Have you ever played a game in the Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale series by Thunderworks games, and thought "this is great, but I'd love a real challenge. Something different, something expansive, something... puzzley." If this is you, first of all, great! You found your way to this blog and I think I'm going to scratch that itch for you. If this isn't you, well, we have your click already, so you may as well read on.
Now for a little backstory, Cartographers Heroes was launched as a Kickstarter this year, which introduced three new map packs. Each of these new maps brings a unique new challenge to Cartographers and today, we're talking about the second pack - Affril - Plane of Knowledge.
Gameplay is exactly the same as the base game, so if you want to see how that works, check out the Zatu review! However, Cartographers Heroes - Affril breaks from tradition by not being an 11x11 grid. No no no, that would be far too simple. Instead, both sides of the map are made up of a psychically floating archipelago of islands, interconnected by a dotted line and a small circle. Now when you set up, each player chooses two of the connected islands and fills in the dot between them. You can only draw on the interconnected islands, so choosing which to start on is a tactical decision. If you want to get more islands up, you have to spend your hard-earned coins. Previously, you could only spend your coins if you were playing with the skills mini-expansions. Now, you can cross out one of the coins in order to get a new island to build on. That coin will no longer score you at the end of a season, but you have more options to draw.
Some of you may be thinking "well, I may as well hold onto my coins, and use the rule that lets me put down one of anything when I can't play the shape." Sorry folks, the designers are ahead of you there. If you cannot draw the shape on your island but you do have more islands available, you must spend a coin to open a new island. If you do not have the coins to spend, you get a free one, but you must then spend it to expand.
In addition to the 75 double-sided maps, you get three new scoring cards that are unique to this map pack. These can be used instead of one of the usual sets (the ones with the grey square with an arrow in it). These scoring cards provide specific edicts for this unique terrain. Like scoring points for each island that has at least one forest, field, water and city square.
When I opened Cartographers Heroes - Affril up, I was immediately excited. The purple colours are wonderfully vivid. The unique scoring cards make even a seasoned player shudder as they try to fit these into the weirdly broken map. This version of the game brings in a great new puzzle that increases in complexity when you include the ruins cards or different monsters. Knowing when to open up an island is key, too. Because if a monster comes up immediately after you've opened an island, guess where it's going!
There is a downside that some of the scoring cards are not compatible with the maps but to be honest, it's a minor gripe. There is more than enough replayability in Cartographers to mitigate this. I think this map pack is the hardest to play with, but that is not a negative. The maps in the original, Heroes, and Nebblis all conform to the same shape, and having the floating islands is a refreshing change-up. My personal preference is to not use the ruins cards with Cartographers Heroes - Affril, but you do you. Mix and match however you like!
The spending of coins is another neat addition that hasn't been utilised since the skills mini-expansions. I think it works well to give yourself more map to explore in exchange for a cost. But, coins are a lot harder to come by. Since the mountains are one to an island, and you need to spend a coin to spread to a new island to get a mountain to get coin…. Hmmm. It's also a lot harder to fill in the spaces around the monsters since the rules say you must expand if you can't draw the shape. But you know what? I like a challenge. You aren't going to get the highest scores of your Cartographers career but it doesn't matter. You've been to the Plane of Knowledge and survived - so let's see your maps.