Congratulations: you’ve discovered fire and mastered some of the basics like bartering and hunting. What will you develop next? Pursue science, exploration, technology and military power to weave the most compelling Tapestry of your civilization.
What Is Tapestry?
Tapestry is a civilization game for 1 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 90–120 minutes to play. It retails for $99, and although Stonemaier Games has sold out of the first print run at the publisher level, Meeple Source appears to have it in stock, or you can check with your local retailer. I think the 12+ age recommendation seems about right: learning to play isn’t too difficult, but learning to win may be a bit trickier for less experienced players.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 5 Player mats
- 6 Capital City mats
- 16 Civilization mats
- 48 Territory tiles
- 15 Space tiles
- 5 Reference cards
- 50 Tapestry cards
- 3 Custom dice (1 twelve-sided, 2 six-sided)
- 33 Tech cards
- 5 sets of player components, each containing:
- 13 Player tokens (cubes)
- 10 Outpost tokens
- 4 Resource tokens (Coin, Worker, Food, Culture)
- 20 Buildings (5 each Markets, Houses, Farms, Armories)
- Game Board
- Landmark Board
- 18 Landmark Buildings
In addition, there is a set of components used for the solo play:
- Automa income mat (double-sided)
- 2 Player Aid cards
- 2 Automa income cards
- 2 Automa civilization cards
- 22 Decision cards
The most impressive components are probably the landmark buildings, sculpted by Rom Brown. They come pre-painted and range in size from about one to three inches tall, and they represent buildings from different phases of advancement, from an apothecary to a train station to a fusion reactor. I would guess these buildings are also a big chunk of the expense of the game, so I have mixed feelings about them: a cheaper substitute could have made the game more affordable for more players (perhaps with these as an add-on), but there’s no question that they’re stunning and add a lot of visual appeal when you’re playing the game.
My only big complaint about the buildings as game components is that actual size and shape of the bases are a little smaller than the grid spaces they’re supposed to occupy on your capital city mat. It’s important to know exactly how much space they take up, so at least that information is printed on the corresponding board or cards, but it would have been nice if they were a little closer to the right size. A small complaint is that the buildings themselves aren’t labeled, so you have to refer to the greyed-out illustrations to match them up; I ended up labeling mine on the bases with a fine-point Sharpie.
The plastic storage tray is designed to hold all the landmark buildings, and a diagram printed on the front edge of the box shows you where everything goes. You’ll notice that diagram doesn’t show anything in the two wells above the buildings—that’s because there isn’t really a particular way the rest of the components are supposed to fit. You can’t actually fit the rest of the components in those two wells, so you just do the best you can, put the tray lid on, and then pile everything else on top. Stonemaier Games doesn’t have a lot of wasted space in its boxes, so I won’t complain about that, but it does seem a little strange to have a nice tray for a portion of the components, and then rely on plastic baggies and “just throw them in there” for the rest.
Moving on to those other components, then: each player gets a set of buildings, which are also nicely molded, though unpainted. These are pretty small—about the size of a standard six-sided die—but they have some nice details on them.
The three custom dice are engraved and painted. There are two six-sided dice for the military track: one has some point values and the other has resources. The twelve-sided die is for the science track, and shows the four different icons for the four advancement tracks.
The main game board has a scoring track around the outer edge (along with some indicators for where the cards will be placed next to the board). Each edge of the board also has one of the four advancement tracks: Science, Military, Technology, and Exploration. Finally, the center of the board is occupied by a continent, with some territories printed on the board and a lot of grey hexes for placing the territory tiles. The board is double-sided, with a larger continent for 4 or 5 players.
The territory tiles are small hexes: each one has a variety of terrains depicted on it, as well as an icon representing some sort of bonus effect. The edges of the land areas always includes a little bit of water at the edges for aesthetic reasons, so it’s important to know that it doesn’t mean it counts as water on the edge. Depending on the lighting, it can be hard to distinguish the light green grasslands from the dark green forests, though it does help that one includes pine trees and one does not.
Other than the main board and the landmark board, the rest of the mats are a thick cardstock rather than boards. They have an interesting texture on the top surfaces that feels a little bit like sandpaper—you can kind of see it in the photo above. It feels like an upgrade from plain cardstock and it goes well with the linen-finish cards, but I did notice that if you tend to slide your plastic resource cubes back and forth on the player mat, it does actually “sand” the bits a little bit.
The artwork in the game, primarily on the civilization mats, tapestry cards, and tech cards, is by Andrew Bosley, and it’s very nice. The civilization mats have enough room to show off the artwork a bit more, while the tapestry cards have stylized representations of the various types of government, economies, and so on.
Throughout the game, there’s text that indicates what your progress represents: for instance, on the technology advancement track, you start with pottery and carpentry, and eventually develop rubber, plastic, and nanotechnology. On your player boards, you start with humble beginnings—barter, hunting, symbology, and ceremony—but you can discover things like e-commerce, food printing, email, and tabletop games. (Somehow tabletop games are not the pinnacle of culture—must be an error that will be fixed in future printings, I assume.)
Overall, the component quality is very nice, which I’ve come to expect from Stonemaier Games. The storage is a mixed bag (including actual bags), which is something else I’ve come to expect from Stonemaier Games.
How to Play Tapestry
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points (from a variety of options) during the course of 4 “eras.”
Set up the main game board according to the player count. Tapestry cards are shuffled and placed next to the green icon; tech cards are shuffled and placed next to the yellow icon, with the first three cards turned face-up as a market. The territory and space hexes should be mixed up face-down and placed nearby.
The landmark board is placed nearby, with the 12 landmark buildings placed on their corresponding spaces. (Each space has a name and illustration of the landmark.) The remaining landmark buildings are for specific tech cards, and are set aside until needed.
Each player takes a set of player components, plus a randomly drawn capital city mat and two random civilization mats. (Note that if playing on the 1–3 player side of the board, some of the capital cities overlap so you’ll need to remove some of them.) Choose one of the civilization mats to use and return the other to the box.
Your player area has the civilization mat, then the player mat, then the capital city mat laid out from left to right. Note that there should be some room to the right of the capital city mat for tech cards. On your player mat, set all of the buildings on the corresponding rows, leaving only the leftmost space of each row uncovered. Put the four resource tokens in the “0” space at the bottom of the board.
On the main board, put one of your player tokens (cubes) on the “0” space of the scoring track, and also place one cube at the start of each of the four advancement tracks. Place two of your outpost tokens onto the center hex that matches the number at the top of your capital city mat. The rest of your tokens and outposts are set aside nearby as a supply.
Civilizations may also have their own unique setup instructions. (For example, the Mystics pictured above will need to use player tokens to make some predictions on the charts, and the Futurists start further along the advancement tracks.) Note that, based on data from many logged plays, some of the civilizations have adjusted starting rules to balance things out, shown on this document.
On your turn, you will either advance on a track, or take an income turn. Most of your turns will be advancement; you will only take 5 income turns during the game, including your very first turn and your very last turn. (And your very first income turn is more of an extended setup: you’ll just gain one of each resource, a tapestry card, and a territory tile.)
Advance on a Track
Most of the time, you’ll be advancing one space on one of the four tracks: Science, Military, Technology, or Exploration. You pay the resource cost of the space you are moving to, then gain the benefit. Some spaces have a bonus, shown in a grey box: you may optionally gain the bonus if you pay the corresponding cost.
There are “core” actions which appear multiple times on the tracks, and each track has its own core function:
- Science: Roll the science die, and advance on the track shown; you may or may not gain the benefit/bonus, depending on the science track space
- Military: Conquer a neighboring territory by placing your outpost on it; roll both dice and select one (points or resources)
- Technology: Gain a tech card and place it next to the “X” on your capital city mat
- Exploration: Place a territory tile adjacent to yourself; score points for matching edges on the terrain and gain the bonus shown on the tile
There are some more details, of course, and not every space on the advancement track gives you the core function. Some will let you draw tapestry cards or territory tiles, some let you build buildings from your player mat, some give you points for certain criteria.
As you move up the tracks, costs will increase and become more specialized: each track is divided into four tiers, and has a particular resource that it requires once you enter the second tier. There are also some very powerful benefits as you reach the higher tiers: the military track can give you a second civilization card; the exploration track can let you explore space! Also, if you’re the first player to enter a new tier (by any means), you immediately gain the landmark building shown there and place it in your capital city.
Your capital city mat looks a bit like a Sudoku board: 9 large squares each made of 9 smaller squares. Some of the squares have red dots in them, representing terrain that cannot be built upon. As you play, some effects (from advancement tracks, tech cards, territory tiles, etc.) will allow you to build buildings from your player mat. Whenever you do so, you take the leftmost building from its row and place it on your capital city mat in any available square. Landmark buildings are also placed in your capital city; they also cannot overlap red dots, but they are allowed to hang off the edges of the mat. If you fill one of the larger squares (red dots count as “filled” spaces), then you immediately gain a resource of your choice. The other goal is to fill rows and columns of your capital city, which may earn points later.
When you’ve run out of resources or you’ve just decided you’re ready, you may take an income turn, which follows these steps:
- Civilization ability
- Play a tapestry card
- Upgrade a tech card and score points
- Gain resources
Some civilizations have abilities that trigger during certain income turns (usually income turns 2–5).
Tapestry cards are played onto the next available slot on your player board. The first slot has “Maker of Fire” printed on it, which represents your tapestry for the first income turn of the game where you just got some more resources. If you’re the first of your neighbors to play a card into an era, then you also gain bonus resources (shown on the card space).
There are two types of tapestry cards: “When Played” and “This Era.” “When Played” effects are triggered immediately, but then the card usually doesn’t do anything else. “This Era” effects are ongoing and last until your next income turn. You will only play tapestry cards during your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th income turn; on your last income turn (which is your last turn of the game), you will not play a tapestry card.
Each tech card has a circle and a square on it, showing different effects. Your tech cards start at the bottom row next to your capital city (each row may have any number of cards). When you upgrade a tech card, you move it up one row, and then gain the corresponding benefit. The middle row (marked with a circle) gains you the circle benefit, and the top row (marked with a square) gives you the square benefit. Tech cards offer a variety of bonuses, from resources to points to additional actions. Some, like the Barn shown above, even give you landmark buildings. (The grid in the lower left shows the footprint of the building.)
There are prerequisites for upgrading to the square, shown right below the square. You or one of your neighbors needs to have met or surpassed a particular spot on an advancement track or building row before you may upgrade that card. For instance, in order to upgrade Time Travel to the top row, you or your neighbors must reach Tier IV on the technology track.
After upgrading a tech, you score points based on what has been revealed in the four rows at the top of your player mat. The markets section will give you points for tech cards. The houses section gives you points for completing rows and columns of your capital city. The farms section just gives you points. The armories section gives you points based on how many territories you control on the map. As you build more buildings from your mat, uncover more of the points icons, which makes those items more valuable.
Finally, you collect resources based on what has been uncovered on your player mat: coins, workers, food, and culture. You also gain one territory tile and one tapestry card (pictured on the farms and armories rows, respectively).
There are three achievements that can be earned during the game: reach the end of an advancement track, topple two opponent outposts, and conquer the middle island. The earlier you accomplish an achievement, the more points it’s worth; these are marked with player tokens on the board, and may only be achieved a limited number of times (based on player count).
During your fifth and final income turn, you will not play a tapestry card or collect resources; you only trigger your civilization ability (if any), upgrade a tech, and score points. Once you have taken your fifth income turn, you are done and will not participate until the end of the game. You might still gain points from passive civilization abilities, but otherwise you will not gain anything else.
The game continues until all players have taken their fifth income turn. The highest score wins, with ties going to the player with the most remaining resources.
Solo Play and the Shadow Empire
I will confess that I have not given the solo mode a try yet; I’m not generally one for solo games, and the solo version actually has two competing factions: the Automa and the Shadow Empire, which function slightly differently from each other. The Shadow Empire can also be used as a third player in 2-player games, simply to add a little more competition on some of tracks.
Why You Should Play Tapestry
Tapestry has gotten a somewhat polarized reception, which I’m starting to feel is sort of typical for Stonemaier Games. There are people who absolutely love Scythe, and those who can’t stand it, and I’ve heard similar opinions about Tapestry. As I see it, here are some of the things people love about Tapestry: the components are lovely and visually stunning; the gameplay itself is pretty straightforward, and the challenge is figuring out your optimal strategy based on your civilization, tapestry cards, and tech cards; the various civilizations offer many different ways to play, and each time you play there may be different combinations of civilizations in play.
And here are some of the complaints: the components are extravagant and unnecessary, adding to the cost of the game; the game is too simple, without enough substance; it calls itself a civilization game, but it doesn’t feel like real civilization building and the effects of the various tracks and technologies are too abstract; the civilizations are unbalanced and some have unfair advantages; conquering territories does not seem eventful enough—it’s just automatic unless a player has a trap card, which reverses the results. There’s also a complaint that there is too much luck: in the tapestry cards, in the tech cards that are revealed, in the ranges possible in the die results.
I like Tapestry myself and consider it a keeper, but I do admit that I’m on the fence about some of the complaints, too. I do like the wild mix of civilizations and tech cards (and I appreciate that there have been some adjustments made, though that would have been nice to have those balanced before the first print run). I like the fact that there are different approaches, and that playing with a different civilization can really change your approach to the game. And I do like the streamlined gameplay: I’m looking forward to getting enough experience that the pace of the game could pick up, because in many cases you can start your turn while somebody is wrapping up theirs, because they may be making a decision about a bonus resource to collect that won’t actually affect your own action.
However, some of the complaints seem valid as well. This is a game with premium components, and those cost money: $99 is a lot to drop on a game, and it’s not a decision many gamers can take lightly. There is a good bit of luck involved, too. I’ve personally experienced two sessions where I ended up with two Trap cards as my only tapestry cards during my second income turn (the first time you get to play a tapestry card); in those instances, you can get 10 points for playing it to your tapestry, but early in the game some of the other benefits can be much more valuable for getting your engine going, and the trap card seems like a waste.
The conquer dice can also be frustrating: the red die gives you points, with values ranging from 4 to 7, but there are also two faces that give you points per territory you control. Early in the game, this might be only 2 points, but if you’ve successfully conquered a lot, it could be as much as 9. The other die usually provides you with resources, but two faces award you with the bonus effect on the conquered tile. In the case of the territories pre-printed on the board, there are no bonus effects. So, if during your first conquer you roll the dice and get those two special faces, your choices are between 2 points and nothing—and then your opponent rolls and scores 7 points. That can be pretty frustrating.
Tapestry can also feel a bit like a “point salad” sort of game. You can score points for so many things: number of tech cards, effects on tech cards, rows/columns in your capital city, conquered territories, tapestry cards, territory tiles, number of buildings, and so on. The nice thing is that it allows you to pursue a path to victory in the way that you like. You like the puzzle aspect of filling in your capital city? Better build some houses so that each row and column is worth more points, and then try to get some landmarks to fill in spaces more quickly. You like spreading out across the map and wiping out your rivals? Move up on the military track and build some armories so that conquered territories are more valuable. And don’t forget to consider how your civilization ability may drive you toward a particular path.
The downside, then, is that it can be hard to choose a particular path, and I can attest that “a little bit of everything” tends to be a bad way to play Tapestry. If you advance a little bit on each track, or build a few of each building type, then you’ll never get to the bigger bonuses and more powerful effects. So if you have trouble choosing a strategy and pursuing it whole-heartedly (like me sometimes), it can be difficult to succeed.
Although the game isn’t a typical 4X game, it does include all of those elements (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) in some respects. You place tiles and explore the land around you, expand your capital city, generate resources which in turn move you up on four different ability tracks, and topple your opponents’ outposts. There’s a bit of engine-building, too: the more you pursue one course of action, the better you get at it.
For instance, the technology track gives you tech cards, lets you build markets, and also has some spaces that let you upgrade tech cards outside of your income turns. Building markets uncovers more coin-generating spaces on your player mat, which then allows you to pay for higher tiers on the technology track. It also uncovers more scoring spaces for tech cards, so that each card is worth more points during your income phase. Each of the advancement tracks has a similar sort of snowball effect, if you can manage to get the ball rolling.
It’s impressive to me that a game with so many moving parts came with such a slim rulebook. Sure, the reference sheet (seen above) does a lot of the heavy lifting, defining every advancement track space and every technology card. But the rules themselves are compact, with the interactions between civilizations, advancements, and technology that create countless possibilities. The randomness of the card draws may be frustrating at times, but it also encourages you to adjust your tactics each time you play, rather than letting you pick one way of playing and just repeating it each time.
My 13-year-old daughter and I have both enjoyed playing Tapestry (and she’s generally fared better than me!). I’ve played with a mix of other adults from my gaming group, and reactions have been varied, but most people have enjoyed playing it at least the first time, even if they couldn’t see themselves buying it. I do think it’s fun enough that it’s worth trying, but because of the price point I’d recommend trying to play somebody else’s copy first before you make a purchase decision. (And, depending on availability in your area, that might be your only option until the second print run!)
For more information about the game, visit the Stonemaier Games website!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.