Have you ever played the Think Fun classic Rush Hour? It’s a car parking management game where the greedy car park boss has overloaded your tiny car park with cars and now the guy with the red sportster parked at the back of the car park has come to collect his car and you are going to need to shunt around all the other cars in order to extract it. It is a solitary, tactile experience of shifting these tiny plastic cars on a grid to release the one you need through a small gap in the three-dimensional board. It is not so much a game as a fiendish puzzle with loads of different set ups to challenge both your brain and your patience. Ok, so I am not reviewing Rush Hour; I am reviewing the 2022 release Circuitry from Jeremy Dawson and Blood Moon Games. However, Circuitry does bear a number of similarities to the classic puzzler...
Circuitry supports 1-6 players and comes in a compact box with 30 double-sided tarot-sized thick cards which have circuit boards with nodes (AKA spaces) on them; there are six wooden meeples (one for each of the maximum 6 player count) and three types of much smaller cards, and I mean MUCH SMALLER cards. These cards make the ones you get in Fantasy Flight games look huge in comparison. The good news is that they are not packed with tiny 7-font text and the only real drawback is trying to hold them in your hands. The large cards are of decent stock, the smaller cards whilst tiny in size are also of reasonable quality, and the wooden pawns are, well they are wooden pawns, like those in Pandemic (Z-Man) or Escape from Colditz (Gibsons/Osprey).
Circuitry has two rulebooks: one for the competitive 2-6 player game and one for the solo challenges. The rulebooks could do with an edit, tho'. The layout is a little cramped and whilst it has some good examples, the actual gameplay structure is woven into the rule set rather than in its own separate section. The wording could be simplified and the basic operations better explained. However, it is possible to get through the rules and understand the game, so the rulebooks won't be a barrier for experienced gamers. A better laid-out rulebook tho' would be less off-putting for lighter gamers and would help to make the game more appealing.
The game itself requires the players to create a circuit board built up from the larger (tarot-sized) cards on the table and then move their own pawn from its starting location to its 'charging node' and then back again. On your turn you will draw up to two cards made up of movement cards and action cards, and then take any number of actions. Your actions include: • moving your pawn between nodes by spending a movement card; • flipping, rotating and sliding cards on the table by spending an action card; and • extending the board by placing out one of the circuit cards dealt to you during set up.
The game requires manipulation of the board state so that the players can achieve their objectives. The action cards include options to move your opponents’ pawns, so be aware that this game's competitive mode involves an element of 'take that', which may not be everyone’s cup of electrons. The action cards that change the board state will also likely mess with your opponents and this is where my major issue with the game arises. Circuitry favours players that have strong spatial awareness, and those players that are more able to orient shapes in their head will almost certainly do better than those that cannot. This issue then cascades down to create pretty much all my concerns with the game. Cast your mind back to Rush Hour for just a minute. In that game you can shift the game state continually and you never have to go backwards. In Circuitry, you are going to have players flipping cards to see what’s on the other side, or rotating cards, or sliding them to new locations, because unless you physically move the card, it can be difficult for us non-math geniuses to work out the full impact of doing this action purely in our head. Now, you will recall that the board is made up of shiny cards and not tiles, and it is these shiny cards and you want to rotate, move or flip. Well, be prepared to have to constantly put the board back together when you’ve knocked over the components or accidentally moved all the cards next to the one you’ve rotated.
Finally, if you are playing with several other players, then by the time it comes back to your turn, the board state is likely to have changed significantly which means you are going to spend time on your turn working out what you want to do. The challenge here is that your actions may be limited but your options within that space are significant, and so anyone attempting to maximise their turn could easily get Analysis Paralysis (AP). The game says it takes 15-30 minutes, which I am sure it could do, provided no one tries to 'math-out' their turn. In the game’s defence here, it does try to nudge you towards a strategy of collecting action and movement cards and having a huge turn where you burn cards to basically hit your objective in a single turn, or at least make major process towards it, and this is probably the only real way to play the game. However, I can see some people getting five actions into a turn flipping, moving, sliding a card, rotate this, move again and then asking to reset their entire turn and start again because they did something wrong. In this way, the game can be a bit 'all or nothing' and that can make several of your turns feel very unsatisfying.
Circuitry really shines when you make a direct comparison to Rush Hour (ie: when you play it solo and then puzzle out how to achieve your objective, with no one else messing with your player pawn position or frustratingly changing the board state between your turns). The game has several solo setups for you to play through, which is great, but if I am honest, I would still rather play Rush Hour because you can’t knock the table and mess up the board state. The cards in Circuitry add an interesting decision space over how many times you can move and what actions you can take, so it's adding depth and complexity but at the cost of being more fiddly to play, with all the card movement and manipulation.
Circuitry is an interesting puzzler, and I think it would make a really engaging computer game where you are trying to achieve the objective using just these five movement cards and these three action cards. Why? Because you can play it solo and take your time over your turns, plus you could manipulate the game board without knocking it out of position, and you could hit the 'undo' button when you realise that mega turn you were about to take won’t actually get you where you wanted to go. As a board game? Well, even if you're not convinced that Circuitry has the edge for solo play, you can't play Rush Hour competitively with 2-6 players....
Circuitry is live now on Kickstarter. Click here to check out the campaign. (Review by Jason Keeping)