Full disclosure: A review copy of World’s Fair 1893 was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
This one’s interesting. I actually backed the Kickstarter for this back in, I’m not sure, 2015 or 2016? It was my 24th board game Kickstarter, which, yikes, but enough about me. I played it some and then more games happened and then Renegade made a new version of it and it kind of came back around into my attention set. That was fun! Haven’t had that happen, really, before. But new box, Amazon exclusive, et cetera, and I figured might be time to revisit the game for a full review. Let’s dive in and see what’s going on at the World’s Fair!
Picture it. Chicago, 1893. The hustle and bustle of the World’s Fair as people set up exhibits in arts, sciences, and everything in between. Your goal is to make a name for yourself by getting exhibits that you care about approved by having your supporters in key places. The game’s flow is simple: on your turn, place a supporter and take the cards in the zone you placed, then refill the zone and the next two clockwise zones. What’s complicated is your goal: the player with the most supporters in a zone (and potentially second-most, depending on player count) can get some exhibits approved, turning worthless cards into valuable tokens. They also get medals, further accelerating them along the points line. The round only ends when the Ferris Wheel makes a full rotation, represented by players taking midway tickets. There are also Influential People that can draw additional supporters to your cause, should you be able to take advantage of their generosity at the right time. There’s possibly too much to see, but you’ll do your best to make everything work if you want to propel yourself to the top! Will you be able to become the most reputable attendee of the Fair?
Player Count Differences
At its core, World’s Fair 1893 has the heart and soul of an area control game, which … gently makes me prefer it at higher player counts. I’ve tried two; it’s not my favorite. At that point, a lot of the areas come down to getting the right Influential People in the right place and it can feel a bit swingy. I like it a lot more at 3+ because you have to prioritize which areas you’re going for pretty specifically, as players move to try and get certain exhibits approved. One thing I like about the game is how dynamic the exhibits and conflict over the areas can be as players get certain cards and find that they need to focus on other areas that they previously had not paid as much attention to. It’s an interesting pattern of movement, and players will often dance around each other a bit (or, if they’re unlucky, come into direct conflict) as they try and score points. That movement is a lot more interesting at higher player counts since there’s more players in the mix. You may be able to ride another player’s coattails to get second place in some area, but you really can’t commit to covering everything fully. At two, you’ll basically be splitting 3-2 on most areas unless you really mess up. Weirdly, I like the more chaotic version of this game, so, I’d probably most enthusiastically recommend it at higher player counts.
- Getting a ton of midway tickets can both help you get some easy bonus points and end the round more quickly, but it’s not enough to win you the game. You can’t win the game on just midway tickets; instead, focus on getting a few at key moments to try and end the round when you’re in control of as many areas as you can muster. Then, you’ll get a ton more points than you would have otherwise gotten, and hopefully get the exhibits you need approved to further up your score. Getting the extra 2 points from having the most midway tickets is nice, but hardly essential.
- Control of certain areas is great, provided you have enough Exhibit Cards to make that worthwhile. This is really the kicker. If you do control an area but don’t have enough Exhibit Cards of that type (or if you have 0), you likely could have better spent your time elsewhere, taking an area that you have more Exhibit Cards for, even if you’d otherwise get more points from getting one exhibit approved of this type. If you can get 2+ approved of a type you don’t have, then, well, it’s extremely worth it. But don’t go after an area just because you haven’t controlled that area before (unless you have Exhibit Cards of that type).
- You can do much worse than tying for first place on control of an area. At least at higher player counts, that can still get you a good number of points and some exhibits approved. You do … need that. So if you can’t beat them, join them, I guess?
- Keep in mind that Influential People must be immediately used, which may limit the utility of taking certain ones. It may also impact when you want a round to end! It may be worth trying to end a round while you still have certain Influential People in hand, so that they can help you get an early lead next round. Or it might be worth ending a round early before another player gets to use theirs. Or you might want to wait a turn and use yours and then end the round. There are a lot of options based on both where your cubes are and where you want them to be, so use the board state to your advantage!
- Don’t go overboard on one type of Exhibit Token. Repeats aren’t that valuable. It’s great to go overboard on sets of Exhibit Tokens, but if you only get Exhibit Tokens of one type, they’re worth 1 point each. The key is to get 3 – 4 complete sets, so each token in the set is worth 3 points (15 points total), which is great. It’s doable; it’s just also quite difficult.
- You don’t always need to take the most cards; sometimes the key to your strategy is just the right placement at the right time. What you want is really going to depend on what you already have, what areas you control, and when the round will end. Sometimes it’s more critical to end the round so that you stay in control of key locations (or block your opponent from fully controlling them) than it would be to get that one additional Exhibit Card. Play tactically and choose accordingly.
- Use Influential People to accelerate that strategy; they can synergize well with your plans, if you choose the right spot to place a supporter. One thing I really like to do is to move another player’s cube from a place where they’re trying to get ahead to a place where they’re already in a pretty commanding lead. It teaches them to never get too far ahead in a spot and it makes it easier for me to take over the spot that they just partially vacated. It’s rude, but it’s definitely fun! You can use Influential People to benefit your own strategy, as well. Getting to double-place or to place supporters on adjacent spaces (or on spaces of certain types) can be really huge, since it gives you an extra supporter’s worth of control. Just make sure you are also getting Exhibit Cards.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I appreciate the updates in terms of the game’s history. The note at the end of the rulebook is interesting historical context, I enjoyed reading it, and I was very glad to see more Black characters getting added to a game that prominently features America’s history.
- I do like the art a lot! Beth Sobel, as always, does an impeccable job. The crown jewel of the game is the Ferris Wheel, and it knows it. It’s the dead center of the play area and it looks incredible.
- I think the game’s weight is pretty accessible, especially for folks who are getting into gaming. It’s light, for sure, but it’s got some interesting choices and strategy to it. You just also need to compete against a decent amount of card-drawing luck.
- The supporter cube colors are nice, as well! I’m a big fan of the color scheme; I don’t own enough games with bold purple token in them, so I’m always kind of excited to see them.
- The slow decay of supporter pairs was very novel when I first played, and that kind of sharp novelty has been consistent through out Alex’s designs. I remember that from my first plays of the game, being honest. I understand that “for every two of X, you get one of Y” is a fairly common mechanic in some games that I’ve played, but I felt when I first played it that it was super novel and interesting, and that was part of the reason I got really excited about Alex’s designs. He’s remained pretty consistent, so, I’m looking forward to whatever he ends up making next.
- This is a fun theme, and the Ferris Wheel as the center of the game is excellent. I’m not normally into history as a theme because so much of it is dour guys trading gems or starting a war or colonizing a landmass, but theming a game around a celebration of science and technology at the turn of a century is pretty cool. I mentioned earlier how much I like the Ferris Wheel, and that holds as well.
- Plus, the cards are super informative! When I was very young, I spent a lot of time convincing my mother that my favorite video games were “educational” so that I could still play them whenever I got grounded, but these actually have real history facts on them! You can learn things! Whether or not that makes you more interested in the game is probably more a commentary on your relationship with history, but I’m not here to judge.
- I like that the various Exhibit Zones can be randomized from game to game. I wouldn’t say this increases the replayability, explicitly, but it does make the game look different from game to game. The major reasons this randomization is interesting are that certain zones are now placed adjacent to other zones, meaning that the Influential Figures work slightly differently. Beyond that, though, they still get assigned random cards each round, so there’s not much beyond the aesthetic appeal of letting them get switched around.
- I kind of want more pizazz from placing supporters. I think the Influential Figures are a good start, but I think that a more complex version of this game would be more appealing to me. I think that’s kind of the nature of this game having come out 5 years ago, though. I got it in 2016 because I was into much lighter games, and my tastes have changed a bit (which probably should inform the review work that I do, so, more on that in maybe a couple hundred reviews? I haven’t decided on a timetable). Now, I kind of want a bit more from the area control aspect of the game than I think I’m getting. I really do like that the areas can be randomized from game to game to change things up, but that really only matters for the adjacent placement Influential People. I think I would like the game to be a bit heavier, but I freely acknowledge that that doesn’t work for everyone.
- Two different currencies is odd; I understand the thematic purpose behind them, but players might assume coins are for spending, rather than just nebulously for points. This is an odder choice, honestly. I think that it’s cute from a thematic standpoint, but it kind of messes with my brain while I play, since I’m not really counting them as points along the same mental metric (even though the coins are largely in the same denomination as the Leader Medals). A lot of games would just abstract this out to a scoreboard and award victory points for this, so, I’m kind of confused how two different point currencies happened. The only game I’ve seen really make sense of that was The Castles of Tuscany, and that’s really just because one type of points converted to another at a higher rate. Since these are just one point either way, I don’t think they should be distinct.
- There’s no real way to make cards of certain colors appear, which can make the game a bit swingy; a player who capitalized on card colors that didn’t appear again has a strictly better chance of winning, since the other players can’t get those color exhibits. That’s random card draws, for you. Sometimes they give; sometimes they take. Your responsibility as a strategic player is to try and cover your bases to the best of your ability. There’s definitely A Strategy that you could take by just grabbing as many cards as you can of one color to spite other players who want to complete their sets, but that won’t … work. So you’re kind of just resigned to Whatever You Get from the deck, which is usually sufficient but not always, if you’re not paying attention. As far as approvals go, you should be able to win any area you really set your mind to at least once per game, but you need to make sure you have the cards. And you may not!
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I think World’s Fair 1893 is fun! As I mentioned, it’s a bit lighter than what I commonly want to play, for its length. That’s just me, though. My major functional gripes tend to be more nitpicky: I do wish there were a way to guarantee or at least re-weight Exhibit Cards of colors that you don’t have, so that they would show up more frequently (rather than rarely or not at all, especially if other players can beat you to them). You can very easily end up in a situation where you can’t complete a set of Exhibit Tokens just because another player or set of players prioritized those cards and they never appeared again (possibly because, in prioritizing them, they removed enough of them from circulation that they didn’t come back into play with a reshuffle). This can be frustrating. Similarly, I think for a lighter game, having two different points currencies that effectively work the same way can lead to unnecessary player confusion. Not my favorite thing, and it makes the game feel a bit less streamlined. I normally am not a huge scoreboard person, but honestly, that might have helped. What the game does well, though, is highlighting its history and the events of the Fair, in my opinion. The game’s Influential People cards do a good job of exposing a fairly-diverse array of guests, and the Exhibit Cards and Midway Cards are great for educating players about what was available at the time. It’s very possible to learn something from playing World’s Fair 1893, and I think that’s great. World’s Fair 1893 boasts fun colors and fantastic art, and I think it’s a solid celebration of the times as the US approached the advent of the 20th century. I do appreciate the historical updates, as well; some good changes were made and the historical notes fit in well with the other educational aspects of the game. If you’re looking to learn about the event itself, or you’re getting into board gaming and looking for a title that’s challenging but not too complex, you may enjoy World’s Fair 1893!
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