While most of my go-to games are nice long, drawn-out affairs, it’s of course always nice to have some quick titles to pull out at the beginning of game night, or when one group finishes before another, or when you just want to play a game that doesn’t require the whole afternoon. Sideshow Swap!, currently on Kickstarter, is just such a game: easy to learn, quick to play, but with a decent amount of strategy to keep everyone engaged.
What Is Sideshow Swap!?
Sideshow Swap! is a game for 2-8 players, ages 7and up, and takes about 5 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $20 for a copy of the game.
Sideshow Swap! Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.
Inside the box, you’ll find:
- 16 Performer Cards
- 44 Tickets
- 10 Now Playing! Tickets
- 40 Bux (money)
- 8 Turn Reference Cards
- Setup and Instructions Cards
Sideshow Swap is a relatively simple card-based game, but despite that it has very nicely designed components.
The primary components are the Performer Cards and the Tickets.
The 15 Performer Cards are straight-forward: the card’s number or rank in the top corner (which is the only part that matters for gameplay), the name of the performer, and the artwork. The art has a unique style that is at once realistic but still playful, and definitely helps evoke the game’s carny theme.
Unlike the Performers, the Tickets have to convey a lot of information: title, action, and cost. But here again the design is so well done that they just work. They manage to get everything they need across in a small space while still resembling paper tickets that we all assume sideshows and carnivals used.
There are techincally two kinds of tickets: regular tickets and Now Playing! tickets. As I’ll discuss in a moment, the Now Playing! tickets must be played immediately, and rather than relying on players noticing some bit of text or an icon to distinguish them from other tickets, the game instead takes a much better approach by having these cards use a red background instead of the brown seen on the rest. This completey eliminated any confusion with these cards when we played and is an excellent design choice.
The “Bux”, or currency, are simple cardboard tokens with a nice woodgrain background. All are the same denomination, as no player is even likely to have more than a few at a time.
The only other component of note is the rules. Rather than take a usual path of printing the instructions in a booklet of some kind, Sideshow Swap printed them on three sides of two cardboard cards. (The fourth side has the game logo.) The game is simple enough that they could get away with it. And, while I’m not sure that it makes too much of a difference how the rules are printed, I will note that I’ve never spent a paragraph of any other game review talking about the physical representation of the rules, so I guess it worked in that sense.
How to Play Sideshow Swap!
The goal of the game is have the highest-numbered performer in front of you when the game ends.
To begin, shuffle the Performer cards and deal one to each player. Then, place five facedown in a line in the center of the table. Place the rest back in the box without looking at them.
Next, shuffle the Tickets (combining both the regular and Now Playing! tickets) and deal three to each player. If someone gets a Now Playing! ticket at this point, they should shuffle it back into the deck and get a new card. The remaining Tickets are placed in the middle of the table next to the row of Performers.
Finally, five Bux for each player are placed in a common “bank” in the middle of the table. Each player then draws 2 Bux from the bank.
Whomever makes the best elephant noise goes first. Each player’s turn consists of three steps, which must be executed in order.
First, players should collect 1 Bux from the bank. While technically optional, there’s no reason to ever skip this step. However, if a player forgets and moves on to step two, they cannot go back later in their turn and collect their money. The Bux are limited (a total of 5 per player are used in the game), and if the bank is empty the current player simply does not collect a salary. Note that because you cannot go back to this step after you move on to steps 2 or 3, you cannot pay for a ticket on your turn and then collect one of the Bux you just paid as your salary.
Second, the player may take a ticket from the draw pile and add it to their hand. Because there is a hand limit (5), and because running out of cards triggers the end of the game, there will be times when it makes sense to skip this step.
Third, you must play a Ticket from your hand or swap your performer with one from the center area.
To play a ticket, simply reveal it, pay its cost (if there is one), read and perform its instructions, and then place it in the discard area. Each player may play only one ticket per turn, and they cannot play a ticket if they don’t have enough Bux to afford it. In a situation where a player has no Bux and no free tickets in their hand, they will have no choice but to swap performers.
The exception here is if, in the second step, the player draws a Now Playing! ticket. When this occurs, they must immediately play the Now Playing! ticket, even if its effects will negatively impact the player (and more often than not, they will.) This is another reason to think about whether or not you want to draw in step two.
Play continues around the table until one of two things happens: either a player plays the last card in their hand, or the Tickets deck runs out. So far, we’ve never had that occur–every game I’ve played has ended with someone playing their last card. At this point, all players reveal the Performer they have in front of them, and the highest Performer wins.
Why You Should Play Sideshow Swap!
Sideshow Swap! is one of those deceptively simple games. It’s nice to have a game that can be setup and explained in only a few minutes. But, the game has surprisingly deep strategic elements.
The first decision you have to make each turn is whether or not you want to draw a card. You may have no realistic choice–you may not be able to afford any of the cards in your hand or you may not like the cards you have–but drawing means you have another card, which limits your chances of being the person to ends the game. Of course, if your current performer is a low number, you don’t want to end the game, but if you have a high performer you might want to try to burn through your cards as quickly as possible to prevent someone from stealing your performer.
The main bit of strategy involves the performers. Since the goal is to end up with the highest performer, if you have a low number obviously you want to try to swap it. But, do you skip a turn playing a card to swap with a performer in the middle, which is essentially random and may or may not be higher (unless, of course, you have the Zero card, in which case you’ll definitely improve.) Or, do you play one of the tickets that lets you swap with another player, which might be random (although it’s possible something else occurred in the game that let you see the other player’s card), but then of course they know which performer you have, and so will come after you.
One of the nicest things about the game is that it is quick–5 or 10 minutes per game. So it’s a great filler game to start off game night, and there’s plenty of interaction between players to loosen everyone up if that needs to happen.
As of this writing, Sideshow Swap! has already almost doubled its funding goal, so it’s going to succeed and go into production. I’m happy for that, since it’s a game that will definitely see its way back to our table for game night.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Sideshow Swap! Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.