Board Game Review – Cartographers


When much of the world is unknown, a cartographer’s job is never done. As one of those mapmakers, it is your job to survey the newly-claimed lands to the north in service of the queen. However, you are not alone, as rival cartographers are also mapping this land out, hoping to find the region best suited to the queen’s whims. And don’t forget about the monsters lurking in these lands that will make your job more difficult… Will you be able to satisfy the queen’s edicts and earn the title and reputation of the best Cartographer in the land?

Cartographers is a flip-and-write game from Thunderworks Games which takes place in their Roll Player universe. While running the course of four seasons, players will be adding various terrain types (forest, farmlands, water, and village) to their maps, as dictated by the cards revealed. Each season, there are two active scoring cards players will earn points for, aiming for the best score by the end of the game. The twist is that the deck also contains ambush cards, which will allow your neighbor to add monsters to your map which cost you points if you can’t contain them! 

Game Play

Like other roll/flip-and-write games, setup for Cartographers is reasonably straightforward. Every player gets a map sheet and a pencil, or for extra fun, you can use colored pencils to fill in each terrain type with a different color. Add one ambush card to the deck of terrain cards and shuffle it. Reveal a scoring card for each of the queen’s edicts (A, B, C, and D), set out the four season cards starting with spring, and you’re ready to play!

Each round (or season) of Cartographers involves several turns where all players add a group of terrain squares to their map. Terrain cards usually give a choice either between shapes or type of terrain. For example, one card may provide a “T” shape that can either be water or forest terrain, or it could be forest terrain that is either two diagonally adjacent squares, or a 4-square “z” shape. Each turn a card is flipped over, and all players must decide how they want to use it. If a ruins card is revealed, the next terrain card must overlap one of the ruins spaces spread around the players’ maps. If an ambush card is revealed, players pass their map either clockwise or counterclockwise as indicated by the card. Then, their neighbor draws monster squares in the given shape anywhere on the map, which could certainly put a wrench in your plans!

The season continues until its time threshold is reached. Each season has a threshold value (8 for spring and summer, 7 for fall, and 6 for winter), and each terrain card has a certain amount of time associated with it (typically 1 or 2). So you could see as few as three cards in the final round, and eight or more (there are 0-value cards, including the ruins and ambush cards) in spring and summer. If an ambush card was revealed during the round, it is removed from the game; otherwise, it remains in the deck. Either way, another ambush card will be added for the subsequent round.

The end of each season also brings with it scoring. At the beginning of the game, four different scoring cards were assigned to the edicts A, B, C, and D. In spring, edicts A and B are scored, in summer it’s B and C, and so on. The scoring cards fall under different categories, based on their terrain types: forest, water/farm, village, and general positioning. For example, the forest scoring card could give points for each forest square adjacent to the edge of the map, or for each forest square surrounded on all four sides by filled squares. In addition to scoring from the edicts each season, you score points for each coin you’ve crossed off of your map sheet. You can earn coins in two ways: either by surrounding one of the mountains on the map on all four sides or from some terrain cards, usually as a trade-off from taking a smaller shape. Finally, any empty squares next to monster spaces are worth a negative point each. After the four seasons, players total up their scores, and the player with the highest score is dubbed the best Cartographer!

Amber’s Review

New Roll/Write and Flips seem to be popping up every day; with Welcome To . . . being one of our top games of 2018, I welcome this ever-growing influx with open arms. The pressure is on to try all these games out, and I want to make sure the ones we add to our collection are the right fit. We were interested in checking out Cartographers at GenCon, but our friend Tim with Thunderworks was able to stop over one game night and let us give it a try in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Having played games by Thunderworks and being familiar with Roll/Flip and Writes, learning Cartographers was pretty painless. The four-seasoned scoring mechanism was similar to scoring in Isle of Skye, which I had also played before, making it easier to pick up the rules. The nuance in this game comes with the placement of your tiles, often having choices of what type of shape and, of course, where to place it. There was also the lingering fear that an ambush would pop up and ruin all your plans, so thankfully we only had one come up in our game. Instead, I ruined my chances at success by forgetting to look at the round-by-round scoring, but that’s a highly personal problem.

Thunderworks has been putting out really engaging product in the way of Roll Player and its expansions, I’m excited to see the universe expanding to different styles of games. While Cartographer’s gameplay had likable familiarity (with the comparisons to other games), the introduction of player interaction gave this game edge. Yes, it does have a “take that” feel that I usually don’t like, but the damaged caused by other players didn’t ruin the whole game. It was more of a minor setback in a complex map-building process. I mean, are we to believe that other Cartographers didn’t have Bugbears jumping out and ruining their maps? I didn’t think so.

Ethan’s Review

This really does like it’s the year of roll/flip-and-write games, but as someone who enjoys that genre, I certainly don’t mind another entry into that space! Cartographers is certainly a welcome addition — it does some things that are familiar while adding some new elements I haven’t seen before in other similar games. The most unique part has to be the concept of monsters and ambushes, where you can add unwanted (and negative-scoring) spaces to another player’s score sheet. Most roll-and-write style games have very little in the way of player interaction, so it’s great to see it featured. However, even if you prefer straight multiplayer solitaire games, there is a chance that the ambush cards won’t come out, but the probability does go up each round as another card gets added to the deck.

My real favorite feature of the game is the scoring cards, which add a ton of variability to the game. They make it so that each terrain type scores in a unique way from game-to-game, so strategies will be based not only on what cards come out and in what order, but more importantly on how you’ll be scoring points. Where in one game you want your water and farm terrains next to each other to score points, in another, you may need them not to touch each other or the edge of the map. Even with only 16 different scoring cards (4 sets of 4), that’s 256 different permutations you could possibly see, and it seems like it would be a no-brainer to add an expansion even just for new scoring cards to add even more variety!

Limiting turns as the game goes on is an interesting mechanism as well. Since you know what will be scoring in each of the four rounds, you can try to plan ahead for the later seasons where you likely won’t get as much of an opportunity to add new terrains to your map. It was kind of a bummer, though, in our first game where we only needed villages for scoring in the winter round (the other scoring card was based on completed diagonals), and no villages were drawn. Still, Cartographers is an excellent game. If you have enjoyed any other roll/flip-and-write games (or want to try one out to see what all the fuss is about), you can’t go wrong with Cartographers!

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