Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Designed by Cedric Millet and published by Matagot, Meeple Circus is a dexterity game where players are balancing meeples on top of one another. The game is accompanied by a downloadable app that plays appropriately thematic circus music. That’s not just atmospheric, it also acts as a timer as players race against each other to complete objectives that will score them applause (victory points) before the music stops.
Players all start with a beginner (blue) and intermediate (yellow) acrobat meeple but they need to make drafting choices to recruit the expert (red) acrobats and other components to join their acts. Players look over the randomly picked cards that show the acts that the public want to see and they try to draft the components they will need to replicate these acts. The drafting stage, therefore, involves some planning to get the pieces you want, given that other players are likely to be trying to get the very same components.
There are clear rules that also dictate whether and how the different colour acrobat meeples score. Blue acrobats score one point but only if they are touching the ground (ie: at the bottom of a stack). By contrast, yellow acrobats score one point only if they are not touching the ground. The red acrobats have to be at the very top of a stack in order to score and the number of points that the red acrobats deliver depends on their height as measured by a ruler that looks like one of those circus fairground ‘test your strength’ machines. The measure goes up to 7 but you will be doing well to build any stack that measures much beyond 3. And, be warned, you will be hard put measuring the height of even a 3-high stack without knocking it over in the process!
Therein lies much of the charm of Meeple Circus. Other popular dexterity games like Pretzel Games’ Junk Art involve mainly chunky wooden pieces. By comparison, the components in Meeple Circus are small, thin and and incredibly fiddly. Clumsy adult fingers are every bit as likely to knock over the components already stacked as they are to successfully balance a red acrobat meeple on top of a ball being carried by a yellow meeple standing on the shoulders of a blue one. You can expect to find this game frustrating but you’ll have fun discovering that it is equally fiddly and frustrating for the other players.
Another warning, however. This is not a game to be played on a wobbly table or one even slightly prone to transmit vibration. It’s annoying enough to see your carefully constructed meeple stack clatter down beneath your gently positioned red meeple – and just as Julius Fucik’s ‘Entry of the Gladiators’ theme approaches its conclusion. You’ll curse (probably calling out an approximation of the Czech composer’s name) but you’ll shrug it off. You’ll be rather slower to forgive and forget, however, if you think your creation has been sent flying because another player has deliberately or carelessly jogged the table.
Meeple Circus is played over three rounds, with components carried forward from one round to the next and with a layer of complexity added on in the second and third rounds. The third round represents each player’s grand performance. In this round, each player assembles their meeple balancing act separately rather than simultaneously. This means that players are, in that sense, performing to an actual audience. What this round also demands, however, is that players comply with an additional vocal or physical requirement. This might, for example, require the player to make appropriate animal noises whenever an animal meeple is placed or it could impose a cripplingly absurd physical limitation like requiring you to assemble your pieces while covering one of your eyes with one of your hands!
By all means try the game with these silly specifications in place but, if the silliness does not appeal, you may choose to eschew this element altogether. The game comes with 22 different ‘round 3’ cards, so, the middle way would be to fillet the deck and take out the silliest and least practical.
Even if you own other dexterity games, you probably won’t have another that’s quite like Meeple Circus. It’s a game you can bring out with gamers and non-gamers alike, and its attractive components give it instant appeal so that people will be eager to give it a try. You can complete a game in 30–40 minutes or so, and it takes 2–5 players. The game doesn’t come with solitaire rules but it really wouldn’t take a huge leap of ingenuity to devise your own solo play option. Of course, you wouldn’t then have the Schadenfreude of laughing at other’s collapsing constructs…