Blending together deck-building elements, tycoon tests and an adventure that takes us across the United States, when Klabater first announced The Amazing American Circus for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch and PC, our ears pricked up. Then we were able to take in the hugely fun trailer that detailed the game even more, and well, the excitement levels went through the roof. Just as Klabater went live with a Kickstarter campaign, we were given the opportunity to find out more about the game, and why gamers would want to embark on a circus-filled life. Adam Betley, Narrative Designer at Klabater, was more than happy to roll up and answer our questions.
Hi, please could you introduce yourself. What is your role at Klabater and on the creation of The Amazing American Circus?
Hi, my name’s Adam Betley and I work in Klabater as a Narrative Designer. I’m co-responsible for the story and writing in TAAC.
And can you sell it to us – why should gamers be looking to spend some time with The Amazing American Circus when it releases on Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Nintendo Switch?
Well, because the game is super fun, obviously. In all seriousness though – TAAC is an original mix of different game genres, set in a fascinating and not overused setting. That alone, at least for me, would be incentive enough to try it. If you like card and deckbuilding games it’s definitely another reason to play as we were heavily influenced and inspired by games like Slay the Spire or Monster Train.
So, first things first, where and how did the theme and setting for the game first come about?
It all started with a PBS documentary, The Circus. Everyone has their own vision of what circus was and is, but watching this you can learn what it actually was all about. And we were hooked instantly. We also loved classic series like Carnivale from HBO which was not exactly the same setting but we were heavily inspired by its mood and wicked atmosphere. Amazing stuff!
Constant management of a circus caravan seems to be an important part of the gameplay experience. How deep do you let players go with amending, customising and building options?
The players have access to a variety of circus wagons – and even more artists. You hire your performers, train and upgrade them; everyone has their own salary expectations, and so on. There’s a lot of detail put into the management of the artists. Circus wagons heal artists, help you in your travels, let you upgrade your carts; generally, same as the artists, your circus carts can be upgraded in a variety of ways. So there’s a ton of things to tinker with, trying to come up with strategies and tactics that best fit your style.
With any circus, the performers are the stars. Could you talk about any and all of the characters included?
First off, we have both story characters and artists. Story characters include our main hero, his uncle and mother, and bosses to defeat. Among artists, you’ll find all the classic circus acts – and more. There are acrobats, aerialists, illusionists, jugglers, animal tamers, and so on, and so on – even a counting chicken… To talk about all of them would be a separate interview 🙂 but each troupe member has its own perks, abilities, and a unique set of cards. We now mostly work on the balance to make all these classes entertaining and balanced!
And you’re also promising to allow players the chance to interact with both fictional and historical folk. Are there any real-world characters in particular that The Amazing American Circus focuses on?
Yes, and a ton of them. The bosses of the game include Buffalo Bill, Henry Ford, Queen Victoria, president Roosevelt, Marie Leveau, Ringling Brothers – and, of course, P.T. Barnum himself, our main rival. But that’s the story. Between defeating the bosses the players will run into historical characters during events and quests. So you’ll have to deal with the notorious bandit, Jesse James, help Nikola Tesla, and so on. There are literally dozens of events of all shapes and sizes where you meet famous people.
America is a huge place to explore. How have you gone about condensing it down to allow for easy navigation and traversal? Will elements of the game change as players progress on their trip?
The players will travel across a period-accurate (more or less) USA map. But there’ll be only the most interesting, important, and/or famous towns and places to visit. The map is also divided into four regions, the West coast, Mid-west, the South, the East Coast. When you enter one you won’t be able to return to the previous ones, so the player has to be sure they did all they wanted in a given region. When it comes to each region you may explore it as you choose while it’s covered in a fog-of-war type of environment you need to reveal.
Mention the word ‘circus’ and music is one of the first thoughts. Could you talk more about the soundtrack and how important that is in bringing the immersion? Have you had to draw on any circus expertise in order to ensure familiarity both in regards the audio and in the visuals?
Of course, you can’t have a circus without circus music. But we didn’t want a looped repetitive and loud marching music to dominate the game. Because of that there are three types of let’s call it ‘genres’ of music in the game: the circus music for the shows, the semi-folk for travelling, and a more universal, ‘dramatic’ score for the story sequences. Making all these types of music work together is a difficult task, but it makes the game more interesting and certainly more immersive. The visuals were created similar to the music – they are based on the traditional circus art (think of nowadays trendy barber-like and old-school tattoo style graphics) and the more imagery more rooted in all the different things one could see when traveling across the 19th century USA.
This is certainly running a different route to the usual combat-based deck-builders, instead giving us the chance to manage a circus and entertain the crowd. Was it always your intention to try something a little different?
Certainly. We always aim at making games that are original and generally have no desire to copy something that already exists. All in all that’s what art is all about, both the commercial and not. You create something that’s different from all the things that have already been done before. Besides, that’s also where fun and true challenge await you! We thought it will be a cool concept to let players ‘fight’ their own Audience. You basically fight their boredom!
We’re definitely getting Slay the Spire vibes from The Amazing American Circus. Has this or any other deck-builders been an inspiration for development? If so, are there any specific mechanics found elsewhere that have been worked in?
You can’t work on a deck-building game nowadays and not think about some Slay the Spire inspirations. We played this game and we liked it a lot. But, we tried to escape the typical copy-paste philosophy. I would say inspiration lays mostly in a backbone mathematical system of how the game balances the duels, but in terms of story, graphics, and even the ‘fighting’ concept, we are completely elsewhere now. Another inspiration was definitely Darkest Dungeon from which we took some ideas when it comes to managing your circus camp – we find it a bit similar to managing the haunted town in Red Hook’s game. But again, we do manage a circus, not a town so the exact mechanics differ much!
In terms of replayability, what is in place to ensure that there is plenty of opportunity for players to continue heading back to the circus?
First of all, it’s all the different types of tactics and strategies the player may develop, making each playthrough different from the other. Then there’s over a hundred random events, which too make returning to the game a new and satisfying experience each time. Also, as I mentioned before, there are some regions in the game you have to choose without visiting the alternate route – so there’s always a reason to choose a different way next time. And they are really varied since you can choose from let’s say Rocky Mountains and Louisiana swamps!
You’re currently running a Kickstarter campaign ahead of the launch of The Amazing American Circus. Was this always the plan? How are you planning on utilising the Kickstarter funds raised and what exactly is in it for players who back the project?
After the successes that have been our previous KS campaigns, most notably Crossroads Inn, we see crowdfunding as a perfect way to connect with our fans – current and future! – and the audience even before the game is finished. This lets us get a ton of useful input that affects the final product and makes it easier for us to meet the expectations of the players. And it’s also fun and profitable for all sides involved! While we’re building community and get to know all sorts of folks from all around the world, the backers get a lot of additional goodies, like exclusive DLCs, additional games (!), and even actual physical rewards, like a map, stickers, artbooks, and so on.
You’re planning on launching The Amazing American Circus to Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch and PC. Are there plans for any next-gen optimised goodies to be available on Series X|S and PS5?
We do think about this and hopefully, we will talk more about that in a near future.
And after launch, what plans do you have to keep The Amazing American Circus in the public eye? Should we expect to discover additional content dropping later down the line?
There are always plans for future development and we have a ton of ideas which we’re pretty sure the fans will like. But we don’t want to spoil the surprises and promise something we might not be able to deliver. But all the folks interested can follow us on social media and join our Discord channel for future updates. One thing we seriously consider is adding more regions, like Alaska or Carrabiean Island – this would give us a lot of opportunities to add new stories and folklore-related options.
And finally, Carnivale or The Greatest Showman? Discuss 😉
Carnivale. Creepy, unpredictable, and original! Though no music and Hugh Jackman.
A huge thank you must go out to Klabater and especially Adam for taking the time out to divulge further details surrounding The Amazing American Circus. The Kickstarter campaign is well worth checking out prior to us seeing the game launching on May 20th 2021 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch and PC.
We will of course remind you when it drops onto a digital store near you. We’ll have a full review of the game too.