Camel Up Review
Time: ~15 – 30 minutes
Times Played: 17+
Is it Camel Up or Camel Cup? That awkwardly large ‘C’ has caused more discussion in our gaming group than any other name of a game in my collection. I’m not even sure why we care that much but every time we bring it out, we have that conversation. Well, it’s Camel Up. This is my review and I can say what I want so it is Camel Up (also, Wikipedia corroborates my claim, so I feel a tad vindicated).
Anyways…Camel Up is a betting game that can be picked up and played with maybe five to ten minutes of instruction. It’s a quick game to learn and to grasp and perfect for larger groups. The first thing I tell people when playing this game is that they are not a camel. They do not have a player color that corresponds to a camel. So many other games have you be the green player or control the blue scoring token that it’s almost ingrained in our cerebral cortex to identify as a color.
Camel Up is fun. It plays fun. It looks fun. The components are fun. The art is fun. It just has a good vibe. Everything is colorful and well made. The board has no wasted space and everything you need to play fits perfectly on it. The camels are bright, vibrant colors and the only real negative is that someone suffering from color blindness might have issues distinguishing the blue and green camels from one another. The graphics on the cards are crisp and clean and easy to read.
The real kicker is the dice pyramid. To move the camels, a dice has to be rolled to generate their movement points. But with five camels, how could the camels be moved randomly and fairly? The answer is a custom made dice pyramid. With the design, the pyramid only allows one dice to fall from within each time you roll, thus keeping the random factor as non-partial as possible. The pyramid is easy to set-up and fits neatly in the box once its created, which is a huge plus. The pyramid is also sturdy. We have played this game tons and the pyramid has been touched by all kinds of people and it still looks new.
The goal of the game is to accumulate the most wealth through your actions and betting. The victory points/wealth are represented by cardboard coins and card money, if you’re really doing well. You can gain wealth by betting on a camel to finish first or second during a leg or by betting on a camel to finish first or last by the end of the race. You will also receive one coin for moving the camels.
So what is a leg? A leg of the race is once all five camels have moved via their own dice rolls.
Each turn, a player has one of five options:
Bet on a camel to finish first or second on this current leg. A player can take the cardboard betting slide to claim that they believe that color camel will finish first or second for this leg. The earlier you bet on a camel, the more reward there is for them finishing in first. The first person would get five coins, the second person three coins and the third person two coins. For second place, the payout is a flat one coin. If the camel you backed finishes in third place or lower, you owe one coin for your failed bet.
Bet on a camel to finish first at the end of the race. Using one of your player cards, you can bet on the camel that you think will cross the finish line first. The first player to correctly bet on that winning camel will get eight coins and the rewards trickle down for the next successful bet(s). If you are wrong however, you owe one coin for each incorrect bet you make.
Bet on a camel to finish last at the end of the race. Using one of your player cards, you can bet on the camel that you think will be the furthest from the finish line when the first camel crosses the finish line. The first player to correctly bet on that lonely camel will get eight coins and the rewards trickle down for the next successful bet(s). If you are wrong however, you owe one coin for each incorrect bet you make.
Place/Pick-up an oasis/mirage. You can place a double-sided token where one side is a lush oasis and the other is a harsh mirage. You cannot place this token on the first race spot (right beyond the checkered line), on a space currently occupied by a camel or next to another players token. Each time a camel lands on this space, the owner of the token is paid one coin. The oasis side allows a camel that lands on the space to move forward one additional spot and on top of any camel that is on that spot. The mirage side forces the camel that lands on it back one space and under any camels that are on that space.
Move the camels. Take a movement token so you remember to get your coin for moving the camels, shake the pyramid, pull the pulley and have one die fall out. Reveal and move the appropriate camel.
So what makes Camel Up different from just a regular race and betting game? Well, these camels are crazy and will literally climb on top of one another to jostle for positioning. If a camel ends its movement in the space of another camel(s), it will settle in on top of that stack.
As we can see above, the blue camel is in first place and the green camel is in fifth (or last) place, even though they share the same tile as the white (2nd), orange (3rd) and yellow (4th) camels. When green moves, all camels on top of them will move at the same time (basically, free movement for the camels above!).
And that’s Camel Up! You will do those actions until the first camel crosses the checkered finish line and then the player with the most money wins.
Does the game play differently depending on the player count? Yes it does. The lower the number of players, the more actions a player can do per leg. The higher the number of players, the camels could in theory all move before a player has gotten a chance to do anything. We have been fortunate enough to play this game at every player count and this is one of our go-to games for larger groups. It’s fun and random enough with the dice rolling that players aren’t necessarily competing against one another as they are competing with the pyramid.
This is a light game. But just because it’s light does not mean it doesn’t have some critical thinking happening with each action. For example, choosing to roll a die and move a camel gains you one coin but it also gives the next player vital information regarding how many dice are left in the pyramid and who is left to move. That could influence their betting or the placement of their oasis/mirage token depending on what bet(s) they have active.
So is Camel Up a winner worth placing a bet on?
For the money, the components and fun factor are top notch You get more than what you paid for. The cards and board are colorful, the tokens are thick cardboard and the camels are fun. The game is nice in the fact that everyone is in it until the end. Even a bad bet will not keep a player out of the game. It’s brilliant.
The play time for the game varies depending on the amount of people crowded around the table but I can say with complete certainty that a single game has never overstayed its welcome. Camel Up is simple and easy to learn and appeals to many groups due to its look and play style. There’s a nice internal battle of risk vs. reward with each players turn as well.
Real important is that this game entertains the masses. You can have eight people enthralled at little wooden camels climbing over one another and not many strictly board games offer that. Card games, sure. But games with a board? It’s rare for that player count.
With the higher numbers, you can suffer from where you are sitting and the game play is simple; so if you are looking for something heavier this is not the solution. You won’t be spending your time waiting for your turn analyzing the board as you prepare for your next action. It is not that kind of game. I do really like this game though and it will be a stalwart in our collection for years to come.
However, I want to be completely honest before I’m through here; we played this game a lot. When I say a lot, I mean a lot and I was beginning to get sick of it. I would still play it when suggested, but I would not be the one who suggested it. This was more of an overexposure issue than a game play issue. However, that led me to branching out and buying the expansion, Camel Up: Supercup, which you can read about here and we’ll see if that helped bring me back around to the Camel climbing side.