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[Review] Flea Circus

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  • Tom Vasel
    I have to hide Pig Pile in my house, because my two young daughters are really enamored with the toy pigs that come with the game. The pigs were entirely
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2004
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      I have to hide Pig Pile in my house, because my two young
      daughters are really enamored with the toy pigs that come with the
      game. The pigs were entirely unnecessary for the game, but added a
      cute, nice touch, which made the game that much more palatable.
      Now, we have a game with even cuter little toys – Reiner Knizia's
      Amazing Flea Circus (R & R Games, 2003 – Reiner Knizia). There are
      little white rubber cats, and blue bulldogs – looking like they came
      right out of a Looney Tune. And this time, they are actually part
      of the game, rather than just window dressing.

      So, how does the game hold up, with all these little
      pieces? Basically, it's a fun little filler, with strategy along
      the lines of Uno or Pig Pile. Nobody will ever accuse this game of
      being heavy in tactics or of having great depth. And I doubt
      most "serious" gamers will give it a second look. However, it is
      certainly an enjoyable romp – and I found that kids especially found
      it a lot of fun. It was an instant hit with my game club at school –
      and I found that I also got enthusiastic about it. And any game
      that I can use to entice children into the wonderful world of board
      gaming is a huge plus with me!

      A deck of 55 cards is shuffled, and five of them are dealt
      to each player. All the dogs and cats (twenty of each) are placed
      in the middle of the table. The Youngest player starts the game,
      and each player follows clockwise.

      On a turn, a player plays a card in front of them, into
      their own "Show" pile. The card replaces the face-up card
      currently in the pile. There are five types of cards a player can
      play:
      - Attractions: The most common card in the deck, there are
      seven different types. Each shows a flea performing a circus act,
      and are worth two, three, or four points. The player takes animals
      equal to that amount of points from the middle of the table, and
      places them in front of them. (Dogs are worth two points, cats
      one.) If, however, an identical circus act is face up in front of
      another player, the points are taken from that player, rather than
      from the middle of the table.
      - Free tickets: This card, when played, allows a player to
      take two points from any other player.
      - Clowns: This card gives a player one point of animals, but
      multiple copies of the card can be played at one time, allowing the
      player to multiply the amount of points they receive.
      - Flea Acrobats: This card also gives the player one point
      worth of animals, but also one additional point for every flea
      acrobat that is face up on other players' decks.
      - Animal Catcher: Each other player must discard points
      according to the card that they currently have face up on their
      pile. After this card has been played, all decks are shuffled back
      into the draw pile. This is the ONLY time this is done.

      After playing their card, the player draws their hand back up to
      five cards, as long as there are sufficient cards in the draw pile.
      When the last animals from the middle are taken, the game ends, and
      the player with the most points is the winner!

      Some comments on the game…

      1.) Components: If I ever reach the point of games gone mad
      (hopefully never), and have to get rid of this game – the rubber
      animals in the box will make great toys for my kids or grandkids.
      And indeed, just like Pig Pile, I often find the players of Flea
      Circus playing with them. While the pigs were used to score who won
      each round in Pig Pile, the animals in this game are constantly
      moving, and thus play a more important role. They are colorful,
      easy to handle, and make the game more attractive. The cards are
      not dull creations, however – as their brightness and colorful
      artwork help really brighten up the game! I'm not sure why dogs and
      cats are the "spectators" for a flea circus, but it still looks
      really good, and everything fits in a small, sturdy – circus-
      decorated box.

      2.) Rules: The rules also reflect this carnival atmosphere,
      colored brightly, with full color illustrations. Of course, they
      only take two small pages on a pamphlet, since there really isn't
      much to this game. The game probably ranks as the most simple of
      all Knizia games I have ever played, and I found that people picked
      it up easily. The only problem was that people forgot the
      difference between the clowns and the flea acrobats, since there is
      no text on the cards.

      3.) Strategy: There's really not much to say here. Play cards
      that help you, and hurt the leader. Playing a good attraction card
      is more of a liability, because it makes you a bigger target. The
      game has a slight "Uno" feel, where everyone strives to make one
      person's life miserable, if possible. However, don't get the wrong
      idea, as the game is so light and fluffy, that I doubt anyone would
      ever get mad over it.

      4.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme is layered on (what a shock
      for Knizia, I know…), but the presence of the toys and the colorful
      artwork really help put a theme where no theme should be. All of
      this adds into the fun factor. It's rather difficult to win, as
      luck plays a rather large role. But it still feels satisfying,
      somehow – and the game has a fun, albeit light, feel.

      There's not much to this game – it's a piece of overworked fluff.
      But yet, it's fun fluff, and I found that most people I've played it
      with like it. If you hate Uno, and light games like Pig Pile or
      Target, then don't touch this game; you'll probably hate it. But if
      you like playing with little toys, and want a fun, fast little game –
      give it a try, especially with kids!

      Tom Vasel
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