Roll up, roll up! Come and see The Amazing American Circus!
I’m not a big fan of clowns, and if I’m honest I’ve never been to a circus, but circus paraphernalia is something that I have always been obsessed with, especially ye oldie circus’ with their red and white stripes and that art style that just screams of whimsy and wonder.
The Amazing American Circus is there to scratch that carnival itch, and it makes a pretty decent card game out of it. Who doesn’t want to be the ring leader at least once in their life? Calling the shots for your big top performances and managing their needs like a mother hen.
I haven’t even mentioned the best bit of this game, it’s all set in the wild west – yeehaw!
Release Date: September 16th, 2021
Developer: Klabater, Juggler Games
Availability: PSN (Digital)
The Amazing American Circus is a mix of three genres; RPG, adventure and strategy, and these three categories combine perfectly as you travel across America collecting enough fame to win a big dollar cash prize for being the best circus in the whole of the United States.
The game started quite normally, though with a sad undertone; my dad died and left his circus in his will to me, and I have apparently always hated the circus but after some persuasion from my uncle – mostly being told about a lot of prize money – I agree to go on my travels with him to scare off other carnivals and work my way up to the cash prize.
Travelling between locations is done through a top-down map, this itself must be met with strategy as travelling between locations requires feeding your artists. Some journeys may take up to three meals while others may only require one. When in a town, there is a chance to make meals in the cooking wagon. This is incredibly important to balance as each meal can either provide a negative or positive to Satisfaction, Health, or Nutrients.
I was constantly mixing and matching the meals I created to try and keep all three in the positives as this could have advantages to your artists when they perform, such as gaining more points for the finale bar or gathering more defence from an ignore card.
If I didn’t pay attention to what I was feeding them then it could go the other way, where my artists could suffer penalties from what I was feeding them. It never came to that though – thankfully.
Once arriving in a city it’s time to start up a performance. First things first, I had to decide who would be performing in the show. With over 15 types of circus artists to pick from I was spoilt for choice on who to use. I tended to fall back on my three favourites, the Aerialist, the Fire Eater and the Fakir as they were the most likely to get the job done when I needed it.
I really enjoyed these performances, though I had my moments where I would fail miserably but other than that it was pretty simple to understand. The performance aim is to impress the audience, this is done through the beautifully illustrated cards which have different effects. For example, on my Fakir there was a card which, when used, would pull three more cards and times the vitality of them by three and that was how much impress it would do to all the audience members.
The aim was to impress the audience by depleting their ‘health’ bar to zero.
They don’t make it easy either, as each turn will see them either attempting to defend from or sneer at your performers and there is this beautiful rotten tomato throwing animation that hinders the focus of the performers on stage. This focus bar is basically a health bar but as you can’t die in the circus (well not this one) they can’t have your acts dropping dead.
Once the focus bar reaches zero it doesn’t mean they are gone just yet as you can discard a card they own for good in that performance. However, there were many times that a difficult audience proved too much for me and I would run out of cards leaving them to get dragged off stage and taking a cost penalty – or just losing altogether.
Some performances were even split into different acts which if I wasn’t careful could leave me in a difficult position as I had lost all my cards in the other one – when failing a performance in a city, you can’t visit them again until you have succeeded in three other shows. If you manage to fail three in a row then it’s game over but I found that pretty difficult to do.
My only issue with the cards is there were many times that the writing on them was very difficult to read. This happened mostly to me when trying to upgrade specific cards. I couldn’t read everything the card did due to how small or blurry the writing was making it a risk to change the card to it. My TV isn’t small either, which made it even more stressful as I would have to sit with my eyes glued to the screen, squinting to make out the letters.
Another mechanic I enjoyed in The Amazing American Circus was looking after these performers. Each show would give a performer some experience which after two shows would mean they could level up, this is where I could really cater a performer to my own needs. I could either get a new card or upgrade an old one and therefore change up my deck for specific performances.
They also had the chance of gaining perks or quirks after performing, which could either hinder my artist such as the quirk Leprosy that decreases the focus received by an artist by 5 or perks like Altruist which meant my artist would receive more ignore from cards – this is the way to protect from sneering.
I wasn’t stuck with these features as a quick trip to the Voodoo Wagon was sure to heal their worries. I could pay a cheap sum to delete the perk entirely or lock in a particularly good perk so it wasn’t replaced with another. If an artist you don’t usually use has a really great perk then you can pay to copy that perk to another artist.
By upgrading the Voodoo Wagon, and others similar to this, I could change the likelihood of something happening, making it much easier to perform – and I got quite good at it.
The story itself wasn’t too bad, though it did get repetitive quite quickly. I remember getting to 50 Fame going to impress some other carnival and then being thrown into a different area of America with my Fame set back to zero and being tasked with earning fame again to go impress someone else.
It was a bit underwhelming but for a game with quite a simplistic mechanic I can’t be too mad at it and I still enjoyed the full-voiced narration even if at one point the voices were completely gone and the same character model was used for two people at the exact same time – creepy.
Besides my lacklustre experience with the main story, the funny side quests did make me laugh. One I really enjoyed was a train heist on a priest. We aren’t any boring circus, we rob priests for mayors who ask.
I first had to get two new artists to pull off the performance that was going to be a distraction and then the last part was my favourite bit. My uncle had found a chicken who could crack safes it was down to this little chicken to open the safe – well with my help I had to press the right number cards in order.
After this, I even got to keep the chicken for my performances, and he had some interesting cards like only being able to use a certain card if my hand is an even number or that the discard pile has a number that can be found in the Fibonacci sequence – I’m no good at maths and I still enjoyed it!
The Amazing American Circus is a bundle of laughs to play. The storytelling is magnificent and reminded me of an old western, it isn’t too difficult to learn and never overwhelmed me to play. By the end of it, I felt like I had actually been to a circus or even better, that I was a part of the circus.
The Amazing American Circus PS4, PS5 Review
The Amazing American Circus is a simplistic and yet exciting strategy card game that thrives off incredibly illustrated cards and the whimsical nature of the good ol’ circus. Its well-narrated story feels less like a game and more like a classic journey across the wild west as you perform to the masses, earning your fame and fortune, and the occasional rotten tomato to the face.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested PS4. Reviewed using PS4.