It was a bright spring morning as you sat atop the old cairn staring out over the verdant landscape that spread across the valley below. Queen Gimnax had sent you out to map the kingdom beyond the horizon and to find for her a lush forest by a mountain, or a river not near a farm. Not wishing to disappoint you pulled out your quill and began to make it up as you went along, it’s not like she was ever going to check! As time ran short the parchment was still bare in patches and you scribbled a few hasty symbols and scrawled the words “Here be monsters” before knocking off for a few swift pints at the Golden Swallow before closing time.
Cartographers A Roll Player Tale is a map drawing game set in the universe of Keith Matejka’s #RollPlayer. The game plays quickly, with all players playing simultaneously, has simple rules and a lot of crunchy decisions to make along the way.
A Quick Overview
The game is played over four seasons. Each season two of four edicts are scored. Each edict will provide rules for how different types of terrain score and each edict is scored twice over the course of the game.
Each season begins with a card being flipped which will show one or two types of terrain and one or two shapes. Players draw a matching shape on their blank map. Then another card is flipped and the process is repeated until a certain number of cards have been flipped. Some cards feature ambushes by monsters, in this case you pass your sheet to a neighbouring player who draws the shape of the monster on your sheet, preferably in a really awkward place before passing it back to you.
At the end of each season you score points for the two edicts in play, any coins you have accrued either by using certain shapes or by surrounding mountains and minus points for empty spaces adjacent to monsters.
After four seasons the player with the most points is the winner.
Why Choose It?
The loose theme for this month's game night was Travel but the real reason I wanted to get Cartographers to the table was I was excited by it and wanted to play it. I felt the concept was simple enough for the guys to pick it up quickly, with the edict cards offering enough granula scoring to keep their interest throughout.
Did they like it?
Well, we played twice in succession so I think that has to be a yes. Everyone took a different approach to the map drawing, with one player going so far as to give names to his regions and even adding rowing boats to his rivers and ploughs to his fields.
After the game I got a lot of positive feedback about how interesting the decisions were and how, despite everyone having the same series of choices offered to them, their maps and scores were wildly different.
Dave - "For maximum style points, don't forget to name features as you create them"
Add a Splash of Colour
If I had one complaint about Cartographers it would be that the game invites you to draw colourful shapes on your graph paper but merely provides a monochromatic drawing device to allow you to proceed. Of course this is a simple fix, I bought a batch of cheap pencil crayons on ebay, rubber banded them in groups and then handed them out to the players to use if they chose to do so.
I like this one. I may be riding a wave of “cult of the new” but Cartographers really offered me the experience I was looking for out of it. It’s not verbose or grandiose, it’s simple and gentle, almost meandering. The edict cards when you first look at them can be a little complex especially the area scoring ones, but the gameplay is incredibly straightforward. Turn over a card, draw a shape, repeat, score.
But the decisions you need to make during the game are many and nuanced. After that first card draw, where you can place your terrain literally anywhere, every card draw after that is affected by that first choice. It’s also really easy to get carried away with one edict, to the exclusion of the others, which is a really bad plan, especially if there are limited scoring opportunities for that card. You always need to be mindful of what will score this round but keep an eye out and prep for the next round too because each subsequent season is shorter than the last.
Finally, the thing that really stood out for me with Cartographers was the opportunities for creativity. Players are free to create their own world, the game literally invites you to doodle, create a new moniker for yourself and even inscribe a motto on your family crest. Sure, you could just write a letter in each box if you want F for Farm, W for Woods etc but I think you would be missing out a big part of what made this game fun for us. Oh and there's some gorgeous art in the game too!
Having never really dabbled in this style of game before I think that Cartographers is a great starting point. It’s a small package, at a good price point, the rules are simple and the decisions are interesting. There is some player interaction and, at least at our table, plenty of table talk. It is a nice, gentle way to spend an evening that brings back memories of childhood as you draw trees and colour-in rivers before taking your finished artwork and magnetising it to the fridge.