Camel Up

Yet another game betting on camel races

Camel Up review by S vs J Board Games

3-8 players
30 minutes

Eggert Spiele

If there’s one thing we know about the world of board gaming, it’s that there are too many camel racing games, especially those that involves stacking those humped creatures on top of each other to catch a lift around the racecourse using a giant pyramid as a dice tower.

Ok so we might not have all that many camel racing games, but even if there were dozens of them, Camel Up would still be the best one. It has leapt its way into our precious Hall of Fame, read on to see why.

How the game works

So Camel Up is more of a betting game than a racing game, since players don’t race the camels, they bet on them.

The aim of the game is to earn the most money through betting on the outcome of various stages of this crazy race!

The game consists of several “legs” where players take it in turns taking actions, some of which will propel the camels forwards, others will involve players placing bets on which camel wins the leg, or the whole race!

On a player’s turn, they can do one of four things:

  1. Roll a racing dice – there is a fantastic pyramid in the centre of the racetrack which, at the push of a button, releases a coloured dice from its base. You then move that camel that many spaces. If two camels occupy the same space, they stack on top of each other, and a camel will carry all the camels on top of it! This can lead to some pretty crazy situations and you get one coin as a reward.
  2. Place a bet on the winner of the leg. The current leg ends once 5 out of the 6 dice have been rolled, so you are trying to guess who is going to be in the lead at the end of it (the camel at the top of a stack is considered in front of those beneath). If you think the blue camel will win the leg, you can take the top betting token from the blue stack. The earlier on in the round you place the bet, the more coins you’ll get for being correct, but you’ll lose a coin if the camel finishes the leg in 3rd or lower.
  3. Place a bet on the overall winner/loser of the race. Each player has a hand of 5 cards – one for each of the camels in the race – and on your turn you can place one face down into either the winner’s enclosure or the loser’s enclosure. At the end of the race if you’re correct you’ll earn coins and if you’re incorrect you’ll lose coins. The first player to correctly guess the winner/loser gets a huge payout and again the later you are to bet, the smaller the reward. Jess has an annoying knack of being the first to guess the winner and the first to guess the loser, bagging herself 16 coins in the process.
  4. Place or move your spectator tile. These really mess up the race! You can place your spectator tile on an empty track space on either the +1 or -1 side. Any camel or group of camels landing on it will either go 1 extra space forward, or go back 1 space, earning you a coin in the process. Well placed tiles can completely alter the course of the race as the stacks of camels can completely flip or get that extra boost along the track.

The only added complication is the two crazy camels (black and white) which travel backwards along the racetrack. The 6th dice controls these two camels and can end up picking up the racing camels and taking them back towards the start! One bit of bad luck can see the race leader become the race loser in a matter of one dice roll!

The game ends as soon as at least one camel crosses the finish line, where that leg is scored and the overall race winner/loser bets are evaluated.

The betting tokens. The first player to take one gets 5 if the purple camel wins the leg, the second person gets 3 and so on. Each betting token earns the player 1 coin if the camel finishes the leg in 2nd place, but loses them a coin for 3rd-5th. Otherwise they’re free to take.

Review

Camel Up is an epic game. It is the absolute epitome of what a family game should be; amazing fun, ludicrously chaotic, super easy to learn and great to look at. The sheer madness of the stacking camels means that so much hinges on every single dice roll. You never know which dice will drop out of the pyramid so the possibilities of which camel will end up on top are nigh on impossible to calculate, but betting on the outcome and then hoping that specific combination of dice comes your way is so much fun.

The tension at the end of the leg as yellow takes the win by landing on top of the stack from last place!

One time I made an outrageous bet that the blue camel – which was dragging itself along in last place, 3 spaces behind green, which was itself 2 spaces behind the other three camels – would win the leg. First dice comes out of the pyramid and its blue and it’s a 3! Still nobody else is prepared to bet on blue so on my next turn I bet again! Next dice comes out and it’s green and it’s a 2! So now all five camels are stacked on top of one another with blue on top (and therefore in the lead). Suddenly there’s a rush to bet on blue but they’re too late and by the end of the round I get 10 coins and Jess only gets 2, much to everyone else’s annoyance 🙂

Such is the chaos of Camel Up, there’s not much in the way of strategy. Sure, you can try and bet on the overall winner and loser early on in the hope of snatching the maximum 8 coins, or make sure you always get your spectator tile down early in the round, but mostly it’s educated guesses and occasionally some amazing luck.

It’s so much fun that I genuinely don’t care if I win or lose. Obviously I want to win, but I enjoy the ridiculous toing and froing of which camel is favourite to win, and crazy bets being pulled off that I could play it over and over again and lose every time and still not really care.

Near the race end. Who are you betting on to win the race? Blue is in front but is sat on the black camel going backwards while red sits at the back but at least can’t go backwards, while the other three racing camels are sat on the white camel going backwards! It all hinges on what order the dice come out…

As for the looks, this is a really eye-catching game. The dice tower/dropper, a giant pyramid that sits in the middle of the race track, really adds to the experience and something I imagine kids really enjoying (our baby girl is only 7 weeks old so hasn’t yet grasped dice games), and the pop-up palm trees add to the nicely illustrated board to create an immersive desert theme. Finally the camels themselves are very tactile and well made, I was worried having played the original (that has lovely wooden camels) that this new plastic version wouldn’t feel as authentic but they’re just as good.

The game is very easy to learn – I think you could probably read my explanation above and be able to get stuck in straight away – it really is that simple. It can take a bit of getting used to what a sensible bet is versus what an impossible bet is so if playing with kids just keep an eye on them betting on camels that literally cannot win the round (e.g. if their dice is out already and they’re behind the pack), but they’ll soon be outsmarting you!

Player count can be a major consideration for people and Camel Up is 3-8 players. Lots of 3-8 player games will be rubbish for 3 or rubbish for 8 but this works really well at both ends of the spectrum.

I really cannot recommend this game enough, Jess always jokes that it’s my favourite game and that I’m always wanting to play it and although it isn’t my favourite game ever (Spirit Island, Brass Birmingham, Pandemic Legacy), it’s my favourite family game ever. For that reason it takes a precious spot in our Hall of Fame. If you only enjoy really deep thinky strategy games then maybe give this a swerve, but for all other types of gamer, put your money on this!

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Get this game
https://www.board-game.co.uk/product/camel-up-2nd-edition/
Check this game out on Board Game Geek
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/153938/camel

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