Circle the Wagons is quick, engaging and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I could teach it in seconds, play it with non-gamers in closer to 5-10 minutes and often, they even won!
Publisher: Button Shy Games
Designer: Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, Paul Kluka
Artist: Beth Sobel
Game Type: Card Drafting, Set Collection
Initial Year of Release: 2018
Age Range: 8+
Expected Playtime: 15 min
Number of Players: 2
Theme and What is it?
Remember that late 90s steampunk western Will Smith song/movie, “Wild Wild West”? If you don’t, take a minute to YouTube that incredible piece of history for your pop culture education and then rap with me.
Wild wild west
Jim West. Desperado.
Rough rider, no ya don’t want nada
You know you’re rappin’ with me now.
Ok, now that you’re with me, forget the steampunk part and really picture that dusty mainstreet with the showdown, hands on their holsters. Got it? You’re fully immersed? Great.
You are in the Old West, building your boomtown and trying to do it better than the cowboy next door!
Each card has two sides, one side is divided into quadrants with art signifying items and territories to use in the static goals of the game. The other side has dynamic goals to earn points. To begin, place three cards in the middle with dynamic goals facing up, then lay the remaining 15 cards in a circular formation. Cards are then drafted around the circle to provide your building blocks for your town.
Your static goal in each game is to connect groups of a themed block (territory) to earn prosperity points. The connections can be as simple as connecting cards adjacently or as complex as layering across cards to connect like territories or items as stated in the dynamic goals. Three cards are placed in the middle of the circle during set up that determine your dynamic goals per game for additional ways to earn points and ultimately build the best town in the West!
Scoring totals the number of territories connected in any given landform (snow, mountains, plains, water, forest and desert) as well as the scoring indicated by using the three dynamic abilities in the middle of the circle. Highest score wins!
Small, portable and simple, and I was right on all three counts!
Game Build Quality
The simplicity of this game extends from its gameplay into its packaging. 18 cards + rule sheet slipped into a vinyl business card wallet is effective and sleek. At 1.7 ounces, portability is a given and though the cards are standard ivory core, they have a linen finish that makes for a good feel.
The card backgrounds that indicate territories have a watercolor aesthetic that is elementary, but pleasing and clear in its intent and purpose. The items are much more realistic in design, but the additional clarity still seems to fit with the simpler backgrounds. An overall white stroke on the items makes for a nice mat effect and keeps everything very readable. Another note is that it was color-blind friendly as well as being well suited to the theme.
A circular setup of cards definitely interests the eye and adds up to make quite a large footprint on a table. We played it in a booth at a restaurant and it received quite a bit of attention from waitstaff walking by who all stopped by to ask us what we were playing.
I really enjoyed how quickly the game played and how you wanted to play again as soon as you finished. With 18 different dynamic goals you could end up with, there was no stagnancy to the static goal of connecting territories. There were enough other things to do that you had to choose a strategy and keep it in mind. What made it most interesting is that the choices I made mattered, not just up to luck.
Age Range & Weight
Having young kids, I pay attention to the reading level needed for games to be played and I can confidently agree with 8+ rating it has. If you have a proficient reader younger than that, I’m sure they can manage the vocabulary, but they also have to be able to manage the scoring addition. Overall complexity is very low and keeps it very welcoming and approachable as an introduction to the card drafting mechanic.
Circle the Wagons is quick, engaging and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I could teach it in seconds, play it with non-gamers in closer to 5-10 minutes and often, they even won! It’s a great pocket game to pass the time when you’re waiting, and it’s small enough that I could almost lose it in my purse! Most recently, I brought it out when I was stuck in the waiting room of the ER, which is a place I find myself increasingly often with four children. At such a low price, it’s a no brainer to pick up!