In Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale, players are competing to produce a map of the Northern Lands. Over four seasons, players will flip cards, draw terrain, negotiate ambushes and score against four challenging edicts in order to see who is the greatest cartographer in the land. Cartographers is a fantastic “Flip ‘n’ Write” designed by Jordy Adan and published by Thunderworks Games. It is quick to set up, very easy to grasp, scales nicely from 1 to many players and is both a relaxing experience and a delightful puzzle. Your group will not only enjoy the challenge of figuring out how best to map these magical lands, but also love admiring each other’s maps at the end of the game. Let’s learn how to play!
Each player takes a pencil and a map sheet and the group decides which of the two sides of the map they would like to play on: The Wilderness (A) or The Wastelands (B). The Wilderness is best for new players who may want a bit more flexibility for their plans, while The Wastelands features a small section in the middle that is unusable; this doesn’t look like much but really adds to the challenge – great for more experienced Cartographers players.
Next, take the four Edict Cards (cards with the letters A to D) and place them in the middle of the play area, arranged in alphabetical order from A to D.
Now take the Scoring Cards; you’ll notice that there are four of each set signified by a red, green, blue or yellow symbol. Shuffle each set of Scoring Cards and then draw one from each set, and place these four cards, at random, below the four Edict Cards. These give players the Edicts – the scoring conditions they’ll be working towards – so make sure everyone can see them!
From here, take the four Season Cards (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter) and arrange them starting with Spring and place them as a face-up deck near the Edict Cards and Scoring Cards.
Next, take the deck of Explore Cards and separate out the four Ambush Cards – those with purple backgrounds and a picture of a devilish creature – give them a shuffle and put the Ambush Cards face-down to one side to create the Ambush Deck. Take the rest of the Explore Cards, add the first of the Ambush Cards, shuffle this new deck and place it face-down next to the Season deck.
Finally, and perhaps the most important step, each player writes a name, a title and draws a family crest on their map sheet (this crucial process often adds 5+ minutes to the playtime!).
You’re now all set to begin your Cartographers adventure, but how do we draw our maps?
Cartographers is a Flip ‘n’ Write that takes place over four seasons, Spring through to Winter. Each turn is divided into three phases: Explore (the ‘Flip’), Draw (the ‘Write’) and Check (is it time to move to the next season or end the game?). At the end of each season players are scored according to the Edicts we laid out in setup and the player with the most reputation stars (points) is the winner! Let’s get into each phase and the process of playing Cartographers.
Players ‘flip’ the top card of the Explore Deck and place it in the middle of the play area. It could be one of three card types: an Explore card, an Ambush card, or a Ruins card. If an Explore card is drawn, take note of the terrain type(s) shown, the shape(s) shown and whether a coin is shown – we’ll need this information for the Draw phase. If an Ambush card is drawn, take note of the direction of the arrow shown on the card and the shape shown. If a Ruins card is drawn, players place the card in the play area and then draw another card from the Explore Deck; place this on top of the Ruins card. If this next card you flipped after the Ruins card is also a Ruins card, place it on top of the other Ruins card and flip again until you get an Explore or Ambush card.
In the Draw phase of Cartographers, players then choose a shape denoted on the Explore card, draw it on the map, and then fill it with their choice of terrain type, one of: Forest, Village, Water or Farm. Players can flip, translate or rotate that shape any which way they like, but it cannot overlap any already-filled spaces, such as the Mountain spaces already printed on the map sheet, the Void spaces printed on The Wastelands map (Side B) or other shapes already drawn, and it also doesn’t have to be adjacent to existing spaces/shapes. Think Tetris, but with much more flexibility and no impending doom! If there is ever a scenario where that shape is impossible to fit onto your map, players either choose the alternative shape on the Explore card or must draw a 1×1 square.
If a Ruins card was drawn in the Explore phase, players must place their shape such that it overlaps one of the Ruins spaces on the map. If they can’t overlap a Ruins space, or there are none left, then they must draw a 1×1 square with any terrain type anywhere on the map.
You’ll notice that some shapes depicted on the Explore cards have a gold coin next to them: if you draw that shape, fill in one of the gold coin symbols underneath your map. Furthermore, if players fill in all four of the squares adjacent to a Mountain space, they can also fill in a gold coin. Gold coins are scored in every season (see End of the Season Scoring) so filling up your gold coins quickly is a great way to score points.
If players flip an Ambush card, take a look at the direction of the arrow shown, and pass your map to the next player in that direction. That player draws the shape depicted on the Ambush card anywhere they like on your map, fills it with the Monster terrain type and then passes the map back to you. The Monster card is then discarded. Monster spaces lose you points (see End of Season Scoring) for every adjacent space that is not filled, so Ambush cards are a way for your fellow players to get in the way of your map-making plans!
The draw phase of Cartographers involves carefully considering where to place each shape and each terrain in order to satisfy the scoring conditions of the Edicts. Only two Edicts are scored each season (see End of Season Scoring), so you often have time to develop your maps to score big points towards the end of the game. Cartographers generally moves along at a very relaxing pace, so take your time and try to plan ahead.
Once the shape and terrain type of an Explore card has been resolved by all players, flip the next card in the Explore deck and lay it just to the side of the previous Explore card. You’ll notice in the top left hand corner of each Explore card is an hourglass with a 0, 1 or 2 next to it. This denotes the passage of time during the season; add up these numbers on the flipped Explore cards as you go, and compare it to the relevant season card – this is the Check phase of Cartographers. In Spring and Summer the time threshold is 8, so you can flip cards until the number reaches 8; but in Fall and Winter the threshold is 7 and 6, respectively, so you have less time to add to your maps in later seasons. Once the time denoted on the flipped Explore cards adds up to the time threshold of the current season, that season is over and we move on to End of Season scoring.
End Of Season Scoring
Take a look at the current season card to see which edicts will be scored in this round. A and B are scored in Spring, B and C in Summer, C and D in Fall, and D and A in Winter. Players examine their maps to determine how many reputation stars they’ve earned according to the current season’s two Edicts. There’s a pictorial scoring example on each Edict card along with a text explanation, and the back of the rules handbook has useful further explanations to clarify any queries. Fill in the scores for each active Edict in the box at the bottom of the page, moving left to right for each season. Next, count up the number of gold coin symbols that you have filled in and write it in the gold coin box for that season. Finally, count up every unfilled space that is adjacent to any Monster spaces on the map – players lose this many reputation stars for each unfilled adjacent space – write this negative number in the box for that season. Count up your score for the season and then proceed to the next season if it is currently Spring, Summer or Fall.
Moving To Next Season & Final Scoring
To move onto the next season (assuming it is currently Spring, Summer or Fall), discard the current Season card and place the next one in the middle of the play area. Reshuffle the Explore cards and take the top card of the Ambush deck and shuffle this into the Explore deck. Flip the top card of the newly-shuffled Explore deck, and keep on cartographing in the next season.
If it’s currently Winter, it’s time to move to the Final Scores. Each player adds their score for each season together to give their total score and the player with the most reputation stars is the greatest cartographer in the land!
Hints & Tips
- You might not be scored on all four Edicts at the end of each season but it is still wise to work towards all four Edicts – A to D – simultaneously, if you can. Each Edict is scored in two different seasons, and A is scored in Spring and in Winter. You might have done badly at A in Spring but that doesn’t stop you doing well at it by the time you get to Winter!
- Take time at the beginning of the game to familiarise yourself with how each Edict works. They are all fairly straightforward, but there’s nothing worse than curating a beautifully drawn map only to realise it won’t be scored highly because it doesn’t satisfy the Edicts correctly. You might still win the unofficial “Most Beautiful Map” award though….
- Gold coins are scored in each and every season, so it’s a valid strategy to choose shapes that give you coins and to surround mountain spaces as this can quickly get you scoring highly. However, shapes that award coins are generally smaller than those that don’t offer coins, so it’s a trade-off. In later seasons, when that extra coin might only be scored once or twice, it may be wise to go for the larger shape.
- When drawing Monster shapes on your opponent’s map, try to consider how easily that player can fill in the adjacent squares. Also, some edicts, such as Stoneside Forest, give you reputation stars for connecting certain terrain together. If you can cut off these connections before they are formed you can get the upper hand on your opponent!