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Matt
United Kingdom
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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
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Despite the unforgivable exploitation of those amongst us who are different and the horrible cruelty inflicted on performing animals I have always been fascinated by circuses. From Tod Browning’s The Freaks to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, from Nick Cave’s unsettling The Carny to Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants there is just something captivating by the dark struggles of those who exist on the edge of society.

Circus train is actually inspired by the later and sees players becoming operators of small circus trains in prohibition-era America. The game is played out week by week and season by season on a map that shows the cities and the connecting rail network. Each week acts and performance requests will randomly come into play and the operators will battle to employ the best talent and put on the most impressive shows. As the game progresses and the seasons change the audiences become ever more demanding and the financial rewards and prestige escalate. At the end of each month players earn points for putting on the most impressive performances and collecting the most performers of each type.

The soul of the game is the clever card management system. Each player has a hand of cards and plays one each turn. These allow you to travel around the map at various speeds, sign up new acts, put on performances, rest and pay wages. It is crucial that some thought is put into planning out you moves as you can only replenish your hand when all of your cards have been played. Hence, it may not be a good idea to hire expensive animal acts just before a looming payday. Neither do you want to end up in some out the way backwater without any decent travel cards left in your hand since the deviously designed map leaves little opportunity for direct passage.

Circus Train is a game where it is just as important to ride your luck as it is to ride the rails. It can be annoying when a bunch of stupid clowns refuse to join your circus because you fail a dice roll, it can be infuriating when you make your way to a city requesting a performance of freaks, acrobats and tigers only to find that the fickle locals have changed their minds and now they want human cannonballs, horses and elephants, It can be exasperating when this happens towards the end of a game when you are in the middle of a two week performance and all of your hard work comes to nothing. Yet, the rich theme and well integrated mechanics managed to win me over and keep me wanting to play. It must be said that the game is often more swingy than a trapeze artist on amphetamines and if the major consequences that the randomly refreshing map can have on the outcome is something that you struggle to come to terms with then this is one game best avoided.

It is obvious that a lot of love and care went into this second edition, it looks wonderful with thematic period artwork and high quality components. No opportunities are missed to add an extra pinch of theme, such as improving your reputation by smuggling in some alcohol from Canada to keep you acts well-oiled or red lighting you expensive acts when you cannot afford their wages. You also have the opportunity to play with an additional deck of event cards which feature some wonderful dark humour.

There are a few other annoyances worth comment, such as the fact that although the game pieces look robust enough the extra chunky cardboard does has a tendency to peel especially when you have to slot in the two week performance markers. The performance chits look to have been designed by Tom Thumb they are very small and hence the requirements and scores are difficult to read. Another concern is that the scoring markers look very similar to the markers used to record your best performance, both move along the same scoring track and getting these mixed up can be a disaster and could ruin the whole game. Finally, although there is nothing especially complex here there are a number of fussy little rules that are easy to overlook and making learning the game more arduous than it should be.

I’m not normally a big fan of pick up and deliver games, but married with the clever hand management aspect it works really well. The game has just the right degree of player interaction and since it was originally designed for two it works especially well at this player count. There are a number of advanced and optional rules which add a bit more complexity and offer some extra control over recruitment. Scoring is a neat mix of prestige in the form of "best show" and a battle for set collection. Some will consider Circus Train to be an unholy mess of Eurogame and Ameritrash and much like a drunk high wire act the danger is that it fall in a sticky mess somewhere between the two. But, like the bearded lady, others may see this as a cool crossover as you build up your engine to score points whilst coping with unfair swings of fortune and stealing your opponent’s best acts all in a richly thematic setting.

Here is a list of all my reviews, some with puns that I really should be ashamed of.
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David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
Port Macquarie
NSW
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Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
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I originally wrote-off VPG due to the low quality of their early games.

I purchased this game on a whim, and was pleased with the game play and the production values.

For better or worse, I have, since buying and playing this game, purchased an additional six games from VPG.



Quote:
It can be annoying when a bunch of stupid clowns refuse to join your circus
Yes...clowns are funny.

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