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Big Top
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Store:  Card Games, Family Games
Theme:  Circus
Format:  Card Games

Big Top

List Price: $19.95
Your Price: $14.95
(25% savings!)
(Worth 1,495 Funagain Points!)

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Ages Play Time Players
8+ 45 minutes 3-6

Designer(s): Ray Mulford

Manufacturer(s): Advanced Primate Entertainment

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Product Description

Step right up! Only two bits to peek under the big top and see sights that will astound and amaze you! Bearded ladies, death-defying acrobats, wild and exotic animals, and much, much more await.

Big Top, which was inspired by the classic card game Fan Tan, is a quick and easy-to-learn card game in which players take the role of aspiring circus owners. The winner of the game will be the player who invests in the most popular circus acts and earns the most money by helping his fellow players when they call for certain circus acts to be played.

Product Information


  • 52 full-color cards
  • 6 organizing charts
  • 30 investment tokens
  • rulebook

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 3.8 in 6 reviews

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Plenty of Wholesome Fun for the Entire Family!
March 30, 2004

Rules are simple to learn, but difficult to master. The bidding element adds an entirely new dimension to this game and keeps it from being your run-of-the-mill card game.

While the game doesn't really have to do with the circus, the bright and cheery artwork uniquely captures the dreamy surrealistic feeling that everyone must've had when they visited the circus as a child.

Keep up the good work, Kevin and Ray!

A Great Card Game for a Ladies Nite Out
February 19, 2004

Last weekend several Mom's got together b/c we needed time away from our families. It was the first time for most of us to play. It's simple with easy rules but what was most enjoyable was coming up with strategies to score points. We played for hours. At the end of the evening we decided to organize a monthly 'BIG TOP' ladies nite out. We all highly recommend it!

Card game for the family
January 05, 2004

I have had the pleasure of playing this game with my family over the holidays, and What A Blast! It's fun for the adults and the kids love the circus theme. For the circus buffs, each card has interesting factoids about the circus. Rules are very simple and easy to understand but the strategies are endless. Definetely a game you will want to play more than once.

Like traditional card games? Here's one for you!
March 13, 2004

Its hard to theme a card game successfully. Take a look at some of peoples favorite card games Bohnanza, Rage!, etc., and youll find very few where the theme actually matters. Most card games have a theme slapped on a simple card mechanic which satisfies most people. This is probably why I like board games better than card games, since the theme can be stronger in a board game. Yet card games are wildly more popular with many people much more than board games. If I am teaching a group of non-gamers a new game, and they hear that its a card game, it is much more palatable to them, especially if they have card games in their history. My wife grew up playing card games, so any card game is preferable to her over any board game (with a few exceptions). And recently, many companies are taking traditional games that could be played with a deck of cards, rethemeing them, and changing the rules slightly. I dont see this as a bad thing, because frankly I (and Im sure others) would probably not be too interested in the game otherwise. The theme, stupid as it may be, might just be the thing to pull me over the brink and pick the game up.

This certainly holds true for Big Top (Advanced Primate Entertainment [APE], 2004 Ray Mulford). I probably would not have been interested in the game at all, except that I love circuses, and the theme really attracted me (and I was interested in playing a game designed by a renowned game reviewer). The game produced some interesting reactions. When I played it with the teenagers, they were a little put out because the game had nothing to do with the circus! However, after playing the game with adults, I fully expected them to dislike the game, but they actually enjoyed it. My first playing caused me to think that the game basically played itself, but subsequent playings showed me that there is strategy in the game. Ones opening hand can really determine their fate for a round, but no more than say a hand of the traditional Hearts game. I myself wasnt a huge fan of the game, but I realized that it has a lot of potential, especially to the adult crowd who are big card game fans.

The theme of the game is to become a circus manager who has collected the most money. Okay, its really about who can score the most points with their hand. A deck of cards is shuffled and dealt out completely to each player (from three to six). The deck is composed of four suits (clowns, sideshow, animals, and performers) each composed of 13 cards (one Poster card, and 1 through 6 in two colors each: white and black). Each player takes a set of gate receipt tokens ($3, $5, $7, and $10), a scoring token, and an organizing chart, which they place in front of them. Each player evaluates their hands, and determines which colors they think that they can get rid of. The color they think they are most likely to get rid of, they place the $10 token face down on that color on their Organizing Chart, then the $7 token, etc. Once everyone has invested their tokens, thusly, the first round beings. The dealer (who has been most recently to a circus) goes first, with play proceeding clockwise around the table.

On a turn, a player must decrease the value of all their called cards. This involves sliding the cards down on their organizing chart one space each (if possible). Then, the player can make an action. If they have a called card in front of them that is possible to play, they must play that card in the appropriate spot. Otherwise, they may play a card from their hand onto the table, or call a card. When playing a card from their hand, or a called card, players must follow a certain order. The Poster card is always the first card that must be played from each suit. Following that, the numbered cards are played in ascending order, on both sides of the poster card white numbered cards on one side, and black on the other. For example, if the black numbered 3 of the clown suit is on the table, I cannot play my black 5 clown card until the 4 is placed down.

When a player calls a card, they take any card (must be currently unable to be played, and cannot match suit and color of a card that player currently has face up in front of them) and place it face up in front of their first slot of their Organizing Chart (worth $3). If any other player on this turn plays a card that matches the suit and color of the number (posters count for both colors), they receive 3 points, and move their scoring token accordingly. If a player plays a card, and two or more other players happen to have that suit and color face up in front of them, the player scores the sum of all those points. The called cards decrease their value by a dollar each turn, until they reach a value of zero, or until they cannot move any farther (there are already cards in those slots.)

When one player plays their last card (including called cards), the round immediately ends. That player receives 25 points, plus the amount of points their scoring marker lies on. All other players receive the amount of points that their scoring marker resides on, plus the amount of the scoring tokens only on the colors that they no longer have in their hand or in front of them. All the points are taken down by a scorekeeper, and another round begins the deck is reshuffled and redealt, and all players can invest differently. After each player has dealt once (twice in a three player game), the points are totaled, and whichever player has the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the game

1.) Components: APE Games is a new, small, independent company, but it is evident by their work that they put some time into their games. The box for Big Top was attractively designed, and I always prefer a slightly bigger box for card games, since I hate when cards slip out of the box. The Organizing charts are very well designed, but are not of the best quality I wish there was a way to put them in the box without folding them in half. The tokens are the worst of the lot, being small square pieces of thin cardboard stock, but they are functional. The cards, on the other hand being the mainstay of the game, are of superb quality. The numbers and suits are very easy to distinguish from one another, even for a color-blind person, and they can take a good beating (as card games often will) and hold up fairly well.

2.) Artwork: The artwork on the cards is very good if you like the style. The people I played the game with either liked it or hated it but one cannot deny the games artwork certainly added atmosphere to a basically themeless game. I actually like the artwork on the cards and box, and also enjoyed the flavor text on each card where I learned some hitherto unknown facts about early American circuses. If you really like the art, you can even download it as computer wallpaper at the companies website, .

3.) Rules: The rulebook is very, very nice, taking about nine pages to explain a simple game. The rules really are quite simple, but I wasnt sure of them at first until I saw that they had almost an entire sample game round printed out in the rules. This helped me greatly to learn how to play the game, and then I was much more easily able to teach it to others. I found that players didnt always grasp the concept of the game on the first play, but that after a round, they understood it completely, so I would recommend a sample round before actually playing the game through to completion.

4.) Fan Tan: According to the rules, the game is inspired by a childrens card game Fan Tan. Ive never played it, but after reading the included rules for the game I dont think I ever will, its entirely too simple. One of the players I played the game with said that it reminded him of Michigan Rummy, a game Ive never heard of. Either way, I thought that it was an improvement over a traditional card game, and the colors on the cards, etc. helped make it that much more fun to play.

5.) Strategy: After the first game, I sat there scratching my head, trying to figure out if I played the game, or if it played me. Then we talked about the strategy, and I realized several cards that I could have played differently. Some situations are certainly more powerful than others for example, if one player gets only the poster card of a certain suit, they can hold it in their hand until the end of the round, practically ensuring their victory in that round. Other strategies are more subtle and involve knowing when to play cards, and when to call cards and which ones. I saw that one person compared the game to Lost Cities. It certainly doesnt have the sometimes extreme tension of that game, but the games did have a somewhat similar feel.

6.) Fun Factor: Threatening death to players who are holding posters in their hand may not sound like a happy experience, but as long as people are having a good time this can be a lot of fun. The game is certainly more fun when you get a good hand, but still is rather enjoyable, even when you get a hand of garbage. Knowing how to play the cards in your hand, and playing them to your maximum benefit, can really make the game that much more enjoyable.

Now, this will certainly not become one of my favorite games, because Im not a huge fan of card games. However, I think it will see a decent amount of play in my gaming group and my house especially. That is because I have so many relatives and friends who enjoy card games and this one is right up their alley. I applaud APE Games for making a fun card game and even though the theme is not really relevant I do like it, and wish it was used in games more often (instead of the tired fantasy themes, etc.) The production is not stellar, but certainly good for a new company, and if you like traditional card games, Big Top is sure to be a winner for you.

Tom Vasel

Big Fun under the Big Top
March 28, 2004


APE Games

3 6 Players, 30 45 minutes

Designed by: Ray Mulford

Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser

Kevin Brusky launched APE Games (Advanced Primate Entertainment) back in 1998 and has re-emerged with it recently. Ray Mulford has been working closely with Kevin and was gracious enough to send me copies of both Anathema and Big Top to play and review. I had no trouble learning and playing Anathema, but, truth-be-told, struggled to get through the rules to Big Top. It is well known that I am not a player of traditional card games, so am mostly unfamiliar with the unique terminology used in such games. As such, I was very confused by the term called card, which is used liberally in the Big Top rules. I even tried studying the lengthy example of play, but to no avail. I simply couldnt grasp the mechanisms of the game.

Fortunately, I was able to coerce my good friend Michael Labranche to learn the game and teach it to me. Michael and his wife Shanna play traditional card games with great regularity, so I figured he would be able to understand the rules. Sure enough, he found it very simple to learn and did a good job teaching it.

So just what is Big Top? Loosely based on the traditional card game of Fan Tan, Big Top pastes on a circus theme and challenges players to be the first to deplete their hand of cards. In the process, players must predict which suits they will deplete, and earn additional funds from playing cards at opportune times.

The cards are poker-sized and contain retro artwork depicting various circus performers and acts. There are four suits, with each suit containing two sets of cards numbered 1 6, one being white and the other dark. Each suit also contains one poster card. In addition to a unique drawing, each card also contains an interesting fact or bit of circus trivia, which is related to the drawing. The text has no bearing on the game, but is quite interesting to read.

Each player receives an organizing chart upon which he will play cards, predict his gate receipts and record his income. The chart is divided into four sections, bearing values of $0 - $3. When a player opts to play a card onto his chart, it will be played onto the far right section, which is valued at $3. This is known as calling a card, a term which was at the root of the confusion I experienced when trying to learn the game from the rules. The designer has since stated that he overlooked explaining the term in the rules, which has caused some confusion.

Play begins with all of the cards being dealt to the players. With four players, everyone receives an equal number of cards, but all cards are still dealt even when playing with other numbers. The players who get an additional card just have to work a bit harder to deplete their hands!

Once everyone receives their cards, they analyze their hands and place their gate receipt tokens face-down onto their organizing chart, one on each suit depicted. Each player possesses four gate receipt tokens, with values of $3, $5, $7 and $10. The idea is to place the higher-valued tokens on the suits that you feel you will be able to deplete easily. When a round ends, players will receive income from these tokens IF they have successfully expunged that suit from their hands. So, if a player has only one or a few cards of a particular suit particularly if they are posters or low-valued cards then it would be wise to place your $10 gate receipt token onto that suit.

The first thing the active player does on his turn is to decrease the value of any cards he has played to his organization chart. This simply entails sliding all cards on his chart one section to the left. Once a card reaches the $0 section, it cannot be slid any further.

Then, a player must perform one of the following actions:

1) Play a called card. This is MANDATORY, if possible. This means that if a player has a card on his organization chart that can be played to the center, then the player MUST remove it from his chart and play it. Ill explain how cards are played shortly.

2) Play a card from your hand. This is optional. If, however, the player can legally play a card from his hand to the table and chooses to do so, he may gain income. The player checks to see if any of his opponents have a card of the same suit and shade (light or dark) on their organization charts. If so, the player receives income equal to the current section that the corresponding card occupies on the opponents chart. For instance, if Jason plays a dark green card and Steve has a dark green card occupying the $2 space on his organization chart, Jason earns $2 and moves his scoring token up $2.

This is one of the keys of the game: deciding when to play cards from your hand to the table. Ideally, you want to entice your opponents to play cards to their organization chart, capitalizing on this by later playing cards to the table that will generate income for you.

3) Call a card. Theres that confusing term again. Basically, this means playing a card from your hand to your organization chart. The card played must be placed into the $3 section, and there cannot already be a card on your chart of the same suit. Further, a poster card can never be played to the chart. A player can choose this option even if he had a card in his hand that could have been played to the table.

Sometimes a player is forced to play a card to his chart, specifically when none of the cards in his hand can be played to the table. Sometimes, however, it is wise to play a card to your chart even when you had a legal play from your hand. You may be waiting to play the card until your opponents have cards of the same suit on their charts, enabling you to gain income when you do play the card. Another reason might be that you are stalling, hoping not to see a particular suit on the table progress any further. This injects some interesting decisions into the game.

If a player cannot perform ANY of the above options, he must pass.

In order for cards to be played to the table, a suit must first be opened by the play of its poster card. Once this card has been played, players can begin playing cards of that suit in two stacks to the table, one stack for light cards and one stack for dark cards. Cards played to each stack must be played in numerical order, so a light 5 cannot be played prior to the light 2. Pretty simple.

In spite of its simplicity, this does provide for some interesting tactics. Holding onto a poster of a particular suit will cause those cards to languish in opponents hands or on their charts. If you have only one or two low numbers of that suit, you can run the other cards out of your hand prior to playing that poster. Or, you can choose to hoard a low number in a suit, causing that suit to stall. Theres more, but you get the idea.

A round ends as soon as one player gets rid of all of the cards in their hand and from their chart. Having depleted ALL of his cards, this player will collect income for all of his four gate receipt tokens, a total of $25. This is added to the total income he accumulated during the hand to give the player his final score for that hand. All other players collect income from their gate receipt tokens ONLY in the suits that they depleted.

The rules recommend playing a number of hands equal to the number of players. When playing with six players, this may be a bit much. Weve found 3 4 hands to be sufficient. The player with the most cumulative points following the agreed-upon number of hands is the Ring Leader.

Frankly, I was a bit worried about the game. As mentioned, Im not a fan of traditional card games, and Big Top is a variation of Fan Tan, albeit loosely. Plus, the confusing rules sent up a warning flag. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. This is a fun game. No, it is not located on the deep end of the strategy pool, but there are some very interesting choices to be made and strategies to employ. The theme, although loose, does work, and the artwork helps add to the flavor. Yes, I had problems with the rules, but folks familiar with the terminology used in traditional card games will likely have no trouble. My only quibble is the quality of the gate receipt tokens, which are only slightly thicker than paper and difficult to pick-up. Still, they work, and their thinness isnt enough to detract from my enjoyment of the game.

Will you break-out Big Top with your group of heavy-strategy gamers? I wouldnt. However, the game shines in the family venue, or as an opener or closer. It should also prove appealing to those family members who tend to only play traditional card games. As such, it just might be one of those bridge games that help folks cross over to the European-style games we treasure.

Poor Game with Weak Mechanics
March 29, 2004

I was really looking forward to Big Top, it seemed to have quite a bit of potential. Unfortunately, almost nothing about this game is worthwhile. The art is monotonous and uninspired, gameplay is derivitave, predictable, and slow, and the rules are so coufounding and unnecessarily obtuse as to confuse even the most experienced gamer.

Sadly, I can find nothing to recommend this game.

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