This fantastic polyomino and tile placement game is the one we can never resist on games night at the moment. But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend – I keep losing! It seems to me that my opponent always achieves more Tricks of the Trade than I do and I suspect this is the secret of his success, so I decided to take an in-depth look into this aspect of the game and see if I can’t get one step ahead of him next time.
So, what are Tricks of the Trade? If you already play The Grand Carnival, you will know what they are but this brilliant game is less well-known than it should be, so I’ll explain for those of you who might be thinking of buying it. (You can also find a How to Play blog if you want to learn more about the game.) While you are building the foundations, walkways and attractions for your fairground, you can also be working to achieve one or more of the three special abilities on offer. For example, if you can build an attraction and get three tickets on it, your guests will be able to walk on construction sites as well as on walkways. Once one player has fulfilled the requirements for any one trick, he or she places an action pawn on the card and all other players must complete the goal in their next go, or forfeit the ability that card offers for the rest of the game. And that’s what keeps happening to me – I miss out on gaining important abilities because I’m too busy snapping up large attractions as early as I can. Hard to resist but it results in opponents having advantages for the remainder of the game. You need to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing!
I’m convinced it’s worth making good use of these Tricks of the Trade, but which ones are worth having? I’ve sorted them into must-haves, nice-to-haves and not-really-worth-the-trouble. Don’t forget, in any one game there will only be three on offer, but if the following are up for grabs, I’m going to make sure I get them next time.
Bribe the Inspectors. This only takes four turns. You have to build a diagonal row of foundations and although placement has to be carefully considered so you don’t block routes off by mistake, the reward will help mitigate any imperfect arrangements. Once achieved, you can rotate any foundation tile ninety degrees right or left before placing it. This means you have three possible orientations for any tile you pick, and you can bear that in mind when deciding which value action pawn to spend selecting tiles. Spend a lower value, and use the higher ones to buy bigger attractions or get guests up and about buying tickets. Brilliant!
Underinflated Balloons. The goal here is to build an attraction adjacent to two others. The quickest way to do this is to build two small attractions and then put another one in between them. Smaller attractions will be quicker (don’t forget you are racing to achieve this before or immediately after your opponents) because fewer foundation tiles are needed. They score less than larger attractions at the end but don’t let that put you off. If you gain this Trick of the Trade, you are given two extra attractions of each size to choose from for the rest of the game. While your opponents are desperately eyeing the last ‘4’ attraction they need to make up a set of three, you can be relaxing in the knowledge that they can’t take either of those in your personal supply. Unless they have also qualified for this ability of course!
Weighted Milk Bottles: If you can get five tickets onto your attractions, you’ll be awarded the privilege of being allowed to place tickets diagonally. This greatly improves your chances of placing more than one ticket in one turn. Everybody aims to get at least fifteen tickets by the end of the game in order to get twelve points. I often find myself spending the last few turns just moving my guests around to place the extra few I need, and these turns could be better spent moving them into the big top or covering up those last construction sites, so Weighted Milk Bottles is well worth achieving.
After those top three Tricks of the Trade, are Posters Around Town and Create Mystery.
Posters around Town is pretty easy. You need to finish a row of foundation tiles, which only takes four turns and is often the best thing to do first anyway. Once completed, you can peek at the topmost face-down foundation tiles. There will be two of these throughout the game and they cost less than the face-up tiles so it’s good to check what you are going to pick up before committing, especially at the end of the game when you have fewer options for placement.
Create Mystery allows you to change an attraction size by one at the end of the game, for the purposes of scoring. For example, you could say that one of your two ‘3’s is actually a ‘4’, and count it as part of the set of ‘4’s.
There are seven Tricks of the Trade I have deemed (and bear in mind here that I’m looking into this as a result of my poor track record) nice-to-haves. However, some can be improved in combination. For example, The Big Draw allows guests to move on construction sites, and requires only three tickets on an attraction to achieve. If you are working towards Weighted Milk Bottles at the same time, it’s relatively east to get two advantages at once.
Finally, there are a couple of Tricks I think are not-really-worth-the-trouble: Pick Some Pockets requires you to build a column of foundation squares. Not too difficult, but the reward is small. It only allows you one extra ticket at the end of the game. For Keep the Crowd Moving, you need to get a guest through to the big top, and then guests can move through each other. It’s worth keeping an eye on this at the end of the game perhaps, but not a goal I’d prioritise early on, as it’s quite difficult to achieve.
That concludes my research. I can’t wait for my next game of The Grand Carnival, when I can put my theories to the test, and smash it out the park with a big win!