Little Circuses Review

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Little Circuses is a game by Kevin Wilson, published by IDW Games. It is for 1-7 players. In this game, players take on the role of one of the circus owner’s children who have been tasked with running a portion of the Little Circus. They’ll have to prove their worth by making their portion more famous than that of their siblings. They’ll have to hire and build new attractions to attract spectators from the various towns that the show stops off in. In the end, the player that can get the most fame will not only be declared the winner but will inherit the entire show.

To begin, the board should be placed in the center of the play area. The Ringmaster meeple is placed on the “Welcome to Starterton” space on the board. Each player chooses a color and receives the matching score marker and player order marker in their color. Each player also receives a Bleacher sheet, Circus board, Spotlight marker and an audience member meeple as well as a $3 coin and 2 $1 coins. The Bleacher board is placed in front of the player with the audience member meeple placed on the 2 space. The Circus board is also placed in front of the player with plenty of room around it for expanding. The player’s Spotlight marker and coins are placed to the side for the time being. The Player Order markers are randomly chosen and placed on the Player Order spaces on the board starting with the leftmost space and moving to the right with each new marker. Players then place their Scoring markers on the board based on the number of Fame points shown beneath their Player Order space. The remaining coins, used markers, audience member meeples and 50/100 fame tokens are placed near the board within reach of all players. The starter attraction tiles are placed face down in the middle of the play area next to the board. They are then shuffled together. Each player now draws 5 tiles at random from the pile, placing them face up in front of themselves. The advanced attraction tiles and Star Attraction cards are set aside for now. Each player now places their Spotlight marker on one of the 4 attractions on their Circus board and resolves the associated action. Play now begins.

The game is played over several rounds which are controlled by the location of the Ringmaster meeple. Each round the Ringmaster will move 1 space forward on the board, following the line. Every time he enters into a new space, players resolve the action(s) that the space allows in turn order. Once all the players have resolved the action, a new round begins with the Ringmaster moving to the next space down the line. There are 5 different spaces that the Ringmaster can move to, indicated by a specific icon. Those spaces are Full Day, Half Day, New Acts Arrive, Star Attractions and New Town. Most spaces on the board are Full Day spaces. A Full Day is divided into 2 steps; Building and Perform Action. The first step is the Building step. In this step the player is allowed to chose one of 3 options. They can Raise Funds which allows them to gain $2. They can Hire Help which allows them to draw an attraction tile. They can Construct which allows them to place an attraction tile from their hand adjacent to or on top of an attraction already in their circus. To place the tile, they must pay the cost indicated in the upper right of the tile. Once all players have completed the Building step, play moves to the Perform Action step. In this step, players will move their Spotlight marker from it’s current location to an adjacent attraction. It should be noted that players are not allowed to move their Spotlight marker diagonally. Once the marker is moved, the player then places a used marker on the attraction that the marker just left. Players then resolve the action icons of the attraction highlighted by the Spotlight marker from left to right, unless the attraction has a used marker on it. In this case, the action icons are ignored.

There are 7 different action icons that I will briefly touch on here. For more information you can check out the rule book. The big top icon allows the player to draw a tile from the pool. The clown icon allows the player to move an audience member one space to the right on their bleacher board. The elephant icon allows the player to remove an audience member from the bleacher board and gain an equal amount of points. The coin icon allows the player to gain $1. The ticket icon allows the player to place an audience member on the 2 space of their bleacher board. The money icon allows the player to remove an audience member from their bleacher board and gain an equal amount of money. The star icon allows the player to gain 1 point of Fame. Both the clown and money icons are optional. Players do not have to remove an audience member from their bleacher board if they don’t want to.

Another space that the Ringmaster can move to is the Half Day space. For this space players chose to perform one of the 2 steps of the Full Day space. They can either chose the Building step or the Perform Action step. However they may only choose 1 step and do not complete the other step.

Another space for the Ringmaster to move to is the New Acts Arrive space. The first thing that is done for this space is to return any remaining undrawn starter attraction tiles to the box. Next the advanced attraction tiles are placed face down in the middle of the play area next to the board. The tiles are then shuffled and 4 randomly chosen tiles are placed face up next to the board in a row. Each player in turn order then draws 2 tiles and adds them to their hand. It should be noted that only the player that has chosen Madam Adam as their Star Attraction will be able to chose one of the face up tiles beside the board when performing the Hire Help option or resolving the big top action icon.

Yet another space that the Ringmaster can move to is the Star Attractions space. For this space, the Star Attraction cards are placed face up in the middle of the play area. If any were chosen by a player during a previous week, they are also placed with the others. Players now choose a card beginning with the player whose player order marker is on the left most Player Order space. Each player performs any appropriate actions once they’ve chosen a card. They then place the card next to their circus. Any card remaining after all players have chosen one are now set aside till needed again. Players now rearrange their Player Order markers based on the numbers printed on the Star Attraction cards. The lowest number places their Player Order marker in the left most space. Players continue placing their markers to the right of the previous marker based on the number of their card until all player markers have been moved to their correct space. It should be noted that players should use the side of the cards with the blue numbers if they want fewer player interactions or are playing their first game. This side is also recommended for 2 player games.

The final space that the Ringmaster can move to is a New Town space. When this space is moved onto, each player removes all of the used markers from their circus making it possible to return to any previously used attractions and gain those actions again. The player’s Spotlight marker is not moved.

The game continues until the Ringmaster reaches Endsville. The game then ends immediately. Players now score extra points for several different awards. The Variety award gives players points for each complete set of 5 different colored attractions that they built in their circus. It should be noted that only uncovered attractions count toward this bonus. The Money award gives players points for each $3 that remains unspent. The Act award gives players points for each attraction tile left in their hand. The Audience award gives players points for audience members remaining on their bleacher board. Players now add up their points and the player with the most Fame is the winner.

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COMPONENTS
This game has a lot of really nice looking pieces inside the box. The board is really fun and light hearted. You get a really nice circus type feel with the images on it as well as the icons. The attraction tiles and circus boards also convey that same feel with more of the same style of fun artwork. All of these are fairly thick and have a nice finish to them. The bleacher boards also have that same finish but are a bit thinner. I’d have liked them to have been the same thickness as the tiles but they seem to be ok for now. The coins, used markers and fame tokens are also thick cardboard but are a little touchy when punching them out. Sometimes they want to snag or tear the wrong way. It’s not a major deal, just something to be aware of when you’re taking them out of the punchboards. The Star Attraction cards are really nice. I especially love the art on these. They’re really light hearted and fun designs. The audience member and ringmaster meeples, as well as the player markers are all wooden and look really nice. I especially like the bright color and design of the ringmaster. There’s also the spotlight markers which are thin yellow discs that are see through. For me the best part is the board and ringmaster meeple. They really give me that circus feel. The Star Attractions are also nice and I like that they are double sided for more or less player interactions. Overall the components are really great and work really well with the theme. I’m very pleased with the look and feel of each piece.
8 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rule book for this game looks really nice. There are lots of great pictures and examples throughout the book. The pages have a nice glossy style finish to them. The rules are all laid out really well and overall the book is well designed. That said, let me address the elephant in the room, no pun intended. There are lots of issues with typos and mislabeled icons, as well as some very poorly worded references. Part of me feels like the rules were written for a different version of the game then the one that was actually produced. For instance, 1 reference notes that players receive a bleacher sheet in their color. All the bleacher sheets are the exact same color. It also references that players resolve the action icons on that attraction as described on the bleacher sheet. Just to be clear, there are no descriptions of the action icons on the bleacher sheets. Another references the score marker but refers to it later as the Fame marker. Not a major deal, but still a little bit confusing. Yet another states that the player whose Player Order marker is on the RIGHT most player order space chooses one of the Star Attraction cards. This should have said the LEFT most player order space. Of course the biggest issue is for the Action Icon reference on the back of the book. The clown and elephant icons are wrong and should actually be swapped. Most of these issues I had to actually discover from the forums page for the game on BGG. Thankfully the designer has been very proactive on clearing up these issues with some handy errata. I will say that I do like that there’s also rules for a solo variant included which simply compares your performance against a set value of points. Overall, despite the minor inconsistencies and issues plaguing the rules, it’s not that bad. It does cover everything rather well, it’s just those minor bumps that make it a bit less than what it could have been.
6 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
This is actually a rather cute and fun game. It has a really nice engine building mechanic that I rather like. Each attraction that you build onto your circus makes it possible to do more actions like adding audience members to your bleachers or simply giving you more money to build more attractions with. As you continue playing you’ll have to be careful not to back yourself into a corner with your spotlight marker. You do have to think about which way you want to move during your perform action as you build new attractions. That way you get the most out of each attraction. I like how that as you use an attraction it becomes unavailable for future turns. That way someone can’t just keep using an attraction that provides lots of fame to rack up on points by consistently spamming the attraction. I will say that the first time I played the game I had a bit of a time trying to get elephant icons to move my audience member higher on my bleacher board. It wasn’t until later that I found the errata in the BGG forums that said I should have been using the clown icon to move my audience members. That explained a lot. There were plenty of clown icons during my first run through. It was those elephants that were hard to find. Now it all makes sense. My daughter really enjoyed this one especially building new attractions to her circus. We both liked the whimsical art style all over the game as well as the simplicity of it. I also got a chance to try out the solo variant. It’s not bad if you don’t mind trying to beat a high score. I usually prefer my solo games to have some kind of antagonist mechanic that either comes at me or tries to keep me from doing what I want to do. That said, I prefer playing against another player with this one. It can be played solo, and that’s nice. However I’ll wait to play it with others instead. In any event, this one seems to be a pretty good family or gateway game. Fans of family games or simple engine building games should enjoy this one. I’d definitely recommend it. My kids enjoy it as do I, even more so now that we understand the actual rules to the game. Overall, this one gets a passing rating.
8 out of 10

OVERALL
Little Circuses is a light weight family game of engine building with a circus theme. The game doesn’t take a very long time to play. Most game sessions last around 30-40 minutes. The game looks really nice and I really like the components. My daughter and I really like the cute artwork style and bright colors, especially the ringmaster meeple. It should be noted however that you do have to be careful of the tokens tendency to snag and tear when punching them out of the cardboard sheets. The rulebook looks nice but has several issues inside including some inconsistent terminology and messed up iconography. The designer has taken to the BGG forums to clarify those mistakes and issue some errata for the problems which helps quite a bit. It’s just sad that the rulebook made it this far with those issues still inside. That said, the game is actually quite fun and one that my daughter and I both enjoyed playing. We really like building our own circus and all the different options that are available. The solo game isn’t as much fun as playing with at least 1 other player as you simply compare your score against another score. It works but I prefer my solo games to have more meat to them. As it is, fans of family or simple engine building games should really enjoy this one, minor flaws aside. It has a really nice circus feel to it that we really like. I would definitely recommend giving this one a try. The next ringmaster of the circus could be you.
8 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out  IDW Games at their site.

http://idwgames.com/

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About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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