Anyone’s who seriously into the hobby knows that winning the Spiel des Jahres (German for Game of the Year) is a big deal for game designers. While researching potential games to play with my younger ESL students, I discovered that Camel Up won the award in 2014. At first look, the theme seemed a little far-fetched. Betting on racing camels? I was unconvinced.
And then I tried it.
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Suggested Age: 8+
Number of Players: 2-8
Playing Time: 30 minutes
In Camel Up, players will be betting on camels that are racing around a three-dimensional pyramid placed in the middle of the board. Players will roll dice to advance one of five different camels, bet on potential winners and losers, and place tokens on the race track in order to aid or hinder camels. Whoever ends up with the most money is declared the winner.
Let’s first discuss how this race works in a little more detail. On any player’s turn, they have the choice of selecting one of the five pyramid tiles. When this happens, that player will receive one Egyptian pound (the game’s currency). Then they will shake the pre-constructed pyramid containing five colored dice (each corresponding to the camel of the same color), and then release a single dice through a fun physical mechanism built into the pyramid. Based on the number rolled, you’ll advance the corresponding camel 1, 2, or 3 spaces. Once all five pyramid tiles have been taken, that concludes the end of a leg.
If any camel lands on a space occupied by another camel, the former will be stacked on top of the latter. Weird, right? I thought so too at first, but it actually proved to be one of the biggest selling points of this game for my group. Everyone thought it was so ridiculous and absolutely loved it when all five camels were stacked on top of each other at one point during our game.
The main way for players to earn money is by betting, for which there are several options. You can bet on the overall winner or loser of the race and score up to 8 pounds this way. You can also bet on the winner of the leg and score up to 5 pounds. In either case, betting early will give you the chance of a higher payout. Betting later than your competitors will produce a lower reward should you guess correctly.
Players also have the chance to tamper with the race by playing their individual desert tile on the race track. If a camel lands on a player’s desert tile, that player will receive 1 pound and the camel will either go forward or backwards one space (based on which side of the tile is turned face-up).
Once at least one camel has crossed the finish line, the leg immediately ends and players will score money based on their bets for both the leg and the overall race. The player who made the wisest bets and earned the most money is then declared the winner.
It’s a visually appealing game. Seriously, this game looks beautiful on the dining table (or coffee table, or wherever you normally play your games). The playing board is very well-designed and rich in detail. I really like that the three-dimensional pyramid isn’t just an aesthetic addition to the game and that it plays an integral role in the actual gameplay. Some people might find the dice-rolling mechanism superfulous, but I found that it actually made people want to take the pyramid tile, just so they could plop a dice out of the top of the pyramid. (Trust me, it makes a lot more sense once you try it.)
It’s simple, yet fun and engaging. This game takes only a few minutes to learn, and it really helps that players only have four possible actions to take each turn. The first time I played Camel Up was with a group of adults. We had barely begun the game and people were already laughing at the ridiculousness of the setup, with some camels stacked on top of other camels. The second time I played was with a group of middle school students, and they also got really into the game. Every time a dice was rolled or a betting tile was taken, there were audible reactions from every player. I love games where players are invested in every single action (regardless of whose turn it is), and Camel Up is definitely one of those games.
It’s entirely luck-based. Make no mistake about it – the winner is basically determined by whoever makes the best guesses. It’s essentially a dice-rolling game with a betting system added to make players more engaged in the outcome of the dice. Some people might really latch on to this kind of game because of its simplicity, whereas others might be frustrated with the lack of strategy. Players have very little control over the ultimate outcome of the game, which means that a person could win this game without even thinking.
It’s not nearly as exciting with fewer players. I feel like this game gets better the more players it has. I’ve tried playing Camel Up as a two-player game and it really didn’t generate the same excitement as the times when I played it with four players. There’s a lot more tangible energy in the room when more people are invested in the race. I’ve found the outbursts of joy and cries of dismay are a lot more pronounced with bigger groups.
Whether you will like or dislike this game really comes down to your expectations. If you want a game that will provide a lot of intellectual stimulation, then this is not the game for you. However, if you want a fun, lightweight game where people can just have a good time (and maybe enjoy a few laughs), then I would heartily recommend Camel Up.
Even though I really enjoy heady games with lots of complexity and strategy, I really don’t have a problem with how light and random this game is. Why not? Because I have a lot of friends who aren’t really interested in playing games that have a lot of rules or take more than 30 minutes to play. Camel Up is the perfect game for these friends, and I can see it working really well for families, too. It’s easy, attractive, and tons of fun. I’m definitely thankful I gave this game a try and I’m proud to add it to my collection.