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Essential Expansions: Merlin's Company (Shadows Over Camelot)

For some people, us included, games are even better when they get more pieces, rules and ways to play. While not all expansions are created equal, and some disappoint, this series will only concentrate on those we believe add value and longevity, as well as the crucial factor - fun, to all your favourite gaming experiences.

As described in more detail in the post on Co-Operative Games, Shadows over Camelot is the rather evil little game of heroism and treachery from the Knights Of The Round Table. Knights travel to various quests to overcome the evil threatening the lands, but where there are heroes there is always the ever present threat of a traitor in the ranks, sowing destruction and mistrust.

You can pick up Shadows Over Camelot here.

So what does Merlin's Company, the expansion to this game, add to it?

Well, on first opening the box it appears like not much, but let me tell you - this is a little box with a lot of punch! It introduces a higher level of difficulty but with the ability to customise things to your liking.

Firstly, it introduces Merlin himself, who acts independently of the knights, moving to quests as a result of a card draw (more on Travel Cards later) and helping out whoever is present by giving them extra cards or blocking the placement of siege engines. He is undoubtedly a powerful aid in your efforts but is unreliable and may end up in worthless locations, such as the two wars, if you are not careful.

The travel cards are a major obstacle to overcome in your efforts. Some of them do nothing, some move Merlin, but far more concerning are the ones that cause you trouble, either getting you lost, captured or even attacked! Bearing in mind in the original game you could travel without any danger at all, these additions make things significantly more difficult.

Adding even more difficulty are Morgan's seven witches, seven different cardsadding nasty magical effects to the rules that severely hamper the knights' efforts. These vary from increasing the penalty when you make a false accusation to preventing the use of life points for extra actions, directly damaging the knights.

To balance things out a bit they have included a whole load of new white cards to give the kights some more powers, one crucial one is the Dispel card that removes one of the effects of the witches and another is the truce card that ends a war in a stalemate with no positive or negative effects.

However, even with the addition of Merlin and the new white cards, the difficulty of the game is definitely increased if all new rules are used - the witches and travel cards can make even the most simple of plans extremely dicey. This may turn some folks off the game, but for my group of friends it added a lot of fun and I reckon, significant extra longevity to what is already a fantastic fun game.

In addition to these new rules we get the eighth knight, Sir Bedivere (who can discard one of his cards to gain another one) and along with him seven extra knight cards, though these use the same models as in the original game, which have more interesting if harder to grasp abilities.

Now, to the most interesting and crucial change - the addition of Sir Bedivere means that the game is playable with 8 players now (rather than 7). To adapt to this change you get a new set of loyalty cards in the box, with not the one traitor card, but two.

That's right - you could be facing two traitors in the 7 and 8 player games!

Naturally as loyalty assignment is blind, the two traitors won't know who the other evildoer is, but their potential presence will cause serious concern especially since it is possible that no traitors at all are present in the game so players must be very careful about making wild accusations.

Shadows Over Camelot is one of my, and my friends and family's favourite games - it is an ingenious mix of interplayer politics and co-operative crisis management. It is one of the first games I recommend when asked for my favourites, and Merlin's Company is an exceptional expansion to the experience - adding just enough in all areas of the game, without greatly increasing its complexity or teaching time.

Both are highly recommended!

...keep playing!


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