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Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale Review

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The roll-and-write or flip-and-write genre of board games has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Now Thunderworks Games has thrown their hat into the ring with Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale. Thunderworks Games is best known for their game, Roll Player, and have been expanding their catalog of games set within that universe, which is essentially a Dungeons & Dragons type of fantasy world. So, does Cartographers live up to the Roll Player name? Let’s take a look.

What Is Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale?

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale is a flip-and-write game where players draw Tetris style shapes on their maps in order to score points for specific patterns drawn. Although Cartographers is set in the Roll Player universe, it is a completely separate game with its own mechanics.

  • Ages: 10+
  • Players: 1-100
  • Play Time: 30-45 Minutes
  • Design: Jordy Adan
  • Illustration: Lucas Ribeiro
  • Graphic Design: Luis Francisco
  • Developer: Keith Matejka & John Brieger
  • Year Published: 2019

How to Play Cartographers

What’s Inside the Box?

Cartographers: A Role Player Tale includes a wide assortment of components including:

  • 100 Map Sheets: Each map is double-sided with each side being slightly different.
  • 13 Explore Cards: Explore cards show which shape to draw on your map, the type of terrain, and the time value for the explore card.
  • 4 Season Cards: Each season represents one round in the game and shows which edict cards will be scored at the end of the season.
  • 4 Edict Cards: Each edict card is assigned a score card.
  • 16 Scoring Cards: Score cards give players reputation points for completing the required patterns.
  • 4 Ambush Cards: Ambush cards force players to give their map sheet to their neighboring opponent and allow them to draw the shape indicated on the ambush card on their map.
  • 4 Pencils: This is a flip-and-write game after all.

Cartographers Rules

Setup

The setup for Cartographers is really simple. Each player receives these components:

  • 1 Map: This is where players are able to draw their terrain shapes indicated on explore cards.
  • 1 Pencil: This is a flip-and-write game after all.

On the table you will have these components for all players to view:

  • Season Cards: These cards represent the current round of the game. They also show which two edicts will be scored at the end of the round. 
  • Edict Cards: All four edict cards are placed in alphabetical order and they are each assigned one score card.
  • Score Cards: One card from each of the four different score card types is chosen at random and placed underneath one of the four edict cards. These cards show which patterns are needed to score points for a given round.
  • Explore Deck: The explore deck contains different terrain types and shapes that the players can choose from to draw on their maps. One ambush card is also shuffled in each season.

Explore Phase

A season of Cartographers has three phases. The first is the explore phase. The top card of the explore deck is flipped faceup so that all players can see.

If the card that was drawn was a ruins card, you reveal another explore card from the top of the deck and place it on top of the ruins card. Drawing two ruins cards back to back doesn’t change anything. Simply draw a new explore card and place it on top of both of the ruins cards. More on this in the draw phase.

If the card that was drawn was an ambush card, then the explore phase is put on hold and each player gives their map to the player next to them in the direction indicated on the ambush card. Players then draw the monster space shape indicated on the ambush card on their opponent’s map. These will be worth negative points, but more on this at the end of the season.

Draw Phase

After the explore card is revealed, all players draw the shape and terrain indicated on the explore card on their map. Sometimes there will be multiple options for shapes and terrain types. If so, you can only choose one of the terrain types and one shape on the explore card. You cannot mix and match terrain types.

The six terrain types are:

  • Forrest
  • Village
  • Farm
  • Water
  • Monster
  • Mountain

When drawing shapes on your map there are a few rules that must be followed.

  • You cannot draw shapes in a way where they overlap filled spaces. This includes mountain spaces.
  • You do not have to draw shapes next to one another. You can start on one side of the map and then draw your next shape on the opposite side.
  • You are able to rotate and flip the shape indicated on the explore card.
  • You cannot draw a shape in a way where part of the shape extends outside the map’s border. The entire shape must be drawn inside the map.
  • After drawing the shape you must draw in the chosen terrain type in that shape.
  • If you cannot draw the shape anywhere in your map then you get to fill in one square on the map with any terrain type of your choosing. If you cannot draw the shape from an ambush card then you fill in one square on the map with the monster terrain.
  • Some shapes come with a coin. If you choose the shape that has the coin symbol next to it from the explore card then you get to fill in a coin on your coin track. More on this later.
  • If you are able to surround a mountain space on your map on all four of its sides then you are able to fill in a coin on your coin track.
  • Rift cards also can be drawn from the explore deck and allow you to fill in one square on your map with any terrain type.
  • When choosing a shape from an explore card that was placed on top of a ruins card must be drawn on top of a ruins symbol on your map. If you cannot draw the shape on a ruins symbol or if you run out of symbols then you fill in one square on your map with any terrain type.

Check Phase

After everyone has drawn their shapes from the explore card, you check to see if the end of the season has been reached. You do this by looking at the time threshold of the season. If the time values of all the explore cards revealed are greater than or equal to the current season’s time threshold the round is over. If not, then you continue the previous phases until it does.

End of the Season

At the end of the season, players will earn reputation points based on how well they followed the queen’s edicts. You earn reputation points from:

  • Each season shows which two edict cards will be scored.
  • You score one reputation point for each filled in coin symbol on their coin track.
  • You receive one negative reputation point for each empty space adjacent to a monster space.

Once you have finished scoring for the season, discard the current season card to reveal the next season. Each season has different edicts that will be scored and different time thresholds as well. Reshuffle the explore deck, adding a random ambush card to it. The game continues until you reach the end of the winter season card.

End of the Game

After you score for the final season card you add up all of your reputation points from all four seasons and the player with the highest score wins. In the event of a tie, the player who received the fewest negative points from the monster terrain wins.

Our Thoughts on Cartographers

Art & Components

Cartographers: A Role Player Tale doesn’t come with too many components. Flip-and-write games typically come with pencils and player sheets and that’s about it and Cartographers is no exception. So I wasn’t expecting too much when I received Cartographers.

With that being said, Cartographers offers a unique artistic experience since you are drawing and potentially coloring in your maps. I myself am not much of an artist. I like to speed through and color in everything quickly without caring too much what it looks like, but the end result still turns out looking really neat. Some of the maps we end up with look really amazing especially if you take your time coloring and drawing.

Cartographers comes with 100 map sheets which are double-sided so you essentially have 200 sheets if you save them for later. That has always been my worry with roll-and-write games, I don’t like the idea of having to print off loose copies of the player sheets so the fact that they included so many is nice.

There isn’t really much artwork in the game. There are cards, but only a few of them have any sort of real artwork beyond just Tetris shapes. It’s a shame because I really enjoy fantasy-style artwork like in Call to Adventure so it would have been nice to see some more artwork included. The ambush cards do have the artwork for the monsters, but there are only four of these cards in the game and it’s possible for them to never even come in to play. The box art for this game looks great and what art is provided looks great too so it’s just a shame that there isn’t more.

Gameplay

There are a few gameplay elements that I really enjoyed in Cartographers. The first is the communal card system. Everyone is scoring from the same cards and picking shapes from the same cards. Typically in roll-and-write games, players will roll and fill in the result from their roll on their player sheets, resulting in unpredictable scores. Not to say that Cartographers doesn’t have a random factor, because it does, but I think it handles it in a way where everyone is on the same playing field since everyone is using the same cards.

Although there are only 16 different score cards, the edict cards add an extra layer of strategy. Edict cards force you to decide how you should go about obtaining points. Should you focus on the current season’s point cards or should you focus on the next season if it could net you more points? This adds quite a bit of variety, as the placement of the score cards underneath the edict cards make a huge difference in how you go about getting points.

I love the ambush cards. The ambush cards add a nice player interaction element to the game where you get to draw a monster shape on your opponent’s map to mess up their plans and net them negative points. This adds even more strategy to the game when placing your terrain on the map. Because now you have to think about these monster clusters that are scoring you negative points each round and you have to decide on either surrounding them to reduce these negative points or focus on score cards. Just being able to mess with your friends and draw on their maps is a fun element that I really enjoyed.

I really enjoy Tetris style puzzle games. Cartographers does a great job of implementing this into the gameplay, but I will say it can get a bit confusing towards the end with certain score cards. If you aren’t great at drawing then your shapes could get mixed up and hard to tell apart. The best fix is to use colored pencils or markers to help differentiate the different terrain types.

The maps are double-sided. One side has a big hole shape in the middle which will make it harder for you to place shapes and the other is more open. I appreciate that they added a little extra variety here and the fact that it basically gives you 200 maps if you save your sheets.

Speaking of the map sheets. The fact that you can play with an essentially infinite number of players, makes Cartographers a game that I will always bring with me to a game night.

Solo Mode

I love me a good solo mode. Being able to try and beat the game is a lot of fun. So, when I saw Cartographers had a solo mode I was really happy.

The gameplay is the same as in the normal multiplayer mode, but the ambush cards work a little differently. Ambush cards have an indicator on their card that shows where to draw the shape on your map when playing solo. You start in whatever corner of the map the card says and work your way inward on the map until you can legally draw the shape for that monster.

Scoring works mostly the same. You still score reputation points from scoring cards, but this time those scoring cards also have a value indicated on them that are subtracted from your total score at the end of the game. They also give you a score chart which gives you a title that you write on your map when you are finished.

The titles and their required scores are:

  • 30+ Legendary Cartographer
  • 20 Master Mapsmith
  • 10 Journeyman Topographer
  • 0 Apprentice Surveyor
  • -10 Inept Assistant
  • -20 Dimwitted Doodler
  • -30 Oblivious Inkdrinker

I will say that some of the scoring cards are easier to get a higher final score than others, but it’s always a lot of fun even if it’s a little unbalanced in that way.

Overall, I really enjoy the solo mode and I can finish in under 30 minutes including set up and clean up.

Skills Mini-Expansion

There is also a mini-expansion out for Cartographers. This is not included in the retail edition of Cartographers, but you can find it online for under $10.

The Skills Mini-Expansion includes eight cards that grant you special skills. The skill cards are shuffled and three are selected randomly and placed face up for everyone to see.

Once per season, a player can spend coins from their coin track to activate the ability of one skill card. You can no longer score a reputation point from that spent coin.

These cards all allow you to draw various shapes on your map for spending coins from your coin track. This can help you score a lot more points.

The Skills Mini-Expansion adds a bit more variety and strategy into each game and I think it is worth picking up if you enjoy the base game.

Theme

Admittedly the theme is a bit pasted on, but roll-and-write games typically have a very loose theme if any so I feel Cartographers does an okay job.

The story behind Cartographers is this:

Queen Gimnax has ordered the reclamation of northern lands. As a cartographer in her service, you are sent to map this territory, claiming it for the Kingdom of Nalos. Gimnax’s edicts announce which lands she prizes most, and you will increase your reputation by meeting her demands.

But you are not alone in this wilderness. The Dragul contest your claims with their outposts, and so you must draw your lines carefully to reduce their influence.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

So essentially you are trying to appease the queen by reclaiming the land from the north. Not too sure how drawing a map of land makes it yours, but who cares it’s fun. As for the Dragul, they appear in the form of ambush cards which allow you to draw on your opponent’s maps.

Since they have decided to create games set within the same universe I was hoping to have a little bit more compelling of a backstory. Perhaps expansions can improve the theme overall and help tie these set of Roll Player Tales together.

Like I said the theme is super thin, but the gameplay more than makes up for it.

Recommended For

If you are a fan of roll-and-write games then Cartographers is for you. Heck, even if you aren’t a fan of roll-and-write games I think that this game could change your mind.

Or if you are a fan of Tetris style mechanics where you have to work with shapes and try not to trap yourself into a corner.

I think you will like this game even more if you are a bit on the creative side and like drawing or coloring because I think you can create some really pretty awesome looking maps.

Similar Games to Cartographers

If you are a fan of Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale or if you are interested in more games that are similar to it then I would recommend checking out any of these games:

  • Roll Player: Cartographers is set in the Roll Player universe after all, so why not check out where it all began.
  • That’s So Clever: This is an excellent bingo esque roll-and-write game for 1-4 players. The publisher that makes this game makes a whole slew of great roll-and-write games.
  • Copenhagen: This is one of my favorite Tetris style board games.
  • Call to Adventure: While Roll Player is about making your RPG character, Call to Adventure is about creating the backstory for your RPG character.

Final Thoughts

You don’t get a whole lot inside Cartographers. It’s an extremely simple and straight forward game and that’s what I love about it. You can quickly bust it out and breeze through a game in less than an hour no matter how many people you play with, given that you have enough pencils and markers to go around.

I’m a huge fan of board games that use a Tetris like mechanic and Cartographers scratched that itch perfectly. Just being able to draw a map is a neat concept for a game and the end result ends up looking really cool.

Our Verdict

EXCELLENT

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale has become my favorite flip-and-write game. Drawing maps have never been so fun.

4.0 /5

Bang For Your Buck: 4.0

Components: 3.5

Fun Factor: 5.0

Gameplay: 4.5

Theme:3.0

Pros

  • No max player count
  • Solo mode
  • Quick and easy
  • Fun map making gameplay

Cons

  • Weak theme

Have you played Cartographers or any of the games in the Roll Player series? What is your highest score? (mine is 102) Let me know in the comments down below. Thank you and happy gaming!