The name P.T. Barnum is somewhat synonymous with the circus, despite only becoming a showman in his 60s. Among many things he is credited for, the three-ring circus is among them. This was a display of spectacular proportions whereby three different performances were all going on at the same time to amuse the audience. So, ask your smart speaker to play music from The Greatest Showman and step right up to read my review of the board game 3 Ring Circus…
Unfurl the six-fold board and block of regions depending on player count as per the rulebook. Give each player the tokens and player board of their preferred colour. Separate the decks of cards, shuffle them and deal one secret objective, four money and one ticket card to each player.
Place the remaining cards on the relevant spaces on the board. Deal out ticket cards face up in the relevant spaces as well as, cards and tokens on the small and medium cities. Place the Barnum wagon on the starting city, usually Boston. Decide on a first player without clowning about too much and you are good to go. Overall, setup is pretty easy and intuitive!
On your turn in 3 Ring Circus you will either be recruiting performers, or holding a performance. Attracting new acts to your circus will benefit future shows and/or add to your end-game scoring. The cost of these cards varies depending what acts you have already attracted too. Building your tableau carefully will reap rewards.
There are three types of town to perform at. Small towns will generate more money cards. There are no restrictions to perform in these, as long as no-one else has held a show there. Picking the best one to optimise your yield is worthwhile.
Medium Cities will generate more ticket cards with better performers on them or points. How well you do at these shows depends on how many pedestals you have on display in your tableau.
Main Cities are where the big points can be got, but the city dwellers are discerning and they want to see very specific acts.
After every performance, Barnum moves around the outside of the board, skipping towns that have already had circus shows. When he reaches a main city, area majority scoring takes place. When he returns to the starting city, end game points are tallied and the winner can be announced.
I have had a look at the solo mode but not embarked on it myself. Having a look at the rules it looks like there is quite a bit of admin involved which would put me off trying it. I always think if I have to think harder to work out the AI than take my own turn the solo game wouldn’t be for me. I hasten to add though, I haven’t tried it, and it might appeal to you!
What it’s like
The above gameplay of 3 Ring Circus is in its simplest form. There is oodles to strategize over, from which performers to hire, where to place them in your circus, and where and when to perform.
My experience of 3 Ring Circus is one of being rushed, but not in a bad way. Not by the other players, but by their actions. Barnum moves around the board hurrying your every move as you vie for majority and the right cards in your tableau. Like a travelling circus, you are always on the go!
You will balance every decision, like walking a tightrope, wrong steps can be costly. Rarely have I seen tableaus filled to the brim, there just isn’t enough time. However, I like the feeling of having too many good options to do and not enough time to do them all.
Strategies will often have to adapt as you decide which regions to compete for and which main cities to perform at. There is some luck of which cards get drawn that create this tension. Luck isn’t that prevalent otherwise though, and you feel like you are ringmaster of your own destiny. There may be some cities you cannot perform at because of the cards, but you will struggle to perform at all the main cities anyway, and there are other ways to get points to counterbalance it. 3 Ring Circus offers plenty of points for a carefully formed tableau.
If I have a minor criticism, it is the lack of choice in end game bonus cards. You get what you’re dealt and they can be really stinky for your own strategy. I think having a choice from two and discarding one, may become a house rule in the future.
This is a heavier game than some you will find on my website but probably considered a medium weight game by most.
It scales particularly well at all player counts, which is unusual as area majority can stagnate at two players, but the changes to the map work brilliantly.
Visually, 3 Ring Circus is super appealing to me. The card art is colourful and beautiful and helps zing the tabletop presence of the board game. It has some of my favourite illustrations in any game. Iconography is clear and easy to understand too. Edu Valls has done an outstanding job!
The board is busy and gets busier over the course of the game. Some of the positioning of the Medium Cities could be positioned in a clearer way. Yet, I still get excited by the map as it spreads out in front of me. I think the wooden circus tents, popcorn score marker and caravan are all gorgeous too.
I love the circus theme, but seeing the animal performers may upset some. The rulebook does a nice job of hitting this tricky topic head-on and I admire it for acknowledging the darker parts of circus history. Devir have even offered up variant cards with animal puppet artwork if you can get hold of them.
While on the subject of the rulebook, I did find it a bit clunky. One particular part, after a region’s majority is scored says to pass the first player marker to the left. It gave me a head scratch who then starts the next round. I had to ask my Instagram pals @ladybugmeeple to help me work it out, fortunately the mathematical brain of César prevailed. You carry on in the same turn order in case you are wondering too. Everyone still gets the same amount of turns, even if it doesn’t feel right!
The phases of a performance are quite easy to rush through and miss a step. Often I was forgetting to gain money cards, move Barnum, or remember to play a card with an instant effect. So I created my own player aids to run through these steps and I think something similar should have been included.
Inside the box there is no insert, but there isn’t enough air in the smaller size box to make this an issue. I’m delighted by this, shipping air around the world annoys me. Less patient put-awayers may be cursing a little lid lift.
What the kids thought
Harrison (15): I will always enjoy playing 3 Ring Circus. I like building my circus and making it as strong as I can, but without wasting bonuses. I find it a bit of a rush as other people move Barnum round the board, but I don’t mind it. The last few turns can be really nail biting.
Final thoughts on 3 Ring Circus
I’m not sure if 3 Ring Circus offers anything genuinely new, but the mechanics and presentation gel fantastically well together! I love it. I’m excited and invested from beginning to end. You’re forced to focus on your opponents turns as their actions influence your moves and you really want to make the most of every single turn.
The race for points ebbs and flows throughout the game with players scoring big and then others often catching up. Your tableau scoring at the end of the game can create some thrilling finishes. Games are tense, and not circus tents, really genuinely tense, especially towards the end of the game!
When I get the 3 Ring Circus box down from the shelf, I am always super excited to play it! I can’t wait to play it even more, just writing about it makes me want to get it to the table again! Devir have an absolute hit in their hands with this one!
Number of players: 1 to 4
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 12+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 12+
Playing Time: 70 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 3 minutes
Designers: Remo Conzadori & Fabio Lopiano
I thoroughly enjoy playing 3 Ring Circus. I love the aesthetic and the strategy that it conjures up. I find the tableau building combined with the area majority and the ticking clock of Barnum moving round the board really exciting.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Fantastic artwork
- Works well at 2, 3 or 4 players
- Feeling hurried by other players’ turns
- Nice and tight fit in the box
- Circus theme featuring animal acts
- Luck of the cards, particularly end game scoring objectives
- Rulebook could be better
Need more games?
If you already own 3 Ring Circus and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- The Wolves
- Santa Monica
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