Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

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CartographersRoll and Writes are 10 a penny so it takes something special to stand out. Some games do this be changing the ‘roll’ of dice to a ‘flip’ of a card. Cartographers is one of those flip and write games. Set in the Roll Player universe you will be mapping out a region of that world.Each player will take a sheet with a grid on it. Across the grid are ruins and mounta…
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  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • The extra depth compared to many other roll and writes
  • The fantasy theme
  • The slight player interaction

Might Not Like

  • The player interaction
  • Only four cards in each scoring set
  • Text on scoring cards is small
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Roll and Writes are 10 a penny so it takes something special to stand out. Some games do this be changing the ‘roll’ of dice to a ‘flip’ of a card. Cartographers is one of those flip and write games. Set in the Roll Player universe you will be mapping out a region of that world.

Each player will take a sheet with a grid on it. Across the grid are ruins and mountains and possible a massive canyon, depending on the difficulty chosen. You will then set up the cards for the current season. The four seasons you play through get progressively smaller - in theory, so you will need to make forward thinking decisions from the off. To score points you must collect coins, and achieve goals. Four goal cards are laid out but only two are scored each season. A & B, then B & C, then C & D, before D & A. This means each card will score twice and that you know when they will score, allowing you to plan ahead. Of course most games you will get lost in a couple of the objectives, forgetting the ones you were meant to concentrate on this round!

Each turn a card is drawn given you a shape or two to choose from and a terrain or two also. You will each sketch one of these terrain/shape combos on to your map, anywhere you like. Depending on the scoring cards you might want to cover ruins or place next to mountains or near the edge of the board.

Monsters add a touch of interaction to proceedings. When one appears you hand you sheet to another player who draws the monster on to it. Cartographers may not sound like it, but it’s a engrossing and engaging game that you’ll come back to time and time again.

Player count: 1-100
Time: 30-45 minutes
Age rating: 10+


Cartographers is a one to many player roll (or flip) and write game from designer Jordy Adan and published by Thunderworks Games. In Cartographers players will flip over terrain cards. Each terrain card will show a land type or two.As well as a shape (or two) which must be drawn a players map sheet. The game’s played over four seasons and each season ends when a certain threshold is met. At the end of each season, certain scoring cards are triggered. Each season a monster card is added to the deck. When these are revealed all players pass their sheets to another player who then draws the depicted shape on their opponents sheet.

Queen Gimnax has ordered the northern lands to be reclaimed in the name of the Queen. As a Cartographer in her employ you have been sent to map the territory. The Queen, however, has favourite lands that she likes the most. You will increase your standing and favour with her by meeting her demands.

You are not alone in the wilderness however, The Dragul will nip at your heels and content your claim on the land with their outposts. Map out the most territory to meet the Queens demands and reduce the influence of the Dragul to be declared the greatest cartographer in all the kingdom.

There are four scoring cards with two our of the four being scored every round. Each card is scored twice per game. Players can also acquire points for gold coins earned. They lose points for monsters that are not surrounded by other terrain types. At the end of the forth season, all players tally up their points and the one with the most points is the winner.

Credit to Thunderworks Games


Mind Map

I love a good roll and write. I love how quick and accessible they are. However, sometimes you want something with a bit more too it. Something that gives you meaningful choices and more replay-ability. Cartographers delivers.

Cartographers can accommodate a large group of people. As long as they can see the terrain cards and the scoring cards then you can have as many people play as you have sheets. The games doesn’t bog down with higher player counts as everyone is drawing from the same flipped card.

I really like the way that each card is scored and how you can see what is being scored this round and the coming rounds. You know that each card will be scored twice. So you can plan for the next round or even the round after that by foregoing the current round scoring. Or you can try each round to get as many points from the current rounds scoring cards. It gives players options and decision points throughout the game. There is a decent enough stack of scoring cards but I think after a lot of plays these might become a bit repetitive. An expansion with some different ways to score could mix it up and keep the game fresh.

The player interaction is higher in this Cartographers roll and write than in a lot of other which tend to be multiplayer solitaire. However, it is not too punishing, you don’t feel like you are being attacked as such as nothing is being taken away from you. There is just another terrain type to have to deal with and surround. I really like how Jordy Adan/Thunderworks Games have approached this.

Although a bit meatier than other roll and writes it is still easy enough to understand, learn and teach new players. Gamers and non-gamers alike can get in to the game straight away without much explanation. The scoring cards are easy to understand and for the most part clear. Although the text on the cards is a little small to read form afar, especially if playing in large groups. In most instances they can be easily explained and then the symbology relied on.

The map sheets are also double sided. One side is a normal map with the reverse side containing a cavern in the middle, restricting your available space and thus making it more difficult.

All in all, Cartographers is a great roll and write that adds something to the genre than just another generic roll and write. The scoring cards, the round scoring and the player interaction all make this game stand out from the crowded market.

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!

Setting up

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?

Playing Cartographers

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!

Today is a day for value, my friends. I say value because I am saving you so much time in your day. If you came here to hear about the solo mode of Cartographers, you’re not just getting the one game. Oh no, you’re getting the details on Cartographers, Cartographers Heroes and all six currently released map packs. How’s that for value! How’s it possible, I hear you cry (in my mind.) Well, the gameplay for all of the games in the Cartographers series play the same, regardless of the map you play, the monsters you include and the heroes you may throw in. It’s incredibly efficient, so I’m passing that extra time onto you to maybe read about another game we’ve reviewed here. Or even pick up an extra game for yourself. Who knows? It’s your time, after all.

Solo Differences

Honestly? Not a great deal of changes here. For the most part, Cartographers plays exactly the same for a solo game when compared to a multiplayer game. There are just two that really make a difference to the game.

When a monster card comes up, take a look in the top right corner. You’ll find one of four squares coloured in a dark purple, which indicates the corner you should be looking to place the monster on your map. If you are unable to place it in that corner, you move one square clockwise or anticlockwise. The direction depends on the arrows on the card that you would normally use to pass the maps about in a multiplayer game. You keep going around the edge until you are able to draw the shape as it lies on the card, no rotation or flipping allowed. If the border doesn’t allow you to place it, move one row in and round you go until you can place it. If you cannot place the monster at all, you ignore it.

The scoring for the solo game also changes up slightly. In the bottom right of each scoring card is a solo mode target score for that card. Once you have finished your final scoring, total up from each of these cards and subtract that from your final score. Compare that new total to the back of the rulebook and find out what your title is to include on the top of the map sheet.

Mapping My Musings

Quite honestly, there’s not much more to say here because a lot of the thoughts on the solo mode have already been spoken of in the reviews of the multiplayer game. Everything I love about the game: the puzzliness; the ease to get it to the table; the multiplayer solitaire; the infinitely variable set up and game play; all of these things are present in the solo game. If anything, it’s slightly better because you don’t have to deal with the monsters in the same way. They’re more predictable than the random whims of your friends and family who are actively trying to ruin your game. It almost doesn’t matter if an ambush happens because you can deal with it within whatever you’re already building.

The biggest nit-pick I have is that playing the game is actually pretty wasteful. Because each sheet is an individual piece of paper, once you’ve used both sides, it’s gone. I’m hopeful that one day Thunderworks will bring out a bundle of dry erase boards that can replace the sheets but if it doesn’t happen, they’ve at least got the option to download them from the website.

Even that minor issue isn’t going to stop me though. Cartographers was my most played game of 2021 and a lot of those games were solo. I think the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach really works with roll/flip and write games. It works for Railroad Ink and it sure works for Cartographers.


Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • The extra depth compared to many other roll and writes
  • The fantasy theme
  • The slight player interaction

Might not like

  • The player interaction
  • Only four cards in each scoring set
  • Text on scoring cards is small