Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Grand Carnival: On the Road 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, two components (Grand Finales and the campaign mode) were not available in time for this preview, so they aren’t covered here.
I cut my finger, so this is going to be a whole thing. Unfortunately, it was my index finger, which makes writing next-to-impossible unless y’all get really okay with a lot of typos very quickly. Today, more unfortunately, was a day set aside for writing and photography before I leave on my work trip, so, naturally, the universe is not feeling it. Much obliged, universe. Anyways, that’s enough whining; let’s see what’s going on with our latest game. Reviewing expansions is always a doozy, because then I have to teach the base game and the expansion to whoever needs to learn it with me before I can play. Sorry again, Christy. But now, I’m excited to write about an expansion for The Grand Carnival! I previewed this a while ago (#501!), and a modular expansion will be interesting to see. Let’s check it out!
In The Grand Carnival: On the Road, you’ve decided to travel around the US and set up in various cities, each with their own quirks and exciting changes. Along the way, you’ll encounter clowns and special building sites (even small ones!), new Tricks of the Trade, and even the legendary Golden Ticket; to be the best carnival around, you’ll have to master all of these and more. Are you up for the challenge? Or will you ultimately get clowned?
So there are several different modules, each with their own setup requirements. You can set up the game normally and just add in the specific components for each module as you’re going to use them.
This one’s simple. Take the Peanut Tokens:
Place two on each of the size 1 Attractions. You’re good there. More on this later.
Enormous Attractions Module
Enormous Attractions require the Peanut Module, so you have to have both! Give each player one of these, to start:
Players keep these in their supply.
Golden Tickets Module
Golden Tickets are just placed in a supply separate from the standard tickets:
The clowns should be set in their own supply! They’ll be pink in the final game:
Double Foundations Module
The Double Foundations Tiles are given to players randomly, and each player must immediately place it like a normal Foundation Tile:
Mini Foundations Module
The Mini Foundations are interesting. These mini tiles get placed on top of the Engine Board, which should be placed on the front of the Railway Board:
New Tricks of the Trade
There are also some new Tricks of the Trade, though they are module-specific, so if you draw one that doesn’t apply to your setup, just draw another:
Once you’ve got your modules selected and set up, you should be ready to start!
Just like setup, the gameplay of the On the Road is split across various modules; I’ll explain each in turn.
Peanuts get placed with a size 1 Attraction when it’s added to your player board. When a guest would place a ticket on the attraction, place the ticket and take the Peanut Tokens, adding them to your supply. During your turn, you may spend Peanut Tokens from your supply to add 1 to your Action Number for that turn. You may spend any number of Peanut Tokens, but once you spend them, they’re returned to the supply.
Peanuts are not worth anything at the end of the game. Or, more specifically, they’re worth peanuts.
Enormous Attractions Module
Enormous Attractions are size 6! That’s quite large. So large, in fact, that you cannot build them with anything less than a 6 (as far as your Action Number). Some might say “that’s impossible”!, and you’re mostly correct. In order to build an Enormous Attraction, you need to use at least one Peanut Token to boost your Action Number over 5. Then you can build it, provided you have the tiles in the right spaces to accommodate it. You can only build one, so make sure you place it in the right spot!
At the end of the game, an Enormous Attraction counts as two Attractions of the size of your choice.
Golden Tickets Module
Golden Tickets are better versions of regular tickets, but allegedly, only Carnival Barkers can give them to guests. If a guest ends their movement adjacent (orthogonally) to both a Barker and an Attraction, the ticket they would place on the Attraction becomes a Golden Ticket, instead! Golden Tickets are Tickets for all card and game effects unless otherwise stated.
At the end of the game, in addition to standard Ticket scoring, Golden Tickets are worth 1 point each.
Clowns! Can’t get enough of them, probably. Clowns can be added to an Attraction by “overpaying” for it (using an Action Number higher than that Attraction’s size). Each Clown occupies one space of the Attraction, but doesn’t block ticket placement. Clowns cannot be moved. So, for instance, if you buy a size 1 Attraction with a 4, you would earn three Clowns, but you can only place one, because there aren’t additional tiles to place the other Clowns on. The extra, unspent Clowns return to the supply (or wherever Clowns come from).
At the end of the game, each Clown scores 1 point per guest adjacent to them (including guests that are diagonally adjacent!). A guest can be counted for more than one Clown.
Double Foundations Module
Double Foundations are placed during setup and treated as two Foundation Tiles for card and game effects. They really only come into play during Scoring.
At the end of the game, every Construction Site on the Double Foundation tile that you did not build on is worth -4 points, rather than -1. Make sure to cover those spots!
Mini Foundations Module
Mini Foundations are special mini tiles that can be earned by taking a Foundation Tile using a 5 (or higher, if you have peanuts). When you take one, add it to your supply. You can place that tile on top of any Foundation Tile as a free action on any turn, but once placed, it cannot be moved. You may even place a Mini Foundation Tile on top of another Mini Foundation Tile, but if you do, your opponents are welcome to question your planning. Whenever you would build an Attraction on top of Mini Foundation Tiles, return those tiles to the supply (so that the Attraction sits normally).
Like standard Foundation Tiles, visible Construction Sites on Mini Foundation Tiles are worth -1 point each at the end of the game. Additionally, unspent Mini Foundation Tiles are worth -1 point each.
There are some additional modules, like Grand Finales (goals that can be earned by a player) and Cities (locations that add their own mix of modules and extra rules). These may shake up the game a bit! Or you can play them all for a legendary Grand Carnival experience.
Player Count Differences
I wouldn’t say there are many enormous changes with player count, other than the standard racing effect that happens around Tricks of the Trade. With more players, there are more people that you have to compete against for getting specific Tricks of the Trade, which can be frustrating, if you get shut out. Otherwise, like the core game, most of the limited items balance out somewhat as player count increases. There are more tokens added in most things as you add more players. With the Foundation Tiles, sure, players can take the tiles you want between turns, but having more players means that the market will churn a bit more quickly at higher player counts, hopefully meaning that you’ll see an equally-useful tile come back around. I wouldn’t say I have a strong preference for player counts with The Grand Carnival, and that seems to once again hold true for the expansion. I tend to prefer 2 – 3 players, but that’s mostly because of analysis paralysis and just overall game pace.
- Each of these modules is worth thinking about when you’re playing, should you include it. This is a bit of a silly thing to say, but if you’re going to go through the trouble of adding some modular expansion components to your game, you should think about how to incorporate those into your strategy, to some degree. No matter what, there’s usually some way you can leverage them to help you, so, think about that when you play.
- With the clowns, they’re fantastic if you place them near spots where you can easily park guests who won’t make it to the Big Top. Clowns are a pretty useful way to turn overpaying for an attraction (using a higher Action Number than you need) into points. Plus, there’s a ceiling to guests’ utility in the Big Top; if you have more than four, you don’t earn progressively more points. Having some Clowns strategically placed can open up options for you to drop guests that won’t make it to the Big Top before the end of the game but can still score points. Having a guest stop between two clowns is unpleasant for them, I assume, but it earns you more points (since each clown scores independent guests). It can be a few extra points!
- For Golden Tickets, think about where you can lay out Attractions such that a guest can stop adjacent to a Barker and hit multiple rides at once. Generally you want to already be doing this for standard tickets, but adding in the Barker adjacency means that now you need to have a wider spot available for guests so that they can stop there and drop a couple Golden Tickets on attractions. This can be tough, since Barkers will block paths, but there’s at least one Tricks of the Trade card that lets guests move through Barkers, which makes this a lot easier to do. Without that, however, just focus on building Attractions so that you can optimize, to some degree.
- Your Enormous Attraction can help you score pretty well on the “multiple attractions of a given size”, so it’s usually worth building. The Enormous Attraction counts as two Attractions of the size of your choice, so, provided you built one of everything, that’s a guaranteed set of three of the attraction of your choice! I usually go after the 5s, just because that’s a lot of free points. But using that to get yourself to five of the same type can be a great way to get a lot of points. Plus, they cover a lot of ground, which may be a useful way to cover up your Double Foundation tile, if you’re using that.
- Generally speaking, it’s pretty clear that it’s a bad idea to not build on the Double Foundation tiles. You lose 4 points per space if you leave them uncovered, which is extremely bad. Don’t really need to belabor this point more than that, so, get something built on those spaces! There’s even a Trick of the Trade for doing it quickly, as though you needed more motivation.
- Mini Foundation Tiles, on the other hand, are great to have and spend when you need them! You can cover up mistakes or play more flexibly (or play responsively to your opponents trying to mess you up). I love Mini Foundation Tiles; you can use them to build new paths or tweak tiles to fit the Attractions you want. They allow for a lot of flexibility, so it’s honestly worth taking Foundation Tiles with a 5 more frequently, as a result (or using a peanut to push your number up and get a mini tile).
- In my games, there was an early-game rush for peanuts so that players could build their Enormous Attractions and adjust their numbers; may be worth getting some peanuts more quickly. The peanuts go quickly! Players like flexibility (and there’s not always a lot to do with 1s before you get a Barker down on your board). You need peanuts if you’re playing with an Enormous Attraction, so make sure you don’t get shut out entirely!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I just really like building theme parks, and this allows me to keep doing that. I’ve been into theme park construction since Rollercoaster Tycoon for my Windows 98 PC in Ye Olde Times. Loved it then, love it now. This is definitely a different time period than a lot of more modern-themed park construction games, but I think that’s part of the fun and the charm! I’m glad that there’s more being done on The Grand Carnival; I didn’t hear as much as I thought I would about it when it first fulfilled, and I think it’s a pretty great game.
- I’m glad there’s a card called “Send in the Clowns”. That just made me laugh. My housemate has a collection of (her words) “knowing porcelain clown dolls”, so there’s a lot of conversation about clowns around the house. She was delighted to see this card, as was I! I find clowns kind of creepy, generally, but in an entertaining way.
- The Clowns module, in particular, adds a couple nice fixes for some gameplay interactions. One thing that I always found frustrating in The Grand Carnival was not quite being able to get my guests to the Big Top by the end of the game. I wanted it so badly and kept falling short. Now, there’s essentially a consolation prize, and one you can strategize around! I like that. It’s a nice way to smooth over a part of the game that could be otherwise frustrating, and it gives players some kind of benefit if they have to use an Action Number that’s higher than the one that matches the Attraction they want. Multiple benefits!
- I like the Peanuts! They’re a nice reward for building smaller attractions. I think this is my favorite part of the expansion, frankly. Having the Peanut Tokens available as a way to bolster your moves is great. It allows for more flexibility, more strategy, and the ability to bail yourself out in a crisis. All good things.
- Golden Tickets are cool, as well, since they incentivize Barker placement being useful rather than just on random islands where they’ll never bother anyone. I usually just hid my Barkers on spots way out of the way where they couldn’t get in the way of my guests but would still give me points and a movement bonus. Now, I can’t do that anymore, which is mildly amusing. I mean, I can, but I can get more points if I plan and strategize more usefully. I think that’s fun! Gives the players more to do with the Barkers.
- Building the Enormous Attractions is very satisfying. It’s really fun to try and place them. Their shapes are nightmarish and not useful in the slightest, so when you finally make it all work, it feels great! Plus, they’re all particularly fun Attractions, so that’s also nice.
- Of the modules that I got to try, I liked all of them a lot! I think my favorite thing that I didn’t mention was the Mini Foundation Tiles, mostly because they give players ways to backtrack on decisions that ended up being suboptimal as the game progresses, and I think that a bit of player forgiveness in a strategy game is a kindness. But, honestly, everything I played slotted in nicely with the existing game and added some new ways to think about things that I may have previously taken for granted. It was a nice reintroduction to The Grand Carnival!
- I think I would still like something for players who miss out on a Tricks of the Trade card, just because it feels bad to get completely shut out. It’s a “feels bad” for players, so I’m kind of surprised there was nothing for it beyond getting additional Tricks of the Trade. It would be nice if there were still some way for players to get to use the bonus abilities, just because one player getting all three of them is a pretty big advantage (and tends to happen when an experienced player plays with newer players). Maybe in the next expansion.
- Games with modular expansions are often tough to teach, since there are so many new moving parts all happening at once. I really don’t love reviewing expansions, just because in my current model, it’s unlikely that I will play the original and the expansion with the same group (especially for Kickstarted games). Modular expansions, in particular, have a lot of different ways to fold into the base game, so it can be a tough teach. It worked out, partially because all of the modules are pretty small on their own, but larger modular games (Spirit Island, for instance) are pretty difficult to teach well, as a result.
- I’m hoping this will be fixed with the campaign part of the expansion, but the other issue with a lot of modular expansions is that they can feel a bit disjointed, lacking a clear narrative throughline to make the expansion feel like a cohesive unit. I’d love to see something that ties everything together, both to make it easier to teach and to make it feel like more than a handful of mini-expansions all packaged together in the same box. Modular expansions are tough, like that, but I think that the multi-city campaign that I didn’t get to try will hopefully address this. I suppose we will see!
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, there’s a lot to like in The Grand Carnival: On the Road! My full judgment is a bit reserved, since I think the modular expansion currently lacks a clear throughline that connects everything (but I’m told the campaign is going to address that and stitch it all up; I’m excited to see it). That’s the trouble with modular expansions; it can occasionally just feel like a pile of parts. That said, each of the parts here improves something about the base game or opens up and offers new strategies, ways to score, and exciting new stuff, so it’s a lot of fun! It’s a lot to teach if you’re going to add them all at once, but if you ease into it, there’s a nice trajectory of complexity as you build up towards the more challenging aspects of the expansion. I just … like The Grand Carnival, however, and I think that more of a good thing is, in this case, also a good thing. There’s a lot to like here! Ways to pump up your Action Number, ways to make guests more lucrative, and ways to go bigger and bolder for the greatest carnival of all time! On the Road understands how to iterate on an already-great game, and I think it turns parts of the game that I had taken for granted into fun, interesting, and strategic features in their own right. I’m excited to see how the final version turns out, and if you’re looking for more from The Grand Carnival or you just want to build an entertaining theme park, On the Road might be the way to go! I’ve enjoyed it.
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