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October 3, 2015 / Jett

Camel Up for iOS Review

Camel Up is an award-winning board game from Steffen Bogen and Z-Man Games. Though my hype for the physical game has cooled with time, I still think that it’s a novel and entertaining title with the right people at the table. This time, it makes the digital jump on iOS platforms. Well, to be more precise, it crawls to the iOS in a sad and sorry state.

Before we get into the failings of this transition, let’s talk about the game itself. In Camel Up, players bet on a set of camels racing around a track. Before the first camel crosses the finish line, players can bet on many aspects of the race, from who will finish each leg in first place, down to placing bets on what spaces the camels might land on.

There are a few things that make betting tricky. For one, characters are moved one-at-a-time through a dice roll. Though each camel can only move once per leg, the dice come out in a random order and the die that comes out may move the camel one to three spaces forward. Furthermore, the game features a unique stacking mechanism where camels sharing the same space stack on top of each other, with the top camel being listed as being ahead. Most interesting of all is the fact that if a lower camel moves, it carries all of the other camels with it.

With all of these movement dynamics in play, it can be tricky at first to assess any given situation and put money down on a potential outcome. However, once you understand the intricacies of camel movement, it becomes a bit easier to make more informed decisions. Things become especially predictable towards the end of each leg when only one camel is left to move. While this would be an ideal time to bet, all of the good bets will have probably been made many moves ago. Finding the right time to place the right is the key to success and the driving force behind the game’s fun factor.

All of the reasons I like the physical board game hold true on iOS. The mechanics around camel moving and betting are extremely clever, making for an experience that’s fast and exciting from end-to-end. However, good physical board games don’t always make for good iOS games, which unfortunately holds true here.

On your phone or tablet, you’re basically getting the board game and not much else. You can locally play with up to 8 players or you can fill up any number of empty slots with the AI. However, there are no difficulty or behaviour settings to customize the experience. Want to play online? Tough luck, that’s not here either.

In some ways, the experience is considerably worse than its physical counterpart. Aside from the general aesthetic, I think the core screen with the parallax board looks horrid. Artistically, it’s laid out like a video game port of a board game from the 90s. If you want to listen to your music while you play, too bad. The game’s silence and generic sound effects override anything else you were listening to. If you want to change the stupidly small text on your iPhone, you can’t do that either, as the game is completely devoid of settings. Heck, the game doesn’t even come with an interactive tutorial. Instead, you get a super-short page of rules to read that isn’t accessible once you start the game.

Unless you’re a diehard fan of the Camel Up board game, don’t buy this on iOS. Yes, you get a port of a great board game, but its digital underpinnings are sorely lacking. From a nonexistent feature set, to a lackluster manual to teach new players, to a poor main screen that is hard to read and completely devoid of the board game’s charm, this is one of the worst digital ports I’ve experienced yet. Play the physical version instead for a much better experience.

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