Note: This board game review is done by Spilled Spagehtti Janitor in our now defunct group blog Tuesdays with Bison.
The fate of King Arthur’s realm is in your hands… that’s sad. It’s no wonder the legendary Camelot fell into decline after the Battle of Camlann.
Avalon is a card game from Indie Boards & Cards, it’s fifth. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to mean anything. I’m casual, sorry. Anyway, I first encountered this game when a hardcore cousin brought this along in a family reunion. The ”Til The End of Dinner’ became a ‘Til Midnight’ thing.
Design and Artwork
Many characters in the Arthurian legend have been replaced with generic titles like “Loyal Servant of Arthur” and “Minion of Mordred.” Only special characters have actual names, like Merlin, Percival, Mordred, Morgana, Oberon, and the Assassin. That last one isn’t actually name, but okay.
The game pieces and the art that comes along with it are finely drawn. Very refined and all that. Even the ones who are supposed to be battle-wary and just came to picture day in a hurry look really hot. Each character give a good vibe if they’re a good guy or a bad guy.
The only real issue I have with the artwork is the Lady of the Lake. Seriously. She sticks out like a sore thumb against all the other portraits and games pieces. I don’t really know exactly what it is… but, the closest thing I can think of is how she looks more porn-y with her ‘Come Hither’ look and less ethereal you would expect from the character with a title like The Lady Of The Lake.
And oh, the back of the Success/Fail cards quite gives the aura of the 50 Shades Of Grey book cover. It must be the color, placement, etc. However, easy to disregard… if you can unsee, which I still have not.
Setting up is pretty simple, yet complicated at the same time. Mostly because of how many tokens and cards that move around.
So, you choose the board with the appropriate number of people in them. You can play with a minimum of five people to a maximum of ten. To prepare the character cards for play, the board also gives the information about how many Minions of Mordred there are in play. Naturally, difference would be the Loyal Servants of Arthur.
The person acting as GM has to choose the appropriate characters to play, which should include Merlin. It is really up to the GM which characters will play, but at an absolute minimum, Merlin has to be in play. When we play, even with the minimum five players, we throw in the Assassin into the Minions side just to add spice at the end of the game.
To start with, each player takes Voting Tokens with a moon or a black moon with the words “Accept” or “Reject”. This will remain with each players through the remainder of the game.
…actually, that’s it.
The game starts when the character cards are distributed among players. They have to keep their identities secret for the remainder of the game.
Whoever is acting as GM (who can also play) will ask everyone to close their eyes and hold out their hands in a fist and ask successive questions which needs to be answered honestly by each player. More like about their identities as Minions of Mordred, Merlin, and other characters with other special abilities. This has to be done with complete honesty or the gameplay would not be complete. This is not the time of the game wherein being a troll will not be appreciated.
Additional rules can be done, depending on which characters to play. More on optional characters later.
The game finally kicks off for realsies when the leader (it will be rotating), with the power vested unto him or her by the quest Leader token (the crown), will hand out party Team Tokens (shields). To be quite honest, some groups I’ve played this game with skip the use of the tokens. With so many games pieces in this game and the kind and frequency of movement, it just becomes an added, burdensome step when Leaders just go on rotation and just point out party members. It’s pretty easy to follow along anyway. However, it is a good idea to introduce these tokens on the first game just to get unfamiliar people with the game a feel for it.
This will then be Approve-d or Reject-ed by all the players, because, you know, Arthur’s court is less of a monarchy and more of democracy… of the ruling class. Anyway, majority wins and, if the nays have it, the Voting Tracker will be filled. Accumulating five failed votes in the Vote Track at the bottom of the board means the quest is a failure, a Fail Token will be placed on top of the quest.
If the ayes have it, they will be given Mission Success and Mission Fail cards to determine the output of the quest. As a Loyal Servant of Arthur, you have no choice, but to make the quest succeed. Let’s just say that being a goody-goody pansy for Arthur is such a boring thing. However, a Minion of Mordred has a choice to make the quest succeed or fail. Why would they want a quest to succeed? Because they do not want to be caught as a Minion of Mordred, especially so early on in the game because they might not be chosen for future quests. This is where the trolling can get juicy.
Anyway, Servants and Minions do not show their cards outright, they will have to be present to the GM facedown and they will have to be shuffled before revealing the fate of a quest. Even just one Fail vote means failure of the quest. Identities of the characters must be kept secret up until the end of the game.
Depending on the result of a quest, a successful quest means a blue Score Marker for the Forces of Arthur and failure means a red Score Marker for Mordred’s team on the Quest Tracker. The team that wins best out of five wins the game.
However, even if Loyal Servants wins, Minions still has one last shot to steal victory from them. How? By killing Merlin. Whoever has the Assassin Card has the opportunity to kill off Merlin by identifying him. If the assassin is successful, Minions of Mordred wins.
Many other cards can be put into play:
- Percival who knows who Merlin is. He can be a good aide for the Loyal Servants by always voting as Merlin does. This can really confuse the hell out of the Assassin.
- Morgana who can appear as Merlin, which can be good to confuse Percival. Honestly, there’s no point in adding Morgana in the play if Percival isn’t there since her purpose is to only confuse Percival
- Oberon, who is evil, yet unknown to evil can throw the game off. According to the rule book, he can be used for the Loyal Servants’ advantage.
- Mordred is can be a fun addition because he on the bad side, but unknown to Merlin.
There are additional rules like playing the Lady of the Lake card, but this is only ideal when there are nine or ten players, I guess to add in more activity for Loyal Servants.
There is also the option to play Plot Cards from another game called The Resistance, but I can’t say anything on that because I (nor anyone in the group) have played it before.
I really did find Avalon to be a lot of fun… if you’re playing a baddie. Being a Loyal Servant of Arthur is like having a desk job in a mid-sized company: absolutely boring. All you can do is make sure quests are successful and reject parties when they suspect when a bad guy may be coming into play. Being a Minion of Mordred is really fun because you’re more active as a player. You become involved in the deception while trying to get away with it at the same time.
The good news is that one game is not very long, about thirty minutes. If you’re up for another round – and most likely, you will be – you can play as a different character all together.
With characters being placed into play and player personalities considered, the replayability value of the game is really high. However, all the things one has to remember during set-up and identity reveal phase can really be confusing and hard to manage, especially if you will put in a lot of special characters in. It does get better though, because everything will be smooth sailing afterwards.
I find that this is a game that even the most casual of gamers can play. When I first played it with cousin who is a hardcore TG player and all we had to play with were the extremely casual ones, everyone still had a great time and played to win.