Thank you for checking review #69 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: a review copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of Circle the Wagons
Each player in Circle the Wagons is fixin’ to build up their own boomtown, but only one’ll build the best in the West!
Blaze a trail by draftin’ cards ’round the circle and placin’ ’em in yer town, tryin’ to connect matchin’ territories to score prosperity points! But don’t forget about them three bonus cards in the center of the circle that can score ya even more points — that is, if ya play yer cards right. With darn near five thousand unique ways to score and millions of draftin’ and placin’ combos, you’ll never build the same town twice!
Gameplay differences for 2 Players
There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.
The rules are simple, laid out well, and makes for an easy-to-teach game. There is a little vagueness about the scoring of territories at the end, and a few key things (such as what happens in a tie) are missing. It would also help if there was a small section to clarify some of the scoring cards. Overall, a solid rulebook with marginal room to improve, mostly through including a little more explanation.
The most incredible part of this game is the selection mechanism in the game. Seriously, I love this aspect so much. On your turn you can select any card available in the circle of cards; however, every card you skip over immediately goes to your opponent to add to their tableau. Really want that card with 3 cattle on it? Take it now and your opponent gets those two cards you skipped. Sometimes it is worth it. Other times it is a questionable decision. And part of me really wants to open a game by picking the last card…just because it’d be fun.
Building rules are straightforward. There is no rotating of cards, no tucking of the new card underneath an existing card (I wish you could tuck, though!). It simply has to be adjacent in some fashion, whether touching or covering an existing card in your territory. The simple rules for construction allow you to simply dive into the meat of the game without worrying over complexity.
All 18 cards in the game have a different scoring condition on the back. I think we’ve used all 18 at some point in time by now, but I can’t promise that with any certainty. Sometimes they have some minor synergy, allowing you to compete for several in trying to accomplish one of them well. Other times they seem to work against each other, to where you can make progress on one but not much on the other. The goals are varied, some of them quite clever, and they all help make each play feel fresh and interesting.
There are six different terrain types, spread across (18 cards x 4 territories per card)… 72 different territories. There also happen to be 6 different symbols that appear on those territories. The terrain matters every game, the symbols may matter in some games. I like that there is variety built into these cards, not just the scoring mechanisms. What you need for one game might vary wildly from what you need to focus on in the next one. However, you’ll always want to have at least half a mind toward building a large terrain for 1-2 types.
This game, like every Button Shy game, wins on portability. It comes in a literal small wallet, which I rarely notice having in my pocket when I take it with me. The game takes minutes to set up, plays and scores in under ten minutes, and can be reset in a minute or two. So not only is this perfect for being portable, it is also lightning-fast for playtime. Huge wins for that, making this the game I’ll slip into my pocket any time we head out and there’s a chance to game.
This game can be taught to a new player in minutes. Literally. I had about 5 minutes at Gen Con after playing Liberation with Jason Tagmire, and he was able to teach me the game AND we played a round of it in that window of time (and yes, I won! Revenge for that loss in Liberation!). Yet in spite of the small set of rules and quick gameplay, this one is FUN. Genuinely fun enough that I want to play again and again when finished with a round.
This isn’t a massive table hog, but you’re going to need a fair amount of table space to have the 3 scoring cards, the circle of 15 cards to draft from, and room for both players to build their town as they gain the cards. So while this doesn’t need a massive space to play the game, it does need a moderate space to comfortably play the game.
As mentioned in the rules review above, there are a few things that simply aren’t mentioned. In a 2-player competitive game, leaving out a tiebreaker baffles me. Ironically, it was our very first game against each other that ended in that tie! Thankfully, BGG held the answer and my town was smaller, granting me the victory.
It isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but some will complain that this game has no method for keeping score. Yes, it could have included a small pad for scoring, but I imagine that would have inflated the cost by quite a bit. I personally find that a Magic: The Gathering Life Tracker app works perfectly in this situation for tallying up scores at the end. It can be easy to lose track of what your score is across the 9 scoring mechanisms.
Sprawlopolis was a game that took the board game media by storm in 2018. Every single review I saw of the game was positively glowing, and my own review held it in pretty high regard. It was definitely a good game packaged in 18 cards, and I loved the win/loss condition being tied to the scoring mechanisms exclusive to that setup. And therefore the burning question on my mind was: which game would I prefer, Circle the Wagons or Sprawlopolis?
And the answer is definitely Circle the Wagons, for reasons that have everything to do with our preferences as a couple. We’d rather compete than cooperate in a board game, and therefore our tendency will always be to take a competitive game if all other things are equal. There are great things about both games, and reasons to love both. One could very easily enjoy them both and have them existing in the same collection because they scratch very different itches.
I love the quick playtime of this game, coupled with the extreme portability. I don’t notice it in my pocket – something I can’t say about a game in a mint tin. I love that it takes less than a minute to get set up and ready to play. I can teach the game, including scoring for a specific setup, in well under 5 minutes. It takes a minute or two to reset for a new game. All of those are strong positives.
Which is why we have played this game nearly a dozen times already since it entered our collection at Gen Con.
The cleverness of the game comes from the card selection, and the tough decisions it can create. It can make you feel great when choosing a card 5 down the line and watching your opponent realize they need to place all of those cards, in order, without messing up their plans. A game can end abruptly with one bold selection, tossing every plan out the window. There are several ways to win, as we’ve had victories where almost no points came from territories and victories where almost no points came from the three scoring cards.
This game is wonderful for what it sets out to accomplish. It may never make a player’s #1 game spot, but I find this is the game I’ll reach for first to toss in my pocket if there’s a chance we’ll be eating out or have downtime somewhere. To be able to play a game with meaningful decisions in 5-10 minutes and the game literally fits unnoticed in my pocket…that is a feat worthy of including in the collection.
For those keeping track, this is the third Button Shy game I’ve reviewed so far and, if you don’t own a Button Shy game yet, any of those three (Circle the Wagons, Sprawlopolis, Liberation) would be excellent choices as a first game to introduce you to the wonderful games they produce.
Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Circle the Wagons. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.