Map Out Your Victory in ‘Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale’

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Cartographers cover

The Queen wants to reclaim her land, and you’ve been sent to map the territory. Whoever is able to meet the Queen’s edicts will achieve the highest reputation among the Cartographers.

What Is Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale?

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale is a flip-and-fill game for 1 to 100 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 30–45 minutes to play. The game is set in the same fantasy world as Roll Player, but is a completely separate game with different gameplay, and does not require or interact with the original game. The only limits to the number of players who can play at once are the number of map sheets available (the game comes with 100) and whether everyone can see the cards that are revealed each turn. It retails for $24.95 and may be ordered directly from Thunderworks Games. It’s also releasing at Gen Con this year, and you can preorder it through BoardGameGeek’s Gen Con preview page.

Cartographers components
Cartographers components. (prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale Components

Note: My review is based on an advance prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.

Here’s what’s included:

  • 100 double-sided map sheets
  • 13 Explore cards
  • 4 Ambush cards
  • 16 Scoring cards
  • 4 Season cards
  • 4 Edict cards
  • 4 Pencils
  • 8 Skills cards (for mini-expansion)
Cartographers laminated sheet
I laminated a set of sheets so I could use dry erase markers instead of pencils. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The map sheets show a mostly-empty grid with a few details: ruins and mountains. Across the top there’s room for your name and title, along with a crest that you can fill in for fun; along the bottom there’s an area for marking off coins you’ve earned, and then boxes for scoring the game. The maps are double-sided, too: one side has a big chasm in the center. My prototype copy didn’t come with 100 sheets, so after playing a few times I laminated the last 10 and use dry-erase markers for them.

Cartographers explore cards
Explore cards show you what you’ll need to draw on your map. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The explore and ambush cards show various shapes that you’ll be required to draw onto your map. Sometimes you have a choice of two terrain types but you’re limited to a certain shape; other times you have only one terrain type but you may choose from two different shapes. While the artwork on the top half of the cards is great and thematic, it does mean that the actual shape you’re meant to draw is fairly small on the card—that can get tricky if you have a big crowd all trying to see the card. I wish the iconography was a bit larger, even if it mean reducing the artwork somewhat.

Cartographers scoring cards
Each terrain type has multiple options for scoring, based on the scoring cards drawn during setup. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The scoring cards are used to determine what terrain combinations will earn points, and there are four types: one that affects forests, one that affects water and farms, one that affects villages, and one that is usually some sort of pattern-matching. I did find that the explanatory text on the cards was a bit tiny and hard to read. Once you’re familiar with the scoring patterns, you can mostly refer to the diagrams, but the first few times you’ll probably need to pass the cards around because you can’t read them from a distance.

Season cards are used to indicate how long each round lasts, and to remind players which scoring cards are in effect for that round.

Overall, the components are good—you can see some of the same graphic design as in Roll Player (similar typeface, stars for victory points, etc.), so it helps make it fit in that same world.

GeekDad Approved 2019Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale is GeekDad Approved!

How to Play Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to earn the highest reputation (i.e., score) by cleverly filling out your map to carry out the Queen’s edicts.

Cartographers card setup
Seasons cards, edict and scoring cards, the explore deck, and the current season’s explore pile. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Give each player a map and a writing utensil—everyone should use the same side of the map. (Players should write their names on the sheets, along with an optional title and family crest.)

Place the four edict cards in a row in the center of the table in order: A-B-C-D. Shuffle each of the scoring card stacks (they’re differentiated by icons on the backs) and choose one from each stack, placing them face-up in a row below the edict cards. Return the rest of the scoring cards to the box.

Place the season cards in order in a stack next to the edict cards, with spring at the top and winter at the bottom. Shuffle the four ambush cards and set them nearby—one will be added each season. Finally, shuffle the explore cards into a face-down deck, and then shuffle the top ambush card into this deck (without looking at it).

Gameplay

Everyone plays Cartographers simultaneously: the top card of the explore deck is revealed, and then everyone uses it to mark on their own map. As cards are revealed, they should be splayed out in a column so that you can see the “time” value on all of the cards played so far.

Cartographers score sheet
Filling out my map! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

When a card is revealed, players will draw the shape shown on the card onto their own map, and then fill it in with the indicated terrain type: forest, village, farm, or water. Some cards have two terrains to choose from and only one shape; some cards have one terrain type but two shapes, and the smaller one has a coin next to it. If you choose the smaller shape with the coin, you also get to color in a coin on the tracker at the bottom of your map. You must fit the entire shape onto your map, and shapes may not overlap each other, mountain regions, or the chasm. (You may rotate or flip the shape as needed.)

There are a couple of “ruins” cards in the explore deck. If one of these is revealed, reveal another card. The next shape must be drawn so that it overlaps a ruins space on your map, if possible. The exception is the ambush card—this will be resolved separately and does not need to be on the ruins, and then the next non-ambush card that is drawn will go on the ruins.

Cartographers ambush card
This Gnoll Raid resulted in a C-shaped monster on my map, but I was able to surround it later. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Ambush cards are monster attacks. First, you must pass your map clockwise or counterclockwise (as indicated on the card), and then that player will draw the indicated shape, filling it with the monster icons, before passing your map back to you.

Cartographers surrounding a mountain
If you fill all four sides of a mountain, you earn a coin. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If you ever surround all four sides of a mountain, you immediately color in a coin on the tracker.

If you’re unable to draw the required shape, then you draw a 1×1 square anywhere on your map, and fill it with any terrain type of your choice.

Cartographers explore cards
So far the cards add up to 3 time; when they add up to the season’s threshold, the round will end. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Round End

If the sum of the time values on the explore cards meets or exceeds the time value on the current season card, then the season will end after everyone has resolved the last explore card. Then you score for the round.

Cartographers Seasons cards
Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each season, you will score for two of the scoring cards:

  1. Spring: A and B
  2. Summer: B and C
  3. Fall: C and D
  4. Winter: D and A
Cartographers scoring area
The bottom of the sheet tracks your coins and your score. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

At the bottom of your sheet, there are four rectangles, each divided into smaller boxes. The two small boxes on top are for your scores for the two edicts for that season. The bottom left is for coins: count up how many coins you have marked off total (including any from previous rounds) and write that number here. The bottom right is for monsters: each empty square that is adjacent to a monster is worth -1 points. (Note that the penalty is based on the number of empty squares, not the number of monsters next to the square.) Your total for the season goes in the larger rectangle.

Any ambush cards that were played are removed from the game. Then, shuffle all of the explore cards back together, add one more ambush card into the deck, and proceed to the next season card.

Cartographers scoresheet at end of game
My completed map at the end of the game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Game End

The game ends after all four seasons. Players add up their totals for all four seasons. The player with the highest reputation wins, with ties going to the player who had the lowest total monster penalty across four seasons.

Skills Mini-Expansion

The game also includes a mini-expansion, in the form of 8 skills cards. During setup, shuffle the cards and deal 3 face-up near the edict cards. These 3 skills are in effect for the entire game, and the rest of the skills are returned to the box.

Cartographers skill cards
Skill cards vary in price and effects. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Once per season, you may activate one of the three skills by paying coins equal to its cost. Cross off coins that you’ve earned—these will no longer score points at the end of each round.

The skills allow you to do things like draw shapes hanging off the edge of your map, choosing a different terrain type, and drawing different shapes instead of the ones indicated on the explore cards.

Solo Mode

If you don’t have any fellow cartographers, you can play solo! The game plays almost identically, except that there are some additional rules for deciding where to place the shapes for an ambush card.

Each of the scoring cards has a value in the bottom corner. During scoring, you add up your score, and then subtract the values of the four scoring cards to find your rating. Compare your rating to the chart to find out where you fall on the scale from “Oblivious Inkdrinker” to “Legendary Cartographer.”

Cartographers 9-player game in progress
A 9-player game of Cartographers at GameStorm. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Why You Should Play Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

I’m enjoying this current renaissance of roll-and-write/flip-and-fill games—they remind me of some non-writing games like NMBR9 and City Square Off, where players have access to the same pieces, but have to decide how to best use them. It’s a mix of planning for possibilities and gambling on what might come next. Plus, Cartographers is something of a packing game: how do you fit all the shapes onto your map in a way that gives you the most points? All of those features hit a lot of the right buttons for me.

What’s neat about Cartographers and sets it apart from most of the other games of this genre that I’ve played is the way that the scoring varies from game to game. In one game, you may be trying to create forests that connect mountains to each other; in another, you want all of your forest spaces on the edges of the map. The other thing that comes into play is the order in which the scoring cards appear—you certainly want to work on the pieces that are going to score for the current season, but if a later scoring card has bigger rewards, it’s often worth planning for those in advance.

The other factor is that the seasons get shorter: the time thresholds in the spring and summer are both 8, but then fall is 7 and winter is 6. That means you’ll have fewer shapes to add to your map before it’s time to score for the season—but of course you’ll already have shapes that you’ve drawn in previous rounds. Looking ahead and figuring out how to incorporate those later scoring cards into your shape placement early on can be key.

Cartographers ambush cards
There are four ambush cards, which are randomly shuffled in each season. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Another unique feature is the ambush cards—I think this is the first game of its type that I’ve seen where you get to write or draw on somebody else’s sheet. It’s a fun wrinkle for those who feel that games like Welcome To… can feel a bit like multiplayer solitaire, because you get to mess with other players in a very direct and concrete way, not just because you drafted a die that somebody else wanted, or beat them in a race to a scoring objective, but by actually drawing monsters on their map. Trying to find the optimal place to put a monster so that it disrupts another player’s plan is mean, sure, but remember that the player who has your map is considering the same thing!

As the game progresses, you’ll start to get stuck: you really want this next farmland to be next to water, but you already filled in those spaces with a forest. You’d like to finish off this mountain for a coin, but that doesn’t give you as many points for the village. Or maybe you’ve already covered up all of your ruins, and then a ruins card was drawn. Whatever the case, you’ll have to make alternate plans.

Cartographers chasm
The “wastelands” side has a large chasm that cannot be used for terrains. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I like the coins as a bonus scoring feature, because that can force you to make some hard decisions. On the cards with two shapes to choose from, the smaller shape gives you a coin, but the larger shape may be better for the scoring cards because it fills in more space. Which one is going to pay off more in the long run? One thing to keep in mind is that coins score at the end of every round—so a coin you collect in spring is worth 4 points over the course of the game, but a coin you collect in winter is only worth 1 point.

Thematically, I’m not entirely sure how Cartographers makes sense. Are you drawing a map of the land, or are you actually doing some urban planning, deciding where to put forests and lakes based on the Queen’s whims? Or are you drawing up maps and just telling the Queen you found these terrains, whether they correspond to reality or not? I’m not really sure, but I’m mostly willing to give it a pass, since the game’s fun to play anyway. You can decide for yourself what’s really happening in the world of the game.

If you’re a fan of drawing maps, packing games, and roll-and-write games, I highly recommend giving Cartographers a try. It combines the puzzle aspects of packing games with just a hint of “take that” to create a really engaging experience. Visit the Thunderworks Games website for more information or to place an order!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype copy of this game for review purposes.

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