Review – Circus Train Second Edition from Victory Point Games
Designer – Tom Decker
Art – Vinh Ha
Many thanks to VPG Games for providing a review copy of this game
Guest Reviewer – Alan Hatcher
Circus Train is a strategy game for 1 to 4 players, ages 13 and up.
Thanks to Mark for giving me the chance to review this game which for me is a very appealing blend of good euro mechanics and theme. I particularly like the art work that ties to the theme perfectly and the scoring mechanism. Everything from the first edition and it’s expansion is presented here in the second for your enjoyment, so let’s take look.
The second edition of Circus Train is in the VPGs boxed edition format. you get a red pizza style box with a slip over full colour sleeve.
In the box you will find components for a single player, basic and more advanced game:
A jigsaw style board in five pieces that shows the north of the USA and the border with Canada, with routes between the major cities for you to ride your train. It also has a VIP track and round tracker shown across six months of the year.
A number of laser cut thick card counters to depict performers for hire, local news counters, train standees and a number of in game counters.
Action cards, destination cards and event cards.
Circus Train is set in 1920s, 30s prohibition America and was inspired by the book Water for Elephants by Sarah Green. It is both a set collection game and railroading game as you travel the county with your circus trying to meet the demand of the cities you visit, or hire performers on your way. At the end of the six months the person with the most VIPs wins. Easy as that, or so it would seem, but it is the cunning scoring mechanism in this game that requires clever play and as with all good euro games, resources and actions are tight and you are always on the edge of not having quite enough to do everything you want.
To give you a general feel for game play, the game is played over a number of rounds which are weeks. the heart of the game is centered around action selection chosen from your hand of cards. The number of cards will vary depending on whether you play the basic or advanced game and the number of players. In the basic game you have eight cards and the actions on the cards allow you to travel around a number of spaces, hire performers, perform or a combination of the above. There is also one card that requires you to move and then pay your performers and once you have played all your cards you pick them all up and start again. So you need to have a basic game plan in your head and hope someone doesn’t get there first.
There is then a roustabout phase to replenish demand counters, which will advanced in difficulty every other month, advance the round counter and score if at the end of the month.
It is the scoring that is very clever in Circus Train. You have two scoring markers. As you advance through the game and perform in different cities you will earn money for your show and you will earn victory point based on the extent to which you meet the demand shown on the demand counter. The counter will have a base points value and may ask for clowns, lion tamers and acrobats for example and give the number of points awarded for each one. You tally your point and move ahead your best performance marker to that value but only if it exceeds your previous best. So if your marker is at 30 and your do a performance that tallies up to 35, you move ahead to 35. If it tallied to 25 then you stay where you are, but will still get paid no matter what. It is only at the end of the month that you use the second VIP marker that scores your actual VIPs. At the end of month you score VIPs for highest best performer and for most performers, as long as you have at least two and aren’t tied, in each of the seven types. There is a final scoring at the end of the final month and there you have it.
There is an advanced game that makes some modifications and some extra optional rules that adds special characters and event cards. I especially liked the event cards that are very thematic and modify game play for each month.
Did it work for me?
I really did like this game. It just had a great feel about it. I like economic VIP race games but this is a little more subtle. The trick is to stay just ahead in best performance to get the VIPs but not to neglect other routes to gaining VIPs, from performers or on the game board.
I like the little thematic touches; you start the game in Canada for example because historically the circuses would stock up on alcohol before coming into the USA. Most of the information you need is on the board but not in your face, it blends into the art work and adds to the whole feel of the game. The game is tight and well balanced requiring your to play strategically but having to respond tactically as the board changes around you. The game is set in the Depression and sometimes you feel it; you just can’t get the performers, if you do you don’t have the money to pay them so they run off and if you play with the event cards then it just gets worse. Very enjoyable.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 8.5 out of 10
With older children who enjoy gaming.
For more information go to – http://victorypointgames.com/details.php?prodId=109