Author Topic: The Barbarian Report: Under the Big Top  (Read 3497 times)

Offline Whaleyland

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The Barbarian Report: Under the Big Top
« on: April 08, 2017, 03:58:32 PM »
There have been a few years now since a last major expansion released, and those have been somewhat troubling years. New art, strange promotional expansions with a decidedly German theme, lots of spin-off games. Thus, it is somewhat reassuring that Klaus Jürgen-Wrede is returning to his classic, award-winning game for yet another full-sized expansion. At least, that's what I was thinking until the name of the expansion released: Manege frei! (crudely translated as "Under the Big Top" in English). Accompanying this was the rather anticipated announcement that it would only be available in the new art style. My hope diminished, my dreams faded, and my expectations evaporated. To my mind, I immediately wrote this one off as The Catapult 2.0. An initial look at the rules, though, made me think again about the idea. Maybe...just maybe...the expansion wasn't as bad as it seemed...

Anachronisms Abound in 13th Century France
 :'( Cartoony Art for Cartoony Themes – It seems strangely appropriate that the first full expansion exclusively available in the new art is also one whose theme does not fit well with Carcassonne. While the Middle Ages certainly had its bard shows and jongleurs, it did not have traveling circuses the likes of Barnum & Bailey or *shutters* Cirque de Soleil. But with the distractingly vibrant colour palette of the new artwork, the circus theme seems to fit. It is like our beloved Carcassonne had a snow storm of ***FABULOUS***! In this case, that's not a good thing. Let's just say that this current reviewer decided against the purchase and used existing tiles to replicate the expansion in all its glory.
  :o A Ringmaster of Idle ThoughtsCarcassonne has its fair share of relatively useless Followers. The Mayor from "Abbey & Mayor" comes to mind as one of the most useless pieces in the game. Granted, the Ringmaster does a bit more – for all intent and purposes the character is just another follower, thereby lessening the difficulty of the game – but its special ability of scoring 2 points for each adjacent "circus"-themed tile is pitifully short-sighted in a game that counts 10 full-sized expansions among its ranks (and countless smaller expansions). Basically, this mechanic only gives a bonus through sheer luck if you are playing with multiple expansions, because the odds of one of the 20 "circus" tiles being located near your Ringmaster are so low. Even when just playing the game with the expansion, the benefits of +2 points hardly outweighs placing a tile in a more opportune place.
 :-\ Let's play JENGA! – The Acrobats, though, is where this expansion really treads into "Catapult" territory. Yes, people stack meeples while waiting for their turn. It's an age-old thing to do while idle. But turning that into an actual mechanic is just dumb, not because the idea itself is bad, but because its implementation is awful. First, you need three meeples. Second, they need to sit there until the pyramid is completed. And third, they score 5 points each when the pyramid is done. OH WAIT! You have to wait until later in the game to collect those points because everybody needs to be able to see the stupid little pyramid you just made on the tile. This idea is short-sighted in so many ways. First, the high likelihood that your followers will get stuck in an incomplete pyramid is so high that no amount of points, especially a mere 5 per follower, could justify such a build. Second, this mechanic simply doesn't work with 2 players. There just are not enough followers available to the players to sacrifice three to do it. And if one player builds the base, there is little motivation for the other player to complete the feature. They would lose a net of 5 points, while not completing the feature would lock two of their opponents meeples out of the game (especially if the feature is surrounded, cutting it off from ever being completed. There simply is no scenario where the Acrobat idea is a better option than literally claiming anything else, including a Road.

Who Let the Zoo Out? (Who? Who? Who?)
 ;) The Countryside Moves – You could say that all new expansions add tiles, and you would be correct, but this expansion adds 20 entirely new tiles, which is quite nice. Granted, a lot of those tiles have old worn configurations, but there are some nice new treats as well, from Roads that bypass Cities to some new dead-ends in fields. If you are looking for a source of new tiles, then this is certainly not a bad one. And if you are a fan of the new art, then these tiles have new buildings, new graphics, and new watermarks, so have at 'em.
 :-* Extra Meeples Never Hurt Anyone – Despite complaints above, the introduction of the Ringmaster will be something a lot of people like. It is a new, mostly-standard follower (thus making it slightly less costly to attempt the Acrobat option) and it includes a nice new design of a meeple with a top hat (because those were a thing in the Middle Ages). In addition, there is also the lovely Big Top neutral meeple in this game, that genuinely looks cool and can fit snugly under the Bridges from "Bridges, Castles & Bazaars" (which is probably why the hut from Hunters & Gatherers wasn't just used for it). The crimson colour of the Big Top is also rather nice, although it matches a bit too closely to the Dragon for my tastes.
 ;D Inside the Clown Car – But the real gem of this set and the real reason any reasonable Carcassonne fan (of the new art) should buy it is the primary mechanics of this expansion: The Circus. There are 16 chits included in this expansion that number in value from 1-7. These are placed upside down on new "circus tent" tiles when they are placed. The new Big Top figure then goes on top of the newly-placed chit to signify that the Circus is in town at that site. Whenever a new "circus tent" tile is drawn, the a new chit is pulled, the Big Top is moved, and the number under it is revealed. All meeples in the 8-tile vicinity of the chit score that many points instantly since they were "drawn to" the circus. The mechanic actually works quite well and did indeed encourage us to place figures near it, when possible. At one point in our game, a single player scored 21 points for placing three meeples around the 7-point Big Top. Just to add to the fun, cute depictions of six different animals are placed on the tiles, representing the types of acts performed under the Big Top. While the theme of this mechanic may be a bit dumb, the implementation is spot-on. For this reviewer who prefers the original artwork, he will be re-appropriating his "Catapult" tiles for use in this mechanic from now on. 16 custom chits are already in the design stage to make a custom "Jongleurs" expansion. It is simply that good.

Inconclusion
So is the box worth it? Well, if you are a fan of the new Carcassonne artwork, there really is no reason not to buy this expansion. The new meeples and the Big Top mechanic make the expansion worthwhile even if the Acrobat mechanic is dumb and the function of the Ringmaster is subpar. If you don't own the new art, you may want to recreate the Big Top mechanic using existing tiles rather than purchasing this new expansion. One critique not mentioned above is that the footprints of the Big Top and the Acrobats on the tiles are pretty ugly. The artist attempted to make it look natural by giving the footprints a dried wheat colour, but it doesn't work. So using these tiles without the expansion will expose those areas and may negatively impact the visual quality of your game board. It certainly turns me off to the expansion in an unexpected way. Also, the expansion was more difficult to explain than usual, which is not generally a good thing.

SCORES
Playability: B
Affordability: B+
Compatibility (with other expansions): B
Aethetics: C-
Learning Curve: C+
FINAL GRADE: C+

Linkback: http://www.carcassonnecentral.com/community/index.php?topic=3246.0
« Last Edit: April 09, 2017, 03:48:48 AM by whaleyland »

Offline jungleboy

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Under the Big Top
« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2017, 02:23:02 AM »
Merit for your report, and for telling it how you see it. Doesn't seem like I'll be missing much by skipping this expansion.

Offline Decar

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Under the Big Top
« Reply #2 on: April 09, 2017, 05:52:11 AM »
I think the ringmaster is a sensible addition.  There's a careful balance between the number of tiles & meeple across all of the expansion.  Look at big meeple, the mayor, the wagon.  This expansion adds a lot of tiles and so it makes sense to add a meeple with a small ability.

I think the acrobats gives rise to some interesting decisions.  They act like reverse cloisters.  A cloister is a tile you wish to play with as many tiles already completed as possible, in the hope of scoring 9 points.  Once invested, other players usually invest moves to block or trap the monks.  The meeple tower works the other way around.  You want to invest with as few surrounding tiles as possible to maximize the player's chance of adding an extra acrobat to complete the pyramid.  Opposing players have to decide if it's easier to use a lot of tiles to block/trap or join in to reduce the available points.  I see the acrobat-tiles are very term short investments for relatively big points and they could be worth a heck of a lot when considering the effects of the Big-Top tiles!

Interestingly, it's possible to start a new pyramid, after one has been completed and scored.  It's also possible to NOT score a pyramid when it is completed.  This makes 2-player more viable especially if you are the minority holder.

Offline dirk2112

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Under the Big Top
« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2017, 07:17:59 AM »
Merit for the great report :(y)

Basically everything you said is what I assumed.  I just wanted to add that the Bazaar tiles could also be used instead of the Catapult tiles. 

We are still going to buy this expansion.  My wife loves circuses, so it is a no brainer even if the acrobats are really dumb.

Offline stalcupojoy

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Under the Big Top
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2017, 11:23:57 PM »
Merit for your review, whaleyland. Are you planning to share the custom "Jongleurs" chits? I would be very interested, especially after reading your review of that mechanic.

Offline Whaleyland

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Under the Big Top
« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2017, 11:36:24 PM »
Merit for your review, whaleyland. Are you planning to share the custom "Jongleurs" chits? I would be very interested, especially after reading your review of that mechanic.
For the first play through, I just used a stack of hand-written chits with the properly-distributed numbers written on them. Nothing impressive. I will try to make something more interesting in the future.  :))

Offline ARabidMeerkat

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Re: The Barbarian Report: Under the Big Top
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2017, 02:32:50 PM »
Merit for your review, whaleyland. Are you planning to share the custom "Jongleurs" chits? I would be very interested, especially after reading your review of that mechanic.
For the first play through, I just used a stack of hand-written chits with the properly-distributed numbers written on them. Nothing impressive. I will try to make something more interesting in the future.  :))

I would also be on the lookout for this...
If only I had another Halfling.....


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