#740 – Funfair

Base price: $40.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ~15 minutes per player.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 2 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Funfair was provided by Good Games Publishing.

Oooh, sequel games. I think this counts! I’m always excited to see people revisit designs and iterate on them. It leads to cool stuff! Some of my favorite games are follow-ups, like Near and Far to Above and Below or Sprawlopolis to Circle the Wagons (that one might be debatable) or Nine Tiles Panic to Nine Tiles! There’s something exciting about seeing someone just dissect what worked about a previous design and how to make it even better. And here we are, again, seeing it happen. This time, it’s Unfair to Funfair! I’ve been told a fair bit about this game and have been hyped to try it, so please enjoy the fruits of my trying it.

Welcome back to another day of theme park design! A lot has changed since you were gone. Streamlined, even. The city has calmed down and has decided to honestly just, mellow out completely. You want to build a great theme park? They’ll help you, but you have to stop the subterfuge. You begrudgingly agree and put away your taser or pliers or knife or whatever people sabotage theme parks with these days. Now, we can all be friends! But one of us still has to be better. That’s just how things work in … Busytown, is what I’ve decided the city will be called, for nostalgia reasons. Anyways, you’re back in town with a brand new theme park design, and this time, you’re going to be the best! Now it’s time to prove it.

Contents

Setup

First, set out the board. Thoughtfully, there are two board types: one for players who sit across from each other, and one for players who sit next to each other.

Then, give each player a Gate card:

Each player also gets a Showcase card. These are randomly assigned, so keep them secret from your opponents:

Also, give each player 30 coins, and set the rest aside:

Shuffle the Park cards to create the Park deck, and deal each player 5:

If any player doesn’t get any “Attraction” cards, they may discard their hand and draw a new one. They can repeat this until they get a hand of 5 cards with at least one Attraction card in it. Place six cards face-up on the board to form the Market, as well. Next, shuffle the Blueprint cards and add them face-down to their spot on the deck:

Finally, shuffle the City Cards:

Place two face-down, then the Blueprint Closure Card on top of that, and then four more City Cards on top of it. The rest can be set aside; they won’t be used this game. Finally, shuffle the Awards cards, and reveal one to be in effect for the game:

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

Over six rounds, you’ll try to build the most valuable theme park in town. Can you do it?

Each round is comprised of four steps!

City Step

During the City Step, reveal the top card from the City Deck. It applies to both players for the full round. All players follow its instructions, one at a time, in turn order. These are generally nice things!

After round 4, you’ll see the Blueprint Closure Card. This doesn’t count as a City Card; it’s meant to remind you that once this round ends, you can no longer get additional Blueprints.

Park Step

During the Park Step, players have up to four (usually three) actions that they can perform. You may do the same action multiple times, if you have money (or not); up to you.

Build

When you build, you may place a Park Card in your hand or in the Market into your Park, with some restrictions:

  • You can’t play two cards with exactly the same name on the same thing. This means that you can’t have two of the same-named staff member (payroll issues), you can’t have two of the same-named ride (guests get lost easily!), and you can’t have two of the same-named upgrade on the same ride (too many bathrooms!). You can have the same upgrade on multiple attractions, though.
  • Your park can only have 5 attractions, total. This includes your secret Showcase attraction. More than that and, I mean, you have to get rezoned.

When building, pay the card’s build cost and then place it. If you can’t afford it, you can’t build it. If you build directly from the Market, immediately refill it. Some cards have special abilities when built; check before placing, especially because when you build an upgrade, it goes below the top-most card in the splayed stack you’re creating for that attraction.

If you build your Showcase, you can use cards on the card to pay for it. You cannot use those coins for any other reason (investors want to see the ride, not better bathrooms!).

Take

When you take, you can take from the Market into your hand (to keep your opponent from swiping you).

You can, instead, do a Draw 2 Keep 1 sorta thing with the Park Deck, or you can do that with the Blueprint Deck. If you don’t like either of the cards you draw, you can keep none, but then … what was the point of drawing? I suppose it was to avoid Blueprint penalties. More on that later.

One other option you can take is to discard one card from your hand to draw 5 Park Cards and keep 1 of them. Useful if you’re looking for something specific.

Loose Change

This action is a bit of a bummer, but you can take it to collect 1 coin per Attraction in your Park. You’re essentially crawling around, collecting any loose change that guests lose, but everything’s digital, these days. Ain’t gonna find any bitcoin or whatever.

Demolish

Sometimes, you have built an affront to God or your Blueprints and it must be removed. If that’s the case, you can remove an entire attraction in one fell swoop. Everything’s discarded. The attraction, all its upgrades; everything. You don’t get any money back, so, try to avoid doing this.

Guests Step

During the Guest Step, you collect income! Primarily, this is done in a few ways:

  • Stars: Most cards in your park have 1 or more Stars. Count up your total Stars (including your Gate; commonly-missed), and gain 1 coin for each Star in your park.
  • Tickets: Some staff members give you bonus income during the Guest Step. Check them and gain that income now, if you’re supposed to.
  • Investors: If you haven’t built your Showcase yet, place 5 coins on it. That money can be used to build the Showcase later. If you already have 20 coins on your Showcase, you cannot add more. Just build the darn thing. It’s free, now, and it gives you a bonus action.

Cleanup Step

Start Cleanup by discarding every Park Card in the Market and refilling it.

Then, each player checks to see if they have more than 5 Park Cards in their hand. If they do, they discard down to 5.

Finally, pass the Starting Player Marker to the next player on the left.

End of Game

After six rounds, the game ends (the City Deck should be empty). Now, you score based on a few things:

  • Attractions: They score separately, but it’s essentially the more icons you have on your ribbon, the more points you score. I think I saw a 13 once? Wild.
  • Coins: Every 2 coins are worth 1 point.
  • Staff Members: They should have a number of points indicated on their card.
  • Award: If your park matches your Award, score the points indicated.
  • Blueprints: We usually do this last to up the tension, but if you completed the mandatory requirements on your Blueprint, score the indicated points. If you failed to do so, lose 10 points. There’s also a Bonus Target, but there’s no penalty for missing that.

If you, like me, hate math, consider using the online scoring tool instead.

Player Count Differences

Player count can matter a bit in this one, which is pretty fun. So, a … startling number of games I’ve reviewed in the past month or so have relied on “random markets”, or a set of cards that can be pulled by players at any time. This generally is how a lot of games work. There are some cards / tiles / blocks / etc that are in the center, and on your turn you can take / buy one of them. I usually say that as player counts increase, that market tends to become “more” random (if such a thing were a real math phrase), or at least, you can rely on the market maintaining the same cards less as player count increases. Not to get too Math, but if you imagine a player choosing from the market randomly on their turn (for some reason), there are simply more players choosing from the market between your turns, so you have a greater chance of the card(s) you want being taken. That said, there are also cards being replenished, so this volatility can work in your favor, as well. If the market isn’t great, more players taking cards might result in a card you want appearing. This is a long review already, so I’ll get to the point. This generally leads me to slightly preference lower player counts in games like these, because I dislike that volatility. In Funfair in particular, you can also spend a card and an action to sift through the top 5 cards of the deck for something you like, which is what many players might do in lieu of taking a garbage market card. Combine this with a finite number of each card, and you get diminishing returns on the “take every Pirate theme” strategy, or something, as multiple players will pursue pirate themes like it’s One Piece night at the local cosplay club. It’s not really a problem, per se, it’s just something you should watch out for.

The major points in Funfair’s favor as player count increases are that generally, beyond swiping a card someone wants, you really can’t affect other players unless you choose to be nice to them. There’s a particular City Card that lets players pay each other for upgrades, and it’s just Money City at that point, especially if it happens late in the game. It’s wild stuff. That kind of thing is a smart way to compensate for player count in the design: if more players are around to take things you want, there are more people who can potentially be nice to you, as well. And a lot of Funfair hangs on the potential positive energy of those interactions, which is part of why I enjoy it so much. I’d still probably say 2 – 3 players is the sweet spot for me, but that’s because I’m still skittish about seeing more than 2 people and, frankly, it takes longer to play at 4 players and I like the game when it’s fastest. Plus, I do enjoy getting all the Robot themes and it’s harder to do at higher player counts.

Strategy

  • Make sure you continue to have money. This is a pretty big point. Money is the primary driver of a variety of things in the game, like hiring staffers or opening your ultimate ride or just buying regular stuff. If you don’t have any, you can’t build up your park! The kind of worst-case scenario is running out of money mid-round. If you run out towards the end, there’s always the Guests phase to get enough money to carry you through the next round, but focusing on income strategies will be vital to making sure you can consistently make progress.
  • Remember that this is a game that’s as much about the engine as it is about the action economy, so saving your money and waiting to build your biggest ride may cost you long-term (since you end up with fewer total actions). This is a tough break for a lot of players, honestly, because relatively new players may still struggle with when to prioritize building your ultimate ride. If you build it too early, you may basically bankrupt yourself, but if you wait too long, you essentially give your opponent(s) a huge advantage, as they get additional actions that you don’t get. I usually recommend players keep an eye on their economy and see how much money they’re picking up. If you’re just going to use the extra action to get new cards or to get loose change because you’re out of cash, you may just be better off keeping the money and waiting for a better round.
  • Your thrill rides will likely (not guaranteed) be your largest attractions, so make sure that you start with at least one that you can continually build up. Ironically, in one of my games, my … restaurant was my biggest attraction, but this was my fault. Generally, you want to go somewhat deep on rides so you can earn that compounding score bonus as you add more to them. Plus, you can add corkscrews and vertical drops and etc to the ride if you go for a thrill ride. For some boring “safety reasons”, you cannot add a vertical drop to your restaurant.
  • Don’t underestimate the utility of staff members, especially if you’re going all-in on a theme. Each theme has a Staff Member that will give you points for having a certain theme on your rides. Seek that out (or burn it if you want to keep it from your opponent, you hate drafter). It’ll be a good addition to any theme-focused playstyle!
  • A Robot theme can be a great way to attach other upgrades (especially Theme or Quality upgrades) to your attractions for relatively low cost. It’s particularly helpful for attaching expensive upgrades to your rides. But make sure you don’t spend too much money on them! Generally speaking, the Robot Theme is one of the most expensive cards in the game, so, if you’re not getting sufficient bang for your buck, you may want to focus your money on other, more immediately useful things.
  • There are several rides that are renamed versions of other rides + a theme. Keep an eye out for theme, since they’ll interact nicely with staffers that reward having those types of rides (rather than the names). Yeah, so there are special rides within each theme. They’re essentially upgraded versions of the original ride, but they have an attached theme, which allows you to get around the restriction on named cards. You can only have one card in your park with a given name, and so these cards are the same type of card, but they have a different name! This allows for certain combos to be more effective, since you can have two cinemas or two restaurants in your park, now.
  • Early blueprints can help guide your direction, and late blueprints can be a lucky swing, but either way, make sure you get some blueprints before the game ends. If you completely avoid getting Blueprints, you are … kind of missing out on a major score pathway for the game. Yes, you do carry some risk by grabbing too many Blueprints, as you can miss out on fulfilling one and take a huge negative penalty. But if you completely avoid grabbing them, you risk missing out on points that you could otherwise get for things you’re already doing! Just keep in mind that you don’t have to keep all of your Blueprints if you don’t want to, when you’re drawing them. You just need to make sure you don’t keep any Blueprints that you can’t commit to finishing.
  • Going wide may not benefit you as much as going deep, but keep an eye on what the Critics’ Choice Award is looking for; that may give you some incentive to rethink that. Each game has one of these awards that give you bonus points for following some meta-task. All these strategy tips may be slightly invalidated by those awards, so keep an eye out

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The art remains impeccable. I just … really like Mr. Cuddington? They do an incredible job of conveying a bunch of different styles, and I know that they’re going to do great, fun color work in a style that’s recognizable, distinct, and pleasant. They also did Santorini, and y’all (hopefully?) know how much I love that game. Their work on Unfair was excellent
  • I like that they made some changes so it’s not just “nice Unfair”, frankly. I don’t typically talk about value where games are concerned just because, in this and many other game cases, I got the game for “free” (depending on how you value my time, which you might not) so I feel like I don’t actually have much to say about “worth”. That said, there is some idea of value along the lines of “what does a game do differently” in that a game has to, in some way, typically justify its own existence. If this were just Unfair with the mean cards removed, I’m not sure it would do that. I think the goal here was to make a lower-complexity and kinder Unfair that would be a good ramp into it for folks that like that sort of play style, yes, but I think Funfair does an excellent job of making its own case (as I list out here). That’s challenging, from a design perspective, to thread that needle, and I think especially given the weight differences it’s perfectly reasonable to have both in your collection, especially if you, like me, like theme parks a lot. Plus, Unfair has more themes.
  • It’s a pretty good game for introducing folks to engine-building, I think. Generally I find that engine-building games can see a player run off with it, at a certain point, and I don’t think that quite happens, here. Some experienced players may have a bit more money than others, but I haven’t seen many cases where players are just going to go buck wild with it.
  • I also like that the randomness of the card deck means some synergies are more useful than others, and some never come up at all! For a longer game, that can be frustrating. In a shorter game, that encourages tactical play. This is especially useful (as I mentioned in Strategy) because some cards are enhanced versions of others, which can allow you to double down on your synergy. That is, if you get them early enough in the game.
  • Having the Blueprints as a way to guide players towards certain synergies is also a good move. I will generally recommend some early Blueprint play to new players because 1) they shouldn’t spend all their money and 2) the Blueprints will pretty cleanly suggest card combinations that work decently well together and give them some direction. That’s one of the reasons I generally like end-of-game goals; I think giving players something to move towards can be particularly helpful when they’re getting used to the mechanics. Plus, it’s just a useful way to score points.
  • End of the day, I love pretty much every theme-park-themed game that I play because I’m just a huge fan of the theme. I don’t think I’ve played one yet that I haven’t really liked? I think I still need to knock out Meeple Land at some point, but … theme park games are just so fun. I grew up on Rollercoaster Tycoon, y’all. There’s something Classic Delightful Americana about them. I can also imagine part of it is me being nostalgic for the idea of being able to go outside, I remarked, bitterly typing after a year at home. You gotta be at least a bit self-aware in this business.
  • I do prefer that this is a nicer overall game than Unfair, all things being equal. I’m a bleeding heart, most of the time. I’ll do a bit of hate-drafting, but I’d rather play nice games than mean ones, if at all possible. That said, I assume my first game opponent will ask me if it was nice when I took every Robot theme in our game and used that to chain together a high-value combo. It’s hard to say? I think it was nice for me? She didn’t get any Robot Themes? That was also nice for me? Happy accident? Again, it’s really had to say. But the lack of directly negative player interaction (I cannot shut down or remove parts from any other players’ rides, and the game does not inflict pain upon me, either) is a pleasant alternative to the sometimes-crueler aspects of Unfair, if that’s what you’re looking for.
  • It’s also significantly lighter, in terms of setup and teardown. You don’t have to deal with the modularity; you can really just shuffle some cards, set out some boards and money, and you’re good to go. The Tabletop Simulator mod they let us use for a game was also pretty slick, though I don’t think that really has an impact on my review of the board game in particular. I just like nice Tabletop Simulator mods.
  • I really like that buildings can have more than one theme, just for the gentle dissonance that causes. It makes me laugh to see a Jungle Robot Theme like some sort of Rainforest Cafe / Terminator nightmare. I’d eat at one of those places! It sounds nightmarish.

Mehs

  • You’re decently likely to run out of money early in the game, and that can be a pretty bad feeling since you have so few actions to spend on things like “get more money”. It’s usually hitting a bump in your engine, which is okay, but that is definitely a “feels bad” moment for players. The reason this isn’t something like a Con is, well, that it’s mostly player-instigated, for one, and two there are a few fixes for it. The game letting you sift through the deck is pretty good, for one, but it definitely feels bad trying to get a pittance of a few coins with the Loose Change action. Oh well.

Cons

  • I know this is specifically one of the value adds of Funfair (in that it has a lower setup complexity), but I sure do miss the modular themes of Unfair. I know. I know that this is like, a whole thing, but, I just … love modularity in games. And I miss it here! Yes, there’s plenty of content already, and I get that, but there’s something satisfying about choosing what themes you want to play with and getting to put them together. I assume that’s part of why I’m taken by modular games more generally, but I do miss the modularity here.
  • Given that some of the synergies are decently non-obvious, there’s going to be a slight advantage for experienced players over inexperienced players. This is a very light con, but it’s worth mentioning as something to keep an eye out for when you’re playing. I had a slight advantage in my first game in that I was also decently familiar with the Unfair system from … a while back, but that did help me get my bearings quickly, even if I then immediately squandered those bearings by going extremely wide. It paid off, but, I think that’s something to keep in mind. Some of the synergies are just … non-obvious. I think it’s not too bad, but it may be enough to annoy some players. That said, after maybe a game or two, I would expect that to largely go away.

Overall: 8.25 / 10

Overall, I really like Funfair! That’s not terribly surprising, given how much I enjoyed Unfair but whined about it being too mean. I know what I am and what I sound like. I’ll give it a whirl with the expansion content and see how I feel about it compared to Funfair. More on that to come. That said, I think that Funfair is actually a surprisingly impressive title, given its obvious proximity to Unfair. We live in a gilded age of board games, yes, but there are a lot of “The Dice Game”, “The Card Game”, “& Write”, and whatever-additional-variants-of-some-core-game. I’m not one to paint with broad strokes when it comes to games, but it can occasionally get a bit overwhelming because there’s like three or four different versions of Castles of Burgundy. Funfair eschews “The Dice Game” for “The Nice Game”, which is a joke that I had set up in my head maybe two sections ago and spent the rest of the review trying to tilt my writing and narrative towards letting me make it. Did it pay off? Hard to say. But in Funfair’s case, it certainly seems to have paid off, as I can easily note the distinction between the two titles. Unfair is, unsurprisingly, heavier. It’s more aggressive. It’s got panoramas and modularity (two things I miss). That’s definitely the right speed and weight for a certain population of gamers, and not gonna begrudge them on that. Funfair sheds some things I like and some things I don’t to make a different game that seems to have come from the same well as Unfair but feels and plays quite differently. I think this is a great title for players who are looking for introductions to engine-building games without the tension of getting their engines dissected by more experienced players, for instance. That’s a super useful game type to have, in my opinion, as that’s how you lose a lot of folks. In other, more aggressive engine-building games, you’ll build up an engine and in one turn, I can take the one card that you need to glue it all together and it falls apart. That feels bad, but inexperienced players may not know how to protect or counter against it. And I’m glad Funfair doesn’t have that. I think that’s perfectly fine. This is a game I can show my family or friends who are inclined towards lighter gaming when they want to play a “longer” game. Is it a gateway for Unfair? Probably. Is it a gateway in general? Nope, it’s probably more gateway+ or a little heavier. I do like that, though. Since it’s gateway+ (or heavier) and engine-building-focused, you are going to notice that some synergies are non-obvious, which may disadvantage certain players in their first game or two. I’d encourage them to stick with it a bit, as the game has some really cool combos, plays, and Blueprint-related movements that are a lot of fun to build, and the narrative around your park that emerges as you play can be humorous (or a fun point of metatext if your players want to debate which park is better). I do hope there are ways to add additional content, though, because I do love theme park-building games. If you’re looking for something like that, or you’d like a nice, polite engine-building game that’s got a little more heft to it, I’d recommend checking out Funfair! I’ve certainly had a great time with it.


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