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Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale Review


Quick Look:

Designer: Jordy Adan
Artists: Luis Francisco, Lucas Ribeiro
Publisher: Thunderworks Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 1-100
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 30-45 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Review:
Roll-and-write and flip-and-write games are becoming more and more prevalent, and I really had no idea what they were like until a few years ago. Now, they’re some of my favorites. Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale is a flip-and-write game in which players create maps using communal cards. There are mountains and ruins already located on the map; it’s your job to find out what’s located in all the other locations, drawing them in as best you can according to the scoring guidelines (which change from game to game).

The rules of Cartographers are relatively simple to grasp, and I was pretty much hooked from my first play. Because the scoring conditions change each game (based on scoring cards drawn at the beginning of the game), there are countless variations of scoring points. There are a few monster cards strewn into the exploration deck, and these create a little bit of a problem for the players. As I’ll explain further down, all players pass their maps to the player next to them whenever a monster is revealed, and draws the appropriate monster-landscape shape on their opponent’s map. This is a great bit of player interaction, which isn’t too vicious, but will certainly make things more difficult, as empty spaces next to this shape are worth negative points.

Drawing is a lot like playing Tetris, as each card shows a different shape that must be drawn. If there’s not enough room on your map for a specific shape, then you’re hosed. It’s a great game of trying to plan in advance, being foiled by the monsters, and making the best out of it. The scoring conditions make this playable over and over, as the games are different every time. There’s a front and back side to the map, which provides even more variation in gameplay.

As far as roll-and-write or flip-and-write games go, Cartographers is now one of my favorites. It’s easy to learn, plays as many people as you want (as long as you have enough map sheets), and is downright fun. I love the choices I'm given, and the ambush/monster cards add a nice touch of suspense. I’ve never been big into map-making, but thanks to Cartographers, I think I’ve found my new hobby.

Setup:

Edicts A-D (i.e. scoring conditions), a season card (Spring), and the explore deck (face down).
Each player gets a map sheet, and all decide collectively if they will be using the wilderness side, or the wastelands side. All players use the same side. Everyone gets a pencil (recommended) or pen. Some pencils come with the game (how thoughtful!), but if you’re playing with, say, 100 people, you may need to provide a few extra…

Fill out your name (I like to name mine Thomas Thomas, because he gives directions and makes maps…get it? Thomas Thomas? Tom Tom? GPS...you know what never mind), and while the rule book states it is optional to add a title and family crest, I consider it mandatory. Because how can you take on the roll of a character if you don’t know their title, or have no earthly idea what their family crest looks like? Like I said. Mandatory.

Alright, now to actually set up the game. There are 4 edict cards (A, B, C, and D). Lay those out (in alphabetical order, please). Separate the scoring cards into four different stacks, each one a different scoring condition (i.e. it will have a different symbol on the back). Randomly draw one card from each stack, shuffle ’em up nice and good, and place one underneath each edict letter. These are your scoring conditions for the game (your map and the season cards will help you remember what gets scored each round). Place the four season cards in a face-up stack, with spring on top, followed by summer, next comes fall, and winter stalks in last. The game is played out as seasons, so it’s fine (and actually quite necessary) if the season cards are face up and visible to all.

There are 4 ambush cards. These are to be shuffled together (as best you can with 4 cards) and place them in their own deck, face down, off to the side. Shuffle the explore cards and place them in a deck face down. Add the top card of the ambush deck to this explore deck, give it a good shuffle, and place the deck next to the season cards. Got that? Great.

Let’s make some maps!

Gameplay:

I'm a map, I'm a map...
As mentioned I the Setup section, the game is played over four seasons. Each season has a value in its upper-left corner, which value corresponds with the value in the upper-left corner of the explore cards. When the value of all the explore cards played meets or exceeds the value of the current season, the round (i.e. season) is over, and scoring for that season commences. As is only natural, the player with the most points at the end of the game wins. I like to give bonus points (that count as nothing) for good mapping skills, neat family crests, and other such things.

During the Fall round, once revealed cards equal 7 (upper-left corner on Fall card) or greater, the round ends. So far, the total value is only 4 (top-left corner of the explore cards).
There are four seasons, as I’ve already mentioned, and each season consisted of a certain amount of turns. Each turn has three phases: Explore, Draw, and Check. Let’s take a look at what these entail, shall we?

Explore Phase
Reveal the top card of the explore deck. This will dictate what you have to draw on your map. There are ruins and ambush cards that may crop up, which have special rules, but suffice it to say for now that there is a symbol and shape (or more) on the card, and you must draw one of those shapes, with that symbol (which will correspond to scoring, such as water or forest) taking up the entirety of that shape.

Draw Phase
Before I get ahead of myself on the Explore Phase, this is where you draw the shape with the symbol associated. There are a few rules, however.
  • You can’t overlap this shape with other shapes on your map.
  • This shape does not have to touch another shape
  • The shape can be rotated (i.e. a vertical line could become a horizontal line, because science).
  • Fill in the shape with the chosen symbol/terrain type (same thing)
  • If you can’t draw the shape legally, you must instead draw a 1x1 shape anywhere on the map (with the chosen terrain type)
Pretty straight forward, but as the game progresses, there are fewer and fewer spots on your map that can fit the shapes, especially some of those wonky Tetris-looking ones (I guess they’re all rather Tetris-looking, but I digress…). If you surround a mountain with terrain, you get to shade in a Coin icon below your map. Each coin shaded gives points, so building next to mountains isn’t a bad plan (unless you can get more points elsewhere, in which case do that).

Likewise, some shape options on the explore cards come with a coin. Just like when you surround a mountain with terrain, shade in a coin on your paper when you draw that particular shape.

If an ambush card was drawn (and I really, really like this aspect of the game), pass your map to your neighbor in the direction the arrow on the ambush card is pointing. That player draws the shape from the ambush card on your map, then hands back your map. As you might have guessed, this is rarely a good thing. And it’s a wonderful bit of player interaction that totally messes with others without being (too) painful. Just know that there is some “take-that” going on in this game, but the most it will happen is four times, as used ambush cards are removed from the game. Sometimes you won’t even draw four ambush cards in a game. As I mentioned, I like this part.

There are also some ruin cards in the explore deck. When one of these gets revealed, draw and reveal another explore card, and the shape on the newest card must be drawn in such a way that it overlaps a ruin space. Failure to do so means bad news for you, so try not to cover the ruins spaces too early, or else you may not have any ruins to draw over come winter (or fall, or summer…).

Rift lands are neat in that they are only a 1x1 square, and you may choose any terrain type shown on the card. Rift lands are essentially wild cards, and can really save your bacon if you’re running out of larger plots.

Check Phase
This phase is all about checking to see if the season is over or not. Winter will go by much faster than spring (as its value is lower than spring’s), so pay attention to the value you’re aiming for. If the value hasn’t been reached for the season, start a new turn (i.e. draw and reveal an explore card). If the value has been reached, the season is over. Score points according to the queen’s edicts (i.e. scoring conditions A and B in Spring), as well as for any coins shaded. But, if you have any monster terrain (from ambush cards) next to empty land, you lose a point for each empty land space. Note that even if a single empty space is next to multiple monsters, that player still loses only one point. 

If the current season was winter, the game ends and points from all four seasons are combined for a grand total. The player with the most points is the best dadgummed cartographer in all of Nalos!

The gameplay itself is relatively simple, and it brings along with it some good planning skills. Fortunately one does not have to be adept at drawing to enjoy this game. My village terrains may look like arrows, but I know what it means, and I’m happy with it. Water is easy to draw, thankfully, and trees…well, just know that the deformed circles on sticks are trees. It’s all good.

Skills Mini Expansion

Some of the Skill cards
I was more than happy with the regular game, but here they are, adding the Skills Mini-Expansion to the mix. This expansion gives you certain skills (three are chosen at random for the game). Of the three skill cards available, players may, once per season, pay coins equal to a skill card's cost to utilize that skill. Remember, coins are gained by surrounding mountains with terrain, and by drawing in certain other terrain, as indicated on the cards. To show that you've spent coins to activate a skill, simply draw a line through the coin on your map. As you may have guessed, you won't earn any points for spent coins, but hopefully they will help you get even more points than you would have. At least, they can help you out of a tight jam.

I think this mini expansion is a wonderful addition. It's not adding too much, but what it does do is add even more variety to the game, and gives you power over some unlucky draws. You could even play your first game with this mini expansion, as it's not difficult to grasp, and the skills are easy to understand.

Solo Mode
I alway appreciate a game with a built-in solo mode. I like it even more when it’s a good solo variant. Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale has, I’m happy to relate, a wonderful solo mode. I’ve played it numerous times, and I’ve enjoyed it each and every time. There are a few changes which I won’t get into in this review, but suffice it to say that if you’re a solo gamer, Cartographers may very well be a game you should look into. 

Theme and Mechanics:

Box art.
The theme of map making is strong with this one, especially with the score sheets/maps that come with the game. It’s not a theme I’ve seen around a whole lot, but I like it. And with the mechanics, I dare say it works rather well.

The main mechanic is basically flip-and-write; or, in other words, flip a card, see what it requires you to do, and then you do it. It’s the same concept as roll-and-write games (example: Welcome to Dino World), only instead of dice, you’re using cards, which tends to eliminate some of the randomness. At the very least, you can know what cards have come up, and what’s still waiting for you. I like roll-and-write games, and while this is admittedly my first flip-and-write, I dare say I like it best of the lot.

As mentioned, there’s a hint of “take-that” in regards to drawing on other players’ maps when an ambush card is revealed, but just remember that if you get hosed, there’s a good chance that they did, too. I didn’t find this aspect of the game to be a downer at all. Rather, I felt it added to the game’s enjoyment.

Artwork and Components:


The box art is awesome, and the cards have likewise wonderful art. The map is pretty bland, but really, it’s supposed to be that way. If you’ve ever tried drawing on an already detailed piece of paper, you know how difficult it can be to see your work. It’s bland, yes, but it looks like how you might expect an old map to look—yellowish and, well, old.

My copy isn’t the final version (as far as I’m aware), so I can’t speak to the final components. However, the cards do feel good, and the rule book was easy to understand (you know me, always critiquing rule books). There will be 100 double-sided map sheets, which makes for 200 games (if you’re playing solo). Basically, there are quite a bit of maps, and if you start running low, give them a photocopy or scan and print your own. I’d be interested to see fan-made layouts for maps as well, so rather than having just two maps to work with, there would be plenty more. And who knows? Maybe that’s already being considered. If not, now’s your chance, fair reader, to create one of the first fan-made maps for print-and-play.

The Good:
  • Allows for an infinite number of players
  • Lots of varying scoring conditions
  • Solo variant
  • Player interaction
  • Minimal components
  • Map making
The Other:
Only two map variants? Look, each game is different even with one map; having two maps makes for even more. Some folks may want more, but for me, we good.

Honestly, for a flip-and-write game, I really have no faults with it. *shrugs*

Final Thoughts:
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale is a wonderful game. It’s got player interaction with a hint of “take-that” (that may only happen once or twice a game, at that), and although everyone is creating their maps off the same cards, their maps will all be quite different. There’s strategy 

Players Who Like:
Fans of roll-and-write and flip-and-write games will undoubtedly have a good time with Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale. If you’re into actual cartography, you may as well give this a go, too. Admittedly, I have never played Roll Player (but I oh-so desperately want to), so I’m not sure how this fits in with the lore and all that, but I would assume that fans of the Roll Player universe would want to check this out as well. 


Check out Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale on:

                




Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

See Benjamin's reviews HERE.
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale Review Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on May 02, 2019 Rating: 5

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