not so much so that it is problematic. Overall, a minor complaint compared to the high standard of excellence that the boards and components bring to the game.

The cards also live up to DoW quality with competent illustrations, easy to understand copy and fantastically executed flavor graphics and patterns. The game includes two decks of cards - a good (white) and evil (black) deck which corresponds to other visual cues such as the double sided sword tolkens and adventure reward/punishment icons.

Finally, we have the plastic pieces which are really great. Each player has a differently sculpted character, there are some bad guy invaders, seige engines and a few prizes. All are of high quality.

In contrast to the excellence of the components, I find the cover follows the DoW standard of uninspired illustrations void of any seductive, emotive quality. It has this look – that is common amongst boardgames and DoW covers – which is to cram as many details from the game to "tell the story". Here, we have six or so of the characters from the story awkwardly placed on one side of a creek facing a number of evil characters from the game. In the distance, the invading boats are anchored in water and the siege engines surrounding the castle of Camelot. There is way too much going on in this cover with no strong sense of visual hierarchy and absolutely no drama. Much better it would have been to strip the cover of the majority of elements down to just a few. Increasing scale and providing more extreme vantage points could have been one way to heighten the drama here. Stronger lighting effects or more dramatic use of color could have helped too. In the game, the sword is the metaphor for victory. One dramatic cover idea could have been to render huge sword in front of Camelot to imply battle, adventure and conflict. Instead, we have the strange, forced posturing of the full cast of characters that clearly stems from the desire to get everything onto that box. I suppose publishers think that consumers need to instantly experience the depth of story. Regrettably, this is a nervous position rather than a confident one. It's a shame, as the cover is the easy part to execute. Nonetheless,it is mostly an advertising/marketing vehicle and does not take away from what is really important – that being gameplay. And enhancing game play through great componentry is where DoW really shines like no other.

- mike