There has been an absolute glut of video game card games lately. I don’t know if Slay the Spire was the catalyst, or it was the game that got me noticing them, but each month has me playing a few of them. While there are some stand-outs (Tainted Grail and Monster Train are a couple of favorites) most of the card battlers I’ve played feel same-y either thematically, mechanically, or both. The same definitely can’t be said for The Amazing American Circus, a game that takes the card battling genre and in a way, turns it on its head.
The Amazing American Circus is a role-playing card game with management aspects. In it, you play as a ringmaster of a circus troupe that has fallen into disrepair. Your job is to recruit performers, put on shows across the country, and earn fame and fortune. Each show you put on is essentially a card battle. It’s your troupe of Artists versus a fickle crowd. Instead of doing damage, you’ll play cards to perform tricks for their amusement, or to block your artists from taking damage—or “focus.” The more focus they lose, the fewer tricks they can perform—and if they run out of tricks, they’re out of the show. If you run out of Artists, you fail to entertain your audience, failing that encounter—and that’ll hurt your revenue.
Each Artist in The Amazing American Circus has their own deck filled with tricks. These tricks are represented by cards. When you perform a trick, it has a vitality cost (sometimes 0). Tricks can Amuse your audience, or Ignore the audience’s sneers. If you do get hit by audience’s effects, your Artist can lose focus, which is essentially their health. If you manage to fill up your special gauge, you can unleash a powerful finale to the delight of your audience.
While you certainly use cards to perform tricks, The Amazing Circus isn’t just a card game—you have to manage your entire circus, from the Artists and their stats to your finances and emerging fame. You’ll be up against the big guys like Ringling Bros. and P.T. Barnum, so you’ll need the best artists—and those artists will need to be at their best. You can manage each Artists’ set of tricks by building their decks, or managing passive abilities called Quirks through the Voodoo wagon. You’ll even need to keep your Artists fed by buying various food, and cooking for them in the Cookhouse Wagon—and the farther you travel, the more food you’ll need.
When you travel to a new city, you have a chance to perform. That city’s demographic will have an effect on what performance you should do, however. Guards and inmates won’t have the same tastes as families with children, so it’s good to have a diversified troupe of Artists. Each city will potentially have new Artists to recruit, and will give you a chance to take care of other business.
The Amazing American Circus is a slice of America from yesteryear, and it has loving attention to detail in its historical portrayal and artistic renditions. Now, I’m not saying it’s historically accurate per se, but I am impressed with the obvious research and love for the time period and even the local folklore and myths. Once I found my circus troupe performing for an audience of werewolves I knew this game was special. Unfortunately, it’s not without its problems.
There are just too many small annoyances with The Amazing American Circus for it to be recommended without hesitation. For one, some of its systems can feel unintuitive even if you’ve played card battlers before, or maybe even because I’ve played card battlers before. The Amazing American Circus can be a hard nut to crack. When a game takes stats that are familiar to players and rearranges them into something unique, it’s always hard to grasp the new system. It doesn’t help that it doesn’t always explain what the stats on the cards do. Most card battlers allow you to focus on a card, and it’ll give you a glossary of terms—something that is missing in The Amazing American Circus. I least I think it’s missing, because I can’t say for sure: I was struggling with UI bugs throughout.
One of my biggest issues with The Amazing American Circus is its bevy of bugs. There were a ton of user interface bugs after only about four hours of gameplay. Sometimes these bugs would force me to exit to the game’s main menu and return to proceed. Buttons sometimes didn’t work. Cards would appear and disappear in the deck building UI. There were so many frustrating little issues that I took as long as I could before launch to post this review, in hopes that they would be resolved. I even started a new playthrough to see if it was a fluke, but the same bugs appeared.
Overall, The Amazing American Circus deserves to be a classic. It’s a fresh spin on an idea that is getting tired, and I really appreciate not only its unusual theme, but its dedication to making the era of traveling circuses come to life through art and music. It’s really just too bad about the bugs I encountered.
A Steam key was provided to us for this review.
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