Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
A year or so ago, I was walking through my FLGS and saw a copy of The Grand Carnival on the shelf. As a self-admitted amusement park theme addict, my interest was instantly piqued. While the back of the box didn’t give me much of a sense of the gameplay, I figured I’d reach out to Uproarious Games anyway to see I they had a copy of us to check out. Fast forward a few months and The Grand Carnival not only became one of my Top 10 Board Games of 2020, but ended up winning our award for the best game from a small publisher that year.
Yet despite my love of the game, it wasn’t perfect–the scoring was pretty static each game, leaving me wishing for some variety. However, game designer Rob Cramer was apparently listening because he’s back on tour with the circus in the form of the first expansion for The Grand Carnival. Dubbed: On the Road, get ready to take your traveling show on a tour of the US.
First off, if you aren’t familiar with the base game, you can read my initial review of the core game here. The On the Road is a modular expansion that adds a variety of new ways to score points in the game. All told there are seven small modules (at the time of this writing) that can either be mixed and matched or used altogether. So let’s take a look at what’s new.
Peanuts: When you buy a size 1 attraction, you also put two peanut tokens on it. After a guest visits the attraction and places a ticket on it, you collect the peanuts. On a future turn, the peanut tokens can be spent to add 1 to the action number that you are using.
Golden Tickets: When a guest ends their movement orthogonally adjacent to a barker, any tickets they place that turn are golden tickets. These act just like normal tickets, but they are also worth 1vp at the end of the game.
Clowns: When you build an attraction, you can “overpay” to place clowns on the newly built attraction. For each point you overpay by, you can place one additional clown on it. At the end of the game, you earn 1 point per guest that’s diagonally adjacent to a clown.
Enormous Attractions: Each player starts the game with 1 random size 6 attraction. Since the action levels only go up to 5, you’ll need a peanut token to build a size 6 attraction. If you are able to build it, it counts as 2 attractions of any 1 size at the end of the game.
Double Foundation: Each player starts the game with a random double foundation tile. This acts as a normal foundation tile in most regards, except each visible hammer symbol is worth -4 points at the end of the game instead of the usual -1.
Mini Foundation: If you buy a foundation tile with a level 5 action, you can also take a mini foundation tile. These 1 square foundation tiles can convert a foundation to grass or a grass tile to a foundation.
Grand Finale Cards: When checking if you have met the goal for Tricks of the Trade, also check if you have met the goal for a Grand Finale card. If so, take the matching card and place it in front of you. This card will be worth 10 points at the end of the game. Each player can only claim 1 Grand Finale card during the game.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
As I mentioned earlier, my biggest complaint with the core game was the lack of scoring diversity. Every game players were shooting for the same scoring options, and some were clearly better than others. While I love the game, that was a legitimate grumble on the design in my opinion.
So was definitely excited when this expansion not only promised to address that issue but also offer a bit more gameplay variety. And after a couple of plays with the prototype, it seems like Uproarious Games succeeded. In addition to adding a bunch of new modules that not only give the gameplay more options, there are also a whole host of new scoring routes.
From golden tickets, to clowns, to the grand finale cards, not only do you have new things to do in the game, but new ways to earn points. Moving your guests around your park is a much more important option now. You have to be strategic where you send people, because ending them near a barker or clown can earn you precious VPs.
But it’s not only the new components that adds new ways to score points. The expansion will have players visiting 8 different cities, and each of them tweak the scoring in a variety of ways. The first four cites seek to gradually introduce you to the new components in the game, while the second four definitely look to up the ante. For example, Seattle will have you actually lose points for any guests still left in your fairground at the end of the game (and also for any barkers). These changes definitely altered our strategies during play.
Finally, while we didn’t get a chance to try them, the new Grand Finale cards give players end game scoring goals that are worth 10 points if you accomplish them. These range from having 10 attractions in your fair to having 4 guests in the bigtop. Players can only score one of these cards, so it shouldn’t alter strategies too much.
The Grand Carnival On the Road seems like an all-around win in my book. From our plays with the prototype, this is exactly what I look for in an expansion. It adds variety to the base game without making me feel like I’m learning a new game in the process. and not only that, but it does a good job of addressing the shortcomings of the core game. If you are a fan of the core game (and you should), getting a copy of the On the Road expansion should be a no-brainer.
The Grand Carnival: On the Road is currently in funding on Kickstarter. You can back the campaign for a copy of the expansions, an upgraded core game, and even to get replacement pieces if you are a first edition owner.