On Box of Delights Top 100 Solitaire Board Games of 2015!

Circus Train was the first Victory Point Games (VPG) title to get upgraded to what was referred to as Gold Banner, which meant it came with thick, laser-cut counters, a laser-cut puzzle piece playing board, and full size cards. Not only that, but the game, originally just two players and somewhat simple, was to have it's expansion fully integrated so it supported up to 5 players and a multitude of advanced rules. It was my job to work with designer Tom Decker to ensure this was the best possible version of the game while staying true to the original, since it had become a favorite of the VPG crew.

Photo credit: 2013 Charles Bainter @ BoardGameGeek.com

As one of the centerpieces of VPG's release schedule for 2013, Circus Train was receiving a great deal of in-house attention. The artist, Vinh Ha, began work on the project from almost the beginning, crafting each piece of what you see here in conjunction with VPG's graphic designer, Barry Pike III. Initially, the three of us sat down to play the game to see how the game played and what the visual hierarchy of the game should be based on the mechanics. Since the majority of the game play would be untouched they were turned loose to make the game as beautiful as they could, with weekly check-ins for me to see their progress and to see if any tweaks were necessary. With hundreds of art and graphic design assets needed for the entire project, not to mention all of the design work needed, this was by far the largest project at VPG to date.

Photo credit: 2013 Charles Bainter @ BoardGameGeek.com

Photo credit: 2013 Charles Bainter @ BoardGameGeek.com

One of the great things about working on this project was an increased price cap for the game, which allowed us to get pretty creative with the components. As pictured above, some of the counters were cut into intricate shapes; this sort of thing can have a drastic effect on the MSRP of the game, so usually we were limited on how much of this we could do, but since Circus Train was going to be the flagship at that time we could do a lot more of that sort of work. Even the money was made out of counters instead of paper! There was a significant amount of back and forth on those laser templates, though, since we needed to keep the price from skyrocketing; I made an unknown number of tweaks to the laser templates to try to get the laser time down, considering the initial estimate was 45 minutes, over twice the average game's laser time.

Photo credit: 2014 Richard Hellsten @ BoardGameGeek.com

While this work was going on, Tom Decker and I were working to tailor the rules to be workable for a 2 to 5 player game; the original design was intended for just 2 players and the game tends to be a bit more chaotic with the additional gamers. As you can see in the board above, players tend to bunch up at various times in the game and running into each other has it's own consequences. The solitaire variant to the game was included in the rules, as well as a number of advanced and optional rules such as Special Characters, who randomly show up and can give the player who hires them a nice boost, or the Event cards, which as their name implies throw random events at you throughout the game.

Sample spread from Circus Train 2nd Edition rules book.

This was also the first VPG game to break from what was called the case system way of formatting rules, commonly used for war games. Overall the new rules format was a success, allowing for a much more visual presentation that was easier for a mainstream audience to read. Later games used similar formatting and the VPG team became quite adept at the style.

Overall, Circus Train 2nd Edition was an ambitious project that was successful but fell short of the hoped for massive reception. It has been a critical success and has a solid set of fans, currently ranking at 2,422 out of 11,788 on BoardGameGeek.com. As the first attempt at VPG to upgrade an older game it served as both a solid selling title and a wonderful learning experience.