If you gave me a time machine and told me I could go anywhere, one of the great World’s Fair’s would definitely be on my list. Those grand exhibitions were fascinating. Today we take knowing about the latest gizmos and inventions for granted. But in an era when information traveled slowly and the newest innovations were often life-changing, the World’s Fair was a huge deal. If you got to go to one, you were all that and a bag of chips!
Well, since I don’t see a time machine appearing on my doorstop any time soon, I guess I’ll have to be happy with a World’s Fair in board game form. In World’s Fair 1893, you’re not just a fair attendee, you’re an organizer in charge of procuring the best exhibits and making the fair great. I may not be all that and a bag of chips, but I can eat a bag of chips while I play World’s Fair 1893. That’s kind of the same thing, right?
How It Plays
World’s Fair 1893 is a lightweight game with elements of area control and set collection driving the game. The goal of the game is to be the fair organizer with the best reputation at the end of the game. In game terms you’re collecting victory points, but building a cool reputation sounds better.
The game consists of three rounds, with players taking turns until the round ends. Rounds are “timed” by the board’s central Ferris wheel. Each midway ticket card collected during the round advances the tracker marker one space around the wheel. When it comes back around to the start space, the round ends. Then there is a scoring phase, another round is set up, and play continues.
A turn of World’s Fair is simple and consists of four steps. First, you will place one of your supporters (cubes) on one of the five exhibit areas on the board. That’s it. Pick an area and plop down a cube.
The second step of a turn is to use any influential figure cards you received on your prior turn. Influential figures give you a chance to place additional supporters, or move an opponent’s supporter to another area. They must be used, however, as you are not allowed to carry them beyond the turn after you earned them. If you don’t want to play them, you must simply discard them.
Third, you collect any cards from the area in which you placed your supporter. Place them face up in front of you. Cards may be exhibit cards, influential figures, or midway tickets. If you collect any midway tickets, move the Ferris wheel time tracker one space for each card you collected. If it reaches the start space, it immediately stops and the scoring phase is triggered. If you collect any exhibits, simply hang on to them until later when you may be able to convert them to points during the scoring phase.
Fourth and finally, you add one card from the draw deck face up next to the area in which you placed your supporter. You also add one card next to the next two available areas, in clockwise order. An area has a maximum capacity of cards so if an area is full, skip it and place the card in the next area with open space.
The next player takes their turn and so on until the scoring phase is triggered, ending the round. Scoring works as follows:
Midway Tickets: The player with the most midway tickets gains two points in midway coins. All players then redeem their midway tickets for one coin each.
Areas: All five areas are scored, one at a time, beginning with the area to the left of the Ferris wheel base and moving clockwise around the wheel. The player with the most supporters in an area gets a leader medal worth victory points. (The number of points received is dependent upon the number of players in the game.) That player can also “approve” up to three of their exhibit cards that match the color of the are area. (In games with larger play counts, the second place person also gets a leader medal — worth fewer points — and can approve one exhibit.) Approved exhibit cards are traded in for tokens which, when accumulated in sets, are worth points at the end of the game.
Recall Supporters: After scoring, all players remove one supporter for every pair they have in an area. So, for example, if you have five supporters in an area, you would remove two. The remainder stay in place for the next round.
After scoring, a new round begins and play continues until three rounds are complete. The game ends after the third scoring phase. Everyone then tallies their points earned from midway coins, leader medals, and any approved exhibit tokens/sets. The player with the most points wins.
Is This a Grand Exhibit, or the Bearded Lady of Your Game Shelf?
I’m going through changes in my gaming life. Between caring for aging family members, two essentially full time jobs, and a host of other responsibilities, I just don’t have the time or inclination to learn big, heavy, fiddly games these days. I still enjoy them, they just aren’t practical for me at this point in time.
That means I’m seeking games that offer some depth but with low complexity. I want interesting decisions, but I want those decisions wrapped in a simple ruleset, short play time, and breezy setup. Sometimes I think I might as well be looking for a unicorn.
Enter World’s Fair 1893. This game couldn’t have come along at a better time for me. It has everything I’m looking for these days. It plays in about 30 – 40 minutes. Setup is super easy. The rules are simple to learn and (more importantly) remember. It’s the kind of game you can play once in a while without having to go back to rules school to relearn.
The theme is refreshingly different from the usual farming, medieval, fantasy and space themes. It’s a theme that most people can enjoy without being lost or offended in some way. It’s also a little bit educational. There are facts about people and exhibits printed on the cards, so if you’re a history buff you’ll probably get a kick out of the game. (There’s also a layout of the actual fair pavilions on the back of the rulebook, which is kind of cool.)
Of course, this is a Euro game, so the theme doesn’t run that deep (you are trading cubes and cards for VP tokens, after all), but the idea of organizing a World’s Fair is appealing. And the Ferris wheel game board looks great on the table and is colorful and happy-looking. Nice for taking your mind off of a hard day.
Okay, fine, it looks great and is easy to learn, but is it any fun to play? Definitely, yes. World’s Fair is not a deep, heavy game so if that’s what you’re seeking you might as well stop reading now. This isn’t the kind of game that will tie you up in knots and overwhelm your brain with options every turn. It’s a breezy, lightweight game that offers some interesting, if not brain frying, decisions.
At its heart, World’s Fair 1893 is an area control game. At first, you’re playing supporters into areas so that you can collect the cards offered by that area. You want to collect cards which will ultimately advance your scoring options, so you want cards that can (hopefully) be converted into approved exhibits for points at the end of the game.
You may also need the influential supporters on offer in an area, or you want the midway tickets, either to trade them for points or to try to move the end game closer because you know you’re winning. Or both. So your first consideration is always where to place your supporter to help you both in the short and long terms.
As the game goes along, though, you start really looking to see in which areas you can and should try for the majority. (Or, in games with higher player counts, second place, as second place gets points and conversion opportunities, too.) When you have the majority in an area, you get two things: A leader medal which is worth straight victory points, and the opportunity to take up to three of those exhibit cards you collected (that match the color of the area) and convert them into approved exhibit tokens. Having sets of exhibit tokens grants you big VP’s at the end of the game, so you always want to be aware of which colors you have and which ones you need to round out your sets.
So, for example, if you’re trending toward the majority in the red area, but you have no red exhibit cards and don’t see a way to acquire any before the round ends, it may not be worth it for you to continue to pursue the majority in the red area. Maybe you need to pursue the green area and use some influential supporters to relocate your supporters from the red area to the green. (Or use one to kick your opponent’s supporters out of an area where you’re close to the majority.)
Of course, your opponent may realize that you’re struggling and try to gather up midway tickets and push to end the round/game before you can reorganize your supporters. That’s one of the things I like about this game. There are ways to mess with your opponents, but none of them are too aggressive. The “worst” are the influential supporter cards that let you move one of your opponent’s supporters to another area, but since that supporter doesn’t leave the game entirely, it’s not the worst thing that can happen.
I was also surprised at how well this game works with two players. Usually I wince when I see “area control” because I know it’s not going to be good with two. World’s Fair bucks this trend. First, there are some elements that are scaled down in the two-player game. Some cards are removed, the round time track is shorter, and the scoring is altered in the two-player game. All of this helps to tighten the experience.
Second, the cards mitigate the back and forth that you usually find in 2p area control. As in, “You go here, so I go there, so you go there, and I go back over here,” and you never encounter each other. That’s a boring game. But the cards in World’s Fair turn that around.
The influential figures give you ways to mitigate any mistakes (and counter your opponent’s moves) by moving your supporters to new areas. Since the cards come out randomly and are placed on different areas, you both end up “chasing” the cards you need and therefore are forced to move into areas already inhabited by the other player. This makes for a much more interesting game.
Of course, if you abhor randomness in games, this will be a problem. All of the cards are blindly drawn and the cards you need can end up anywhere, including places where you don’t really want to go. Deciding whether it’s worth chasing a particular group of cards is part of the strategy of the game, but if you don’t like random card draws, you aren’t going to like this aspect of World’s Fair. To me, the randomness feels right for the length/weight of the game, but others may feel differently.
Overall, World’s Fair 1893 is a very clean, elegant, and simple design. That doesn’t mean it’s a simple game or unworthy of respect, just that it’s not cluttered with unnecessary elements that are there for the sake of adding complexity or chrome. It reminds me of some of the classic Euros like Oregon, Finca, Alhambra, Stone Age, and the like.
It’s a blast to play, as well. It feels like it lasts exactly as long as it needs to and is short enough to play a couple of times in a row. There’s very little meanness, but there is some good-natured groaning when your plans go awry. You have enough to think about to challenge you, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed. It’s the kind of game you can play while chatting to the other players and when it’s over you feel relaxed, not wound up with regrets and recriminations about why you did or didn’t do certain things.
I highly recommend World’s Fair to anyone looking for a family/gateway weight game, or to advanced gamers looking for something to ease the mental burden of the heavyweights. This one is definitely a keeper and one I see becoming a mainstay of our collection.