Circle the Wagons is a pocket-sized, two-player game by Quined Games. It is a table-top game that requires matching and careful card placement to score points. This game takes about 10 minutes, and as the rules are so simple, it is a game that is suitable for adults and children alike.
Circle the Wagons is a game set in the Wild West. Think of gun shootouts in the saloon, staking a claim for gold and cowboys and Indians slugging it out. The game consists of just 18 cards. These are double sided. The main playing side is divided into four quadrants, each coloured according to a land type. The reverse side contains bonus points instructions.
To start, fifteen cards are played face up, in a circle between the two players. The three remaining cards are laid (with playing side face down) to show the bonus scoring points available. The playing side shows an arrangement of different land types; desert, forest, mountains, grassy plains, snow or lakes. Within these lands are a different component or item; cattle, fort, gun, mine, beer bottle and a wagon. These are important for scoring bonuses.
Players draft and place cards, building a landscape (or boom town) in front of them. Each time a new card is drawn, it must be placed so that at least one edge meets an existing territory. Cards may not be played so that they tuck underneath or over the top of existing cards.
Circle the Wagons has an interesting card drafting mechanism. Once the fifteen cards are arranged in a circle, the second player will choose which card becomes the starting card. Player one now has a choice; either to take this starting card or to skip ahead to another card that might be more favourable. Players can choose to “pass by” as many cards (including the starting card) as they like, but these cards then are given freely to the opposite player to use. Once a player has drafted their card it must be played in front of them. The second player receives any cards that were “passed over” and then may choose to take the next card in the circle (in a clockwise direction). They too have the option to skip card(s) before selecting a card.
Cards are laid in a vertical orientation but can be rotated by 180o. This will enable matching land types to form a larger cohesive group of interconnecting territory. Sometimes it is advantageous to leave small spaces between cards to allow a more favourable alignment of land types or items.
The game finishes when all of the cards in the circle have been drawn and laid. Points are scored, according to the largest group of the six territory types. These groups must be formed by a cluster of matching land types connected by at least one edge. Only one (the largest) group of each type is scored.
Bonus points are also available in addition to the six territories. The three upturned cards in the middle have unique scoring conditions. This enables both players to score more points depending on the arrangement of their items. For example, three points might be awarded for each wagon symbol that is adjacent to the largest water group. These bonus points can be very valuable and turn a game completely.
Circle the Wagons is a lovely little portable game. It comes in a sturdy box, about the size of a pack of cards. This is just big enough for the 18 cards, rules, score pad and a pencil (not supplied). The artwork on the box lets you know immediately that this is a Wild West themed game. This game can be taken anywhere but does require a small flat space to play (such as an airport lounge table).
The cards have a linen texture to them which adds to the quality feel. Each of the different land types are clear and easy to distinguish, even for players who have colour recognition difficulties. My only comment is that the land type images look to be taken from watercolours so are not as vibrant in colour as some card games. The four items on each card are of a suitable size, are well drawn and easily recognisable.
At first, this seems a very simple game; draw a card, lay a card to maximise your scoring points. It means that for each turn there may be one, or perhaps two, optimal positions to play.
For gamers who would like just a little more “meat”, then Circle the Wagons can provide it. All of the cards are available and can be seen in advance. The order of play and cards to be played can be determined (to a degree). This allows you to consider a longer-term strategy, perhaps seeing the best card is located a few turns ahead. In this situation you might choose to pass over one or more cards to acquire this “perfect” card. Alternatively you might place one card in a low scoring position, knowing you might score higher in later turns.
All of this is dependent on your opponent not scuppering your plans by passing over cards and drawing your favoured card. Other things to contemplate are that as you pass cards, you might be gifting your opponent some high scoring possibilities. The mechanics of these options to choose or pass (with giving of free cards as a penalty) means that every decision has a number of possible outcomes.
The cards in the game are always dealt in a random fashion. The bonus options (on the reverse) also differ between cards. These factors ensure that no two games are ever the same. As there are three bonus opportunities a player has plenty of scope to score. It is very rare that the cards fall in such a way that one player can win every bonus opportunity. That said, aiming to achieve high bonus points will almost always result in weak scoring according to the land groups. This makes for an interesting dynamic in play.
Circle the Wagons is a very replayable challenge, and an ideal game to take when travelling with others. It takes seconds to set up and can be very quick to play in almost any location. I enjoy two player games that appear simple yet have hidden depths. This little pocket-sized game will certainly be staying in my game collection (or in my hand luggage when travelling).