A truly epic game, even if it isn’t perfect

1-5 players
80-120 minutes
Stonemaier Games

Anything by Stonemaier Games gets a lot of press, and Tapestry was no different when it came into the world in 2019. I remember seeing the first artwork being released and being fascinated by what the game was about, eager to get my hands on the game but like a lot of people put off by the high price tag. We’d also heard mixed reviews so we weren’t even sure we’d like it! The more I saw of it on Instagram on BoardGameGeek though the more I was tempted to buy it, the miniatures and the artwork are simply stunning and I’ve never played a civilisation game before! So, in April of 2020 we got ourselves a copy, and boy am I glad we did!

Firstly, the rulebook is ludicrously simple for a game of this size. When we opened our copy and were greeted by 4 sides of rulebook in total and a reference guide, I actually Googled “Tapestry rulebook” because I assumed our copy of the game had come without it by accident. It’s incredible and is a real asset to the game, inviting you in to play straight away rather than putting you off with 36 pages of rules.

Players are attempting to lead their own civilisation to glory by developing their scientific, technological, exploratory and military capabilities over the course of five eras. Things start off pretty basic, you only have a handful of resources as you begin your journey through the ages. Points are scored in a variety of ways – too many to list here – but with each player possessing a different civilisation with its own unique abilities, each will need to utilise these to the max if they are to stand any chance of winning.

In the main, you will be advancing on one of four tracks; technology, science, military and exploration. You spend the resource requirement stated and you perform the action stated. It’s that simple! This is where the reference guide is particularly handy as it lists every single space along each track.

Four actions that crop up a lot are:
– Explore. You put a hexagonal tile down on the map in the centre next to somewhere you control (you start with one territory around the edge of the map), scoring a bonus resource/card and points depending on how well you match up the land types.

– Invent. You take a technology card from the ones available and add it to your player mat. These technology cards, once upgraded will provide crucial benefits. The number of tech cards you have also score you points during income phases.

– Research. You roll the green science die and advance along the track shown for free. Its a good way of advancing down other, more expensive tracks.

-Conquer. This is where you expand your empire across the map! You either conquer an empty or an enemy territory adjacent to one you already control. You get points for the number of territories you control, and bonuses if you can conquer two opponent territories. However, Trap cards disguised as regular Tapestry cards can be played against you when you attempt to conquer an opponent, rendering your attack futile. So its always a risk to conquer someone else if they have one or more Tapestry cards in hand.

Once you run out of resources (or before, if you’re looking to sneak ahead), you end the era and enter your income phase. This is where a lot of civilisation abilities are activated, you also gain additional resources and crucially you get to lay a new Tapestry card.

The Tapestry cards in your hand can greatly influence the outcome of the game. At the end of each era you get to play one card onto your player mat. Some have one-time benefits and others will be useful throughout the next era. Play the right one and you can change not only your fortunes but your opponents’ plans. There are definitely some cards better than others, so if you end up with a hand “full of rubbish” as my husband says, it can feel pretty frustrating. That said, plenty of spaces on the advancement tracks allow you to draw new ones.

My biggest advice to anyone playing Tapestry for the first time is to try and get as many income buildings out onto their capital city as early as possible. These are the tiny coloured houses on the player boards, and once uncovered give you more resources and VP every income phase. The earlier you uncover them, the more times you receive the benefits! By doing so, you are also filling up your capital city, which scores you points for every row and column you fill up, as well as giving you resources when you fill in a 3×3 square.

The first player to advance into each zone on each track gets to place the matching building in their city (e.g. lighthouse if you’re the first to get to the second exploration zone). These are the cutest, most intricate miniatures and really bring your city to life!

The further you get down the advancement tracks, the steeper the benefits, but also the steeper the costs. You can choose to focus on just one or two main tracks (e.g. exploration and military) but you might not end up with any technology or science advancement. I personally always enjoy the military side of the game, mainly because its fun taking over the map and there’s a ton of points to be scored in that way.

There are end game bonuses for the first player to get all the way to the end of a track, so you’ll want to make sure you do finish at least one. As I mentioned earlier, there is also a bonus if you can knock over two of your opponents’ outposts, and finally there’s one for conquering the middle island (making sure that everyone fights it out in the middle!).

After each player has finished their 5th income phase, the game is over, and whoever has the most points is the winner. The tiebreaker is the player with the most resources left over (who finishes the game with resources left over?!) – and we have had one draw so far!

I love this game. Sure, some of the civilisations appear to be unbalanced slightly, but Stonemaier released some ways to balance those out. That said, I still think the Isolationists are way too strong so we’ve removed them from the game now! For such a big game its easy to learn but there’s so much to think about and enjoy. Because there are so many civs (20 in the base game) you can keep playing it over and over, trying to beat your best scores by employing the various tactics the civs allow. One game you might be all about developing tech cards, getting dozens of those and all the benefits they bring, the next game you might take over the whole board and destroy everyone else via military means.

Oh, and did I mention once or twice that the pieces are nice? Everything is next level here (as you’d expect for the pricetag); the board, the dice, the miniatures, the artwork on the cards and civ mats, the player boards, absolutely everything has been produced fantastically. It also has a really good automa version, which pits you up against a quite frankly brutal virtual opponent (1 win, 5 defeats against the second easiest difficulty!), so if you’re into solo gaming then I would also highly recommend this to you.

One slight criticism is that it doesn’t really feel like a civilisation game in the same way that something like Through the Ages does, its more a ‘civilisation theme’. The fact you can invent Air Conditioning before you’ve discovered Writing seems silly but I found that pretty easy to get over and for me it didn’t take anything away from what has been a thoroughly enjoyable game to explore. 13 times and counting so far!

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