Review: On Circus Grounds by Studio Stamp

Review – On Circus Grounds by Studio Stamp

Website Link – currently available on Kickstarter until September 16, 2022

Price – ​​​​$42 for base game, $62 for deluxe edition

Disclaimer: we won this game in a contest, with no expectations of a review. All thoughts are our own.

The Product:

On Circus Grounds is a collection of evidence surrounding the mysterious death of a circus master.  Back in 1883, Nicolaas Maester dropped dead in front of a crowd of circus goers.  The case was supposedly solved, but that doesn’t mean the truth has ever actually been revealed.  Players must examine the evidence from long ago and see if they can discover what truly happened and finally close this case for good. 

This is a stand-alone mystery game where most of what players will need is already in the box.  An internet connection is required for hints and final answer submissions.  Players may also want a pen and paper for note taking and for interacting with a few items.  

The game is advertised for 1-4 players, ages 15 and older, with a playtime of about 2-4 hours.

As a group of two, we completed the game in about 3 hours.

Our Thoughts:

When we first saw the On Circus Grounds box, we noticed how thin the package was.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to discover just how much Studio Stamp packed into their game box.  There is a lot of material for players to explore and what is included does a fantastic job of fitting the theme.  On Circus Grounds aims to create the sense that its components all originate from the 1880s.  Here they succeed wonderfully, as the components have the feel of aged artifacts while still remaining top quality.

One warning we feel obligated to give is that in the pursuit of capturing the feel of older material, the game does include a lot of cursive and a hang-written style of font.  Players should make sure they are familiar with cursive and that they are willing to show patience as they work to read the provided information.    

We can’t go too deeply into the narrative without providing spoilers, but we can say that Studio Stamp put together a solid tale that kept us interested.  The story elements click together well and the players should have no trouble seeing how different characters and plot points should connect.  Overall, the story beats are well told and sign-posted in clear ways.

Much of On Circus Grounds is a deductive style game where players will slowly piece together information to gain a better understanding of what happened surrounding the murder.  There is a lot of material for players to comb through, but thankfully, the game does a good job of laying out objectives right in the introduction letter.  The goals are to discover the murder, their motive, what the murder weapons was, and how the weapon was obtained.  These goals help give players purpose as they sift through the components.

We are happy to say that despite being more of a deductive style game, On Circus Grounds still included quite a few actual puzzles to solve.  There are a number of hidden messages to discover and codes to decipher throughout the game.  Those who love solving puzzles, will be happy to scratch that itch.

While the story elements came together easily, there were a few stages of puzzle solving that provided quite the challenge.  The needed clues were all available and the steps to solve the puzzles werel logical. Sometimes we just took a little longer to discover what we needed or to implement the required strategy.  We would assign this game a medium level difficulty.

One interesting aspect of the game is that because it relies heavily on deduction, it is possible to solve the greater story without completely cracking each puzzle.  The puzzles will provide further and more concrete evidence of what players may already be thinking, but they are not always 100% necessary to answer the game’s big questions.  How badly each puzzle needs to be completed and how thoroughly all the evidence must be studied will depend on individual players.

Overall, we had a lot of fun with On Circus Grounds.  The game does a wonderful job of immersing players in a bygone era and launching them into a story of murder and intrigue.  The components are well themed toward feeling like leftover artifacts from the 1880s.  Also, there are plenty of puzzles for those who love to solve them, with a hefty chunk of deduction which will have players carefully examining every detail of the story.  We would recommend On Circus Grounds for those who enjoy their stories served with a nice side of puzzles.    

Official C&C Rating:

Narrative: 4/5
Puzzles: 3.5/5
Overall Fun: 4/5

Total Averaged Rating: 3.8/5

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