Any regular readers of Geeky Hobbies will know that I am a big fan of the board game designer Phil Walker-Harding. He is easily one of my favorite designers, if not my favorite. I have played quite a few of his games, and I can’t recall a single one that I didn’t enjoy. I think the thing that I like the most about his games, is the fact that most of them are focused on finding the right balance between accessibility and strategy. A board game does not need to be complicated in order to be enjoyable. In fact the best games are those that are as simple as possible, while still retaining the strategy that the game is built around. When I see a new Phil Walker-Harding game I am always interested in checking it out. Released last year, Summer Camp is one of Phil Walker-Harding’s latest games.
The idea of creating a board game around summer camps is an interesting idea. I have played a lot of different board games, and yet I can’t recall playing another game that utilized the camp theme. Lots of people have fond memories from their summer camp experiences. I can’t say that I do, as I have only been to one summer camp in my entire life which was a long time ago. In spite of this, I still found the premise interesting as it is a good idea to build a game around. Summer Camp may be a little too simplistic for some players, but it is a great introduction to the deck building genre that families and adults can really enjoy.
If I were to describe the gameplay of Summer Camp, I would say that it feels like Phil Walker-Harding’s introductory deckbuilding game. For those of you not familiar with the genre, the premise is pretty simple. At the beginning of the game all of the players are given their own basic deck of cards. This is created from a set of base cards as well as cards from the three activities you decide to use for the game. These cards don’t do much, and are mostly just a framework for your deck.
Each card in the game has a special ability that has an impact on the gameplay. You can otherwise use cards as currency to acquire new cards for your deck. These cards are typically more powerful, giving you better ways of impacting the game in your favor. As you progress in the game you start to improve your deck of cards which impacts what you can do for the rest of the game. The deck you end up creating can have a big impact on how well you do.
The ultimate goal of Summer Camp is to create the best overall experience for your camper. The player who earns the most experience points ultimately wins the game. The cards you acquire in the game can earn you experience points. You will earn most of your experience points through how you use your cards though. The effects of the cards can vary from letting you draw more cards, earning energy to buy new cards, and a number of other abilities. Ultimately the most important action is to move your camper forward on the three paths corresponding to the three activities you chose to use. You will earn experience points for reaching certain points on the tracks. The earlier you reach these areas the more points you end up scoring. The player that ultimately scores the most points by the end of the game will win.
If you would like to see the complete rules/instructions for the game, check out our Summer Camp how to play guide.
Heading into Summer Camp, I naturally had pretty high expectations for the game. This mostly was due to the fact that the game was designed by Phil Walker-Harding. As I have really enjoyed pretty much every game that I have played that he has designed, I hoped the same would hold true for Summer Camp as well. While Summer Camp isn’t quite my favorite Phil Walker-Harding game, it met my expectations for the most part as it is a great game.
I think one of the main reasons that I like his games so much is that they do a great job finding the right balance between accessibility and strategy. Some gamers love really complicated games filled to the brim with strategy. While these games can be fun, I personally prefer a game that is more balanced. I can’t say that I am a huge fan of games that take an hour plus to learn, and several games before you even have an idea of what you are supposed to do. Personally I would rather play a game that is rather intuitive in what you have to do, and still packs a lot of strategy. I think Summer Camp fits this definition rather well.
The fact that I have played other deck building games may be slightly altering my perspective. I think Summer Camp is pretty easy to learn and play though. I will admit that it likely will take a little longer to explain to players not familiar with deck builders than a more traditional board game. That said I think the game is a great introductory game to the genre. The premise is simple and the number of actions that you can perform on any turn are rather easy to understand. I could see it taking a couple of turns for someone not familiar with the genre to get a good understanding of what they are trying to do. After that point though, I think most players will understand the game pretty well. The game has a recommended age of 10+ which seems about right. I could see the game being a great family game and for groups consisting of people that don’t tend to play a lot of board games.
While the game is pretty easy to play, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have enough strategy. Summer Camp doesn’t have as much strategy as more complicated deck building games. This may turn off some people. I think it has plenty of strategy for the type of game that it is trying to be though. Summer Camp’s strategy mostly comes down to what cards you end up purchasing. The deck you end up creating plays a big role in how well you will ultimately do. There are quite a few different things that you need to consider when constructing your deck.
Much of the game comes down to deciding between moving your campers forward on their paths, or acquiring energy to make your deck stronger. The balance you create between these two factors will determine how successful you ultimately are. You need to acquire cards that give you more energy. If you don’t, you won’t be able to purchase more valuable cards. This will come back to haunt you later in the game. You could get out to a good lead early in the game. Then another player could speed right past you if they acquire more powerful cards.
At the same time you can’t focus entirely on building your deck. You need to move your pawns forward as well. You don’t want to be left behind as a majority of your points are earned from acquiring badges. If you wait too long to move, you are going to miss out on a lot of points. This will put you pretty far behind the other players making it hard to catch up. In particular you need to try and finish at least one or two of the paths before the game ends, or you really have no chance of catching up.
You need to balance the need for energy with moving your pawns forward. The cards you choose to purchase will determine which you end up emphasizing more. Most of the cards will provide you some sort of benefit. You just need to find a combination of cards that will work well together. This all needs to be balanced with the fact that each card you add to the deck, means more cards you will have to draw before you can shuffle your deck again. Sometimes it is best to pass on a card as later in the game it could just get in the way. You might be better off creating a smaller deck so you go through it much quicker. All of these things you need to consider before purchasing cards to add to your deck. There is strategy/skill to creating a deck that balances all of these factors well.
Ultimately I think most games will typically go as follows. In the early game you usually are better off trying to acquire cards that will ultimately help you throughout the game. These will likely involve cards that give you additional energy, let you draw more cards on your turn, or take some other actions that you can utilize multiple times throughout the game. These cards will then be used to help you acquire more powerful cards, which will give you some sort of useful movement.
As you approach the later parts of the game, acquiring cards is not nearly as important. At this point you want to get moving as quickly as possible. If you built a strong deck, you can really start moving quickly as you will have cards that can move you two or three spots at a time. A player that falls behind early, can catch up really quickly. I see lots of games ending very close. One of our games ended with one player only winning by one point.
I generally had a lot of fun playing Summer Camp. I don’t know if I would call it my favorite deck building game, but it is great at what it is trying to do. The game is meant as more of a introductory game to the genre, and that is what it does best. Summer Camp finds a really good balance between accessibility and strategy. The game doesn’t overload you with decisions or rules that you have to remember. Yet it still gives players enough important decisions where it feels like your choices really matter. If this is the type of game that you are looking for, I think you will really enjoy Summer Camp.
Another thing that I loved about the game is the fact that each game will likely play a little different. The game has a total of seven different decks and you will choose three for each game. While these decks have some similar cards, each have their own unique feel as well. Mixing and matching these different activities will make each game feel a little different. There will be decks that you likely will prefer over others. I like the flexibility that this adds to the game though. It really plays off the fact that you are competing for badges in different activities.
While I really enjoyed Summer Camp, I know the game won’t be for everyone. The deck building genre has been around for a while, and most gamers probably already own a similar game. There are considerably more complicated and deeper deck building games out there. While Summer Camp has quite a bit of strategy, it isn’t going to compare to these other games. If that is what you are looking for, I don’t see Summer Camp being for you.
In some ways I wish Summer Camp had a little more strategy. For your first game the game does recommend specific activities that you should use. These decks use more basic cards with abilities that are simpler to understand. It makes sense that the game recommends to start with these decks. After your first game though, I wouldn’t recommend using all three of these deck together again. The other decks in the game are more interesting as the cards give you more options when constructing your deck. I could see using one or two of these decks in a game. To get the most out of the game, you need to mix in some of the more interesting activities.
With Summer Camp being a little simpler than other deck builders, it also means that the game relies on a little more luck. I don’t think luck plays a big enough role where it will make the difference between a good and bad strategy. It could make the difference between two players that otherwise played a similar game. What cards you have available to purchase on your turn can make a difference in the game. Each card has its own purpose, but some cards seem to be better than others. There are some cards that no one seems to want to purchase. At times the available to purchase cards seem to get clogged up with these cards.
The cards you end up drawing can have an effect as well. You obviously want to draw your most powerful cards as often as possible. This will allow you to take advantage of them more. The distribution of cards you get on a turn can make a difference as well. Some cards work better together than others. You could end up not being able to do much on some turns due to the cards that you draw.
The only other issue I have with Summer Camp is the fact that I wish it was a little longer. The length itself it not bad as I would guess that most games will take around 30-45 minutes. What I mean is that it feels like the game ends earlier than it should. By the time your deck really starts to shape up, the game has basically already ended. You ultimately don’t create particularly large decks in the game. In a way I kind of wish you could play with more than three activities at a time. I think that would add to the game while only making it a little longer.
As for the game’s components and theme I generally think the game does a good job. The summer camp theme was not a big selling point for me. I think the game uses it pretty well though. I don’t think the theme has much of an impact on the actual gameplay, but it was adapted pretty well to fit the gameplay. The game’s artwork is quite good, and it kind of feels like you are at summer camp. Generally I was pretty impressed with the game’s component quality. The cards are a little thin. You get quite a bit for a game that normally retails for $25. I hope more games like Summer Camp start making it into big box retail stores. This is because you get a lot more from the game that you would typically expect based on its price.
While Summer Camp is not my favorite Phil Walker-Harding game, it is still a great game. It feels like a introductory game to the deck building genre, as you try to build your own deck to help you acquire activity badges. The game is surprisingly accessible for the genre. This makes it a great game for families and those not familiar with the genre. There is still quite a bit of strategy to the game. How you construct your deck will have a pretty big impact on how well you ultimately do in the game. The game gives you meaningful decisions which leads to a fun and satisfying game. It likely won’t be for everyone though. I would say that it is a little simplistic compared to some deck builders. This might not appeal to some people. There is some reliance on luck as well.
My recommendation ultimately comes down to your thoughts on the premise and a more introductory deck building game. If you don’t care for the theme or want a more complex deck builder, the game may not be for you. If you generally like simpler games that still have quite a bit of strategy though, I think you will enjoy Summer Camp and should consider picking it up.
Year: 2021 | Publisher: Buffalo Games | Designer: Phil Walker-Harding | Artist: Adam Grason
Genres: Deck Building, Family
Ages: 10+ | Number of Players: 2-4 | Length of Game: 30-45 minutes
Difficulty: Light-Moderate | Strategy: Light-Moderate | Luck: Light-Moderate
Components: 7 Activity Packs (28 cards and 4 badges), 64 Base Cards, 6 Merit Badges, 1 Lake Game Board, 9 Path Boards, 24 Snack Bar Tokens, 1 Starting Camper Patch, 4 Player Boards, 12 Pawns (3 of each color), instructions
- A great introductory game to deck building games for families.
- Does a good job balancing between accessibility and strategy.
- May feel a little too simplistic for some players.
- Does rely on some luck at times.
Recommendation: For those looking for a simpler more introductory deck building game that still has quite a bit of strategy.