County Fair is a neat tycoon game and carnival-building simulation that puts you in full control of building and maintaining some very cool amusement parks. From carousels to ring toss games to deep fried candy bars, it has everything you’d expect to find in a real-life fair.   

As the sole surviving relative of an ailing businessman, you’re put in charge of an empire of county fairs. Business hasn’t been so great in recent years, so it’s up to you to fend off foreclosure. You’ll be given some money and staff to start, along with a teenage advisor to teach you the ropes.  

At first glance, it seems like a lot to learn, but the game mechanics are actually very simple. There’s a great tutorial that explains everything, and you can refer to the help section at any time. Your primary goal is to earn the minimum income by the time the fair is finished. There are also additional goals you can meet to reach the expert goal.  

Before you even start building, you’ll need to hire staff. Mechanics do the grunt work at the fair, and are responsible for building everything, and providing repairs. The more mechanics you have, the faster the work gets done. Later, you’ll also need health care workers, janitors, and security people. Hiring enough staff is crucial to keeping the place running, manage crises (like petty crime and customer illnesses), and avoiding fines. Staff will periodically request a pay increase, and you may be unpleasantly surprised if you refuse them.

With all those fancy rides and bright lights, you’ll need a generator to provide a lot of electricity. If you don’t have enough power, your rides and stations won’t run.  

Once you’ve got those settled, you’re ready to get to the fun part and start building the fairground!

There are a bunch of different stations you can build. Games include everything you’d expect from a good carnival – basketball toss, knocking over milk bottles, water guns, a shooting gallery, and so on. You can choose which prizes to offer in order to get the best return. Food stands also include all the classics. Sausage and peppers, pizza, popcorn, cotton candy, deep fried everything… all that fun fattening junk. You can set the prices for everything you sell. Shows include a giant horse, a magic show, and a sideshow. In some venues, you can book additional indoor and outdoor shows, like Monster Truck rallies.

My favorite are the rides – there are just so many!  To name a few, there are Ferris wheels, roller coasters, haunted houses, whirling tea cups, pirate ships… think of everything you’ve been on at a carnival, and it’s there. There are at least three dozen to choose from. Rides are broken up into small, medium, and large, which refers more to the expense and popularity than the actual size.

Speaking of size, the rides are not uniform sizes and shapes, so it’s difficult to precisely fit everything in snugly. It comes down to eyeballing things, and you can expect to get it wrong occasionally. Luckily, you can remove items and place them elsewhere, although it will take your mechanics time to take apart and reassemble everything.  

In addition to all of the building you’ll do, you can also advertise your fair to make it more popular. This includes buying radio and tv airtime, placing newspaper ads, and offering promotions. Advertising has a huge effect on popularity, which is important for some game goals.

Every station includes upgrades to make them more profitable. While you have complete freedom to change prices, you don’t actually need to in order to progress, so there’s a good amount of flexibility. You can replay levels over again if you want to aim for a better performance, so the game has pretty good replay value, too.

The graphics and animations are great! The rides look just like the real thing. It’s a lot of fun just to watch them. The music fits the carnival atmosphere perfectly, although it loops endlessly, so it can get a bit tiresome after a few hours.  

Of course, not everything is perfect. If you’re just waiting for a money goal, you might find you have to sit and wait it out, since there is no fast forward. It’s hard to see which items are broken, or where a mess or crime has occurred. The small red circles are very tiny in zoomed out mode, but in regular view mode you need to scroll around to spot them.  

Also, when you hire a show for the indoor area, you cannot book another one (though this is never explained). This can mess you up when reaching for certain goals. For example, I needed the “Gerry Mindmeld” for one level, which only because available towards the end of the round. I didn’t know the Gerry Mindmeld was an indoor show, and had already hired the first show, so I was unable to achieve all my goals.

Still, County Fair is a lot of fun to play, especially if you’re missing those summer days. It’s addictive, and allows players to build their own strategies, all while not being too complicated. The environment is perfect for a carnival, and the game play is extremely flexible, making it an excellent tycoon game for all ages.