Review: Circulation: An Incredible Journey
Publisher: Teaching Concepts
Year: 1974
Tagline: Defy Unexpected Dangers at Every Turn as You Complete Your Vital Mission

how we met

It was a Saturday, and warm. I found Circulation in a thrift store in SE Wisconsin. The cover is dated and funny. I could not wait to get into that weird, cartoon body and start poking around.

Inventory is one of the steps I enjoy after buying a used game, where I check whether it has all the pieces. When I unfolded the board for Circulation, my love grew deeper. This trifold monster is a whopping 22″x33″ (which is incidentally the only thing that this game has in common with Axis & Allies 1942). When I saw the tokens titled GASEOUS WASTE and RENAL WASTE my intrigue was at full-pitch. Could this finally be the game that teaches me about my circulatory system by bewitching me with its charming artwork and cheeky humor? SOLD

how it plays

Circulation is a spin and move game involving pick up and deliver. Your pawn is a plasma tray and begins the game with a white blood cell. Your job is to travel through veins and arteries to pick up food and oxygen in certain areas of the body and deliver them to other areas of the body. Upon delivery, though, your plasma tray obtains waste that must be disposed of before continuing your “incredible journey.”

Your ultimate goal is to deliver food and oxygen to the head, both arms and both legs. In the process you must dispose of gaseous waste through the lungs and renal waste through the kidneys.

If you are an unlucky spinner, you may find yourself in an EMERGENCY situation that is essentially a side-quest that must be completed before you can continue with whatever you were doing (prompted by landing on EMERGENCY with the spinner and drawing a card from the EMERGENCY deck). One example of an emergency situation might be that you are suddenly being chased by an aggressive dog and need to deliver food and oxygen to your leg in order to run faster.

There are four spots on the board called CIRCULATE that require you draw a card from the CIRCULATE deck and immediately move to whatever location is indicated. This may sound innocuous but you will never know this pain until you have played Circulation. It’s a bitch to get around, so a free trip across the board can be acutely disheartening if it’s in the wrong direction.

Finally there are spots on the board marked GERM ATTACK that cause you to lose your white blood cell. If it has already been lost then you must obtain another in your bone marrow – embarking on a new “incredible journey.” If it has not been lost there is no real impact, until you need a white blood cell, such as in an EMERGENCY.

how it went

Incredible Journey is right. The veins and arteries dictate which direction you can move (you know, like real life) so even though you might only need to move an inch or two as the crow flies, you must instead travel as the plasma flows. So you go over there, up a bit, just to the right, shift down then make your way up and avoid all pitfalls. And this travel must happen several times to win the game. Realistic? Sure. But as far as I know plasma is not sentient, and it was cruel to make us travel this way.

Circulation has very few ratings and even fewer comments on BGG. A few comments specifically mentioned a problem with repetition, and I must strongly agree with that warning. I want to strengthen that warning and continue to send it out into the wilderness.

We did all land on GERM ATTACK during play, but the only consequences were to me when my EMERGENCY card required a white blood cell, which I had lost in a previous GERM ATTACK. No big deal. I was immediately out of the game, essentially, since the travel to obtain the new white blood cell and continue on my “incredible journey” was brutal (don’t get me wrong, I played until the bitter end – I just didn’t stand a chance).

Incidentally, landing on EMERGENCY can cause you to carry waste throughout the body. You may drop off waste during an EMERGENCY but are not required to. If it had happened to all of us at once, our hero could have gone septic.

This game is meant to be educational, but I believe the designers confused educational with thematic. It’s thematic to its core, but I did not learn a thing. It seemed as though a few of the CIRCULATE cards were meant to teach small bits of trivia, but we did not land on CIRCULATE once in the entire game. There are proper names for certain areas of the body on the board, but there is no reason to even read them unless you are being directed there by a CIRCULATE card.

One thing I will say for this game is that it encouraged us to cheer for each other. We wanted to move on in our lives, so we were very supportive competitors hoping each person would win immediately. I guess that’s educational, in its own way.

play or pass

Save yourself and pass. My gaming group started out charmed by the plasma trays, the tokens and the gigantic board. It took a couple of turns before the realization of our next 30 minutes or so began to set in. My friends have a lot of patience for my games, and I am concerned that this one set me back a bit in their favor. I should probably say something nice about them to make up for it.