SNAP Review – Big Top
Step right up, step right up! Prepare to be amazed and astounded by the greatest circus in town!
The only catch is – you’re the one pulling together all the acts and attractions.
Big Top is for either three or four players, and takes about 40 minutes to play.
Let’s talk about that art, shall we?
The circus feel starts with the player screens, each of these looks like a slightly different big top circus tent.
The attraction cards all have this slightly grubby-looking ringmaster on the back, but on the inside” there are tons of different attractions: clowns, acrobats, animal trainers, even a fortune teller and a strongman.
They’re quirky and weird, so either you’ll like them or you won’t.
There is a stack of cardboard coins in 1 and 5 denominations, and some other tokens – they’re fine, they’re just tokens.
[Anitra] There’s also this Game End card. Its style is very different, but I like it – I think it makes a great visual representation that the show is over.
Let’s talk about the mechanics – how do we play Big Top?
Start by giving every player a screen and matching token, coins, and a starting ringmaster card. Then you’ll shuffle the deck of attractions, with the Game End card in the last five cards of the deck. Deal out a single attraction to each player to be their starting hand.
The player who is most terrified of clowns is the first auctioneer.
The auctioneer draws a card from the deck. Then, from the two cards in their hand, they pick one to be auctioned, placing it face up. They make the first bid, or pass, and the bidding continues clockwise around the table until everyone has passed or no one raises the bid. The winner of the auction pays the auctioneer and then puts the card in front of them – it’s now an incomplete attraction that they own. If the auctioneer won the bidding, they pay the bank instead.
Pass the megaphone auctioneer token to the left, and that player starts a new auction.
But here’s the twist!
Bidding will also help you complete your attractions; and only your completed attractions are worth points at the end of the game.
When a player makes a bid that matches a number on an incomplete attraction they already have, they can put one of their other coins on that number.
And when a player makes a bid that matches a number on the card being auctioned – then you take a coin from the bank and put it on that card. Whoever wins the card gets all the coins on it, too!
When all the spaces on a card are covered with coins, that attraction is complete. Take all the coins back behind your player screen, and place that attraction into your completed stack. If it has an immediate effect icon, you can do that too.
For example, when you complete this Contortionist card, you can immediately take a coin that you have and put it on a different incomplete attraction space.
When someone draws the Game End card from the deck, the game immediately ends. Any player with no stars on their completed attractions is eliminated. They’re just done.
All other players add up their completed attraction points, their clown card points, and add a few more points for unspent money and things like that.
[Andrew] Of course, we had some expectations about this game, so Anitra, what did you expect?
[Anitra] This box is a weird shape and size. It doesn’t really look like it holds a card game, it’s square. But it’s so small, what else could be in there?
[Anitra] I was nervous about the player count.
[Andrew] Bidding games usually benefit from having more players, so I was concerned when I saw that it was a bidding game, but it didn’t have capacity for more than four players.
[Anitra] And, of course, we expected this to be like other auction and bidding games we’ve played, where your bids are mostly constrained by how much money you have and how desperate you are to get something.
But that leads into our surprises.
[Anitra] I really like the way your unfinished attractions shape your bidding in this game. It is a setup I’ve never seen before, and it made me think not just how to fill in those circles, but if I really wanted to win certain attractions in the first place!
[Andrew] I totally agree. Everyone knows what your “tentpole” bid thresholds are, because your unfinished attractions are out there for everyone to see. They know what numbers you kind of want to bid to finish your stuff!
[Anitra] I also thought it was really interesting the way the economy ebbs and flows in this game. If the auctioneer wins the bidding, money is removed from the game. But you can also add money to the game by carefully bidding to match the numbers on the card being auctioned and bring more money out of the bank that way.
[Andrew] This gets back to what I said before. Strategically, you might want to bid to a number just under someone else’s target for their unfinished attractions if you’re trying to get them to take a card and spend a lot of money doing so.
[Anitra] Especially if you’re the auctioneer – because you’re going to get that money that they bid!
[Andrew] The economy can grow here but the vast majority of the time, you’re going to see it shrink.
[Anitra] The box says ages 11 and up, but our older kids did not love this game. Circus themes don’t really grab them, and auctions tend to leave them with hurt feelings when they lose. We liked this game best with other adults, instead.
[Andrew] I also think some of it is the art in this game. It’s not the kind of circus art that’s designed to appeal to kids. That’s fine, it’s just something to be aware of.
So anyway, do we recommend Big Top?
[Anitra] If you want to try bidding with slightly different incentives than your usual auction game, I think this is a great option to try. Just make sure you have three or four players who are ready to play this game!
So Andrew, what are we going to rate Big Top?
[Andrew] Well, I really think they’re doing some novel things with the bidding mechanics and that makes it really interesting. But certainly as a family game, the economy is pretty complicated to get your head around. The game has the mechanics that make it feel like it wants to be a bigger game, but it’s not.
I think if the player count had more flexibility, we might rate it a little higher, but for now, I think we’re going to rate Big Top 3½ circus attractions out of 5.
And that’s Big Top, in a SNAP!
Are you ready to bid your way to the best circus? Buy Big Top directly from Allplay.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Big Top from Allplay for this review.
Number of Players: 3 or 4
Age Range: 11+
Playtime: 40 minutes