is an expansion for Days of Wonder's cooperative Arthurian game, Shadows over Camelot
Playing Time: 1-2 hours
Merlin's Company comes with a relatively small set of new components. These include:
Sir Bedivere: Sir Bedivere is the famous eighth knight, who was given away as a freebie following Shadows' release. This set includes everything you need to play him, which includes his figure, his die, and his coat of arms. The coat of arms and die weren't previously available in a professionally produced form, so this is a nice add, even if you already have Bedivere.
Seven New Knights: These new knights--Sir Gaheris, Sir Bors, Sir Gareth, Sir Owain, Sir Caradoc, Sir Geraint, and Sir Lamorak--each have their own coat of arms, but are each intended to be used with one of the existing figures, and thus don't come with their own miniature or die. As usual, the coats are good-looking info sheets printed on glossy cardstock.
Merlin: Merlin is a new plastic figure who will be placed on the board. There's also a reminder card showing what he does.
New Cards: Including the Merlin card, there are 64 new cards in this set. This includes 14 new black cards, 23 new white cards, a new 16-card travel deck, and a new deck of 9 loyalty cards which includes an extra traitor. These are all printed on high-quality cardstock, as with previous cards in the game.
Generally, Merlin's Company has beautiful, well-produced components, as with the original Shadows over Camelot game. However, the quantity of contents feels a little scant for the price tag. I've thus given it a more average "3" out of "5" for Style.
Merlin's Company introduces a variety of small changes to the game, each of which are discussed below.
New Rules: There are a number of tweaks to existing rules. For example Arthur is now always in the game, while when black cards are turned up for completed quests they're now discarded--after you add a siege engine for pulling them. These minor quirks don't change the game much, and are presumably added for balance.
New Traitors: Now when you play with 7 or 8 players you add a second traitor to the loyalty deck, which means that there can be up to two traitors in the game. Shadows over Camelot always got easier the more players you added to the game, so this seems like a balance for that.
Note that this is also the first opportunity to play the game with 8 players rather than 7.
New Knights: The seven new knights (or eight if you count Bedivere) have a variety of special powers. Some seemed quite good, such as Sir Owain's ability to play cards in a siege engine fight after the die was rolled, while others were never used, such as Sir Gaheris' ability to turn in three white cards for a Merlin in the discard pile.
New Cards: The only particularly amazing card among the new white cards is the "wild card" Fight, which can be used as any number. Beyond that there are various special white cards that give you advantages and some additional standard cards (to keep the card ratio right). Similarly the new black cards include some more standards and seven new "witch" cards, which cause a variety of problems for the players.
The Travel Deck: The travel deck feels like it has the biggest impact on the game of all the new stuff. Now, whenever a player moves he must draw from the deck. It might have no effect, it might cause the player to face a challenge before he can continue on, or it might cause Merlin to accompany the knight.
Practically, the travel deck causes turns to be lost and even black swords to be added to the table at the most inopportune times.
Merlin. Merlin can join a player on a quest due to a travel card. There's also a new special white card which can move him to a quest of your choice. When you're on a quest with Merlin you get to draw a white card as a free action. Alternatively, if Merlin's sitting on a quest which has been completed, when that quest's black cards are drawn, no siege engine is placed.
Other than these new elements, Shadows over Camelot plays the same as it always did.
Relationships to Other Games
Merlin's Company is the first major supplement for Shadows over Camelot.
The Game Design
I have to lead off by admitting that I was a little disappointed by Merlin's Company. There's really nothing here that feels like it's a pivotal change to the Shadows over Camelot game. Instead, over the two games that I played with Merlin's Company, I barely noticed that we were playing with a supplement--other than the need to deal with travel problems.
Nonetheless, the additions were all positive.
Generally, the biggest addition that Merlin's Company offers to Shadows over Camelot is variety. If the game's gotten a bit stale for you over numerous plays, the new knights and (to a lesser extent) the new cards should all help. As I said, it's nothing big, but experienced players will probably enjoy the nuances.
Beyond that, Merlin's Company feels like it makes the game a little harder for knights. This is clearly true for 7 player games, where you might now have to deal with an extra traitor. In addition, the travel deck seems to add considerably to the difficulty of the game (though that's at least partially offset by the possibility of using Merlin's power to your advantage). Since most experienced players have found Shadows over Camelot increasingly easy to play through additional plays, I'd say this is a good thing.
Finally, Merlin's Company adds the possibility for an eighth player, which is a great boon for a social game that could already support so many people.
Putting all that together, I'd rate Merlin's Company a "3" out of "5" for Substance. Though I didn't find it that exciting, I'm nonetheless entirely happy to include it in any game I play.
Merlin's Company offers some pretty minor additions to Shadows over Camelot, including new knights, new cards, and some rules variants. Though none of these additions are particularly stand out, they nonetheless add some nice variety and difficulty to the game, and thus the supplement should be on the buy list of anyone who plays Shadows over Camelot with any regularity.