Step Right Up, It’s The Amazing American Circus Review

Time to join the circus, but be at the helm in The Amazing American Circus and show the greatest showman, the erm.. greatest show.

As stated since the dawn of time (last Tuesday at 4:54 pm), deck-building games appeal to me, and with titles like Tainted Grail: Conquest and Draft of Darkness, they keep getting better and better. The Amazing American Circus is another innovative concoction, as this time it’s set in the circus. Duh.

Stating the bleedin’ obvious, you lead a circus troupe across the Wild West when circus life has the best possible opportunity to pull in the crowds. It’s yet another setup of ‘your grandfather has left you…’ and in case you haven’t guessed it, it’s a circus. Your job is to take it on the road, hire and fire the best staff and make lots o’ money.

What appealed to me most about The Amazing American Circus, as a non-circus fan, is that it’s precisely that: circus life. There aren’t dragons or dungeon crawling or some sinister plot where clowns go on murdering sprees like in the days of the VHS. So it’s a real management game of going on the road, using familiar mechanics, but the clever battling system here is entertaining Johnny Public.

The Amazing American Circus Review - The adventure
The adventure. Source: Screen capture

The Amazing American Circus Review

Instead of those mythic beasts we’re used to, you’ve got to appease the hecklers that are there to be entertained and want to see death-defying stunts, bearded ladies and something… spectacular. You’ll have a party that will ‘defend’ the attacks of rotten tomatoes and nay-saying by performing tricks, defending against their attacks, but more importantly, leading up to your finale! (used multiple times).

Each enemy will have a list of objectives you need to feed, ensuring that they are delighted with your performance. If you defeat them, they’ll sit down and eventually, once everyone’s seated, the battle is won; you make some dough, then do the rounds to make sure all the workers are content, then shift to the next place.

Like you, I tend to avoid tutorials if I can, but I dived into The Amazing American Circus tut because it included the prologue. Most of these deck-building games are much of the same – interchanging action points for another word or having card categories that are more or less the same thing. I had to leave my desk and exited the tutorial halfway through, so when returning, it hadn’t saved, and I didn’t fancy going through it again. I wish I had.

Mega Micro Management

The Amazing American Circus isn’t overly complex, but there’s a lot to take in when you’re new to it, and it’s essential to learn the mechanics – i.e. the finale! Each card will indicate the effect on the audience (for example, entertaining them) or whether it will defend against their hasty critiques. In the bottom right of each card will be a number that adds to your finale! gauge. However, some cards will chip away at the audience’s delight but will have minus stats for your finale!, undoing a lot of hard work.

The Amazing American Circus Review - Slipknot
Slipknot. Source: Steam

Additionally, individuals will have numerous debuffs, such as removing so many cards after each hand, so you either need to play through and unlock new support cards or deal with the punters swiftly. When all performers are out, that’s it – a loss. Learning all of this hands-on is sometimes the best way, but I recommend the tutorial. Even if the combat is intuitive, travelling America and keeping your ‘family’ happy is paramount.

It’s not the combat in The Amazing American Circus but the management element that’s overwhelming – intuitive, but still overwhelming. You’ll have the typical sources of discontent; how much money you make, employing the right talent and ensuring that everyone gets regular meals. Of course, you’ll be able to learn new menus and create dishes that will motivate your team each time they travel. But the critical thing is to invest.

Caravan Club

Investing in your caravan(s) is crucial for success, and aside from upgrade abilities and hiring the latest talent, it’s about understanding the perks. Each performer will have quirks that give them a boost – sometimes, they can negatively affect morale. You’ll be able to buy new quirks and replace the ones you no longer need. These and the hoaxes (a debuff ‘awarded’ at the end of a show) were quite hard to digest – not because they’re complicated, but there’s a lot to monitor. Food also plays a part here as you earn boons and flaws based on the dish. 

That said, The Amazing American Circus is quite… forgiving. While you can’t rinse a show forever, it’s not entirely doomed either. If a performer loses their health (a.k.a. focus), they won’t be out of the show, but they’ll lose a card from their personal deck. With five to choose from, there’s a reasonable lifeline, but it can drag a little if you’re only left with a weak hand.

The Amazing American Circus - Where wolf, there wolf
Where wolf? There wolf. Source: Steam

The Amazing American Circus (from Klabater and Juggler Games) was more in-depth than I had anticipated. It’s not that there are walls of text or overcomplicated mechanics – there’re just many factors to pay attention to. Is that a bad thing? No. There are lots on offer, and the management side is arguably as important as the actual deck-building elements. Time to join the circus.