Yee-Haw! Circle the Wagons!

Yee-Haw! Circle the Wagons!

February 17, 2020 0 By Ryan Sanders

Ryan looks at Circle the Wagons. A 2-player map-building game that fits in your back pocket.

Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published on our brother site, The Inquisitive Meeple back in 2017.  This article has been edited (including the cutting out of an interview with the designers) and reworked/updated a bit to better fit the style of Adventures in Gameschooling. 

Important Note to Gameschooling Community: I do want to note since this is a family and school game site, that there are alcohol bottles (green glass bottles with triple X on them, you can see them in some of the pictures below depicted on the art. if you are purchasing this to play with children or in a classroom, please keep that in mind.

Once upon a time, I worked for Button Shy. While I worked there I was introduced to a soon-to-be-published game called Circle the Wagons, and I feel in love with it. Why? Well, let’s dive into that –

Circle the Wagons is a 2-player game, designed by the trio of Danny Devine (Garden Dice), Paul Kluka, and Steven Aramini (Animal Kingdoms), with art from Beth Sobel (Herbaceous, World’s Fair 1893 and Lanterns) and is being published by Button Shy. Circle the Wagons was the winner of the 2016 Button Shy Wallet Design Contest, beating out over 70 other games.

The game itself is is a map-building game, set in the Wild West. Setup is simple, take 15 of the 18 cards and just place those cards in a circle and flip the final 3 cards over to their backs to reveal the scoring goals that will be used in this game. Players will take turns going around the circle taking a card to place in the boomtowns they are building making sure any cards placed are connected together. You can skip any number of cards to take the card you want when going around the circle, but any cards that are skipped are given to your opponent who MUST place them in their boomtown. When all the cards are taken and placed, players score each of their biggest groups in the six different territory types and also score the three scoring goals. The winner is the player with the most points.
Immediately, the thing that will strike many gamers about Circle the Wagons will most likely be Beth Sobel’s art which gives a map feel, to well…, this map-building game. However, underneath Beth’s gorgeous art is a really great game. What makes it great? Well, some of the gameplay that really stands out for me in Circle the Wagons is the skipping mechanic and the goal cards. First, the skipping mechanic. In Circle the Wagons, players are able to pick any card going in clockwise order, even skipping cards if they wish. However, anytime you skip cards, your opponent must take the skipped card (or cards) and place them in their budding boomtown. This is an important part to the gameplay that adds a little depth because you must learn when to skip not only for defensive reasons (having to skip cards to ensure you get a card you want) but also for offensive play (stick your opponent with a card they may not want) as well. Also, since each card is broken up into quadrants, it allows the map-building portion of the gameplay to really feel like you are making a decent size boomtown with only a handful of cards.

Sample of a Boomtown

The true key that makes the gameplay shine is the 3 scoring goal cards that are placed out at the start of each game. The goal cards add another dimension to the gameplay that steps it up from being a good game to an excellent one. It’s clear that a labor of love went into making these cards, as it’s not just the same scoring goal with symbols switched and a different name for each card. We see a bit of experimentation from the designers in the types of scoring goals. Additionally, the goals that are given don’t feel like they were just pasted on. Instead, we see goals that range from bootlegging, to mining gold, to building up your army forts, to cattle ranchers wanting water for their cattle. That is goals that feel like they naturally belong in a Westward Expansion era themed game.

Example of goals

How you layout a game of Circle the Wagons

In the end, Circle the Wagons has a weightiness to it that one may not expect from a micro-game that is made-up of only 18 cards. Now readers shouldn’t expect a medium weight Euro, I mean we are talking about a 15 minute (max) card game. There’s no going around it, Circle the Wagons is what would be labeled a ‘filler,” but at the same time it isn’t a “turn your brain off” filler, but one that you will need to keep your wits about you when playing. For me, Circle the Wagons has become the standard to compare other games to when it comes to card-only microgames.

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Small in size, but big in gameplay. Don’t let the 18 card format fool you, Circle the Wagons may fit in your back pocket, but there is a lot of gameplay packed in as well.

If you like to pick up your own copy of Circle the Wagons, you can order it from Button Shy,

by clicking on this link.

Ryan Sanders is the founder, owner, and editor-at-large of Adventures in Gameschooling. He’s also the guy behind its social media accounts. God has blessed Ryan and his wife Mary, with five children, which he homeschools. As a Christian, he believes that he should not only look out for your own interests but other peoples too (Philippians 2:4) and this is one of his guiding principles for Adventures in Gameschooling. Ryan’s expertise is informed by almost two decades of experience as a stay-at-home father and from the running The Inquisitive Meeple where he performed over 300 written and podcast interviews within the board game industry.