Circle the Wagons Card Game Review

In the tabletop game industry, there is a term called micro game. What it means is mostly a complete game packaged in a smaller size compared to other regular game.

The game comes with smaller pieces or even limited number of cards that we can put them in a pocket or wallet. It is said that it was popular back in 1980 and gained its popularity back around 2012, specifically in Japan.

A lot of people who cannot afford to have a large tablespace to play or shelf to keep big box game, prefer this size of entertainment. This next game, Circle the Wagons is definitely one of them.

So, what is this Circle the Wagons card game? How do we play the game? Is there a solo mode?

Those are probably just a few questions that came to mind after hearing about the game. In this article. I’m going to share with you my Circle the Wagons card game review based on my experience and what I can find from the internet.

Hope this helps. Is Circle the Wagons going to be the best micro game out there?

Click or tab on any sections from the table of contents to jump right to that part. Use the red arrow button on the bottom right corner of the screen to head back to the top.

Overview

Game’s Title: Circle the Wagons
Genre: Card Game, Micro Game, Card Drafting, Set Collection, Melding and Splaying, Objective, Competitive, 2 Player Only, City Building Theme, American West Theme, Time Tracker, Tableau Building, Multi Purpose Card.
Designer: Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, Paul Kluka
Artist: Beth Sobel, Bryan Fischer, Loic Billiau
Publisher: Button Shy, Quined Games
Number of Players: 2
Playtime: 15 minutes
Official Website: Button Shy Games, Quined Games

Content:
1 Rulebook
18 Cards (63 x 88 mm)
1 Score Pad

Expansions:
Lone Cowboy (2017)
Wildest West Promo Card (2018)
Lone Cowboy Rides Again (2018)

Release Year: 2017
Initial Price: $12

About Circle the Wagons Card Game

In the analog tabletop game industry, there are games that can be considered as a micro game. What it means, is that the game only consists a small number of cards or components compared to regular size games but it can deliver a complete experience.

If I understand correctly, these type of games was popular back in 1980. However, in 21st century, they first came from Japan where they have play within limited table space to play and storage to keep the game. Now, many game publishers from different countries try to make the same.

These games are so small that successful publishers try to release their own series frequently. Some people who love them then try to collect those games.

Circle the Wagons is one of these, with just 18 cards for the base game. It was originally released in 2017 by Button Shy who has a series of Wallet Games. If we buy the game from them, we will get a wallet to keep these cards.

The game then got published by Quined Games in 2019 where they offer different form of package and added scoresheet as an extra if we buy from them instead of the original publisher. The gameplay itself remains the same.

Also, we can purchase the PnP version from the original publisher for $3. I think the PnP version offers some flexibility for how we use both sides of the cards in different combination.

One of the characteristic of big game in smaller package is the use of multi purpose card as one of the mechanism. All of the cards are unique and can either be played or become an objective card.

Each game, we randomly select three of these as the objective of the game. The rest of the cards are laid on the table where the 2 competing players can take turns drafting them.

Each player will then use the cards to build their town or tableau in America West setting. We do that by laying these cards adjacent or on top of the previous ones.

Each card will have a 2 x 2 grid. Our goal is to have set collections with either the same color or combination of multiple icons. After players have done drafting all cards, the game ends.

Whoever score the most point wins. The interesting thing is that this game also have a time tracker element.

We laid the cards in random order and we draft them from one point to the other end. Everytime we can choose not to draw the next card and go further as we want.

However, for all cards that we skip, we are giving those cards to the opponent. This way, the two players can have different number of cards at the end.

We cannot just focus on our tableau, but we also have to consider the opponent’s. The combination between drafting and how we can lay the cards makes the game not just an interactive one but has enough depth.

The three designers of Circle the Wagons also designed another micro game called Sprawlopolis which also part of the Button Shy wallet game series.

Components

For this review, I used the copy of Circle the Wagons from Quined Games. As I said earlier, they don’t change the gameplay, just come with a proper game box and scorepad as an extra component.

The size of the box is about 10 x 7.5 x 2.7 cm. This is like a one piece box for a deck of card but instead made of paper the box uses a thicker one. Unlike box for a deck of card which the lid is on the shorter part, this one is like a regular board game box.

Clearly, the box itself has more than enough space for the rulebook, scorepad and the 18 cards. They barely take just half of the box so we can add sleeve or even additional cards from expansions.

All of the cards have one size, 63 x 88 cm including those 13 from currently available expansions. We will definitely shuffle all of the cards each game and considering how fast the game is, we will probably play a couple of times consecutively.

If we do want to use sleeve, we need the one to reveal both sides as the card function differently on each side.

The back of the box has a bit of description about the game written in multiple different languages. Beside English, they use Dutch, German and French.

The problem is that the rulebook and the cards uses English only, at least for the copy I use. Quined Games as the publisher offered the digital version of the rulebook for those languages on their website.

Sadly, the pdf file doesn’t explain anything about the card. Even though each card will have icons that can remind us very well once we understand what it says.

Rulebook

Here is the link to English digital version of the rulebook from Quined Games. As mentioned earlier, we can also find the Dutch, German and French version there.

Alternatively we can go to BoardGameGeek.com for more translation to Spanish, Italian or the original Button Shy version. We just need to create a free BGG account.

The rulebook is just a piece of paper folded into 4 pages with 2 sides, which become almost the same size of the card. Here are what we can find from the rulebook.

Cover (Page 1). We can see the logo by Bryan Fischer which is different from the box which uses the art by Loic Billiau.

Objective (Page 2). The general idea what the two competing players will be doing in the game.

Components (Page 2). This just states the number of cards included in the game box.

Setup (Page 2 and 3). This is the setup of the general area. There will be no player setup aside from having enough table space for each.

Territories (Page 3). This explains what is on one side of the card with the 2 x 2 grid. We have to check the last page to find out about all of the available icons on the cards.

Build Your Town (Page 4). This part starts with the general gameplay of what each player will be doing each turn. Then it continues with the second half of the gameplay which is the tableau or city building or how do we play the card.

The lower part of the page have visual examples showing what is allowed and not when placing those cards.

Drafting A Card (Page 5-6). This is actually the first half of the gameplay each turn. We can either draft the first card or skip several cards and draft what we want.

At the bottom of this part, there is an end game trigger, which just when the last card has been placed. Page six will have some illustration of how the drafting and time track element works.

Scoring (Page 6 – 8). There are two parts of scoring, one from each 6 territories and the other from 3 objective cards. Page 7 and 8 have some illustrations just showing the example for scoring from territories.

Territory Types and Icons (Page 8). This is a list of all available territory types and icons that we can find from the cards in the game.

Credits (Page 8). Somehow Quined Games didn’t use this opportunity to put their website as contact info where players can buy more games and even request some missing part of their games. We can also contact Button Shy for rule explanations.

The rulebook does a decent job explaining the general gameplay. It definitely misses several details like tiebreaker or how the non active player resolve several skipped cards.

I think some of the objectives may need further explanations. Most of them can be very simple which we can look from the icons but some can be very complicated like the WAGON TRAIN card.

Hopefully I can fill in some gap with this article. We can actually ask the designer on the forum. The designer responded to several question but still missing the follow up ones.

Scorepad

The next component that we get from the Quined Games version is the scorepad. It has about 50 double sided sheets. That means if we can play twice, we can use a single sheet.

The scorepad also has almost the same size as the card. Unfortunately Quined Games didn’t actually explain how to use it, not that it is hard to figure it out.

As we can see, each sheet has two columns, one for each player. We can write the name under first and second player.

Then, we can see the six terrain types or territory types. Each has a small how at the bottom right corner. This is a space where we can write how many adjacent quadrant from the largest group of each type.

Next, we can see 3 rows for the bonus scoring from the 3 objectives. Lastly, at the bottom we can tally the total final score.

Sadly, Quined Games didn’t include the pen or pencil in the box to write it. I think it is possible to add a short pencil in the box. If we put it diagonally, we have a room for about 10 cm writing tool.

We even only need a single sheet if we laminate it and use a dry erase marker. Not sure if there is one within that length.

Personally, I  don’t use it to actually write down the score. However, it does help me to find out which terrain I need to count next. This way, it prevents me to count the same one more than once.

Cards

These 18 cards are the main components to play Circle the Wagons with the official 2 players. Some people on the forum even tried to come up a variant for 3 players without adding more cards or 4 players with another copy of the game.

As I mentioned before, I consider these cards as multi purpose card, but not multi use card. What it means, is depending on the setup, some cards will serve one purpose and will not serve the other purpose.

In this game, each card can either become an objective card using one side of the card or become the Territory Card, using the other side. Each of these 18 cards are unique for both sides.

Every session, we will randomly pick 3 of them to become the objective cards and use the territory side for the other 15 cards. That means, with just limited number of cards, we can still have different experience each game.

From the objective cards alone, using these cards from the base game, we can have over 800 different combinations, a lot of replay value. That is just one setup variability. The order of how we setup the territory cards will add even more.

This is also the point where I think the PnP file can even offer more. We can mix and match any 2 sides and get a lot more combinations.

Territory Cards

On the territory side of the card, each card will always have 2 x2 grid. The quadrant will have one of six terrain types in the background: DESERT, FOREST, SNOW, MOUNTAINS, PLAINS or WATER.

With the exception of blue color for SNOW and WATER territory, each type will use distinct color so we can easily tell the difference. Other than that, each type will have different strokes as visual representation of each terrain.

That means, even for people with color blind, they can still play this game.

The basic idea of this game is to create a set collection, mainly based on these colors or terrains in the background. In the game, we will want to put the card so quadrant with the same terrain will be adjacent.

At the end of the game, we will score the largest group of area for each 6 different terrains. One Victory Point or Prosperity Point for each quadrant in the largest group.

Each of the 4 quadrants from each card will also have an icon. The icons use rather obvious art unlike the background part. They are either BEER, COW, FORT, GUN, MINE or WAGON.

These icons are how we can score additional Prosperity Points based on the 3 objective cards in play.

There is no direct association between these icons and the background. Any terrain type can have any of the 6 icons. Sometimes, the objective will align with the points from territory.

Other times, we may have to put two different icons adjacent to each other, or put icons adjacent or not adjacent to certain terrains. So, this introduce another set collection which can be totally opposite from the terrain.

That means, during the game, one of the consideration when playing the card is whether we go for the objective or just the terrain areas. Some objective will require us to have a set with 4 icons which can give a lot of points but only if we meet the requirement.

From others, we can already score low points with just 2 adjacent quadrants and we can keep adding them up. Don’t forget that we draft these cards from the same supply as our opponent.

We might need to always check the opponent’s progress and how likely we can compete for the same thing.

Melding and Splaying, Tile Laying

Some people consider Circle the Wagons as one of the tile laying games. Instead of using cardboard, we use cards. The difference is, in tile laying games that use cardboard, usually we place a single tile.

In this game, we put 4 different tiles or quadrant in a single card. Unlike the regular tile layer games, we don’t have to put the card adjacent to the existing one in this game.

We can cover a single quadrant or the entire existing card with the new one. As a result, they are considered as a single layer tile, ignoring the parts that have been covered. This mechanism is known as MELDING and SPLAYING.

This way, we can keep expanding our tableau or keeping them as compact as possible depending on the objective. Also, we can rotate the card 180 degrees when placing the new card.

So, this is not just any set collection game, where we just collect the same icons on cards. Instead, there is a spatial element that adds depth to the gameplay.

During each turn, when we draft any card, we will be busy placing, rotating, trying different placement possibilities to find the best result. We might want to draw a different one and see if the collective result is better.

Time Track

Time track is another element in Circle the Wagons, specifically on the order of the cards that we can draw. In a game with time track element, players will not take turns one after the other but based on how far they have moved in some linear track.

The one on the furthest back will keep taking turns until they become the lead or stay ahead on another player which they no longer the last one.

In Circle the Wagons, something similar happens. We start with a randomly chosen card in the display and move one way.

One player can pick the first available card or skip them and draft the one they prefer. As a result, the skipped cards will be given to their opponent. So, the opponent doesn’t take multiple turns but the process is simplified as they are just taking those cards in a single turn.

Then, the opponent will go again, because it is their turn. They are considered still behind the first player.

This makes the game even more interesting. We cannot just think about the card that can benefit our tableau but we will have to consider what we will be giving our opponent.

It is possible that we should just take one card at a time. However, there is also a chance where the card that we want the most will be taken by the opponent first.

Also, with this mechanism, both players can have asymmetric number of cards or even turns. We can also jump ahead and pick the last card and give all 14 cards to the opponent, not that it is a good strategy.

Another interesting thing by have a time track element is that we can see all of the cards in the general display area. That means, tactically we can still make a plan based on the remaining available cards.

Can we still get one specific icon, territory or combination or icons? We can combine that thought process with the chances of what the opponent is going for. Will that player skip or take something else.

So, with just some extra rule, this micro game can have another depth to the gameplay.

Objective or Special Scoring Card

These are the element from the other side of each card. Each card will tell us the name of the card at the top, the objective of how we score points or scoring conditions and some icons to represent that scoring condition.

For each game, we will take three of these objectives and they will not be used for the territory part or for the City Building element. These 3 scoring conditions work for both players.

That means, we will get an idea of what the opponent is going for, beside for the set collection based on terrain type. Some condition may not work together very well if they come in to play.

It is possible that we will score nothing from one objective but a lot of points from the other two. Some also have counterintuitive conditions or not as obvious as we think.

From one condition, we might want to expand our tableau but from others, we have to make the tableau as compact as possible. Some can be very easy to achieve and score little by little, but others may require more complex set but worth a lot more points.

Having different 3 of these conditions will definitely change the gameplay.

Here are the details of each card.

Name: BADLANDS
Conditions: 4 points per single Gun directly between 2 Desert territories.
Territory Side: Plains – Cow, Plains – Fort, Plains – Mine, Forest – Beer.

As a bit of clarification. The adjacent card can also means above and below the Guns as long as the gun is in between.

This is not that hard to accomplish but getting more than one set is probably not a good idea. The reason is because the gun is probably not on Desert so, it will more likely to separate the desert.

Unless we have the Smalltown Charm card where the Gun is also on Desert territory. Without that, we should just try to score this tactically.

Name: BOOM OR BUST
Conditions: Score Points per Mine in your Town. 5 points (0-2), 0 points (3 -6), 4 points (7), 8 points (8 or more).
Territory Side: Mountains – Fort, Plains – Fort, Snow – Fort, Desert – Wagons.

This is a rather tricky one. Especially if the other scoring condition is CLAIM JUMPERS.

Using both, we definitely will try to collect Mine. However, unless we get like 7 or 8 Mines in our tableau, we are not getting anything. We’ll be busy trying to get just 2 mines, covering the rest.

But this can be an easy 5 points. Territory part of the HERD card will give us 3 Mine icons immediately.

Name: BOOTLEGGERS
Conditions: 2 points per Beer adjacent to a Wagon and -1 point per Beer not adjacent to a Wagon. A single Wagon can apply to more than one Beer.
Territory Side: Snow – Mine, Water – Gun, Plains -Gun, Snow – Wagons.

This one is a bit trickier because of the penalty. We cannot just get a Beer icon without trying to put it adjacent to Wagons. That means, just trying to hate draft will not work.

Sure, we can just cover it but that means another effort. Points come from the Beer not the Wagon. Claim Jumper card will only give us 2 points.

While there are several cards with multiple Beer but none of them have any Wagon on the same card. The Clearing card has both but not adjacent to each other.

We just need a single Wagon and put 4 Beer right adjacent to it to get 8 points.

The best combination would be to go for Desert territory because it has the most Beer and Wagons on it.

Name: CIRCLE THE WAGONS
Conditions: 5 points per “circle” formed of 4 Wagons surrounding any territory. A Wagon can apply to more than one circle of Wagons.
Territory Side: Snow- Gun, Snow – Cow, Fort – Cow, Water -Mine.

This is how the game got their title. Even though it says to create a circle, we just need less and not like the Undiscovered Card.

Based on the description, there has to be a single territory at the center, not just an empty space or multiple territories surrounded by Wagons like in board game of Go.

I assume another Wagon can be at the center as well. Getting cards with multiple Wagons on it like Claim Jumpers or Target Practice will help., even though, both will not work.

This is also an interesting one because after we have built a single set, we just need to add 2 more cards and score another set. However, it is not as simple as the Fortified one and this give less amount of points.

Also, this scoring condition does not work very well with other scoring condition related to wagons.

Name: CLAIM JUMPERS
Conditions: 9 points if you have the most Mines, but forfeit 5 points to your opponent if they have more Guns than you. If tied for the most Mines. no player gets points.
Territory Side: Desert – Fort, Mountains – Wagons, Snow – Wagons, Desert – Beer.

This is a bit harder to complete. There are 2 ways to look at it.

First, we can try to get the highest number of mine. At least, we will get 4 points and the opponent gets 5 if they get the more Guns.

That means, getting Gun from the start will definitely secure that 5 points. If we lucky enough to get more Mines, then we get extra 4.

Name: THE CLEARING
Conditions: 2 points per Fort that you have and -1 per Forest territory that you have.
Territory Side: Water – Mine, Water – Beer, Snow, Wagons, Water – Gun.

This one is unique because it is the only one where we have to avoid having a single terrain type, which is Forest. There are only 12 quadrants with Forest territory.

However, that means, we will be trying to avoid the icons as well. 5 of those Forrest quadrants have Cow. So, this scoring condition doesn’t get along with the Herd card, Prairie Life or Happy Cows.

Name: COOL WATER
Conditions: 3 points per Wagon adjacent to your largest Water group. If multiple largest, you choose which group.
Territory Side: Forest – Cow, Plains – Beer, Desert – Beer, Forest – Mines.

This specific card was updated. The previous one mentioned about WAGONS ON WATER, which is not available from the entire deck so they removed it for the new printing.

This is also a tricky one. We actually just need one Snow territory and place wagons adjacent on all 4 sides to get 12 points. If the Circle the Wagons scoring card is in play as well, we will get extra 5 points.

However, as soon as we have another Snow area that is bigger, we will get no point from this. I guess then with the Circle the Wagons scoring card, we probably have to play them separately.

Name: FORTIFIED
Conditions: 7 points per group of 4 corner-to-corner Forts. A Fort can apply to more than one fortified group.
Territory Side: Plains – Beer, Forest – Cow, Mountains – Cow, Plains – Gun.

Maybe this is not that hard to score, especially if we have Boom or Bust card at the start with 3 Fort right away. This will not work if that card is in the last.

I guess, when this scoring condition come in to play, the first card should be the one after that one with 3 Fort. Remember that if we get that Boom or Bust card from being skipped, we still need to play that card in order, which could be the last.

The interesting thing about Fortified is that after we have successfully get 7 points from making a single set, we just need to add half of it and get another 7 points.

Based on my experience, I think we can focus on this and still win, ignoring the other scoring condition. Unless the other condition is either The Clearing or Rifles Ready.

Name: GOLD COUNTRY
Conditions: 2 points per Mine adjacent to or on a Mountain territory.
Territory Side: Forest – Beer, Forest – Wagons, Plains – Gun, Forest – Cow.

This is a simple one. It is probably easier if we focus on building Mountain territory then place the Mine icons next to it.

This way, at least we already have points from the terrain type. Maybe it will be more interesting if the other scoring condition is either Boom or Bust or Claim Jumpers as they both require us to get more Mine.

The territory side of the Herd card can give us immediately 4 points, Happy Cows card is the only one with Mine on Mountains so we can definitely get 2 points.

Name: HAPPY COWS
Conditions: 2 points per Cow that is not adjacent to or on a Snow territory.
Territory Side: Mountains – Fort, Mountains – Mine, Desert – Beer, Mountains – Wagons.

This one is also rather simple. The Cow or the snow don’t have to be adjacent but clearly we will want to have the snow into a single large group.

The territory part of the Wagon Train card will give us immediately 6 points, that is if the card is not used as the scoring condition.

Name: THE HERD
Conditions: 2 points per Cow in your largest Cow group.
Territory Side: Water – Mine, Mountains – Gun. Plains – Mine, Snow – Mine.

This is probably the easiest scoring condition. We only need to focus on one type of icon, the Cows and put them into a single group.

However, at the same time, both players will try to collect them. Even though the potential score is 24 points from 12 cows, it is very unlikely that the other player will not try to get them as well.

That is also assuming, we are ignoring the terrains of those Cows. Cows with Forest terrain is probably the most with 5 cards.

With that condition, we need at least 2 adjacent cows and already secure 4 points. The Wagon Train card will immediately give us 3 adjacent cows.

Name: ONE TOO MANY
Conditions: The player with the most Beer loses one point for each Beer their opponent has.
Territory Side: Snow – Gun, Desert – Mine, Forest – Gun, Water – Gun.

This is also a tricky one. We want to have less Beer not more than the opponents.

The tricky part is that if we avoid the Beer as well, the opponent should they have more Beer will suffer no penalty. We have to be careful especially if we are not the last one to draw the card.

If during the game we have very close number of Beer and suddenly we get more at the end, we will lose a lot. That also means, maybe trying to get as all of the Beer is also a viable plan.

The problem is when the Target Practice card and Bootleggers come in to play as well as the scoring condition. It is because the other player will try to have Beer as well.

Name: PRAIRIE LIFE
Conditions: Add all of your Cow symbols and all of your Plains territories. Divide by 2 (rounding down) and score that many points.
Territory Side: Water – Gun, Snow – Mine, Forest – Mine, Water – Fort.

For this, the collective Cow and Plains don’t have to be adjacent. So, we don’t need to collect cow in a single area, but collecting Plains still definitely help with the scoring from terrain type.

This will be different if the Herd scoring is also in play. We will have to collect the Cow as well.

Wagon Trains and Badland territory part can be a good combination to score this one.

Name: RIFLES READY
Conditions: 2 points per Fort that is adjacent to a Gun. A single Gun can apply to more than one Fort.
Territory Side: Forest – Cow, Water – Beer, Mountains – Beer, Plains – Beer.

With this, we need to place two icons adjacent. The problem usually is that this is not aligned with getting points from the largest group of terrain type.

Fort is how we get the points not the Guns. A single Gun with 4 Forts on all sides will get us 8 points.

I think the Water terrain is probably the best choice here. We have 3 Forts on Water and 4 Guns on Water, none of them from the Rifles Ready card.

The territory side of Circle the Wagons card will give us immediate 2 points. We can then start to build more Snow territory from this.

Name: SMALLTOWN CHARM
Conditions: Both players count every territory (square) in their town. If you have fewer than your opponent, gain points equal to the difference.
Territory Side: Desert – Wagons, Desert – Gun, Desert – Cow, Mountains – Fort.

I believe it means we count all non covered squares or territories and compare the number, not add them as points. However, I did misinterpret this one a bit.

I thought we should be trying to be as expansive as possible and get additional points from the less number of squares. Instead, we should try to be as compact as possible, which is how the card gets the name.

This is definitely not going to work with several other objectives.

Skipping many cards might work, making the opponent just keep expanding. But then, the chances are, we lose the opportunity to score ourselves for the other conditions.

Name: TARGET PRACTICE
Conditions: Each row or column with a Gun scores 1 point per Beer in it. Trick Shot: if that scoring row or column has 2 or more beers in it, score 1 additional point.
Territory Side: Desert – Wagons, Forest – Wagons, Water – Fort, Mountains – Wagons.

Somehow, I get the picture where a cowboy try to practice shooting by using empty beer bottle as a target. It is very thematic.

However, some people find the description can be confusing a bit with the word Trick Shot. It seems that the correct interpretation is we get x + 1 point with x is a number of beer and x must be more than 1.

So, if we can get a row of 6 beer bottles, we will get 7 points. We only need 1 Gun and we can place the beer bottle in any orthogonal directions with the gun in the center.

Even still, we don’t really need to achieve that. We can just try to get  as many beer bottles and place them in the line of fire, no need to be adjacent.

Name: UNDISCOVERED
Conditions: 6 points per fully enclosed undiscovered territory (a single open space surrounded on all sides and corners by territories).
Territory Side: Mountains – Wagons, Desert – Fort, Water – Fort, Mountains – Cow.

Clarification from the designer, this only require an empty space of a single territory or 1/4 of the card, not the entire card. This is not that hard to complete but it does counterintuitive with the basic idea.

Usually we want to place the card or territory right next to each other. Even if we try to expand, we will not try to leave an empty space.

If we do try to complete it, we still need like 6 cards at least to make it happen. The empty space should be surrounded on all sides and corners. We can at most get one from this for just 6 points.

Also, we might be ignoring the other scoring conditions or even the points from just adjacent same territory scoring.

Name: WAGON TRAIN
Conditions: Score Points per set of adjacent Wagons in straight line (horizontal or vertical). If you have intersecting lines of Wagons, both lines score.
Territory Side: Plains – Cow, Snow – Cow, Desert – Beer, Forest – Cow.

This is another one where it will force us to expand the tableau. If this is the only scoring condition, we may not have that much trouble just to get 6 in a straight line.

If we can start with a card that has 2 or 3 Wagons like the Target Practice or Claim Jumper, we will want to take advantage from making intersection. The other cards will only have a single one which is usually easier to slip them into the existing tableau.

We don’t really need just to aim for a single line but it will be worth at least if we have 4 or 5.

This scoring condition is probably not going to work very well with other Wagon related scoring. Cool Water requires a large group of Water terrain. Circle the Wagons card will prevent us to create a line with Wagons.

Bottleggers is probably the easiest combination. Still, it is better if we are not trying to create just a single line.

That is it with all of the components we get from the base game to play Circle the Wagons.

How to Play

Circle the Wagons is originally a 2 player only competitive game. This section will explain how to play in that mode.

The game does have an official rule for solo mode but it require some cards from the expansions. How to play the solo mode is a bit different and will be discussed later in this article.

Here is the video by Rahdo from Rahdo Runs Through channel, showing how the gameplay works.

Setup

First, we shuffle the deck and randomly draw 3 cards as the objective or scoring conditions card. We then put the card in the center of the table, with their scoring condition face up.

Second, we place the remaining 15 cards with their territory side facing up, in a circle around the previous 3 scoring condition cards. This will then set the general drafting area.

Third, we choose who gets to be the FIRST PLAYER. The second one will then choose which of the 15 territory cards will be the starting card for that first player.

That is actually it with the setup. There is no setup for the player, except for each player to have enough table space in front of them for their tableau building.

We usually start with a card in the center of our tableau and we can expand in any directions.

Gameplay

Each turn in this game consists of 2 main parts. The first one is the drafting part where we draft a card from the general drafting area by the active player.

Then as the second part, the active player will use that card they just drafted, and play it to build their city. In this case, build their tableau.

There will be a 3rd part if the active player skipped at least a single card. The non active player will draft the skipped cards which they will also play and place the card in their tableau.

The game ends once every territory cards has been drafted and played.

Non Active Player Choose Starting Card

This can be a crucial part especially for some scoring conditions. The second player is basically either choose the card for the active player or for themselves.

Some territory cards can definitely work very well with the scoring conditions and give the player immediate points. Or at least just one step further for securing very high points.

Which is why when choosing the starting card, we have to first consider the special scoring conditions of the game. The best way would be to choose the next card after the one that works very well with the scoring conditions.

If we just choose the bad card, the active player can just skip it and we are going to be the one drawing them.

Active Player Draws a Card

This is not just a card drafting game but this is also a time tracker game. What it means is that even though we can see all of the cards, we have to draw them in order, start from the first card, going clockwise until the last one.

The active player can only draw a card. The first player can either choose the chosen starting card by the second player or skip it and draw a single card of their choice right after it.

For each card the active player skip, the cards will be given to the non active player as free cards. The non active player must take the cards and play them in order.

Which is why we cannot just focus on getting what we want but we also need to consider what we are giving to our opponent. Also, that means, each player can have a different total number of cards in their tableau at the end of the game.

Of course, we can just skip ahead to the final cards and give the other 14 cards to the non active player. Not that it will be ever a good idea to do so. This will also end the game.

This is why choosing the right starting card by the second player at the beginning of the game can be crucial. Either the first player take that card or we will be the one to take it.

We have to remember that there are some scoring conditions where we have to avoid certain icons or terrains. There are some penalties and we will not always score more by drawing more.

The next card after the one drawn by the active player will be the starting card for the next player.

Active Player Plays a Card

This is the second part of the game, which is the city building game. We build the boomtown by placing the drawn card to our existing tableau.

There are a few rules that we need to follow.

First, the drawn card or free card must be played. It is always possible to play any card.

Second, when placing the card, it cannot be oriented sideways from the existing one but it can be upside down.

Second, we have to place the new card so that a single quadrant of the new card is adjacent to the existing quadrant. That means, we are not allowed to connect them diagonally or by a corner.

Third, we are allowed to cover at least a single existing quadrant but we don’t need to. We can also cover an entire card with 4 quadrants but we cannot slip the new card underneath the existing one.

The basic goal is to to gather the same terrain type into a single group. However, the current scoring condition in play may suggests more of how we can score from the set of icons.

If this is the first card in our tableau, we simply just place the card.

After the active player has done placing their card, then it is the opponent’s turn.

Non Active Player Draw & Play Skipped Cards

This part only happens if the active player skip at least a card. The non active one will then draw them and play them to their tableau one by one in order.

So, if the active one skipped two cards, the non active one has to draw and play the first card first before going for the second. It is very common to assume that we can just play as we want.

That means, the active player has another depth of consideration when they decide to skip cards. They are not just giving free cards but they can also take into account how likely the opponent is going to play those cards.

The first one might be beneficial for the non active player but there is a chance the second card can only cover the first one.

Non Active Player’s Turn

This is when the second player becomes the active one. So, we can say that if we skip some cards, it’s like the opponent gets twice in a row.

We might want to consider that when skipping some cards as an active player.

This second player will do the same. They either take the current starting card or skip some to get the card of their choosing and play the card to their tableau.

The game keeps going like this until the last territory card has been drawn and played. This will then trigger the end of the game and we can proceed to scoring.

Scoring and Tie Breaker

There are 2 parts of the scoring for Circle the Wagons.

First, from each of sixth different terrains. We get 1 Prosperity or Victory Point per territory or quadrant in their largest group of each territory type.

A territory group is considered t be a cluster of matching territories connected by at least one edge. Only the largest one of that terrain will be scored.

If there are 2 or more groups of the same type are tied as the largest, we get to choose which group to score. It is possible that for certain terrains, we will only score 1 point.

Depending on how we build our city, it is also possible that we may not score anything from certain terrain. I recommend using the scorepad included with the copy from Quined Games to track which terrain we have not scored yet.

Second Scoring is from the 3 special scoring conditions that we drew at the beginning of the game. Some of the scoring conditions can be done individually while some other will require both players to compare their tableau to determine the score.

We then tally the Final Score by counting from those two scoring parts. Whoever score the most wins the game.

In the case of a tie, the designer has stated on the forum that the player with less number of cards in their tableau will win the game.

That is it with how to play Circle the Wagons in the official two player mode.

3+ Players Variant

This is an unofficial variant by fans of the game. We can find more details about this variant from the forum here, under the Community Wiki part or the File section.

For the 3 player mode, we just need a single copy of the game. We still draw 3 scoring conditions but each of them will be placed between the player.

The given scoring condition will only work for the players on the left and right of that card. So, each player will only have 2 scoring conditions at a time. Any cards that require comparisons are compared between the 2 players right next to the card only.

Another thing that is modified is how we draw the card and skipping some cards. In this variant, we can only skip up to 2 cards. If we skip 1 card, that card will go to the next player, the one on the left.

Skipping two, the second card will go to the player on the right. Placement of the cards and scoring remains the same.

However, for this variant, some of the card may not work as scoring conditions. Those cards are One too Many, Small Town Charm and Target Practice.

If we want to play with more than 3 players, we will need another copy of the game. The rule is similar as the 3 player variant, except that any player cannot have two of the same scoring conditions.

There is another thing about skipping cards. Here we can skip more than two, up to a number of players. The skipped cards will then go one by one to the other player, starting with the player on our left.

I’m not sure about using the three cards mentioned earlier that cannot be used as scoring conditions for this variant.

That is it with how to play Circle the Wagons. More about the solo mode later.

Thoughts and Experience

Initially, I was rather skeptical when someone said that a micro game can be one of the best tabletop games. There are definitely a lot more better games than Circle the Wagons but for its size, this is definitely one of the best at least among card games in small boxes.

The game is simple and easy to teach but enough replay value. The combination of different scoring conditions and the order of the card for drafting can give a lot of experience.

Even some of the scoring conditions are not that obvious and sometimes even counterintuitive. One time, we want to expand a lot, while the other we want to make it as compact as possible.

Another thing that amazes me is that the scoring is rather balance. Unless one player play very very poorly, the difference of the score is just less than 5 points.

I think the score we can get is less than 40 or even 35. This is probably if the scoring conditions is about rewarding individually instead of punishing or where they require us to compare.

For the scoring from color, it is rather impossible to have everything but we can still get like almost 20 points from that. I think we can only focus on 2 or 3 colors while the rest is just give us a single point each.

For scoring from special scoring conditions, unless we are very lucky, most of the time, I think we can only focus on 2 of them. So it is very likely that each player will focus on one goal just for themselves and the other where they share it.

This way, the game encourage players to not just focus on their tableau but the opponent’s as well. Trying to compete for the same goal is probably not a good idea.

We will not know until the first player draw the card.

Some of the scoring can be built up instead of having a set and score very high right away. This type of scoring condition is probably the one we can share with the opponent.

This is probably why choosing the starting card can be crucial as well. But this is mostly true when there is a scoring condition about penalty instead of reward.

The downside of this type of game is that people who don’t excel in spatial and visual element may not enjoy that much. I got a chance to play with someone like this and that player was having a hard time figuring out how to lay the card.

It is like they tend to just expand the tableau instead of covering. Even with that, they can still score rather close.

Analysis paralysis is possible but very minor because with the skipping part, we can always have a lot of possibilities. The solution for that in this melding and splaying tile laying game is just to give it a try. Take the card and try to put it in our tableau and see the result.

Surprisingly, there was a time when my opponent choose to skip a lot of cards. I ended up winning the game obviously, but it doesn’t make me feel good as I have to analyze every card while the other player take a rest.

This is a fast game. We definitely are going to play this game a couple of times in a row. Winning with that experience can really ruin the entire experience.

In the end, Circle the Wagons is still a filler game but it is a great filler game. The game can still take a while for player to take certain action but it will end soon enough. Sometimes it feels that it ends too soon.

Solo Mode (Expansion)

We can also play Circle the Wagons card game in solo mode or alone. However, we need to have the cards from one of the expansions.

Basically, we will be competing against a virtual player or AI and score the most point to win the game. There will be some extra rules added to the basic rules of how the AI will do drafting.

The AI will only collect cards but they will not do city or tableau building portion. Each card from the expansion is a stand alone scenario that will tell us the scoring condition cards that we are going to use for the session, and which card the AI will either skip or draw.

The next video from Cardboard Bit Man displays the Lone Cowboy expansion and how the solo mode works.

Setup

First, we randomly draw one of the SCENARIO CARDS. At the top of the card, we can find the title of 2 Scoring Condition Cards.

Second, we take those 2 cards to become the Scoring Conditions of the game. We then place then in the middle of the table alongside the Scenario Card.

Third, we then shuffle the remaining 16 cards and divide them into 2 decks of 8. The first one will be placed in circle around the scoring conditions cards, similar to how the base game work.

The first card we place in circle will be the STARTING CARD.

Fourth, the second deck of 8 cards will become a PREFERENCE DECK with the territory side facing up and we put them in the middle as well. This will later become another 8 for drafting in the second round.

That is actually it with the setup. Like the base game, there will be no player setup. We just need to have a single table space.

Player will always be the first to play.

Gameplay

Unlike the base game, the solo mode consists of 2 rounds. Each round will have 8 cards that we can draft.

From the Starting card, player will take action as in the basic mode. We can either draw that card or skip which will be given to the AI.

The AI can also skip or draw the next card. They will collect them into a single pile with the territory side facing up. The top card of the AI’s town will determine how they draw cards later.

The AI will change how they do drafting in the second round based on the scenario card that we use.

Round 1

Basically, we check the top card of the PREFERENCE DECK. The AI will want to find an exact quadrant (icon and color not location) between the top card of the preference deck and the card that the AI can draft.

In the first round,  AI can skip up to 2 cards from their starting card. If there is none, the AI will simply take their starting card and put it into their Boomtown.

Otherwise, if the AI can find a match from those 3, AI will skip card, take the matching card and take the top card of the preference deck into their Boomtown. Like in regular mode, the player will take the skipped card or cards.

This also means, that the second round which will use the card from the Preference deck as cards in circle can have less than 8 cards.

Round 1 keeps going like this until all cards in the circle have been drafted and played by player or to AI’s boomtown. Then we can proceed with the second round.

Round 2

For cards in circle, we will use the remaining cards from the PREFERENCE DECK which can be less than 8 cards. The turn order simply continues from the previous round.

There is a chance player will not start first this round. The first card we place in circle still become the starting card.

In this round there are 2 rules for how the AI will draft. First, from the Scenario card and if there is no match, we check the one from the rulebook. The AI will only take one.

As an example for the first rule, the Water the Herd card tell us that the AI will skip 1 to a card with 2 or more of Wagons, Cows or Water. From the two cards, if there is any match, the AI will take the first one first.

The second rule can be found in the rulebook which states that we have to check the top card of AI’s boomtown.

AI can skip 1 card this round. From the two cards (the starting and the next one), if there is any match, the AI will take the first match to their boom town.

If they skip, the skipped goes to the player as usual. Otherwise, they will just take the first or starting card.

Player will just do as in the regular game. Once all of the cards have been drafted and played, the game ends and we proceed to scoring.

AI’s Scoring

Since AI doesn’t do any city building, the scoring is a bit different but it still counts from both the icons and the territory. The territory is just from the 3 most common terrains.

While the scoring for the icons, we have to check the Scenario cards again, For example, with the Water the Herd again, the AI will score 3 points for each Wagon and 2 points per Cow.

Player will just score as in the regular mode. Whoever score the most point wins the game.

That is it with how the solo mode of Circle the Wagons game work.

Comment and Suggestion

First of all, I have not tried this variant myself because I don’t have the expansion yet at this point. Based on what I read from the rules and some of the cards posted, we don’t really need to purchase the expansion.

At least, we can try buying the PnP version. That way, we can support the publisher. I think we can also make our own rules.

With 18 different cards, we can have 153 combinations of the 2 scoring conditions. So far, there are only like 10 or so scenarios.

I think some part of the rule for the expansion is still not very clear and the designer still has not addressed them yet. I guess that is because the expansion idea didn’t come from the designer of the original game.

Some people on the forum can only play this variant using their assumption without any confirmation from the designer. At least up to this point.

I think they do need to give further explanation, maybe for almost scenario than just a text from each card. Or at least, the main rulebook should be able to address it.

As for the solo mode itself, I think it is very clever. Even though they split the game into two parts, they are still essentially a single game.

By using just half the cards first as general supply they can keep the other half as Preference Deck. This become another consideration for the player because each card the AI can get is more likely more points for them.

Then, for the second half, the preference deck become available for drafting. They then use the single card, scenario card, to replace the preference deck.

This gives the game a different experience than the regular mode. In regular mode, we know from the start every single card and the order of those cards.

Here, we can only see half of them until the second round. As the player, we may need certain cards or just certain icons during the second round.

However, those cards may not be available. Or even if there is, the opponents may get them first. Definitely during the transition between two rounds, we have to check that preference deck. Maybe we sacrifice the last card of the first round so that we can go first in the second round.

The rule also encourage us to keep checking the AI’s boomtown progress. That way, we can track their score and how likely are they going to beat us.

That is what I understand in theory. The game is still a micro game which is played so fast. Maybe even the second round is not that interesting, especially if there are less number of cards.

Actually, we might want to keep track the AI’s progress with pen and paper right from the start. It is not as easy to track the number of six different territories.

Even though the AI only score from 3 most common terrains, we still need to count every terrain they get. That way, maybe we don’t even need to finish the second round to find out who is going to win the game.

I think the AI is very strong. We really don’t want them to get more cards, be aware of the matching one during first round. It is easier for the AI to score as they don’t need to build their tableau.

Nevertheless the solo mode is still a great variant for the size of the game. I thought we will need more cards. It turns out just need a single scenario card and a couple of general rules.

Expansion

If I understand correctly, Quined Games or other publishers beside Button Shy as the original publisher don’t offer any expansion for Circle the Wagons. At least up to the time of this writing.

We have to access the website of Button Shy Games to purchase these expansions as printed copy or buy the digital PnP files for cheaper price. For those who purchase the copy from Quined Games, I don’t think we can purchase just the wallet from Button Shy,

Lone Cowboy (2017)

This expansion offers 6 scenario cards so that we can play Circle the Wagons game in solo mode. It is said that the designer for these scenarios is Mike Mullins.

We can purchase this expansion directly from the original publisher’s website for $4. Alternatively we can also purchase the PnP version for $1 just for the digital file of this expansion or $5 for the base game, this expansion and the Wagon Wheels.

The way it works for the solo mode is, we will be playing against a virtual player. Each of these 6 cards will tell us how the virtual player will do the drafting and scoring.

As for the gameplay, it will be a bit similar to the 2 player mode from the base game. The difference is that there will be 2 rounds, each consists of 8 cards to be drafted with only using 2 cards as scoring conditions.

Virtual player will just collect cards and tend to aim with specific icons or terrains as laid by the scenario card. There will be no city building for the virtual player as they will just score the cards with those icons.

Virtual player will still skip cards but up to 2 cards. That means, we can still mitigate which card that they are going to draft next turn.

We can find the rulebook for this expansion on this page. Just need a free BGG account to access the file. Here are the picture of the cards as posted by Button Shy Games.

Wildest West Promo Card (2018)

This is actually a joke from Twitter that became a single digital promo card.  This one card only has a scoring condition without having any territory side.

What it says is that we can score 1 point per territory that does not score in any other way. Jason Tagmire who made the tweet suggests replacing one of the card with this one as the scoring condition.

I think the idea is interesting. We can probably consider it as a variant by adding this extra rule in each game session.

Lone Cowboy Rides Again (2018)

This expansion was originally released as part of the Board Game of the Month Club. It contains 3 more scenario cards for solo mode.

If I understand correctly, this expansion introduce no new gameplay. They are just another scenarios or variants from the previous expansion.

We can buy this copy from Button Shy for $3.

Conclusion

Circle the Wagons is one of the micro game in tabletop game industry. The game consists just 18 cards and it can deliver an experience like regular bigger size game.

All of the cards are multi purpose cards, using both sides of the card. One is when the card become objective or special scoring conditions and the other side is to play the main game.

The main mechanism of the game is melding and splaying tile laying game. So, it is a tableau building but instead of using cardboard tile, we use cards.

Each card has a territory side which has four quadrants each with background color and one of six icons in the game. Everytime we draw a card, we have to put the new one on top or adjacent the existing one.

Cards can be rotated upside down but we are not allowed to slip the new one under the existing one.

There are two things that we are going to do in this game that can help us gain victory points to win the game. The first one is we want to create a large group of the same color or background or territory.

The second thing is to score based on the special conditions using the icons. Sometimes we just need to have a set of one type of icons. Other times, we may need to have a set of 2 or more icons and/or colors.

By taking 3 cards from the play to become the scoring conditions of the game, we can have about 800 different variants. Some of them can be very easy to achieve but some can be counter intuitive of what we usually will be doing.

It makes the game really different, a great replay value. I think some people who are not really excel in spatial or visual element may not enjoy the game as much for this type of game.

Or, at least, they may need more time to figure out how to do very well. All they need is just to take the card and try to put it in the tableau to find the best result.

Another interesting thing about the game is the time track element. In this game, we will be taking turns with just one more player for drafting the cards.

However, we have to draw them in order. We can skip some cards and get the one we like more but the skipped cards will go to the other players for free.

This makes the game very interactive despite we mostly focus on building our tableau. We may not care about the card that we skip but that card may be a good one for the opponent.

Because of the skipping part, analysis paralysis is possible but in the scale of a micro game. We can always have multiple choices up to the 15th cards right away.

Circle the Wagons is intended for 2 players only. However, some fans have come up with variants to play the game with more players or even solo game if we purchase the expansion.

I thought a micro game, even though it can deliver a full play experience, still tend to lack of something compared to the larger size one. For the gameplay perspective, Circle the Wagons is indeed almost like a regular game.

It is just it can end so fast. It is definitely a filler which we will want to play a couple of times in a row.

The game is very portable. We can get the copy in either a small box or a wallet from different publishers.

It is definitely a recommended one for its size.

More Games

If this is not  game for you, there are still a lot of these great tabletop games whether card games or board games. We can find more alternatives from the forum like Board Game Geek or other websites about tabletop games.

Here are some that I think are similar to Circle the Wagons that I have played so far. Check the links to my review to find out more.

In terms of gameplay, specifically with the tile laying with melding and splaying mechanism, Café is the similar one. However, it is definitely a deeper game as it also introduces engine building game instead of just set collection.

If we want another form of card drafting where we choose a card and consider the rest of the card are handed to the opponents, Tybor the Builder can be an alternative. It is also a city building game.

Walking in Burano also has a unique card drafting element with city building theme. There is no melding and splaying mechanism but it has set collection tableau building experience.

The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game, is another set collection, city building game with racing element. Here if we can complete the objective first, we get to score a one time bonus.

For set collection game just for 2 players, Mandala can be an alternative. However, it is an abstract game with area control element.

For more city building game, we can try Villages of Valeria, Peloponnes the Card Game and Oh My Goods!. If we are looking for a bigger one, we can try Imperial Settlers.

The rest of my list can be found below. Most of them come in a small box.

Adventure of D, 2nd Ed. (Fantasy Adventure Card Game, Multi Game Modes)
The Big Book of Madness (Cooperative, Deck Building, Wizarding Theme)
Hero Realms
 (Competitive, Card Game, Fantasy Theme, Deck Building)
Finished! (Solo only, Puzzle, Card Game)
Fleet (Auction, Fishing Theme, Engine Building)
Goblins vs Zombies (Tower Defense, Card Game, Fantasy Theme, Card Game)
One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows (Dice Rolling, Fantasy Theme, Cooperative)

I will keep updating my website with more games. Find out the latest update from this Complete List.

Final Words

That is all I can share with you about Circle the Wagons, a card game. This is probably my first game that can be considered as micro game that I have written a review for.

I probably have missed something. Please don’t hesitate to point that out and share what you know related to this game and I will update this article.

I keep saying that these tabletop games can be a good way to spend some time without looking at the screen of our gadget.  If we do have someone close, that we can play with, there are other games where we can play cooperatively or competitively but with more player interaction.

The game can be very fast or like a filler type or it can take hours to play.

So, what is your experience on playing this game? If you know other games similar or even better than this, please do share via the comment section below. I would love to learn and play that game, assuming I can get a copy.

This article is just my notes about what I can find from the internet. Hopefully this can help anybody who reads it.

Thanks for reading.

 

Mark M.

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