A fresh coat of paint on a well trodden card battle genre.
There's an incoming generation that the three ring circus will be an old relic of a bygone era, something which appears in movies or television but will rarely find out in the wild. The Amazing American Circus has filled that void centered around the old untamed west and being the latest in the bandwagon of card battling games.
As a businessman who recently inherited the family circus, you’re goaded into traveling cross-country along the United States, bringing your show town-by-town to perform for the locals. Through the travels, your aim is to excite the crowds, rake-in cash, and slowly build up your main attractions to play bigger crowds and eventually take-on the big tent giants. Your performances are played out in a series of back-and-forth card battling. In between events, your caravan includes upgrade options like unlocking abilities for your team, improving your deck, hiring new performers, and upgrading your wagon to improve passive abilities. It adds a bit of depth to the game, although I didn’t feel a passion for engaging in it all that much.
In performance, you control a trio of performers, starting with a strong man, clown, and juggler. Each one has a count of five cards which can appear in each hand. A round begins with a mixed hand of cards from the performer, each taking a number of vitality points. Every card also has a diamond number assigned, which after building up enough can trigger a finale move that doesn’t end the performance, but triggers a big hit to the audience. Rather than hurting the audience, the performance needs to impress the viewers with their tricks and feats.
Cards have different effects, largely based on the performer. Ones that have an impress effect act as damage. Ignore acts as a defensive shield against the attendants throwing tomatoes at you. Some will have performer specific sub-effects, like the juggler whose cards will stash balls until you play a card which empties that payload into the audience. Similarly, the audience (which varies in looks as well as strengths/weaknesses) take a turn after yours to return the favor. Each of your performers have five lives with ten hit points. When hit points are depleted, the performer has to discard one of their five cards, making them unusable for the remainder of the performance.
The battle system’s biggest strength is the fun in juggling attack and defense. You have to pay close attention to the crowd’s actions to anticipate the incoming blows and set the stage to withstand damage. Those set-up effects like banking impress and ignore effects are really satisfying to unleash in the same way token effects play in Magic the Gathering. Rarely will you have a limited hand to work with thanks to cards with effects to draw more or boost vitality. There can be a good push & pull in how they play out if you’re successful.
One disappointment I have in matches is how defensively focused they winnow to the longer they play out. Every life lost for performers hurts a lot. Those lost cards really stunt your ability to chain together actions for an adequate response, and quickly cripples the performers. I get there needs to be consequences for poor play, and think the mechanic itself makes sense, but it’s missing something to allow something actionable to recover lost cards or turn the tide. It also slows down the pace to a grinding churn that can really be a bummer.
What I love the most about The Amazing American Circus is its presentation. The bright colorful scenery and characters really pop out from the screen, with performers moving like paper dolls. The music fits the scenery well, with pops, whizzes, cheers, and groans from people that add some fun audio trim around the edges. In general, as a parent of small children, I love the premise - a troupe of performers working to entertain a crowd rather than engaging in an epic battle feels fresh and helps elevate the experience.
The Great American Circus’ strengths lie first and foremost in its family friendly premise and presentation. That smart lure roped me in to a well fleshed out card match game with a leveling system that doesn’t quite grab me. If that and an uphill climb for making a comeback in a performance doesn’t deter you, then there’s a lot of fun to be had in this upcoming attraction.