Thanks to Button Shy Games for providing a review copy of this game.
The Old West is a hot theme these days, and here’s a new wallet game that fits right into the genre:
Circle the Wagons is a new game from designers Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, and Paul Kluka. Button Shy is Kickstarting the game for a release later this year. Players are trying to build their own towns in the Old West, trying to score the most points through card drafting and variable scoring conditions.
The game only comes with 18 cards in Button Shy’s familiar wallet case. The cards are double-sided, showing different terrains on one side and a scoring condition on the other. At the start of the game, you’ll shuffle these cards and deal three of them to the center with their scoring side up. The rest are dealt with their terrain side up into a circle around the scoring cards.
On each turn, players will be drafting cards from the circle and adding it to their own personal boomtown. On the very first turn, the second player chooses the starting card for the draft. The first player can then either take that card, or pass over it to get to another further down the line. If you pass over a card, it goes automatically to your opponent.
After you get a card, you place it in your boomtown, which eventually may look something like this:
When you place a card, at least one territory should line up next to one on another card (as long as there’s another card in play). They don’t have to be the same type, and you can rotate cards to get them how you want them. Do note that you are allowed to overlap other cards when you place.
After your turn, your opponent can either draft the next card in line or skip it for one further down. As with the first player, any skipped cards go to your opponent.
When all cards have been taken, you score. Each of your largest regions scores one point per territory in that region (only look at the backgrounds for these). So in the example above, you score 1 point for a snow region, 2 points for a forest, 3 points for a mountain, 3 points for a water, 3 points for plains, and 6 for the large desert region. Also, you score if you fulfilled the scoring conditions in the middle. The symbols on each card generally count for these scoring conditions. High score wins.
COMPONENTS: I can’t really judge to components yet as this is still pre-production. But as they are now, the cards are relatively easy to distinguish, with different patterns and colors for each territory. The symbols are easy to spot as they take up most of the card’s face. And I have to say that I love the decision to put scoring conditions on the back of each card – it’s a very elegant and space-saving solution that increases the variability of the game. The game will come in a vinyl wallet, and those are always pretty cool.
THEME: The theme is loosely tied to the Old West, but very loosely. The different symbols and terrains give a feel for the setting, as does the font on the scoring cards. But that’s as far as it goes – you don’t really feel like you’re settling anything, nor do you really get the sense of the Old West. The theme here is mostly a framing device rather than a narrative device.
MECHANICS: Circle the Wagons is a tile placement game that uses cards instead of tiles. You line up the cards so squares are adjacent, and can even place on top of other cards to build your boomtown. In the end, you’re trying to make large regions to score points, and the vast majority of your score will come from that. The variable scoring conditions give you some extra opportunities for points. In general, you’re looking at backgrounds for regional scoring, and symbols for bonus points.
The drafting mechanism in play for the game is kind of cool. You can take the first card that is available to you, but if you skip any, they go to your opponent. So you’re likely not going to do a lot of skipping unless you a) really want the next card, or b) really want your opponent to have the card you’re skipping (there are negative points on some of the scoring cards).
It’s a pretty simple game mechanically, but the mechanics work very well together.
STRATEGY LEVEL: There is randomness in the setup of this game, but after that, it’s a perfect information game. You know exactly what your opponent has, what they might be going for, and what is coming up in the draft. You do need to think a few turns ahead, both when drafting and when building your town. It’s important that you know what’s important to have, and what you can leave for your opponent. So there’s a good dose of strategic play here.
ACCESSIBILITY: Circle the Wagons is not a complicated game to understand. Make big regions, try to fulfill the scoring conditions. The complexity comes in the decision making when drafting and placing your cards. Still, not a difficult game to pick up.
REPLAYABILITY: There are only 18 cards in the game, and only 15 of them will be available to draft each game. There will be three different scoring cards each game, and nearly 5000 combinations of them, which really increases the replay value. This game really does have a high replay value for only having 18 cards.
SCALABILITY: Circle the Wagons is for two players only, and I really can’t see any more playing that in the game’s current format. The game might work well as a multiplayer game with more cards, but with only 18, two is just fine.
INTERACTION: The interaction in this game only comes from the drafting. Building your town is all you, but figuring out which cards to take and which to leave for your opponent is the only time what you do affects your opponent.
TIME: This is a pretty quick game, taking about 10-15 minutes to play. If you overthink things, it could take longer, but it’s not long overall.
FOOTPRINT: Circle the Wagons can spread out more than you might think for such a small game. Not only do you need room for the card circle at the beginning, but you also need room to build your towns off to the side. I’d say a medium-sized table would be sufficient.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Button Shy has sent me a number of games over the last couple of years, and this is one of my favorites. I love the variable scoring conditions, as well as the economy of keeping them on the back of the cards you’re using for the draft. I enjoy the puzzle of building the town, and trying to outwit my opponent when drafting. It’s a great small game, and you should check it out. Take a look at the Kickstarter campaign – you can get Circle the Wagons for just $10, or can get that plus two other new games (Mint Julep and That Snow Moon) for $27.
Thanks for reading!