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Meeple Circus Review – Elephants and Acrobats

Every now and then you feel like something a little bit different.

Dexterity games have always been popular. Ever since the likes of Jenga, Operation and Twister, there have been games that challenge you, as the player, to build or manipulate something physically in order to win the game. With American Style board games and Eurogames forwarding the board game renaissance however, there was a risk for a while that the dexterity game may fall behind.

Luckily for us, they haven’t. Dexterity games are as popular as ever. With the likes of Flick ‘Em Up, Tokyo Highway, and Rhino Hero, the genre is stronger than it has ever been before.

Today, we’re going to look at another game on the market that has proven popular in the board game circles – Meeple Circus.

Meeple Circus Review - Performance

A successful performance in Meeple Circus

What is Meeple Circus?

Okay, let’s jump straight in because this should be a really fun game to talk about. What is Meeple Circus? Well, there are a few things, judging by the introductory paragraphs, that you should be able to guess.

Meeple Circus is a dexterity game set around the concept that you are trying to create the best possible circus act. It is a game for 2-5 players, and takes around 45 minutes to play.

Meeple Circus will have you stacking various different types of meeples, giving you objectives and regulatuions, in order for you, as the player, to score the most points. It has an accompanying app for enhanced game play, with a timer and circus style music.

Meeple Circus was designed by CΓ©dric Millet, with artwork by Angelina Costamagna, Mathieu Leyssenne and Sabrina Tobal. It takes around 45 minutes to play, although this can vary by the number of players.

Meeple Circus Score Tracker

The Score Tracker in Meeple Circus

How do you play Meeple Circus?

Meeple Circus is a very simple game to play and that is one of it’s strengths. The game takes part over three rounds. Each round you will choose from a set of components, and you must use those components to build your act. You can build your act however you want to; however, there is a catch. There are certain things that the audience wants to see, and there are certain configurations that make your act stand out.

During the first round, you choose components and they are all fairly basic. You can get meeples of three colours denoting three different types acrobat. You can get wooden planks, purple barrels, green balls, horses, and elephants. Using those you can actually create some really awesome and unique combinations.

Once everyone has chosen all players have three minutes to build their creation, something they do simultaneously. This is where the app really comes in, as not only does it have a timer but it plays circus music, thus enhancing the atmosphere.

Meeple Circus Components

Components in Meeple Circus

Once the timer is up, the players are scored, and scoring is really interesting.

  1. Players are scored by their acrobats. 1 point per blue acrobat on the ground. 1 point per yellow off the ground. Red acrobats have a measuring stick and are given points based on how high they are off the ground.
  2. Players score audience objectives, of which there are four present each round. These denote the positions of various things within your circus act. For instance, you may need a meeple standing on a ball or a plank being held between two meeples.
  3. The first and second players to complete their act (if they did so in the time) also get points.

In the second round a new element is added. When players are choosing their components (which are added to their previously picked components), they get a special component (or set of components) as well. These may be a tiger, or a strongman, or a clown. They may have the elephant rider, or the jockey. The list goes on. Each one has their own special conditions for placement; however, each is also worth points if used in the act.

So, when it comes to scoring the second round, those are also taken into account.

There are a few large changes made for the third round, which is known as the Grand Performance. Firstly, there are fewer components to chose from, with some components replaced by special criteria. These could be dexterity based; however, we prefer using the fun ones. More on this in a sec.

Each person also builds their act one by one, with everyone watching.

So, each player has their turn and builds their acts. The special criteria are what really make this last act, as they are just funny and fun, and enjoyable to look forward to. They include things like “Sing the tune as you build your circus” or “Everytime a meeple falls say “it hurts, it hurts, it hurts” before continuing”. My personal favourite goes along the lines of “whenever you hear applause on the soundtrack stand up and take a bow”.

Maintaining your special criteria is also worth points at the end, so with all the additional ways of gaining points introduced since the first round, the last round tends to be a high scorer.

Once everyone has managed to have their go, building their Grand Performance, that is the game and the highest score wins.

Meeple Circus Performance

Beth is so much better at this game than I am…

What is Meeple Circus like to play?

Meeple Circus is a game that builds.

You have no idea how much I wanted to say that. Not only is it incredibly witty (well done me), but it is actually true.

Okay, so let’s drill down into the game proper, and let me get one thing off my chest – this is a very fun game. It is enjoyable, and it is quirky. It ticks all the boxes for being something that can be played incredibly lightly, with enough challenge to keep everyone entertained. It is quick, and as the game progresses, it just amps up. This is partly due to your own ever present pool of components with which to build, as well as the added challenge of the second/third rounds.

There is something incredibly satisfying about games like Meeple Circus where you are kind of at the liberty of your own hands. You need to build your act, literally stacking weirdly shaped game pieces, in order to produce the best performance. Afterwards you can sit back, look at it and feel a sense of achievement.

That is one of the strongest things about Meeple Circus, however, it can also be seen as a weak point. Being a dexterity based game, it can be seen to penalise less dexterous players. This could result in some frustration when playing the game.

One thing that I would say about Meeple Circus is it is a game where the short playing time is a good thing. Once you have played Meeple Circus a few times you find yourself looking forward to your favourite parts. For me, that is the Grand Performance; however, it can differ per player. The pace varies between being incredibly fast and then slows down for that moment – requiring all players to become the audience rather than the Ring Masters.

It is all too frequent that it can sound patronising saying that something is just “fun”; however, in this case, I think it would be a complement. Meeple Circus is a fun game. It oozes fun, from the concept to the music, to the actual challenge itself. We have two dexterity games on our shelves – Meeple Circus and Flick ‘Em Up: Dead of Winter. Between those two games we fulfil our criteria for dexterity based games…

…for now at least.

Meeple Circus is a heavily thematic game, with artwork that is both adorable and funny. The box is well designed, and the mechanics are well thought through. There are a few questions that occasionally arise, namely to do with how pieces can be placed; however, those questions don’t really slow the game down. You see, Meeple Circus isn’t so much a game about optimising everything you have, but rather building something cool.

And that really sums it up. Meeple Circus is one of those games that can be described as embodying the concept that it is the taking part that counts. No more is that the case than looking to your left and seeing the player next to you has managed to fulfil all the audience goals – but who cares? They weren’t the ones who managed to stack six elephants on their trunks and on top of each other, where they? No. That was you.

Well done.

Okay, so let’s just acknowledge one last thing before we go into the breakdown. If you want a heavy gaming experience where there is intense and insane competition then Meeple Circus is not the game for you. If you want a game, however, that is light and fluffy and requires stacking ability over brain power then give Meeple Circus a try. It’s one hell of a show.

Meeple Circus - Red Acrobat

It is possible to score 7 points with a Red Acrobat.

TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Lion Tamer

Like all games we can break Meeple Circus into good, bad, and neutral points.

The Good:

  • Meeple Circus is a really quick and easy game to pick up. It can be played with all ages and is a highly thematic game.
  • A fun dexterity game, that places building things over brainpower, it is a nice change of pace around the table.
  • Meeple Circus is simply a fun game. It is silly in parts, but that adds to the atmosphere.
  • Meeple Circus is an incredibly good looking game.
  • The app really adds to the game, with fun music and a built in timer.
  • The pieces are amazing, and it feels satisfying how the game keeps ramping up throughout the rounds.

The Neutral:

  • The ball – have you ever tried balancing a meeple on a circle?
  • Each round, only one of the audience goals changes. We’ve house ruled this to add more variety, but it is something to keep in mind.

The Bad:

  • The app is actually essential to the game. Where this is something that more and more games are doing, it adds a digital component that invites issues for people without the right technology. Granted, it’s a small number of people, but it has to be recognised.
Meeple Circus Fail

Of course…it doesn’t always go to plan…

Meeple Circus Review: Conclusion

All-in-all, Meeple Circus is a game we have to recommend. We’ve played it a good number of times now and really enjoy it whenever it comes to the table. What is more, we’ve played it with various other groups of people, and they have all enjoyed it as well. It is a very fun game.

So, there we have it – a bit of a break from the run of Dungeons and Dragons articles we have been on recently. Instead, a game that couldn’t be further from it. What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy Meeple Circus? Let me know in the comments below.

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