27th Aug2020

‘Camel Up’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

Camel Up is perhaps one of the longest standing and best loved betting games in the market, but believe it or not, I hadn’t tried it until I was asked to undertake this review. Whilst Camel Up has been around for years, the version I’ve been sent is a recent reprint – and goodness me does it take the word “overproduced” to entirely new levels. A fabulous custom insert, stackable plastic camels and a board that features a pop-up palm grove are just some of the highlights – but is all of that pomp and circumstance masking a rubbish game, or does Camel Up still meet the expectations of a modern gamer?

It is actually quite hard not to discuss Camel Up‘s components first, such is their magnificence. The board is relatively small and has nothing more than a racetrack, a number of betting spaces and a few other slots for specific use on it, which does allow for about a quarter of the board to be taken up by the pop-up palms that I mentioned earlier. These unfold automatically as the board is laid out, and the first time my kids saw them, they couldn’t have been more excited. Of course, I’m now constantly aware of the possibility that the board might get damaged, but nonetheless, it looks fantastic.

One of the few spaces on the board is dedicated to another incredibly overdesigned pieces – in this case a dice tower of sorts in the shape of a pyramid. This plastic construct is made of two pieces, and the peak of the pyramid detaches so that the six coloured dice (five of which match the racing camels and one of which moves the rogue camels that I’ll talk about later.) Once inside the pyramid, the dice can be shaken around and then a single one can be dropped at random by pushing a button on the front of the pyramid. It’s bonkers, pointless and lots of fun.

The camels themselves are a little bit less flashy, but nonetheless each one (in seven different colours) is large, weighty and made from good quality moulded plastic. Five of these camels are racing camels and will face forwards on the board, with their starting locations randomised based on the first dice roll. The camels are designed to stack (hence the name, Camel Up) and slot very nicely on top of each other. The white and black camels are the rogue camels, and they set off in the wrong direction, which is also randomly determined by a single grey die that has black and white faces.

When it comes to actual gameplay, no one “controls” a specific camel in Camel Up, and instead, each player will take on the role of a wealthy gambler standing beside the track. Each player receives a few Egyptian Pounds, a cheering token and a deck of cards, depicting the different coloured camels in the race. These components will be used to influence the betting during the game, and in the case of coins, to help determine the final score.

On their turn, a player will have four actions (five if playing with six or seven players, in which case a betting partnership option becomes available, but I won’t spend too much time on that.) The actions are:

  • To pick up the pyramid, shake it and roll a dice, then move the matching camel accordingly and take a pyramid token worth one Pound
  • To take a betting slip from one of the five piles (each matching a camel)
  • To place a bet using one of their cards on either the overall winning or losing camel (this is placed face down, and the cards are resolved in order after the last round)
  • To place (or move) their cheering token on the board (and I’ll explain this in a minute)

The game is split into several legs, and a leg ends when five dice have been drawn from the pyramid and resolved. At this point all of the interim bets (the ones associated with betting slips) are scored and players receive points based on the current position of the camels they better on, and that may include losing coins if their camel is behind. Note that the overall winner and loser bet is not resolved at the end of a leg, except for the final one (which happens when a camel crosses the finish line.)

The idea of the game therefore is to try and manage both short and long term bets about where camels will finish the race. Aside from the obvious reading of the current camel locations modified by whether their dice is already out on the board (in which case that camel won’t move again this leg) there are a couple of other factors to consider. Firstly, those rogue camels can pick up a racing camel and carry it backwards, which pretty much works exactly in that way should the two creatures end up on the same space.

The players all have their own subtle way of affecting the race as well, via their cheering tokens, which have both a cheering and a booing side. These can be placed on any empty space that is at least one space away from another token, and should a camel land on one, that camel will move either back or forward one space. The intention of this is for players to attempt to cheer on their favourite camel, or to hold back a camel that might otherwise pip their favourite to the finish line. Thankfully, moving forwards or backwards one space is not enough to make the rest of the game feel like a waste of time, and there’s some chance as to whether a camel will land exactly on a token, or even go straight passed it.

Camel Up ties everything together nicely in a package that lasts about an hour. It plays very rapidly once you understand it, and the amazing components do enhance the gameplay somewhat thanks to the amount of polish they add to the game. It’s not just the quality plastic and the three-dimensional nature of the pyramid, palm trees and camels, it’s also the cards and tokens that have fantastic artwork and a real quality feel to them. The simple gameplay also goes a long way to appeasing players of a wide age and skill range, with both kids and adults seeming to enjoy the betting and influencing.

I don’t have a lot of betting games in my collection, and the last game I played that involved betting on a race in this way was Divinity Derby, which I also enjoyed. I’d say that Camel Up is a little more lightweight, but both are similar enough that I only need to keep one of them realistically. As it turns out, I think that’s going to be Camel Up, simply because it has that broader appeal, and such exceptional component quality (which isn’t to say Divinity Derby is bad, because it’s not.) Overproduced, it may be, but Camel Up isn’t overpriced, and given how much fun it is, it’s definitely worth consideration next time you’re looking for a fun, attractive gateway level game.

**** 4/5

Camel Up is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.


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