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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