Contender for the best roll and write ever made
1 to 8 players
When Jess and I went to Essen Spiel 2019 there was a lot of buzz about a lot of games. Some games we had researched before and had planned our route through the packed halls to buy before they sold out, others we learnt about by seeing the enormous queues outside their stall (the queue to playtest Copenhagen was ridiculous!).
Cartographers was one we hadn’t seen before, but there was a lot of buzz about it and most of the time (not always) buzz means a gem has been discovered. We searched and we searched but the only copies we could find were German ones so we had to wait another few months before we finally got our hands on it, but boy was it worth the wait! We’ve loved every play from our 1st to our 25th (and counting).
We would both say it is our favourite roll and write game (although as with so many roll and writes, you’re flipping cards and writing, rather than rolling dice and writing, but the effect is the same), and it is one of our favourite mechanics to have in a game. If you’re looking for other great roll and write games, check out Welcome To, Railroad Ink, Sonora and Ganz Schon Clever (in that order, in my opinion), but Cartographers is the most fun.
How the game works
As the more perceptive among you will already have noticed, Cartographers is all about drawing maps! The Queen has sent you to map the Northern Lands which are to be reclaimed in her name. She prizes certain lands more than others, but be wary of goblin intruders contesting you. Players will score points at the end of each of the four rounds depending on how well their map has fulfilled the objectives and lose points for any goblins loose in their realm. Each round, a series of map cards are flipped over, containing a land type (or sometimes a choice of two land types) and a shape (or sometimes a choice of shape), and all players must fill that in somewhere on their 11×11 grid.
The land types relate to the four objective cards in play during the game. Forests are scored in rounds 1 and 4, farms and lakes are scored in rounds 1 and 2, villages in rounds 2 and 3, and all four are scored in rounds 3 and 4 (e.g. 6 points for each completed row or column, whatever the land type).
Hidden in the deck are goblin cards, which can get a bit nasty. Each goblin card has a shape to be filled in with goblins but here’s the twist- one of your opponents will fill it in for you- attempting to place it in the most annoying spot possible and scupper your objectives. At the end of each round you score -1 point for each empty space next to a goblin space, so if a goblin card comes out right at the end of the round you can get some big deductions.
The other way of scoring points aside from the objectives are through coins. Each time you completely surround a mountain space you cross off a coin on your scoresheet, and some of the land cards also give you coins. At the end of each round you score points equal to the number of coins crossed off (as well as the points from your objectives!), so if you cross a coin off in the first round it’s worth 4 points in total!
After the four rounds are complete you count up the scores and congratulate (or berate) the winner.
I pretty much love everything about Cartographers, so where to start?! It’s got a good amount of replayability with four variations of each objective colour (so 16 in total), and although I would love there to be even more (expansion soon!), it does keep you coming back, and certain combos make for higher or lower scoring games. It goes without saying that barring a statistical miracle you’ll always be drawing a different combination of map cards each round/game so every game will be very different. Each map sheet is also double sided so you can play with the basic wilderness side or the wastelands side.
I think it looks pretty good – the card artwork and the map/scoresheets are really high quality, they do feel like you’re holding an old map, you can even fill in your own “Title” and coat of arms which is a very nice touch.
There’s something really fun about trying to maximise your points for the round by filling in those little squares with trees, houses, lakes and rows of wheat, and so satisfying when the risks you take pull off and you win big. There are plenty of strategies to go for because its rare that you can focus on all four objectives, you either don’t have the time or in some cases they contradict each other. But its a really fun challenge trying to balance them all at once, you might sacrifice a point here or there in the hope a certain card comes out later, but then a goblin card comes out instead and you’re screwed!
You can put as much or as little effort as you like into the presentation of your map, it won’t win you any extra points but carefully colouring in your map tends to be how you play your first game, and by the 5th game you’re pretty much just drawing circles with a pencil to represent a tree and three wavey lines for a lake.
I’ve loved sharing this game with all our gaming friends. From the first time we played it as a two, we knew everyone would love it and there’s something so rewarding about teaching someone a game you know they’ll love, and it’s a very simple concept so you can be confident that if you’re new to gaming you’ll easily be able to learn it!
Only one negative for me with Cartographers and that is the objective cards are very difficult to read. The font is too abstract and small to be easily read by all players and you need to pass the cards around rather than having them in one location for all to read.
Overall though this is a near perfect game for the roll and write genre. It’s great for introducing new players to it, just as experienced gamers will love it too. A great game to start or end a games night that I guarantee you’ll want to play again and again.
Get this game:
Check this game out on Board Game Geek