Set in the early days of the American frontier, The Amazing American Circus is a deck-building game in which you travel through the emerging states of America. The duels take the form of shows in which your cards dictate the tricks you perform to impress your audience.
This is an original and creative approach to deck-building. The game boasts over 200 hand-illustrated cards split amongst the 15 types of performers you can recruit.
The game begins with you inheriting a circus troupe from your late father. Your goal is to build up your circus until it is proficient enough to compete and secure your fortune by winning a circus competition with a prize of $100,000.
You start off with just three low-level artists. You earn money by performing and, in each town, you can spend on advertising to boost the audience. If, however, they leave unsatisfied, that money is lost.
You can choose your own route around the map. There are also sub-quests you can undertake that give the game more of a sense of narrative, but they don’t much impact the gameplay.
In each town, your main task is to put on a show. You select which artists perform, how much money to spend on advertising and do the show. With the money you earn, you can upgrade various elements of your circus, recruit new artists and boost the skills of performers in your troupe. You also need to factor in the cost of food to sustain your team on the road, adding a strategic element to the game.
Although hypothetically you can perform with a different line-up for each show you put on, artists gain experience and level up only when they perform. This means that you’re likely going to use the same performers for most of your shows.
Sometimes you’ll get clues about what sort of people will be in the audience and what they’re likely to be impressed by. This acts as an incentive to use specific artists. However, there aren’t places where it’s convenient to grind to boost any of those performers that aren’t part of your regular repertoire, so they might do you more harm than good.
The art style is lovely. It blends the sepia tones of the Wild West with splashes of circus colour that creates exactly the vibe this game needs. This is matched by a 60-minute original soundtrack inspired by American country and folk music.
All of these broad strokes create a really nice atmosphere for The Amazing American Circus, but sometimes the details let the game down. For instance, there isn’t much variety in terms of the duel animations. The towns all look very similar. Certain artists’ names will overlap on your posters no matter what order you put them in, which feels like something that should’ve been easy to avoid.
It also presents a very romanticised version of the American frontier, glossing over the less pleasant elements of the era. Folkloric stories of exciting crimes like train heists make it into the show, but it generally leans into an element of silliness (such as the tigers and chickens you can have perform at your show).
The gameplay can feel convoluted. The audience throws rotten tomatoes at you on their turn, but then be so impressed they’re not a problem any more the next. Your special move is called the “Finale”, but you can play it any time and it doesn’t guarantee the end of the show just because it has the biggest impact on the audience. These mechanics jar the performance and don’t feel as appropriate for the game as they could be.
The Amazing American Circus has a very cute concept and a lot of effort has evidently gone into creating the ideal atmosphere for it. However, once you’ve spent enough time on the game to get into it, you can’t help but notice the rough edges that could use a bit more finesse.