Camel Up Off Season is the brand new set collection and push your luck board game from Pretzel Games. Designed by Stefan Kloß and Anna Oppolzer, featuring artwork by Chris Quilliams, the game sees 3 – 5 players stacking their camels with goods. Trying to not push your luck too far with good cards; dates, carpets, fruit and vases will be added to players’ caravans. However, is this another smash hit in the Camel Up series? Let’s find out!
Over the course of the game, players will be collecting and then trying to sell sets of dates, carpets, fruit and vases. Goods will be gained from central stalls, balanced on camels and then each player can make one sale each round. To set up a number of stalls are placed blue side up in the middle of the table, with cards dealt out to them – some face up and some face down based on what the stalls depict. Players gain a camel board, sales reminder cards and a tent to hide their money.
At the start of each round players bid on who will go first. When everyone has chosen their bid they are revealed. While the topmost card of the draw deck can alter the bids, generally whomever has bid the most claims the starting player camel. If two or more players bid the most they are skipped and the second highest bid wins. Going around the table from the starting player, each player chooses one of the stalls. Each stall comes with an optional ability, which can be activated first. These range from swapping cards from one stall to another through to gaining a second sell token.
The active player must then take all of the cards (both face up and face down) from that stall. Starting off the players’ camels are empty, with each able to hold a different amount of goods (3 – 6). Each camel can only hold one type of good and will topple over if more goods are added to it compared to its number. When a camel has a good added to it, until the goods are sold, that is the only camel goods of that type can be added to. All of the newly claimed cards must be added to the player’s caravan. Therefore, there’s a push your luck aspect to taking lots of cards – especially face down cards – as your camels may topple. Toppling causes all of the goods cards on said camel to be discarded.
Play then goes around the table, with each player subsequently getting fewer stalls to pick from. Before the end of the round each player gets the option to sell goods from 1 camel. Each good type is sold slightly differently. Dates are sold in sets of 3, with the cards having 1 – 4 dates on them. Vases come in three shapes but only 1 shape can be sold at once. Carpets come in various colours but duplicates of the same colour cannot be sold together. Fruit has an annoyingly brilliant selling requirement – only the cheapest fruit can be sold.
Sold goods are simply discarded, with the coins taken from the bank accordingly. These coins are victory points but also what you’ll be bidding with in future rounds. The unused stalls get a coin added to them, making them better choices in the next round, with used stalls flipped over. The game continues until the deck of goods has been depleted. At this point the final round is triggered. Unlike the other rounds players can sell once from each camel, with whoever is the richest trader crowned the winner.
The blind bids are certainly an entertaining part of the game. Even at three players there are times that two players will knock each other out by both bidding the highest, letting the third player swoop in and become first player on the cheap. The bids are affected by the top card of the deck, and this is that odd extra rule. However, as long as one player announces what rules the bid has each round it doesn’t disrupt the experience. Shaking up the bids, some players may get bonuses or switch it around completely so that it’s the lowest non-zero bid which wins.
Like in any good push your luck game, in Camel Up Off Season there are cheers and groans. Choosing a stall and getting too many dates and toppling a camel, thanks to them being face down, is a low. Conversely, getting to sell your valuable pineapples could be a high in the next round – or perhaps even the same one. While toppling a camel does set you back it’ll happen to everyone at some point, so far from knocks players out of the game. The amount of punishment the player receives is often related to how much they have pushed their luck too – though playing safe isn’t a great option to score big.
With the stall tiles flipping when chosen throughout the game exactly which actions will be available in a round varies. From a gameplay perspective this is great as it makes all of the bids heavily contested. It does however mean there are points throughout the experience where players need to stop to work out what the new symbols do. By the end of a game players around the table will know the iconography. Still, for brand new gamers they aren’t too intuitive – so the rulebook is checked too frequently for what is a light experience – and iconography is normally supposed to make it easier.
Mentioning the camel in the room… deciding to use the theming of Camel Up, and shout out Camel Up on the box, is rather misleading to gamers. Clearly the decision has been made to utilize the “brand” of Camel Up to sell this new game. The issue is there are no similarities between the two. There is no race to speak of, no camels stacking and no dice. Therefore, the theme feels more pasted on than ever and it’s likely to confuse gamers who might buy it for that race experience only to be disappointed.
Camel Up Off Season might be named as such but it has nothing to do with the family weight racing fun the name is known for. This puts the game on the backfoot from the beginning. While there are a couple of elements meant for variety which could have been streamlined, Camel Up Off Season is solid. The blind bidding and pushing of luck creates highs and lows, creating a good amount of cheers and groans. Get past that first wave of iconography and there is a pleasant family weight game to be enjoyed, just don’t expect this to be the Camel Up 2 many hoped for when it was announced.
(Editor’s Note: Camel Up Off Season was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)