Prepare to weave a rich mural of human endeavour. Fraught with disaster, competition and mild card drawing frustration! Your civilisation will invent and explore, discover and conquer. You will build great cities and be guided by strange and unique ideologies. All this in just 90-120 minutes. Welcome to Tapestry, the latest one to five player brainchild of Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier games.
The man that gave us such modern classics as Viticulture and Scythe. With a heritage like this you can imagine the excitement when Jamey announced his latest game, not only the biggest, most expensive offering from his company thus far. But an asymmetrical civilisation building game to boot!
Let’s be civilised-Tapestry gameplay
Each game of Tapestry takes place both on a central game board. In addition to on each players own personal player mats. The main board consists of a map, four advancement tracks and a victory point track. The advancement tracks are the primary focus of the game, and selecting which actions to take in what order to achieve optimum results is the meaty puzzle at the centre of Tapestry. By advancing on the exploration track players will lay tiles on the map allowing them to explore further afield.
Choosing to advance on the military track will allow one to conquer territory. Including the prestigious central island, or territory under other players control. The technology track is primarily focused on attaining and upgrading technology cards. While the science track allows players to move around on and benefit from the other tracks. Three dice accompany the science and military tracks which allow for some randomness when gaining certain rewards.
It’s worth noting that the game board is double sided with maps for 1-3 players and 4-5 players. This allows the game to scale well to all player counts.
Each player chooses a Civilisation and capital city. A civilisation mat will describe the asymmetrical ability each different civ affords as well as provide somewhere to track their unique rewards if appropriate. An income mat will be used to keep track of a players resources, production and active tapestry cards. There are four resources in Tapestry and each one corresponds to one of the four advancement tracks. At the beginning of the game everyone will have 20 income buildings on their mat. Each time a player gains an income building reward they take a building of the appropriate colour off their income mat and place it on their capital city.
Each removed building will reveal a new reward that player will receive at every income turn thereafter, either an extra resource, vp or a vp multiplier. The capital city mat is the third part of a players personal display and provides a home for income buildings and landmarks. Landmarks are special buildings awarded to the first player to reach a certain point on each advancement track. Together these two types of buildings allow players to fill out their capitals, gaining precious resources and scoring points every income turn. The capital mat also provides a home for technology cards and allows one to track their upgrade level.
Tapestry doesn’t play in rounds. On their turn a player can either advance on a track or, if they can’t or don’t want to, they can take an income turn. Income turns mark your passage into the next era of your civilisation, and allow you to produce resources from your engine. All players will take a total of 5 income turns in a game, though quite possibly at wildly different times. As a general guide the longer you can go between income turns the better you are doing, as its an indicator that you are using your resources more efficiently.
It’s possible that some players finish long before the others due to this mechanism, but I’ve only found the time gap to be 5 or 10 minutes at worst. On an income turn, as well as checking their civ ability and collecting resources and points, players will lay a Tapestry card on the leftmost free space of their income mat. Either an immediate reward or an ongoing ability for that era, Tapestry cards provide another powerful asymmetrical boost for each player.
Sid Meier or Stegmaier?
Ok, let’s address the elephant in the games room! Tapestry is billed as a civilisation game. For some this may bring to mind games like Sid Meier’s Civilisation or Nations. Be warned, Tapestry does not play like a 4X game. In which, the civilisation building element is as mechanical as it is thematic. It is a genuinely fun and engaging track advancement and resource management game. But the civilisation element is wrapped lightly around these more commonplace mechanisms.
There’s a light element of looking back and seeing the story of your civilisation through your tapestry and tech cards. But that story is unlikely to make much sense logically and developmentally. For example after mastering fire you might discover batteries. Enjoy a renaissance and upgrade your air conditioning, only to fall into the dark ages and of course start exploring the solar system. It can actually be pretty entertaining. For me, it doesn’t detract from what is a really sharp action selection puzzle of a game. If however you’re looking for a Gods eye view in a developmentally authentic epoch spanning civilisation simulator. Tapestry ain’t it!
The up side to not getting bogged down in heavy thematic mechanisms though, is that the game is remarkably easy to learn. Jamey is a great proponent of learning the principles of a game and then jumping straight in and learning the rest in game. The four page rule book does an excellent job of facilitating this approach, and the reference sheets and intuitive mechanics expertly take over where it leaves off. Once you’ve learnt the symbology it’s actually an incredibly simple game considering it’s mid/heavy weight status.
The complexity comes with the strategic choices on offer rather than masses of rules and moving parts, and this has got to be a good thing!
Tapestry is stunning to look at! The art and graphic design were handled by none other than Andrew Bosley of Everdell fame. As you’d expect it is gorgeous. It’s clear a real effort has been made toward inclusivity in the artwork. Along with the conscious decision to leave out any allusion to real world people, events, politics and religion, the result is an attractive but unique world of its own. The focal point of the design and the original inspiration for the game are the exquisite plastic building miniatures, moulded from clay sculpts handmade by Rom Brown. They really ‘lift’ the game and give it a singular table presence.
The asymmetry certainly gives an edge to the gameplay. Each faction having its own ability and therefore a unique play style means adapting strategy accordingly. Balancing a game with asymmetrical player powers and powerful era spanning ability cards like Tapestry cannot be an exact science. Undoubtedly some civ bonus’ seem more straightforward than others, the Futurists for example who start the game on the fourth space of all tracks, seem particularly powerful. So its worth noting that there is an updated civilisation adjustment sheet on Stonemaiers website. These adjustments were made in conjunction with an online form where the public could record the winning faction and score in each game of Tapestry.
As with any game in which one draws cards from a deck, whether the tapestry cards you draw are useful, useless or meh is entirely luck based. Considering how powerful some combinations of civ, tapestry card and track position can be this could possibly make some games rather swingy. There are however several ways to draw new tapestry cards and good planning can help make the most of whatever you draw.
Fight or flight
Combat in Tapestry is practically nonexistent. When you conquer another players territory tile you simply place your own outpost on it and topple theirs. Once a territory has two outposts on it it can no longer be conquered so there’s no back and forth. No great battles for dominance of the board. Hiding in the tapestry deck are seven trap cards. However, these can be played out of turn when someone attempts to conquer one of your territories.
Simply discard a trap card from your hand and it is your opponents new outpost that is toppled. Gain a resource as reward for your cunning. And that territory can no longer be attacked as it now has two buildings on it. It’s a very minimal feature in the game and is a little anticlimactic to be honest. The game is designed for players to develop their civilisation with little to no interference from opponents. Love it or hate it, that was a definite design choice.
Tapestry doesn’t follow in the footsteps of classic civilisation building games, the theme is just a little too thin to be fully immersive. Some people will struggle to forgive it for that. That’s a real shame, because the fact is, Tapestry is an incredibly fun experience! Stegmaier has once again proved himself a master of modern game design as he pulls all these different mechanisms together to create a smooth and simple to learn game that still feels heavy where it matters.
For me the addictive quality of Tapestry lies in the myriad combinations that the advancement tracks allow. Together with the 16 asymmetric civ’s and 50 tapestry cards, there are incalculable different strategies to explore. Are they all perfectly balanced? Possibly not, but they’re certainly balanced enough to enjoy exploring them.
The sudokuesque capital city grid is really fun to try and fill out in the most efficient way possible. I really enjoy the fact that a single action, placing an income building, gives a dual reward. It’s a repeating factor in several Stonemaier games and it always gives a real sense of satisfaction.
I have to mention the solo mode for Tapestry is absolutely fantastic! It runs so smoothly and quickly and creates a really tense race up the advancement tracks. It’s infuriating the way the Automa hoovers up Landmarks and races round the vp track, but that gives a real sense of achievement and satisfaction when you finally beat it.
All in all Tapestry is well worth experiencing. Leave any preconceptions about it’s theme at the door. Embrace the asymmetry, and give it a go. I’m willing to bet you’ll have fun.