Ladies and gentlemen, step right up! The carnival is coming to town again. In The Grand Carnival, players build the most popular carnival the city has ever seen. You will have to plan the layout of the carnival, build rides, hire staff and manage the crowds. Be ready, the foundation tile train is already on its way!
Each turn, players place a meeple on one of the numbers 1 to 5 on their player board. Then they choose which action they are going to perform. The number determines the effectiveness of the action - and will not be available again until the next round - so players need to think carefully about which number to use. Since there are 5 numbers, you have 5 turns in each round. You may perform 1 action each turn. The actions you can perform are:
Placing a foundation: Choose a foundation tile from the train to place on your player board. There is a face-down stack of tiles and 4 open tiles. The higher the number you put your meeple on, the more tile options you have. For example, if you have put your meeple on 1, you can only take a tile from the covered pile. Each tile is a 2 × 2 grid and consists of walkways (grass) and construction sites. Attractions may only be built on construction sites while guests are only allowed to walk on the grass. So you have to make sure that you place tiles so that guests can reach all the attractions.
Build an attraction: Select an attraction that is still available from the attraction stock. Attractions have a certain size with a tetris-like shape. You can then place this attraction on the construction sites of your carnival grounds. So you must have construction sites in that specific pattern to be able to place an attraction there. For an attraction of 5 large you need 5 empty construction spaces in that pattern. Larger attractions can collect more tickets (and be worth more points), but are also more difficult to build. An attraction only counts towards points at the end of the game if it has at least 1 ticket on it. So make sure that your attraction can also be visited, otherwise you will not be able to collect tickets.
Move a guest: If you perform this action you may move a guest. At the start of the game there are already 2 guests at the entrance of the carnival. You may move the guests along grass paths on your carnival grounds. The maximum distance the guest can move is the number you chose with your meeple. If a guest ends up next to 1 or more attractions, you may place a ticket on those attraction(s). If both entrances are empty, you can hire a carnival barker. You can place these barker on an empty grass spot on your carnival grounds. They enable your guests to move 1 place further than normal. However, guests are not allowed to move through barkers, so please place them carefully. You get extra points if a guest has been through the entire carnival and arrives at the top of the tent!
After each action, check to see if you have completed 1 or more of the 3 "Trick of the Trade" cards. These are goal cards. An example of a goal is to have 2 guests over the halfway line of your carnival grounds (bottom to top). As soon as you complete a Trick of the Trade, you get the bonus mentioned on the card, for example that your guests can move diagonally. Your opponent then has 1 turn to also achieve the goal, otherwise he will not receive the bonus.
The game ends after 7 days (rounds). Players get points for having all the different size attractions, sets of the same size attractions, carnival barkers, tickets, and guests who made it all the way to the tent. The player with the most points obviously wins the game!
When we saw this game we immediately got into a carnival mood. The components are of high quality, look very nice and fit perfectly into the carnival theme. The rules of the game are very well explained and it is very easy to understand. We are normally not very good with rules, but with The Grand Carnival we raced through them.
We really like pattern-building games and this game has combined that very well with a number of other elements. The 3 actions that you can perform actually already contain 3 very different game elements. You have to smartly place tiles during the first action. During the 2nd action you have to place attractions in patterns and during the 3rd action you have to move meeples in a smart way. This ensures that every game is different and it does not get boring quickly.
There are a lot of components in the game and it takes some time to figure it out. An inlay in the box would have been very nice. Unfortunately, it now takes a little more time to organize and clean up the game. In addition, the components are now loose in bags in the box. Some components, such as the carnival barker, have weak spots. Some of our meeples are already missing an arm or leg. This certainly does not detract from the way the game looks. It really is like having a carnival on the table!
The final score felt a bit unfair in some games, we think you get a lot of points for having all 5 different attractions, namely 22. If your foundations don't work out, you'll miss all these points. We think it's nice that you are encouraged to buy many different attractions though. You really have to think and plan carefully. In addition, there is also quite a difference in the bonuses of the Trick of the Trade cards. One of the cards gives you the bonus that you can always view the top tile of the face-down draw pile. This gives you a huge advantage over your opponent, while other bonuses hardly give you any advantage. It is nice that you can score points in many different ways so you can adjust your tactics every game. You have to take into account the different ways of scoring points while playing this game and this is what makes it a very challenging game.
Playing with 2 players
We have only played The Grand Carnival with 2 players so far. This also seems like the perfect number of players to us. With more players you have to wait a little longer for your turn, while the game itself hardly changes. During the other's turn you have nothing to do yourself. In such a case we are always easily distracted and therefore think it is great to play this game with 2 players. We love that every player count has been thought of and that there is even a solo version to play!
Pros and cons
+ Pretty components
+ Combines different game elements
+ Beautiful and cheerful theme
+ Trick of the Trade cards give an extra goal
+ High replayability
– Some components damage easily
- Final scores don't feel that well balanced
- Some Trick of the Trade cards are overpowered
This game has been kindly gifted by the publisher for review purposes.