Camel Up Review

Unbeknownst to me, camel racing is actually a thing. Ignorant me thought that it was simply a goofy theme to justify the mechanisms that drive Camel Up. The more you know, I guess! In any case, Camel Up takes you to the race track, where five camels are racing each other around a pyramid. You’re not in control of the camels per se, but you are making bets on the race in hopes of making the most money by the time the first camel crosses the finish line. Is this a camel racing board game worth backing?

The stars of Camel Up are the five camels that race around the track. Their movement is determined by a die roll from the pyramid in the middle, which also acts like a die shooter. When people choose to take the dice roll action, they shoot out one die and move the corresponding camel the indicated number of spaces. While a roll-and-move mechanic is as basic as they come, there’s a few wrinkle in the mechanics that spices things up considerably.

When camels end up in the same space, they don’t sit side-by-side and are considered tied. Instead, camels stack on top of each other, with the top camel considered to be ahead of all the camels below it. Furthermore, if a camel that is lower in the stack has to move, it carries all of the camels currently above it as well. In a not-as-common instance when a camel is forced back to a space where a camel already resides, the camel forced back is placed under the stationary camel. Combine these dynamics together with the unique way in which roll order is determined and you have wild race that has the potential to swing dramatically each time the dice are rolled.

Camel UpWith the camels constantly flipping positions, it’s your job to try and make sense of the madness in order to get paid. Of course, payouts are rewarded for correctly guessing who wins the race, but you will be betting on a number of other aspects of the experience. You can place final bets on which camel will finish last. Tickets can be collected to make bets on who will finish first in that particular leg. Desert tiles can be placed on the track that pay out each time a camel lands on them. By doing so, you also can impact the outcome of a leg, as desert tiles force a camel to move one space forwards or backwards.

You can also choose to roll the dice, which guarantees you a payout of one coin each time you do it. Players can do one of these actions each turn and continues until all five dice have been rolled. At that point, all of the tickets and dice are reset, and the new leg begins from there. Once a camel has crossed the finish line, a final round of payouts is executed based on where all of the other camels placed and the player with the most money wins the game.

This fluid turn structure makes it so that you’re actively making moves and strategizing throughout. Also, because of all of the variables at play in regards to camel movement, the betting picture is likely going to change considerably as each leg progresses. There’s certainly a lot of luck that goes into winning money, but there are a number of ways that you can hedge your bets to better prepare yourself for success.

Camel UpBefore wrapping this up, I should mention that the copy I played was one that my group and I played at Snakes and Lattes. This is important because the pyramid dice shooter clearly had seen better days. It was covered in tape and a household elastic band was rigged to it in order to keep the shooting effect intact. Based on my research, it seems like the elastics that come with the game will eventually break, so you’re going to have to come up with an alternate solution at some point to shooting out the dice. If you don’t want to Frankenstein your pyramid like Snakes and Lattes did, a dice bag would probably suffice as a functional alternative.

By adding a unique spin to tried-and-true gambling and roll-and-move mechanics, Camel Up ends up being better than the sum of its parts. It’s certainly a silly game, but one that draws players in with many reasons to be engaged with the race. With a low barrier to entry and support for 2-8 players, this one is easy to pull out at almost any gathering and is sure to be a hit. I do have concerns with the durability of the die shooter and how long the novelty of the race will last over the course of many plays, though you’ll likely get your money’s worth by the time you tire of watching camels sprint around the pyramid.

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7 thoughts on “Camel Up Review

  1. INK1ing January 27, 2015 / 10:30 AM

    This does look fun but I had heard that it was very random. Perhaps one for the beginning or end of the night.

    • Jett January 27, 2015 / 10:56 AM

      Before I get into a big thing about the element of randomness as it pertains to Camel Up, I want to get a better sense of where you stand on randomness in board games so that I can frame my response appropriately. More particularly, are you in the camp of gamers that want as little randomness as possible in the games that they play?

  2. INK1ing January 27, 2015 / 11:46 AM

    I don’t mind randomness in general but I like to be able to react to it or plan for it. I played Ra, Abyss and Medici recently which are games with randomness in the sense that you don’t know what tiles or cards are going to come up and when they do you have to make decisions in a kind of blackjack style stick or twist situation. The randomness creates unique situations that you have to react to but are from a limited pool and you can kind of plan for it.

    In contrast I struggled with Machi Koro (even though I would still play it again) as sometimes it feels like you can do anything you like as the winner is very luck based. It’s this latter type that I get the impression that Camel Up is like. So I like randomness and the kind of decisions it makes you take but when your decisions feel arbitrary I start to disengage a bit. Does that makes sense?

    Anyway, it’s cool that you go to Snakes and Lattes. I see their segments on The Dice Tower and it looks like a nice place.

    • Jett January 27, 2015 / 1:40 PM

      Based on your categories of randomness, I would put Camel Up in the first bucket. I haven’t played any of the other games you’ve mentioned in this category, but “Black Jack with a twist” feels right when describing randomness in Camel Up.

      At the start of each leg, there are many different ways that the camels could be arranged after all the dice have been cycled through. Even within this state, it’s not too hard to have an idea of the different ways it could shake out and put odds on the likelihood of each possible scenario actually happening. As each die is rolled, the situation changes and the pool of random outcomes shrinks until it comes down to whether the last camel will move one, two or three spaces on the final roll. After all the dice have been rolled, players are paid out based on the results of that leg, and a new round of betting begins for the next leg of the race.

      If you want to play it safe, you can roll the dice for a guaranteed one coin, or only place your bets on the winner of each leg or the final race when the likelihood of that outcome being achieved is high. However, the game does reward players for making bold calls earlier, which is the crux of the game. Do you play it safe for relatively steady gains or go for the big money bet? Both are viable approaches that can win, and you can switch between the two approaches during each leg of the race.

      Camel Up is certainly not for everyone. The way in which the camels move may be infuriating for some. Personally, I think that it makes the gambling more exciting in that there’s many possible outcomes, but not random to the point where you could win this game blindfolded.

      • INK1ing January 28, 2015 / 5:29 AM

        Sounds good. I will keep an eye out for it. Plus, any game with funny shaped meeples is a must play in my eyes!

      • Jett January 28, 2015 / 7:14 AM

        Actually, I ended up playing Machi Koro for the first time last night. Can say now that Camel Up is not in the same boat as Machi Koro in terms of randomness.

    • Jett January 27, 2015 / 1:45 PM

      Also, Snakes and Lattes is nice! There are a number of board game cafes in the area now, but Snakes was the first and in my opinion, still the best. Great selection of games. Great game gurus. Decent rates. Good selection of games for purchase, though there are retailers in the downtown core that carry a much larger stash at more competitive prices. Still, compared to most suburban board game stores in the Greater Toronto Area, it easily surpasses them in terms of selection and price.

      The challenge with it is that getting a table is actually REALLY hard. If you’re looking to go on a weeknight or on a weekend at any point after noon, you’re looking at a 1-2 hour wait for a table minimum. They’ve expanded the place twice and still struggle with the number of people that want to game. They’ve even opened up a second location to better accommodate (Snakes and Lagers), but I guess the demand is still too high.

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