When people think of area control games, they think of games like Risk as the classic one. Risk can be a very long game and a very swingy game that someone could be knocked out of early. Even with all of that, I liked Risk…
Tag: board game review
There are so many roll and writes or flip and write games out there, how do you go through and find the good ones? In some ways, you just have to guess and find the style that you like. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a map to find the good ones?
Cartographers is a mapping flip and write game where you are trying to create the best area of land for scoring. Your cartographer goes out and is trying to place Tetris style shaped pieces and other shapes onto your map. These shapes are different types of land, and depending on how the land is laid out, it is going to allow you to score throughout the game. But watch out for monsters, if can you can’t get them surrounded in your map, they are negative points, and your opponents are going to be the people who are putting the monsters onto your map.
Cartographers is scored over four seasons, each with two different scoring criteria. In spring you score A/B, summer – B/C, fall – C/D, and winter – D/A. So you have to both be planning ahead and trying to score as much as you can on each round. The first round is generally lighter scoring, because you haven’t built up anything for either the A/B scoring. And the scoring can be having squares surrounded but not filled, having forests surrounded, having six or more buildings next to each other, etc. These can really change up how you play the game, and help make it unique because maybe in spring I am not set-up to use something right then, but I can plan for the summer. Or you can really focus on a couple of them in hope that they are going to score you more points. Plus, you can get coins by surrounding mountains or using smaller areas, and those give you points each season that you have them. And the monsters are going to be negative unless they are completely surrounded, and each spot open by them is a negative point, and that can add up fast.
Now, there are a ton of roll and write or flip and write games out there, is there anything that makes Cartographers stand out from other games? First, there is no down time, not something that makes it stand out, but something that is nice. On each card flip you are placing land on your map or a monster on your opponents map. So you are always going to be able to play, and even if you can’t fit the shape, you then get to place a single square of any type, which you’ll be able to fit for sure. I also like the scoring throughout the game. Cat Cafe has a little bit of this, as does Welcome To… but Cartographers leans into that a whole lot more. And the scoring changes for each season which adds to the puzzle nature of the game. I think if the scoring was just static, the season scoring wouldn’t work. So like Welcome To… the scoring is going to change up every time that you play the game. Finally, having other people put things on your map and you putting things on other peoples is really interesting and different. You can really mess someone up with a monster and give them a lot of negative points.
The theme works fairly well in this game. I think that the land types being next to each other or surrounded, etc. for the scoring makes pretty good thematic sense. I think that you can argue the mountain being surrounded gets you a gold can make a bit of sense if they are paying you for completing a percent of the map. The monsters, however, being negative points if they aren’t next to anything seems backwards. I think that any that they would be next to would be negative because you don’t want to be by monsters, but I understand from the point of the game, that doesn’t work nearly as well. Like most roll and write games, the theme is a bit abstracted away, but as someone who likes drawing maps, I don’t mind, and I think it works well enough. I can get that itch for making Dungeons and Dragons maps out of my system with Cartographers, which is technically set in the same world as the game Roll Player.
I also think that while this roll and write is a bit more complicated than some other roll and write games, that it isn’t going to be hard to teach, and the visual representations on the board are easy to see and the different terrain types are easy to draw. I’m not sure that I’d lead with this game for a roll and write if someone hasn’t played any, but if they know what a game like Second Chance is, Cartographers is a logical next step. And just teaching it to someone who isn’t familiar with roll and writes would probably work, might just be a bit slower teaching than you’d expect for a roll and write game.
Overall, I think this is a very good roll and write/flip and write. It gives you some challenging decisions, and I really enjoy how the scoring works. I think that the scoring and the monsters make the game feel different than most other roll and write games. Definitely feels a bit like a mash-up of Welcome To… and Second Chance, and that’s great, because I really like those two games. I definitely would recommend this one for the theme, which is light, but easy to sell, and the mechanics.
Overall Grade: A-
Gamer Grade: B+
Casual Grade: B+
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Normally I do these reviews on games that I really enjoy. However, I thought it would be interesting to do a TableTopTakes on Dominion, a game that I have enjoyed but now that I don’t enjoy as much, and it’s still a very popular game.
In Dominion, you are building your deck up to be able to buy as many victory points as possible. The downside is that those victory points clog up your deck. On your turn you are playing down cards that give you additional actions, card draw, number of cards you can buy, and money. At the end of your turn, you draw up a new hand of cards and you repeat the process. Doing this, you are getting cards like Marketplace, Council Room, Estates, or cards like Copper, Gold, and Silver that give you money.
In terms of a pure deck building game, Dominion is a pretty good game. The issue is that it had a dull theme on it. It looks like it’s a trading in the Mediterranean game with poor artwork and a dated looking card design. And with Dominion, that theme “works” because the game itself has nothing to do with the theme. Why the Council Room gives you draw of 4 cards and an extra buy action and the Festival gives you 2 coins, 2 more actions and another buy action, who knows. And really who cares, you are just trying to build an engine of cards to be able to buy estates as quickly as possible.
But, like most deck building games, you are really looking for a very small combo. You are looking for ways to get as much money into your hand as consistently as possible while avoiding getting dead cards. There is a strategy to the game, but with a bit of luck of the draw when you start the game, one person is going to be down the path to victory faster than everyone else, and there are going to be no catch-up mechanisms. Now, a good strategy game, that’s fine, but there’s enough luck with the shuffle of the deck that now it doesn’t matter that you figured out the strategy, someone was able to get the combo going a turn faster than you, you won’t win. And if you don’t notice the strategy, you can figure out half way through the game who is going to win because they figured out the right combo of the cards. Now, again, Dominion is an abstract deck builder with a pasted on artwork and theme that aren’t needed, so if you want that puzzle and hope that you can get your engine rolling faster with a little luck in the card draw, Dominion is a great game for that. It’s meant for you to min-max your cards and find the ways to empty out your deck to just have what you need, more power to you.
For me, I’ve gotten rid of Dominion though. I think that there are other deck builders like Clank! In! Space! or Xenoshyft: Onslaught that I have on my shelf that are a lot better. Now, there’s a bit more going on in those games, so it’s probably not as good for teaching deck building, but I’m not teaching deck building too often. And I think some of what bugged me about Dominion was that there are a plethora of expansions for the game, but they really don’t add that much new, and the new and additional rules that they add, they aren’t thematic, or are they used all that often, because they add to the complexity of Dominion. Dominion being more complex pushes it away from being that introductory deck building game, which means that unless you have people who live and breath Dominion, there are those people out there, I know one of them, and always want to play it and play it with other people who love it, those cards and rules aren’t going to be needed.
Dominion is significant to the hobby, and I recognize that. It really helped create deck builders, and without it, games like Xenoshyft: Onslaught or Clank! In! Space! might not exist. And Dominion has helped get people into the hobby, but some of the love for it that it’s gotten over the years, it just doesn’t resonate with me. That might just be my taste in games coming through, but I think that there are plenty of better deck building games out there, and while Dominion might have been a good introductory deck building game to teach the concept, I think that there are better ones out there, and an early year of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is going to be just as good for deck building if not better. Or even something that’s definitely more complex like Xenoshyft: Onslaught, because it’s cooperative, could work decently well in that teaching role. And with both of those games, they feel like they have more theme and that you are doing something more. The veneer on Dominion has now become too thin when it comes to theme.
Overall Grade: C-
Gamer Grade: D
Casual Grade: B
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There are a lot of big games out there that do a lot of big things. Titan Race is not one of those games, but what it does in a small package, it does well. And it’s a game that creates a lot of fun when you play it.
In Titan Race, you take on the roll of one of several Titans have their own special powers and are racing around weird maps. A game consists of looping over the same map three times, avoiding the traps and other players on the board, and dealing with whatever unique effect is on the map. Each round consists of one player rolling a number of dice equal to the number of Titans in the game. Starting with the first player, each player drafts a die and uses the movement rules shown on that die to determine what direction they go. The players continue around drafting dice until each person has used a die. Then the first player moves to the next player and the process is repeated.
Titan Race is a pretty simple game that has a few things that make it unique. The first is that as well as it being a race game, where the winning goal is to loop the board three times, it is also a combat game where you are trying to knock other players out for a round so that you can get further ahead. You have certain spots you can land to get ability cards that you can then use that might heal your damage, or damage your opponent. Plus, if you run into an opponent, you do push them and that deals them a damage as well. And if you set it up correctly, for example, on the lava map, you can cause a lot of damage to happen and hopefully get that turn where the player is knocked down and recovering to get ahead of them. And then they’ll start trying to chase you down so that you get knocked out as well. Plus each rider has their own ability which will make a difference in how well they can attack or move as well.
For me, Titan Race really shines not in the base mode of the game, but in the Grand Prix mode, where instead of looping over the same board three times, you run your way down across three boards. That means that you are dealing with three different terrains. Yes, you might lose some of the value of dropping traps, but if you get ahead you can do that, but the variety in boards is great. On some worlds, like the lava world, you can end up in lava and get damage dealt to you whereas the ice world allows you to slide across the map in interesting ways. Hopefully, not helping your opponents by pushing them forward when you do that. And like there are six different Titans, there are 6 different boards, though, it is three double sided boards, so you have a good variety of the terrains. And you can put the terrain in any order creating more variety.
While Titan Race isn’t a complex game, it is a good game night game. The game is simple enough that even more board game adjacent people are going to be able to pick it up quickly, and it’s a game that works with most ages. It does have a few small pieces that you might lose, but for the most part, the lap tracker pieces, I don’t use, because we are playing Grand Prix, not looping over a single map, so we only go over the board a single time. The life trackers are small as well, but I haven’t found that an issue or that they get bumped off a spot too much as the footprint on the table is small, so you aren’t reaching far for anything. Now, at times the game can be too simple. If the dice aren’t in your favor and someone else is able to get into a lead, it’s hard to stop them as you can’t drop traps in front of them. This is one advantage of looping over the same board, but, like I said above, it makes less variety in the game by doing that.
While I enjoy this game, I can see it being a game that not everyone will enjoy. This is not a heavy game and clearly falls into the filler category, but some people don’t like light fillers and would prefer just a fast but thinky game, Titan Race won’t provide that. I do think that it is a game you can pull out in a lot of situations because of the light theme and light complexity, and I like to have games like that in my collection. I’m not sure that Titan Race is always the filler game that I’d pull out, but being able to play up to 6 and not being a party game is really nice. Overall, I think more people will enjoy this game than those who don’t, but it won’t be for every group.
Overall Grade: B
Gamer Grade: D+
Casual Grade: B+
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