Sequels to games are difficult. In the video game world, it comes down to a choice. You can continue with the same characters and start a new story. Or, you can do something completely different with new mechanics and characters. Board games though, it's a little more tricky. Giving people something new but familiar is a hard balance. Cartographers Heroes by Thunderworks Games is one that has struck board game greatness.
One of their breakout hits, Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale, captured my heart after just a single play. The wonderful simplicity of the roll and write mechanics and the replayable puzzle just works incredibly well. So it's not surprising that a Kickstarter campaign brought to life the sequel - Cartographers Heroes!
Set up is straightforward. Every player takes a pencil and a map and decides which side they want to play, ensuring all players are on the same map. You can add a name for your cartographer and grant them a title and family crest if you like (this doesn't affect the scoring, it's just for fun). Lay out the lettered edict cards in alphabetical order. Then, shuffle the four piles of scoring cards based on their colour backs and pick one from each pile. Assign them randomly to the edict cards. Arrange the Season cards by the usual order. Shuffle the purple ambush cards and the grey hero cards and place them in their two separate decks. Add the top card from the hero and ambush decks to the explore cards and shuffle them together.
I Need A Hero!
The royal cartographers are back in Cartographers Heroes, and this time they're headed to the Western Lands. However, the lands are dangerous. With war and the Dragul forces likely to cross your path, Queen Gimnax has elected to send out heroes to protect you and Nalos.
Players have a year to map out the world, whilst simultaneously completing the queen's four edicts. As they do so, they gather reputation stars. Whomsoever has the most at the end of the game is the winner.
How do you map the world out, you may be asking? Well, in the same way as the original, you flip over explore cards with terrain types and a shape (or two) to draw onto your map. This can be rotated or flipped if needed. Some cards have two shapes, one which is smaller but has the benefit of getting you a coin if you choose to take it. (Coins are also gathered by surrounding the four sides of a mountain square.) You have a limited time to draw in each season, so work quickly.
Ambush and Hero cards do not have a time impact, presumably because it doesn't take long to write "don't go there" on a map whilst running away. When an Ambush card comes out, pass your map to the player next to you in the direction indicated on the card. Your opponent will then draw the monsters for you, most likely in the most unhelpful place they can put it.
Hero cards are a single square that you can place anywhere. What makes them unique is their attack pattern, indicated by the squares with an asterisk. If a monster falls in this area at any point, it is destroyed and crossed out, meaning it has no impact.
Now in each season, you will be scoring two of the queen's edicts. Edict A & B in Spring, B & C in Summer and so on, until each edict is scored twice. Score your two edicts. Add the number of coins you have gathered, and deduct points for each unfilled square that is adjacent to a monster square. At the end of the round, regather the explore cards and add in one more hero and ambush card. Any heroes or ambush cards that came out are discarded.
Rooting For The Wrong Team
One thing I found frustrating was when the hero cards came up before the monsters. You end up placing them in really odd spots, which end up being nowhere near the monsters as your opponent places them. I'm also more excited about the monsters than the heroes. Whilst the monsters are classic fantasy opponents, like a dragon and a troll, the heroes are a little generic. The monsters also have some really interesting abilities. Like the ever-spawning zombie plague, which grows exponentially if you don't pay attention to it.
There was also one change from the original which I don't quite get. For some reason, summer was shortened between the original and Heroes. It doesn't impact play a huge amount, but it seems unnecessary.
I love Cartographers. I've spent many hours playing the solo variant on my tablet, which is a lot of fun. I love the fantasy element. I love the mechanics and I love a puzzle. This game really reintroduced me to roll and write games and I fell hard. Cartographers definitely deserved a sequel. There were some things that could have been included in the original. The version I have includes the skills pack, which lets you spend the coins you earn, which is great. But the main card I was excited by had a two-by-two square! So often you end up with a square in the middle of nowhere and there was no way to deal with it. Now you can!
But what I absolutely love is you can combine Cartographers Heroes with the original to make for a whole host of different gameplay options. You can merge the monsters from both games, chuck the ruin cards in, leave the heroes out if you want, and combine the scoring cards. The only stipulation is that you should all use the same map and the explore cards aren't combined between the two games. It's one deck or the other. You can also add in one of the three map packs and expansions that come with them. Nebblis, Affril and The Undercity also came out as part of the Kickstarter - but let's leave that for another time. I have a map to draw.