Updated: Apr 3
Designed by Donald Lam and published by Z000 Studio in Hong Kong, Circus Break is a light card game where the 2-4 players take turns to flip a face-down card in a 6 x 5 or 7 x 5 grid (depending on player count). The objective is to find the card that is the Key (to allow you to break out from the circus) but you can't take the key unless you've already met your character's prerequisites.
At the start of play, Circus Break is a hidden role game because players don't initially reveal the character card they hold. You only reveal your character when you make use of their particular ability. So, for example, Zoe - whose prerequisite is to have collected a set of tools - can pick up tool cards and collect them without them going into her hand. Other characters include animals who need to collect a specific food card. You'll mostly be playing with a character that's a robber. They need to have the meat card in their hand in order to be able to steal the Key from another player and snatch victory from them.
On your turn, you'll draw a card from the grid and either reveal it and act on it or you'll add it to your hand. Most of the cards in the grid will be action cards that you'll probably want to action immediately - for example, to give you another pick or to force an opponent to miss a turn - but you might just want to take a card into your hand for use on a subsequent turn. For example, if you draw a Reject card (which disables another action card), you might well want to save it until you have a more optimal moment to play it. Players tho' can only hold a maximum of two cards in hand...
Circus Break will be enjoyed by children and families, but it's not merely a memory game where you're flipping cards because players have to make choices over which cards to hold onto. There can be an element of bluff: do the cards I'm holding meet the prerequisites I need to pick up the Key? A player might, however, just be holding two action cards or cards that other players need in order to hamper them or to trick them into playing an event card that requires all players to put the cards in their hand back into the grid. If you have such a card, I'd rather you play it when I'm not holding the cards I need to win the game...
Tho' the game is simple and quick (few of our plays went much beyond 10 minutes), the action cards turn what might otherwise be a routine memory card game into an interactive 'take that' contest. For a relatively simple game, you may be initially shocked to find it comes with a rulebook that runs to 42 pages! And no, that's not because the rulebook is in several languages. It's that size because, within its compact box, Circus Break offers several variants and incorporated expansions for players to explore. Fear not, tho', you can be up and running with the core game in just a few minutes.
Circus Break was on Kickstarter last year. We hope to see it on retail shelves after it fulfils to backers in March,