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Tho' it has a board, markers and cubes, Amuza's Circus is essentially a hand management card game and it's one where players are faced with some interesting choices. The game is designed by Alexey Konnov, Alexey Paltsev and Anatoliy Shklyarov - the team who designed Inuit: The Snow Folk (Board&Dice) - and the art is by Davi Hammer.

Players have cards representing the various type of circus performer (clown, magician, strongman etc) and these also specify their gender, except for mime artists who for some reason are considered in this game to be hermaphrodite. You'll always have at least two performers in your troupe but you can spend upgrade cards to increase this number. Circus is played over seven or nine rounds (depending on whether you play the basic or 'advanced' game) and, other than the first two and final rounds, rounds show a performer type for which you can earn extra victory points.

There's a central board but it's mostly there for just flavour illustration. It accommodates the scoring track around its perimeter and just three short tracks on the board itself. These are tracks for increasing the number of performer cards you can hold, increasing the number of upgrade cards you draw and potentially increasing end-game scoring. You move up the tracks by discarding 'upgrade' cards. Not on the board but just below it, you set up the 'Arena': a queue of performer cards which initially starts with three different performer types in it.

In Circus, it's the upgrade cards that are the key component. You will mainly be spending these to add coloured cubes to your performer cards. There's some initially opaque iconography to decode to work out the conditions for each upgrade card but they usually reference the gender of the performer where you're placing a cube and/or the gender of the rightmost performer in the Arena. Most upgrade cards require you to discard a set number of upgrade cards in order to play them.

The main reason you're adding coloured cubes to performer cards is that, each turn, you'll be sending one of your performers into the Arena (adding it to the end of the queue). You compare it to the previous rightmost card and you score 2 points for every colour of cube your performer has that wasn't on that card. For any cube of the same colour as one on the preceding card, you score 1 point. However, your placement can also cause disruption to the queue because the Arena can only contain one of each type of performer. If you add a clown to the Arena, then any clown already in the Arena is removed, along with all cards to their left. This is significant because it affects the number of upgrade cards you get to draw at the end of your turn. Your draw is equal to the number of cards in the Arena plus 1 (or plus more if you've upgraded on that track on the board).

This all makes for some delicate choices. Do you play the performer that will give you the most victory points this turn or do you play another performer that'll give you more upgrade cards? It's also the main way in which you're able to interact with other players in this 2-4 player game: you'll want to keep an eye on what performers your opponents have in their troupes to see how your placement might affect their next play...

Tho' the theme will probably appeal to children, there are more steps to the game than some families might expect and some children, and many adults, will struggle, at least initially, with the iconography on the upgrade cards. Persevere tho' and Circus rewards the effort. However, you should expect games to take a little longer than the filler-length 20 minutes indicated on the box. Most of our Board's Eye View plays went to twice that length; and that was before we added the 'advanced' rules that add two more rounds and allow players to poach each other's performers!

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