A to Z Gaming: Little Circuses

We entertained guests with our traveling big top acts in Little Circuses, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Little Circuses
Players: 1-7
Time: 30-45 Minutes
Designers: Kevin Wilson
Artists: Hector Amavizca, Baldi Konijn
Publisher: IDW Games

Little Circuses is a tile placement and action selection game where players each build their own circus by adding acts and delighting customers. The game is played in a number of rounds where players build, put on performances, draft special acts, and reset. After visiting four different towns, players reach Endsville, where they evaluate a few game-end goals, and the player whose circus gained the most fame wins.

The game is set up with the game board in the middle of the table and the ringmaster token placed on the first space. The player markers are placed randomly on the turn-order track, and the first player’s fame marker is placed at “0” with the other players getting additional points as outlined in the rules. The starting tiles are shuffled and placed in a pile nearby, and the advanced tiles are set aside for later. In addition, piles of money, audience members, and “closed” tokens are placed within players’ reach.

Players each receive a starting board, a bleacher board, a spotlight token, $5, and five starting tiles in their hand. They place one audience member on the first spot (numbered “2”) of their bleachers. Then they choose one of the four spaces on their starting circus board to place their spotlight token and carry out the actions depicted at the bottom of the tile (described below).

At the start of each round, the ringmaster token is moved to the next space, which defines what happens that round. Most rounds are “full days” where players first get a build phase and then a performance phase. Some are “half days” where players choose to either build or performa. There will be one round where players swap out the stack of available starter tiles with the advanced tiles. There are three rounds where players draft special acts (more below), and three where they move to a new town, clearing the “closed” tokens from their circus.

During the build phase, the player can either take $2, take a new tile from the supply, or build one of the tiles from their hand, paying its cost. If they build a new tile, it can either be placed orthogonal to an existing tile or on top of one.

During a performance phase, the player moves their spotlight token to an orthogonally-adjacent space, placing a “closed” token on the space it just vacated and then taking the actions shown at the bottom of the tile. These actions can include: taking a dollar, taking a new tile to add to their hand, moving an audience member up on their bleacher board, or taking a new audience member into the #2 spot of the bleachers. In addition, there are two actions which let players remove audience members from their bleachers — one action allows you to trade them in for money equal to the spot they occupy on the bleachers, and the other action trades them for points (fame) equal to their spot in the bleachers.

The rounds where players draft special acts is one of the few places where turn order comes into play. (The other is drawing tiles if there aren’t enough for all players who want to draw.) There are seven numbered cards with special abilities that are laid out. They are drafted in player order, and then the player order is changed based on the numbers on the selected special acts. The special acts offer either a one-time bonus, like drawing new tiles, or on-going abilities like starting new audience members on the “4” spot of their bleachers.

Once the ring master reaches the final spot on the board (Endsville), players perform final scoring, which consists of four different awards. The Variety Award gives players 10 fame points for each set of different-colored attractions (green, yellow, blue, red, and purple). The Money Award gives 2 fame for each $3. The Act Award is one fame for each tile left in hand. and the Audience Award cashes in audience members for 1/2 their value in the bleachers.

The player with the most fame wins.

I picked up this game a couple years ago after looking at it several times on the shelf of my local game store. I’m a sucker for the theme — zoos, circuses, and amusement parks.

My first couple plays of this game were bad — we just didn’t feel like we could get our engines built, and we had very low-scoring games. Came to find out there were some mistakes in the rules and on the special act cards. I found an errata on Board Game Geek, including some printable stickers to correct the rules and starting circus boards.

With the corrected rules, the game is much better. I like building out my circus, and the interesting decisions presented by having acts close as you move your spotlight. Do you create a little circuit that you can trace each round? or make a big, sprawling circus where you’ve probably only visited/used each act once?

At first glance, the board is a bit daunting with the number of rounds, but each round is very quick and players can work simultaneously. In the end, it’s a fun, light engine builder that, unfortunately, didn’t get the attention do detail that it needed from the publisher.

How is it as a 2-player game? Little Circuses works well for 2 players. It’s mostly a multi-player solitaire game with the only player interaction happening in the drafting of the special acts. Some of the special acts add interaction, but it’s still pretty light. That’s not a complaint — I like games where I can just focus on doing the best I can with what I’ve got in front of me.

How about the art and component quality? The art on the tiles is cute — I like all of the different acts, and have to stop myself from building something simply because I like the art (I’m looking at you giraffe!). The tiles and chits are good quality. The only complaint might be that the bleacher cards are a bit cheap.

Of course, the other big problem with the game is that there were some mistakes that made it into production, and if you don’t know to look at Board Game Geek, you’ll have a very different play experience.

Will this stay in my collection? For now it will. I like the theme and the game play, but it doesn’t make it out very much — probably because of my initial bad feelings about the game and the mistakes. I’d like to get it out more to erase those initial impressions.

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