- Number of Plays: 4 on Tabletop Simulator, dozens more via Android app
- Game Length: 30 minutes
- Mechanics: Flip and Write
- Release Year: 2019
- Designer: Jordy Adan
- Artist: Luis Francisco, Lucas Ribeiro
- Publisher: Thunderworks Games
March 2020 marked the end of the gaming in person for our group (somewhat ironically the last game my group played all together in person was Pandemic. We lost). Over the last 12 months we have continued to game together using a few online resources, but Tabletop Simulator has been the most common platform so far with 105 games played. One of the games that was a surprise hit on the platform was Cartographers, a flip and write game set in the Roll Player universe.
Cartographer begins with each player naming their kingdom and 4 of the 16 scoring objective cards are revealed, each one associated with a letter. This is important as each scoring objective will be scored twice throughout the game so you know what you’re working toward right from the beginning of the game.
Cartographers plays by flipping over a card which (usually) offers you two options to put down. Either two different shapes of a single terrain type, or one shape of two different terrain. It’s up to you to choose which scoring objectives you want to chase and how best to fill out your player sheet
Now it wouldn’t be a game if there wasn’t some twists; some way of making to choose between the lesser of two evils or force you to overcome an obstacle in some way. in Cartographers this is achieved in two different ways. The first is the ‘Ruins’ cards which force you to place your shape on a specific spot on the board, which always seem to be just one space too far from the spots that you actually want to put it, or tempting you to choose the smaller option to get the coin, which gives you a point during every scoring.
The other way Cartographers injects some challenge is with the Ambush cards. Each round in the game will shuffle in one ambush card. When these come up you need to give your sheet to another player and they get to put some nasty monsters onto your board. Any empty spaces next to a monster space is worth -1 point during each scoring phase.
Cartographers plays quickly and has enough player interaction to alleviate the multiplayer solitaire game that I find is pervasive throughout the roll (or flip) and write genre. It plays surprisingly well on Tabletop Simulator as the mod uses tiles instead of trying to force you to draw with a mouse. I’ve seen some pictures of completed sheets and they look like a nightmare to keep everything neat and orderly, drawing squares around the grid and different symbols to indicate the terrain type. I’ve also seen some people using multicolor pencils to assist with differentiating the different terrain types at a glance.
I know my own penmanship would be the biggest detractor with playing the game physically, it’s not something that I’d fault the game for. Knowing that drawing isn’t my strong suit does push me to playing on TTS or the digital app where my board looks nice the entire time I’m playing.
However you play Cartographers, no one can deny that the mechanism for interacting with other players is unique to this type of game, and the varied scoring cards leads to a good amount of variablitiy between plays. Some plays you won’t see a single ambush or ruin (as the explore cards get reshuffled at the end of each season) leaving you to create a utopia and everything goes exactly according to plan. Meanwhile the exact opposite can happen in the next game, all four ambushes come out, your neighbors manage to place the monsters is the absolute worst spots and your entire kingdom burns before your eyes.
I do know there are a couple mini expansions that include an alternate set of Ambushes (I’d argue these are almost essential) and a 8 card expansion that requires you spend your gold but you get a benefit in return, suck as during the draw phase you can choose to draw a 2×2 shape instead on one of the available shapes. Situational, but potentially powerful.
All in all, Cartographers is an excellent game, easy to explain and understand, and enough variability that you’ll feel you’re still discovering things after a half dozen plays (which for me, is pretty good). The player interaction isn’t too much to incur bad feelings between you and your friends and I’ve never felt like someone was unfairly advantaged in the game. It’s an excellent easy to learn hard to master game that can be enjoyed by the gamers of all persuasions and weight classes.