May 15, 2018

[Games] Carcasonne: Under the Big Top Review

Carcasonne is one of our favorite tabletop games as it's a clever mix of varying rules coming together for a strategy game. Each new expansion adds a new factor to add into the mix of things. But not all expansions are the same and we've generally stuck to ones that continue to expand the game in a meaningful way.

What we have avoided is The Catapult, as it adds an odd physical dexterity element to the game that felt silly. I was initialyl worried about Under the Big Top as it seemed to have elements that also looked rather tied to that. It is a circus-themed expansion after all, right?

But in the end this set nicely fits into the greater scheme of things as far as Carcassonne is concerned. But it does feel a little odd as it's our first Z-Man edition of a Carcasonne game after their acquistion of the English distribution rights. Weird world.

Synopsis: Carcasonne: Under the Big Top is the 10th full expansion for Carcasonne and was designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. It integrates with the other Carcasonne expansions but still requires a valid base set to play including Wheel of Fortune.

In Under the Big Top, the circus has come to the lands of Carcasonne and players have a chance to make the most of these traveling entertainers. And this means some interesting new rules for the game. At its most basic, circus tiles when placed also require you place a random animal token and move the Big Top Meeple to that tiles. The animal tile now uncovered sorts for the players who have Meeples around that animal token.

Then there are tiles were acrobats can form a pyramid (this is the slightly dexterity-based challenge) and once complete with three performers, everyone who contributed a Meeple scores points. The game also introduces a Ringmaster Meeple that mostly acts like a normal Meeple expect that he scores additional points for features that are near the Big Top.

What I Liked: While there is no mechanical penalty for not building the Meeple pyramid well on the first try, the sight of three wooden people stacked on top of one another has become oddly endearing to me. And it's a funny mechanic that feels a little too Meeple-intensive for scoring points, but at the same time it's still simple enough to feel possible within a game. Carcasonne is filled with all these different choices that force you to map out which move gets you more of an advantage in the long run and building these acrobat pyramids is definitely one of the more tantalizing yet painful options.

The addition of the Big Top and Ringmaster Meeples are a welcome one as it's always nice to see new pieces added to the Carcasonne ecosystem. It's not always easy to keep track of them all but the pieces in this set nicely stand out and feel distinct and memorable.

What Could Have Been Better: As much as I love the new Ringmaster Meeple, I was rather underwhelmed by his game ability of adding points when you score near the Big Top. As the Big Top can move around a heck of a lot it feels increasingly rare that you'll be able to make full use of your Ringmaster when the time comes.

The Big Top mechanic in itself with these surprise animal tokens and random bonuses is cute but not necessarily strongly tied to the Circus theme. You don't collect the animals afterwards, like how goods are collected in Traders & Builders so I guess they didn't want to repeat a game mechanic style. But it felt like more could have been done with this tent.

TL;DR: Carcasonne: Under the Big Top is a fun little expansion that has a charm of its own but isn't quite a homerun. But I think it's a decent enough to the game world and makes for some interesting games. Thus the expansion gets a good 3.5 balancing acrobats out of a possible 5.

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