Grandfather Game: CAMELOT

camelot 6Originally Published: 1930
Credited Designer:
 George S. Parker
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Players: 2
Playing Time: variable, like chess, but generally about 20 minutes
Complexity: light/fun
Random Interference: negligible to none
BGG Page: Camelot
Wikipedia Article: Camelot (Board Game)

This is the first in what I hope will be a periodic series of feature articles on
“grandfather” or pre-modern tabletop games.

Short Version:
It’s a hybrid between chess and checkers.

Play Summary:
camelot 5
Each player takes control of either the “black” or “white” army, and players alternate turns moving one of their pieces of choice, as in chess.  There are two types of pieces: “men” and “knights.”  Movement options are extremely simple and are essentially a hybridization of a chess king (one square in any direction) and a Halma (a.k.a. “Chinese Checkers”) marble (jumping over friendly or opposing pieces).  In this case, unlike Halma, enemy pieces are captured when jumped.  The “knight” is slightly stronger than the “man,” being able to combine move options.  The winner is either the player whose army is not annihilated, or the first player to maneuver two of his pieces into the opponent’s two goal squares at the far end of the board.  The game is abstract and tactical, but it is simultaneously more dynamic than checkers while not so involved as chess.

Game History ( from the Wikipedia page):
In 1882, George S. Parker began working on an abstract board game called Chivalry. His goal was to create a game not so difficult as chess, but considerably more varied than checkers. Parker created a game that was a complex, tactical, but an easily learned and quickly played mixture of Halma and checkers. When finally published by Geo. S. Parker & Co. in 1887, Chivalry won the raves of chess and checkers experts, but the game Parker called “the best game in 2000 years” did not catch on quickly with the general public.

However, Parker never lost his enthusiasm for the game, and in 1930 he made a few changes, and Parker Brothers republished it under the name Camelot. A few more rules changes followed in 1931. Camelot enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1930s.

There were over 50 different editions of Camelot sets issued, including a gold-stamped leather edition and a mahogany cabinet edition. There were tournament editions, regular editions, and low-cost editions. Camelot was eventually discontinued in 1968, then reissued as Inside Moves in 1985, and finally discontinued again in 1986.  Parker Brothers marketed several game variants. Grand Camelot, a variant for four players on a special large board, was released in 1932. Cam, a variant played on a miniature board, came out in 1949. There was also a Point Camelot variant, three-handed and four-handed variants, and even a variant called Camelotta. None of these variants ever achieved the popularity of the basic game.

Where I Come In:
camelot 1I’m pretty sure the version I own (pictured throughout this article) is an actual copy from the 1930s.  It belonged to my grandfather, and made its way through my father’s closet and now into mine.  You can see that the condition of the components, and especially the box, is in pretty bad shape, and there’s some sort of nuclear-grade, industrial-strength tape holding the box together—and covering 40% of the cover art.

camelot bookMeanwhile, the rulebook is terribly aged and very delicate, but still I get a kick out of the old-style formatting: so needlessly wordy.  What’s also very cool is that the book comes with several diagrams on play positions, including puzzles for the reader to work on for practice, in the same vein as chess puzzlers.

My dad blew the dust off this thing and first taught me to play when I was kid—round about the same time he would have taught me chess and a number of other games.  This one is much more accessible than chess, as there are only two different types of pieces, and the moves are all very simple.  Although the game doesn’t get to the table very often, it does come out once in a while as a filler or an end-cap after a long spell of thinky-strategy games, and when there’s only one opponent who hasn’t gone home yet.

By Today’s Standards:
I think Camelot still holds up by today’s standards—at least among those gamers who enjoy a more abstract game.  It certainly belongs in the same family as chess, checkers, Go, Xiangqi, and so on.  If I were to be critical of one thing, it would be that the board seems too big to me.  Many times, a game of Camelot looks like a football play (American football): it starts out with a sudden and big crush right in the center, but once one or two pieces get free of the tangle, they can make a break for the goal line and are too often unstoppable.  Then you end up with ten or twenty moves where the winner is clear and there is no way to stop them; thus the other player might as well resign the game so as to save time.  I think if the game were to be tweaked or revised in any way, then possibly (a) the boundaries would be made tighter, forcing the pieces to interact with each other more consistently for the duration, and/or (b) the pieces would be given some sort of extended range in certain circumstances to attempt to stop any rushers. 

camelot 2I’d really like to see this game re-issued by Hasbro or by whatever conglomerate entity owns the rights.  I’ve no doubt there’s a strong cult following to this day for Camelot.  However, the good news is, until it is re-released (if ever), it’s an extremely simple game to manufacture on your own and to whatever luxury level you like.  The pieces are all simple pawns or tokens, and the board could be easily drawn on poster board for the most simple version.  Meanwhile, those who are so inclined and talented enough could make a real nice etched-glass or stained wood version or something along those lines, either shaping their own “chessmen” or appropriating them from other collections.  It could translate nicely to an app platform as well.  That’s something that I’d definitely download.

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I hope this first entry in the “Grandfather Game” series has been interesting to you.  Have you ever played Camelot or any of its variants?  Are there any other “Grandfather Games” you know about that you’d like me to highlight in future articles?  You are invited to post any comments or questions below.

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