Step Right Up!! ‘Carcassonne: Under the Big Top’ Has Arrived!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, welcome to Carcassonne: Under The Big Top! Dancing bears, acrobats, the Ringmaster, and even a flea circus await you inside the big top.

What Is Carcassonne: Under the Big Top?

Under the Big Top is the 10th expansion for the wildly popular tabletop game, Carcassonne. The game is designed for 2-6 players, of ages 7+. With the expansion, the game takes about 45-50 minutes to play. Under the Big Top adds a new meeple, the Ringmaster, new circus and acrobat tiles, and a new random scoring element using circus animals.

Carcassonne: Under the Big Top Components

The expansion includes:

  • 20 Land Tiles (marked with a Tent icon for easy sorting) including
    12 Circus Tiles with one circus space each
    8 Acrobat tiles with 2 acrobat spaces each
  • 16 Animal Tokens
    1x Elephant, 2x Tiger, 3x Bear, 5x Seal, 4x Monkey, and 1x Flea
  • 1 Big Top
  • 6 Ringmasters
  • 1 Instruction Booklet
Image courtesy of Sean P. Hallenbeck
Image courtesy of Sean P. Hallenbeck

As in previous expansions, the game pieces are all high quality. The circus and acrobat tiles have plenty of small details such as gardens of flowers and circus tents. When playing with them, they have the same “feel” that is so familiar to us; the weight and the beloved sound they make when they hit the table. The backside of the animal tokens has a graphic of a circus ring made up of stands full of people. The ringmaster is well detailed, including the requisite top hat!

How to Play Under the Big Top

First, be aware that this an expansion, and as such you must have the full version of Carcassonne in order to play.

If you are reading this, I’ll assume you are already familiar with Carcassonne. A complete How to Play Carcassonne guide can be found here.

Carcassonne: Under the Big Top adds 2 new tiles and a new meeple, the Ringmaster, which offer exciting new ways to score points.

Circus Tile

When this tile is drawn for the first time, it is placed, and then an Animal Token is placed on it, face down, and the Big Top piece is placed on top of that. When another circus tile is drawn, it is placed and then the previously played circus tile is resolved. Any features completed when the new circus tile was placed are scored. You then tally the score for the circus on the Big Top’s current tile. Proceed to reveal the animal under the Big Top. It has a numerical value assigned to it. For each of your meeples on the Circus tile and the eight tiles surrounding it, you earn points equal to the value on the Animal token. You then place a new animal token, face down, on the newly placed Circus tile, with the Big Top again placed on the animal token. Note: After scoring, your meeples are not returned to your supply. They remain in place.

Acrobat Tile

Acrobat tiles are placed like regular land tiles. After placing an Acrobat tile, you can place your meeple on the road or in the field, as usual.

You also have another option: you can place your meeple as an acrobat on one of the two acrobat spaces. On subsequent turns, if you place a tile adjacent (horizontally, vertically, diagonally) to the acrobat tile, you may place a meeple as an acrobat on the acrobat tile. If the two spaces are occupied, you can place a third meeple on the shoulders of the first two, completing the pyramid.

No additional meeples can be placed on a finished pyramid. When the pyramid is finished, it is able to be scored. On a later turn, instead of placing a meeple, you can score a pyramid. Each acrobat in a pyramid scores its owner 5 points, and is returned to the owner’s supply. After a pyramid has been scored, players can start a new pyramid on the same tile. You can also score a completed tile even if you have no meeples on it.

The Ringmaster

The Ringmaster can be played as any other meeple: on a road, in a city or monastery, or as a farmer in a field. The ringmaster cannot be used as an acrobat. When a feature with your ringmaster becomes completed, you score the feature as normal. You then score an additional 2 points for each circus and acrobat tile the ringmaster is on or adjacent to. The ringmaster is then returned to your supply.

Image courtesy of Sean P. Hallenbeck

Three Rings of Fun!

Under the Big Top is a wonderful, clever expansion for the Carcassonne family. It adds a new level of game play, with fun new tiles, tokens, and meeples. If your younger ones were on the fence about Carcassonne, this expansion might bring them into the fold.

The animal tokens and their random scoring add an element of chance to the game, and there is a palpable excitement when the hidden animal is revealed. The player is praying for an elephant and laughably disappointed when the flea is revealed! The animals were particularly appreciated by my 7-year-old. The values on the animals also allow for a teaching moment, as a bit of easy multiplication is needed when the scores are calculated. Learning can be fun!

The two new land tiles took a few minutes to learn the use of, but were a welcome addition thereafter. Who doesn’t like a circus? The acrobat tiles were whimsical, and created a new level of strategy: do I use a meeple or two or three to get the 5-point bonus? Will I regret using them when I have a city to claim and my meeples have all run off to join the circus?

The ringmaster, as well, created a new strategy. You want him to be in the center of it all, surrounded by circus and acrobat tiles for the biggest point boost. Like any good ringmaster, he commands the attention of the surrounding audience. If all else fails, he can be relegated to the role of highwayman or knight, at least until the circus returns to town.

With Under the Big Top, your Carcassonne game will take on a jovial slant, where animals perform tricks, acrobats create human pyramids, and the ringmaster controls it all. You can almost smell the peanuts and taste the cotton candy! Step right up!!

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