Camel Up The Card Game Review: The Delightful Chaos of the Original on a Smaller Scale

Stefan Bogen's delightful board game Camel Up always makes for a good time. Though it's in a smaller box, Bogen and Pretzel Games have recreated those central elements in Camel Up The Card Game. Players will still put their bets in and attempt to manipulate the race to turn those bets into big payouts, all while trying to move up the track as you stack under and over other Camels. The entertaining push and pull of the core gameplay loop don't suffer from the game's compact nature. While some of the personality flourishes are missing compared to the original, Camel Up The Card Game should charm just about anyone that decides to jump on in.

Instead of the original game's bigger board, Camel Up The Card Game lives up to its name and goes for cards only in the setup. You lay out a track's length of cards, with each one having two spaces on it and an alternate sandstorm side with only one space. The original's trademark stackable Camel game pieces are back, and the only other elements that may occupy the track are the Shortcut and Fennec markers. These can either send you back a space or move you forward one extra space, and all the other cards on the table are Betting Cards.

(Photo: ComicBook)

Between the Fennec and Shortcut Markers and the Betting Cards, there's a welcome amount of strategy to unearth, and that's without factoring in the Crazy Camel, which we'll get to shortly. Regarding the former, your goal in the game is to have the most coins by the end of the game, and you earn coins by placing bets throughout. On each of your turns, you can take a Betting Card and these reward (or cost you) coins depending on where the Camel places in the race. There are Betting Winner Cards, Betting Midfield Cards, Final Betting Overall Winner Cards, and Final Betting Overall Loser Cards. While the Midfield, Final Winner, and Final Loser cards are limited to one of each color, there are several Betting Winner Cards, allowing multiple people to bet on the same Camel with slightly different coin results.

So for instance, each turn you can take one of the Final Betting and Midfield Cards, which will be cashed out at the end of the round. You can also take Final Betting Overall Winner and Loser cards, though these aren't turned in until the end of the game, so you want to be careful on who you bet on, as those cards also cost you if that Camel color doesn't win or lose.

The betting is one aspect of the game, but the real fun lies in attempting to move your Camel up the track and sabotaging the others so your chosen Camel can win. For those not familiar with the original, the game comes with several Camel pieces that can be stacked on top of one another, and this can lead to massive swings in who leads the group from one turn to the next.

(Photo: ComicBook)

For example, let's say the Blue Camel wants to move, and they have a card that allows them to move 2. If they are on top of the stack or by themselves on a space, they can just move as normal. If thought the Blue Camel is underneath a Green Camel and above a Red Camel, the Blue Camel will move the Green Camel with it 2 spaces. It's also important to note that the person higher in the stack counts as the furthest in the face, so while three Camels might all occupy the same space, their stack order is what dictates whether they are 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. This allows for chaotic shakeups throughout the race, as with the turn of a few cards and some key moves from players you can quickly find yourself backing the losing Camel instead of the winning one.

Players can directly manipulate the race in several ways. You can reveal the top card of the racing deck and move the Camel the number of spaces it dictates, though you will also have a finite amount of cards in your hand to play per round. The twist is that other players can use those cards too simply by paying a coin to you, and then they can also place a shortcut to move a Camel forward or a Fennec to move a Camel backwards.

(Photo: ComicBook)

That's all without even considering the Crazy Camel, which is facing the opposite way on the track and continues to move backwards. My first game the Crazy Camel really didn't affect much, but that changed in the next game, as the Crazy Camel ended up taking two heavily bet-on winners back to fourth and fifth place in just two turns. This ever-changing formation is like a constantly moving puzzle, and you're betting on through instincts and belief in your ability to maneuver constantly throughout.

Most of the game's flaws are in the presentation. The biggest issue is in how the cards are differentiated from each other and represented in the manual. The changes between a Betting Winner, a Midfield, a Final Winner, and a Final Loser card aren't all that drastic, and due to the manual's smaller size, the image of the setup is pretty small, making these differences even more difficult to sort out. Some more drastic visual differences would've been welcome, but nothing that seriously hinders the game once you get used to them.

Camel Up The Card Game offers an experience that will be a hit at just about any game night, and the painless learning curve coupled with the surprisingly tactical yet chaos-inducing gameplay makes multiple replays a joy. It's not the deepest experience, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable one and worth a spin.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Published By: Pretzel Games and Asmodee

Designed By: Steffen Bogen

Art By: Chris Quilliams

Camel Up The Card Game is available in stores now.

Review copy provided by the publisher