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Circle the Wagons Overview

Circle the Wagons is a quick and easy, down and dirty, ‘Boomtown’ building card game for two players. Draft cards from a central display to make your town unique. Earn points for the largest groups of territories in your city, and take a gamble on the three bonus cards and hope you don’t bust. Get the highest number of points and you just won Circle the Wagons!

Circle the Wagons logo

Circle the Wagons is a light “wallet” card game for 2 players from Button Shy Games. Known for their wallet line of card games, all limited to 18 cards, Buttonshy has released games such as Turbo Drift, Pentaquark, Ahead in the Clouds, and Cunning Folk. Circle the Wagons is from Button Shy’s newest game and releases on Kickstarter on April 4th.

How to Set Up Circle the Wagons

Setting up Circle the Wagons is simple. Shuffle all 18 cards together territory side up. Peel three cards from the top and place them in the middle of the table bonus text face up. These are the bonus cards used in this game. The other 15 cards are placed territory side up in a circle around the bonus cards as you can see in the following picture.

Circle the Wagons setup

Select a first player, and you’re ready to start the game. But first a bit of cleverness: the first player gets first choice of cards, but the second player gets to tell the first player where to start. This can make a big impact in the game, as you’ll see in a moment.

How to Play Circle the Wagons

In Circle the Wagons, two players take turns selecting territory cards from a central display in clockwise order. After picking a first player, and letting the second player indicate the starting card, play begins.

Selecting Cards

The active player has two choices:

  1. Select the first card in order, and place it in her Boomtown.
  2. Skip over any number of cards to pick a different card and place it in her Boomtown. Any skipped cards will be given to the alternate player to place in his Boomtown.

In the following example, the first player selects card #1 and places it in her Boomtown. Player two will pick #3 which means that player 1 will get card #2 and must add it to his Boomtown.

Selecting cards

Placing Cards

When placing a card in your Boomtown, there are only a few rules.

  1. Cards may only be placed right side up, or upside down. Cards may never be placed sideways.
  2. A newly placed card must touch, or overlap an existing territory card.
  3. New cards may overlap old cards in any form or fashion, including completely overlapping another card. New cards may never be slid underneath a previous card.

Placing cards

Play continues clockwise with each player selecting a card and placing it in their Boomtown. When the last card is place, the game is over and scoring begins.

Scoring

At the end of the game your town might look something like this.

Finished Boomtown

After the game is over, players will score 1 point per territory in their largest area of each of the six types of terrain: Desert, Forest, Mountains, Plains, Snow, and Water. If two territories are the same size, players choose which one to score.

In the above example the player would receive the following points:

  • 5 points for the mountain region in the top left
  • 3 points for the desert region in the top left
  • 6 points for the snow region in the center, ignoring the two smaller snow regions in the bottom right
  • 3 points for the water region on the right, ignoring the water region at the top
  • 1 point for the forest region, both of which are a single space
  • 1 point for the plains region, both of which are a single space

Players may also score points based on the Bonus cards unique to that game. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Bonus Cards

Let’s take a quick look at some of the Bonus cards for Circle the Wagons.

Most cards such as Cool Water encourage players to plan ahead, pick the most advantageous cards, and place them in their Boomtown.

Bonus card: Bootleggers

Other cards like Bootleggers can cause a player to lose points if a card isn’t placed properly.

Bonus card: Bootleggers

Some of the cards even pit players against each other, such as Smalltown Charm and might even encourage the player to have the smallest Boomtown:

Bonus card: Smalltown Charm

What I Like About Circle the Wagons

Wallet games can be hit or miss for me. I love the notion of portability, and a game compacted down into its barest essence, but in the past they’ve fallen flat. Circle the Wagons is one of the first wallet games I’ve played which felt like a full on board game. Sure the components are few, but they make up for it by being packed with goodness.

Using double sided cards here is a great idea. Button Shy has done this in the past with Ahead in the Clouds, and Turbo Drift and they continue to use it to great effect in Circle the Wagons. Designers Danny Devine, Steven Aramini, and Paul Kluka have thickly layered on scoring and gameplay mechanisms without making the game feel too long, or too heavy.

Circle the Wagons layout

With players only using 3 of the 18 cards for bonuses, each game will feel different. According to the BoardGameGeek page for Circle the Wagons there are “darn near five thousand unique ways to score”. I’ve played almost a dozen games and truly each one of them felt different. In some games you’re simply collecting the most of an icon, along with placment for largest regions. In other games you’re trying to avoid collecting resources. While in other games you’re literally trying to make your town as small as possible. In many cases the Bonus cards are at odds with each other: Get points for bottles on one card, while another card penalizes you if you have the most bottles.

The art from Beth Sobel is sparing and subtle, but gorgeous. The detailed icon illustrations pair and contrast really nicely with the rough and tumble painted backgrounds to make a set of art that I would happily hang on my wall (stretch goal hint Jason).

Circle the Wagons card closeup

What I Dislike About Circle the Wagons

The only downside of this game really has to do with the medium. While stacking the cards makes for really interesting choices, the physical task of doing so is somewhat annoying. The ever so subtle bow of the cards means that invariably cards will shift around. That could make it difficult to keep your town in order. It’s possible that the production copy of the game will be better, so take this comment with a grain of salt.

It would also be great to have a few more cards, or a small token with which to mark the start card…but then it wouldn’t be a wallet game now would it?

Final Thoughts on Circle the Wagons

Equal parts Patchwork, Isle of Skye, and Kingdom Builder, Circle the Wagons is the quintessential big game in a small package. Meaty, beautiful, streamlined, and pure fun to play. I predict that Circle the Wagons will become a flagship game for Button Shy, and well deserved too. Back Circle the Wagons on Kickstarter while you can, you absolutely won’t regret it!


What do you think about Circle the Wagons? Give us your opinions about what you like and/or dislike about the game in the comments below!

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Andy Matthews

Founder of Meeple Mountain, editor of MeepleMountain.com, and software engineer. Father of 4, husband to 1, lover of games, books, and movies, and all around nice guy. I run Nashville Game Night, and Nashville Tabletop Day.