Summer is here and camp is calling! Players are in pursuit of merit badges to show off their expertise in 3 different camp activities. Pack a bag and bring the bug spray because we’re off to Summer Camp.
Summer Camp is a deck-building game from designer Phil Walker-Harding (Sushi Go, Gizmos, Silver & Gold) and published by Buffalo Games. 2 to 4 players control 3 campers as they earn merit badges that are worth victory points. Players begin the game with identical decks of 10 cards. This deck contains 7 “lights out” cards and 1 basic movement card for each of the 3 camp activities.
Every game is set up by choosing 3 camp activities from 7 available modules. The modules have themes like “Arts & Crafts”, “Friendship”, “Water Sports”, “Games” and more. Each activity has unique artwork along with 4 merit badges with values of 12, 10, 8 and 6 victory points. 4 unique card mechanics are introduced with each activity that sets it apart from one another. This offers variety without forcing players to relearn the game each time a new activity is chosen.
On a players turn, cards can be played as “energy” to purchase new cards for your deck. Cards will range from 2 to 8 energy and are really well balanced. Players can supplement the purchase of a new card with snack bar tokens which are really helpful throughout the game.
Cards that have a movement value allow players to move a camper meeple on camp activity rows. Each of these rows contain bonuses that trigger when a camper hits a marked space. Utilizing these bonuses are important when setting up a big turn.
Players have to strike a balance in the cards they add to their deck. Collecting a lot of movement in one activity type allows you to race to the end and earn a merit badge quickly. BUT, these cards will remain in your deck and are really only useful as energy moving forward.
Summer Camp comes to an end after a player has earned each of the 3 camp activity badges.
Camp for All Ages
Summer Camp is an entry level deck-builder. This game feels like it was created for parents and kids to enjoy together. While the box says 10+, I believe kids as young as 7 or 8 years old can totally grasp this game. Just because the game is a lighter weight game doesn’t mean it’s lacking.
One of our favorite deck-building games has to be Reiner Knizia’s Quest for El Dorado. Summer Camp feels closely aligned to this game for a lot of reasons. Players are racing toward a goal, the most efficient decks prosper and the game is very easy to teach. It’s so easy to recommend Summer Camp as a game to play with younger gamers or at a casual game night with friends.
The camp theme comes through in every aspect of the game. The art style is playful and fun while the player boards, merit badges and game boards are a great quality. You’ll always have access to 2 cards in each activity row along with S’mores, Scavenger Hunt and Free Time cards which are basic cards.
Seasoned gamers are going to notice a deck-building staple that is absent from Summer Camp. There’s no way to cull or permanently remove cards from your deck. Not having this ability means that players have to live with the decisions they make during the game. When a card ceases to be useful, it just ends up clogging up your deck.
Some activity decks allow players to discard from their hand and draw new cards. Crafting your deck becomes more strategic when there’s no major way to correct your mistakes.
Pack Your Bags
Two big strengths of Summer Camp are its replayability and how it handles the different player counts. The modular board is randomly laid out at the start of the game. No two game boards will be the same because the bonuses will fall on different paths in different orders. With 7 different activity boxes in the game, mixing and matching is a lot of fun.
Whether you play a 2, 3 or 4 player game, Summer Camp scales really well. Based on player count, there is a different starting location and specific merit badge values are eliminated at lower players counts.
It’s easy to recommend Summer Camp to people who game with kids. Our kids have a couple games under their belt and have really enjoyed their time with the game. For gamers looking for a casual deck-builder with a great theme, this might be an excellent addition to your game shelf.