Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Grand Carnival was provided by Uproarious Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
Another day on the Kickstarter train! I think this is already an awesome week for reviews, given that I’ve got Camp Pinetop, Time Chase, and TEAM3 PINK on the review docket, so might as well keep the party going with an entirely different theme: carnival construction! Let’s dig right into The Grand Carnival and see what’s happening.
In The Grand Carnival, it’s the summer of 1937, which, you know, long time ago, but there’s a huge carnival coming to town! Several, in fact. You run one of these carnivals and you’re trying to make sure that people remember yours is the best. So get your supplies via train and outbuild your opponents to truly set up a spectacular summer. Will your carnival go down in history? Or will it simply be remembered as a massive flop?
So, to begin setup, put the Railyard Board between all the players, in the center of the table:
Shuffle the Foundation Tiles; place the stack face-down on the Railyard’s 1 Space. Flip four of the tiles face-up on spaces 2 – 5, making sure all the mallets are pointing the same direction:
Give each player a player board:
Also give each player eight action tokens of a color. Place five action tokens above the numbers 1 – 5 on your board, and set the other three off the board in a group:
Shuffle the Tricks of the Trade Cards, revealing three face-up near the Railyard Board:
Now, take random Attraction Tiles of each size and put them below the Railyard Board with the other tiles of their size. The number of each is dependent on your player count:
- 2 players: 5 Attraction Tiles of each size (1 – 5).
- 3 players: 6 Attraction Tiles of each size (1 – 5).
- 4 players: 8 Attraction Tiles of each size (1 – 5).
Set aside the Guest Pawns, and give each player 2 to place on the two Entry Spaces on their Player Boards:
Create a supply of Carnival Barker pawns, as well:
- 2 players: 5 Carnival Barkers.
- 3 players: 6 Carnival Barkers.
- 4 players: 8 Carnival Barkers.
Place the Tickets in a supply near the Railyard Board, also:
Choose a player to go first, and you’re ready to begin!
So, the game is played over a series of rounds, in which players take turns choosing actions to perform to try and build up the greatest Carnival in the land. Once the game ends, the player with the most points wins!
On your turn, move one of your unused) Action Tokens from above a number to the number in question, and then choose one of three actions: Place a Foundation Tile, Place an Attraction Tile, or Move a Guest.
Place a Foundation Tile
Take one Foundation Tile from the Railyard. You may take any tile provided its Railyard Board number is the same as or lower than your Action Number. If you choose 1, you may draw the top card of the stack, but you must play it.
Add it to your player board by covering up an empty space in your Fairground. All mallets on the tile should be pointing up, towards the big top. Additionally, if you chose 1, you may cycle the Railyard by discarding all the face-up Foundation Tiles and refilling it. Players may not look through the discarded tile pile, but if the stack of Foundation Tiles runs out, shuffle the discard pile and use that as the new stack, face-down.
Place an Attraction Tile
Choose an Attraction Tile below the Railyard, provided its size is the same as or less than your Action Number. When you add it to your fairground, it must be placed on Construction Spaces, as opposed to the green Walkways. You may not take an Attraction Tile that you cannot immediately place.
You can rotate, flip, or turn any Attraction however much you want, regardless of what the art on the tile would imply.
Move a Guest
You may choose a guest on your Player Board and move them into adjacent spaces (not diagonally), following these rules:
- A guest may move up to as many spaces as your Action Number. They can move fewer spaces!
- Guests can only move on Walkways.
- Guests cannot move onto attraction tiles.
- Guests cannot move onto empty spaces.
- Guests cannot move back onto the entry space.
- Guests cannot move onto or through spaces with guests.
- Guests cannot move onto or through spaces with Carnival Barkers. They think they’re creepy.
- A guest can move from the top space of your Player Board onto the top of the tent. Once they’ve done that, though, they cannot move again.
After moving your guest, if both of your Entry Spaces are empty, take two new guest pawns and add them to your Entry Spaces. You may also take a Carnival Barker, adding them to any empty Walkway on your Player Board. Carnival Barkers let your guests move farther; for each one in your Carnival, guests move one additional space during a Move action.
If a guest stops moving for the turn next to one or more Attractions, add a ticket to each adjacent Attraction. Note that each Attraction can only hold a number of tickets equal to its size, but you may place the ticket on any space of the Attraction (not just the one adjacent to the guest).
Earning a Trick of the Trade
The Tricks of the Trade Cards give players special abilities and can be earned by completing certain requirements (essentially achievements). If you complete one on your turn, place one of the Action Tokens in your Supply onto that card. Each other player now must complete that same requirement on their next turn or they miss out on the Trick of the Trade for the rest of the game! Harsh, but fair.
End of Round
Once every player has used all 5 of their Action Tokens, end the round by resetting all your Action Tokens (so that every space is no longer occupied) and passing the Starting Player Marker to the left.
End of Game
The game ends when any of these three conditions are met:
- A player’s board is completely filled with Foundation Tiles.
- Any three sizes of Attraction Tiles have been completely claimed by players.
- The Guest supply has been depleted.
Once that happens, the game almost ends! All players reset their Action Tokens and every player gets two more turns. Once those two turns have been completed, the game ends, and players total their scores.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference in my mind is that at higher player counts, more Attraction Tiles are in play, so it’s theoretically easier to go deep on one Attraction type. That said, with more players there’s more downtime and more churn, so I would be surprised if you had that easy of a time getting the tiles you want so that you can go deep on that Attraction type. You’ll be using your 5s and 4s a lot more to claim tiles at higher player counts due to churn, I’d bet. Though, you might get lucky and the tile you want slips down to 2 or 3 if enough players want something else or something affordable. As with most racing game elements, you’re also less likely to get all the Tricks of the Trade at higher player counts; like Welcome To, it’s possible that each player pursues a different one at a decent pace, and you can’t be everywhere at once. It’s not a problem, just something to be aware of. The thing that I worry about is how much analysis paralysis your players have; I think that as player counts increase gametime is going to spike unless you’re proactively telling players to focus and take short turns. To that end, I’d probably keep this at 2 – 3 players, personally.
- Don’t necessarily fill in all your tile spaces. I think a mistake a lot of players make is fearing that they’ll lose tons of points on the empty spots, so they take tiles with even more empty spots and they lose even more points. It’s not terribly ideal, so make sure you’re keeping track of how many Construction Zones are on your player board.
- It’s a good idea to go for one of each type of tile. That’s 22 free points right there, provided you can get the tickets. To that end, you should focus on getting the tickets as well, as you might guess.
- If you can, cut your opponent(s) off of getting tile types they need. It’s rude, but you are occasionally going to need to block your opponent if they’re planning a big move. Some of those larger point swings can be catastrophic for you if they can get them.
- Don’t be afraid to not use your full action. This is something I see from a lot of players. If they can use the 5, they want to make sure it’s “worth it”. It’s worth it if you get the thing you want or need, no matter what you need to do. Just maybe don’t use the 5-action if the 4- or 3-action would do? Then you’re just being wasteful.
- Generally, try to get the “do X N times” points. I mean the “get 4 Guests to the Big Top” and “collect 1 piece of each size”, mostly, but if you can get the “have X of Y Attraction Type” points or the “collect 15 Tickets” points, those are also going to be helpful.
- Try to build your Attractions such that you can put a guest on one spot and hit 2 – 3 Attractions. This is pretty critical to getting lots of tickets; you want to make little hubs that your guests can go to quickly and easily. For reasons I don’t feel like I need to state, don’t try to build a space with 4 Attractions surrounding it; you may have trouble getting guests there.
- Once you’ve got 15 Tickets, it may be time to focus your guests on more critical things. I usually just start having them sprint towards the Big Top for the extra points on that.
- Getting some early Carnival Barkers isn’t bad either. It’s just nice to get the extra movement; it makes the 1 Action a lot more useful, especially later in the game when you want those Big Top points.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I do like the theme. It reminds me of Rollercoaster Tycoon, even if Unfair is sort of the canonical theme-park-building game in my mind. This is more old-timey. I do like that they chose an art style similar to Cuphead; I think it turned out nice, from what I’ve seen of it.
- The art is also very nice. I mean, I’m basically repeating myself, but yeah, I like it quite a bit. It helps that it’s bright, inviting, and colorful, which is everything you want a carnival to be.
- It combines three things I love: path-building, tile-laying, and polyominoes.
- I appreciate the variability. I like that certain tiles aren’t in the game and that the Tricks of the Trade are always different. Generally, variable-setup games are always fun for me because you can play them a bunch in very different ways, as opposed to routinely trying to refine the same strategy (also fun, just, less so for me personally).
- Sizing it up a bit was a huge benefit to the game. When I first played it, all the tokens were Blokus-sized and that was very small. Having bigger pieces makes the game take up more space, yes, but it’s so much easier to grab and move things. I really like the size it is now.
- Having to move the guests for tickets is another interesting little puzzle. I really like that bit. I suppose someone could complain that it feels like three mini-games pushed together, but I think there’s a nice ebb and flow to when you choose to do certain actions and which actions you choose to do. It’s a nice development pathway.
- It makes me laugh that you can just put Carnival Barkers in inaccessible spaces. It’s very Cask of Amontillado, but in a fun carnival setting. Reminds me of Rollercoaster Tycoon, in a weird way. But hey, they make it easy for your guests to move farther, so, they have their benefits.
- It’s a bit frustrating at lower player counts that it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to get a lot of certain types of point-scoring polyominoes, since there are so few of them in the game. It means you need to be careful how you optimize, since missing out on those bonuses really means you need to work on getting the 22-point bonus for one of every attraction size or the 16-point bonus for getting guests to the Big Top.
- Some of the points math is confusing based on how they chose to balance the game. This isn’t a complaint about the game balancing at all; it’s more just gaining 16 points for one action, 18 points for another, and 22 points for a third action are all kind of weird numbers? It just means that players need to really use a calculator to get their final scores.
- It’s hard to tell where the Attractions end and the path begins. Thankfully, this is just a problem with the preview copy, not the full version; they hadn’t gotten a chance to finalize the art yet, and so it’s still mostly blank. The problem is, it’s blank in a way that matches the colors of the path tiles, which can cause some confusion. Not a huge deal, but still very much a problem.
- Analysis paralysis will slow this game to a crawl. The major problem here is that there are so many decisions to weigh, if you’re not careful. You might overanalyze which action to use. You might overanalyze which piece to take or how far to move a guest. You might overanalyze where to place pieces or Barkers or which Tricks of the Trade to go after. It’s sort of a cornucopia of sadness for players who have trouble making decisions, and it’ll definitely be a longer game as a result of that, if your players can’t make it snappy.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think The Grand Carnival is a great title! I’m a pretty simple guy, board game taste-wise; I really like games with a path-building component, I really like games with a tile-laying component, and I really like games that have some sort of polyomino component to them. You can, then, imagine my delight when I found out that The Grand Carnival has all three! Personally, I think the action selection mechanism is really neat, since you can choose how “strong” you want your actions to be at any given time and how to best utilize those in order to accomplish your goals. I will say that this is definitely a game that I lost on my first play because I got too distracted trying to go after every Tricks of the Trade Card (instead of, say, trying to score points), but I generally feel like that’s okay; that’s often a thing I enjoy about games; I like to get caught up in some trivial thing and end up losing the game because I massively overindex on that. It’s half the fun. Plus, the abilities are super cool! They let you manipulate the game in interesting ways. Not a ton of complaints about this game, but I’d definitely say there are a few worth noting. Normally, I don’t bother with art-based complaints on preview copies, but making the tiles green makes it difficult to figure out where the boundaries of the Attractions are; might have been worth making those red. Thankfully, this won’t be an issue with the full-art version of the game, I don’t think. The other is that if you have friends with any sort of predisposition towards analysis paralysis, don’t let them play this unless you want to be there all day. The action selection is a decision, whether you want to reduce the action or not is a decision, and what you ultimately do with the action you chose is a pretty big decision. That … will almost certainly be too much for a few players. If you think you can handle it, or you just like Carnivals, I’d still solidly recommend The Grand Carnival; I’ve had a lot of fun with it!