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.
With 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.
Before 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.