There’s something rather endearing about allowing someone to put their particular stamp on a board game. In most of the games I’ve played, players follow a set path, with set rules, and even when it is open to interpretation then there’s normally a lack of available individuality. You can put your own little twist on things, but it will always be within the confines of what tools the designers have given you. Then you come to the beauty of the roll and write genre, where the story might end up being the same, but when you look at the interpretations, it can often tell its own little story about the players. In Thunderworks Cartographers by Jordy Adan set in the Roll Player universe, you can just imagine what ends up being scrawled and neatly scribbled on each of the pads.
Cartographers is a Roll and Write game. In this genre of game generally players are all fed the same information and then must decide on their own player sheet how to use that information and add it to their own player area. In the case of Cartographers, the game is split into four main rounds where players are given shapes to draw on their pad and then at the end of a season, their results are scored based on how they have added those shapes in relation to the set scoring requirements for the round.
Cartographers is all about pleasing the edicts of the Queen, with her commanding certain lands in certain orientations and you take down her edicts and smile while wondering how easy it to maybe get a job that doesn’t involve land theft on a large scale. You can look on the gameplay in Cartographers as a double edged sword. In every round there will be a series of scoring rewards based on the orientation of the shapes drawn by each player on their individual pad, but players also need to be aware of making sure they maintaining control over their the space on their own pads and making sure they are keeping enough space for future rounds. Rounds play out fairly simply, with cards being drawn that show a shape that should be drawn on your pad and a type of environment. Now, you can draw the shape anywhere you want, but you’ll need to bear in mind where you draw it in relation to the edicts and how they will score. Each of the drawn cards has a value on it and once the season’s value is reached then the round will finish and scoring is then carried out. Scoring is carried out across the entire map, regardless if spaces have been scored before in previous rounds, which means that sometimes it’s worth placing your shapes not to score in that round, but for the future ones. Every so often you’ll draw a ruins card so the next shape must overlap a ruins space, or more excitedly, you’ll draw a Goblin raid card, and that means you get to take one of the other player sheets and draw a little goblin shape on it. If you’re like my friends they’ll spend ages drawing faces and almost giving names to each of the characters. You then need to surround the goblin spaces with other squares as any left will count as negative points when it comes to scoring Once you’ve played through all four rounds then the game ends and you move on to final scoring and the winner will be decided.
The player with the most points at the end of the game is announced the winner, though its interesting that scoring for the rounds take into account previous scored squares, so as rounds progress, the soring will increase.
Play on Cartographers is a simultaneous experience and a game can normally be done and dusted within an hour. Set up and tear down is very quick and even the teaching of new players won’t increase the play time too much.
The beauty of Cartographers is it offers a real time problem solving puzzle game where the solutions are numerous to the requirements of the edicts that you face, and often strategy will differ from player to player as the rounds progress. There are touches in the game designed to push your individual journey on all fronts, from the design of your own court of arms, all the way through to how you add goblins to your opponents sheets whenever there is a raid. Unlike a lot of roll and writes, the interactivity in here is brutal and you can really destroy other players best laid plans when the goblin raids occur and there is nothing more fun than spending the time to draw each of the goblin’s faces before you pass the sheet back. It’s not unusual to start the game using the iconography the game suggests before you end up spending some real time illustrating the map as you add more and more to the world in front of you, so you end up with a specific story where you can see the struggle for players to try mitigate the mistakes or lack of planning from the early stages of the game. Cartographers isn’t really limited with the number of players you can have and it’s a game that suits casual conversation between rounds right up until there are declarations of revenge. For those looking for a little bit extra, then main grids offer a different challenge on the reverse side and once you have delved far enough into what the main game has to offer, there are a range of differing expansions that take the base game in different directions, from traversing and mapping islands to delving underground, each of them offer enough variety to keep Cartographers coming back to the table. For those family members and friends who like their puzzles but have always turned their nose up at some normal cardboard then Cartographers offers a nice bridge to gently map their way to our side of the table. Good Fun all over…
Be mindful of the edicts that will be appearing in future seasons as you play. Sometimes it’s worth sacrificing a small points gain in one round for a cascade in the next.
For more information you can go to https://www.thunderworksgames.com/cartographers.html
Design – Jordy Adan
Illustration – Lucas Ribeiro
Development – Keith Matejka & John Brieger
This review is based on the retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.
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