Map out the land to earn the favor of Queen Gimnax.
Android & iOS
# of Players
Cartographers is a solo version of the flip-and-write, polyomino title from Thunderworks Games, brought to the digital world by BrettspieldWelt GmbH. In Cartographers, a game set in the Roll Player world, you are tasked with mapping out a section of land as dictated by Queen Gimnax. Over the course of four seasons you place various terrain types, mitigating the damage done by monsters, while trying to fulfill scoring goals to appease the Queen. A game typically finishes in under ten minutes, at which time your final score is tallied.
Cartographers follows the lead of many other roll-and-writes to hit the digital world in forgoing the multiplayer experience in lieu of a “chase your high score” solo experience. (And yes, to be clear, Cartographers is a flip-and-write, not a roll-and-write, but we all know they are the same thing.) As such, your potential enjoyment of this app hinges on whether you enjoy chasing your score in a solo setting, or if you just want to try out the game before investing in the physical version.
Starting from a mostly blank map, a set of placement rules are drawn for the first turn. This will contain either two different terrain types and one polyomino shape or one terrain and two shapes dictating the shape and type of terrain you must play this turn. You choose where to play them on your gridded board, and the next set of cards are drawn. There are wrinkles such as monsters which are placed using the physical game’s solo rules and earn negative points if left surrounded, or ruin cards which force you to use the next shape on one of the few ruins spaces on your map.
A game is split into four seasons over which four different scoring conditions will be triggered twice (two per season). Your goal is to maximize scoring for the current season while keeping an eye towards future scoring conditions, all of which are known from the start of the game. Spring, for example, scores the first and second scoring conditions (A and B, respectively). B and C are scored in Summer and so on, with Winter scoring D and A. This scoring pattern provides a bit of intrigue as you can’t work towards A during Spring and abandon it for the rest of the game.
At the end of the game, your point totals are added up, this includes points scored from goals over the course of the game along with any coins you scored. Coins are available on select terrain shapes and provide points at the end of each season, so a coin earned in Spring will provide four points over the course of a full game. Finally, each scoring goal has a negative point value on it which is subtracted from your point total to provide a final score. The app tells us that any net score over 30 makes you a Legendary Cartographer while a score of negative 30 or worse suggests you are an Oblivious Inkdrinker. I, personally, am totally here for apps spitting delightful insults at me.
That’s Cartographers in a nutshell. It’s a polyomino puzzle with the available pieces dictated by the flip of the deck. The monsters add a bit of something extra to keep track of, they are basically a firefighting exercise in which you have to weigh and positive points a piece might gain you versus the negative points you could be cancelling out by filling in spaces around the monsters. It’s a fun wrinkle.
The meat of the game is in the scoring cards, and there are quite a variety of those. They have a few different types, one which covers the green terrain, one red, one orange/blue, and one that covers no color at all but rather a general shape on your map (filling out complete rows and columns, for example). The cards are split up so that you will get one of each type in a game so you can’t ignore certain types which would make the game significantly easier. The variety within the cards is nice, one game you might be scoring the largest grouping of red (city) terrain, and the next it’s the second largest. That small difference drastically changes strategy.
I like what the game offers, but something about it feels lacking in the solo experience, even compared to other solo digital -and-writes out there. You can get totally burned with a bad first scoring goal/card draw combination. This is perfectly fine if you are playing against a human (or AI) with the same constraints, but in an app where you are trying to beat high scores, it feels a bit off. And yes, other games have this same issue, just replace card draws with die rolls. I’m aware of that, but for whatever reason I don’t get the same joy in scoring big (or, more frequently, not scoring big) in Cartographers as I do in, say, the Clever games. It probably doesn’t hold up to intense investigation, but it just feels like I can do more with poor rolls in other games than I can with poor draws here. That’s a tough feeling to shake. Where the app does shine, for me, is making me really want to give the physical multiplayer game a try.
Barrier to Entry
Cartographers features a text rulebook and a short tutorial when you start your first game. Not knowing the tutorial existed, I read through the rulebook first (more on that later) and felt well prepared. The tutorial was short and to the point and hammered home the key points. All in all, between the two I had a solid grasp going into my first game and any lingering confusion I had was spelled within a quick game or two.
Look and Feel
This isn’t the prettiest app you will see, but the visuals are entirely functional. The screen is cluttered with almost every pixel packed with something between the playing board, scoring tiles, and detailed background images. Beyond the clutter, some of the minor details like menu buttons and text sections look a bit generic. These are small nits, to be sure. On the positive side, the scoring goals are easily tappable so you can see the details as you are learning the game, and the game clearly shows you how many points you have for each of the scoring goals at all times.
Control-wise, the game does a really good job. Valid placement areas are highlighted green on your map and once you start placing the shape, block by block, the remaining valid spaces are kept green. In cases where you have placed enough of the individual blocks so there is only one valid way to finish, the app will auto-complete for you. Once you get the hang of it, you can place most tiles completely with only two or three taps.
One bigger issue I had was trying to read through the rulebook. On my Android device I had to restart the app about a dozen times while reading through the rulebook, either from freezes or crashes. I have not had any issues while playing the game, only while reading the rules.
The digital version does not contain multiplayer. There are online leaderboards for rotating weekly challenges. These have fixed explore cards for all players for the week and either fixed or random scoring cards, depending on which mode you want. There are separate leaderboards for these two different styles.
There is no AI, the entire game is solo. In addition to the two weekly fixed challenge modes, the third and final way to play Cartographers is with completely random explore and scoring cards. This mirrors the experience of playing the physical game.
The game has a slew of achievements to chase and keeps some stats on your recent/high scores. The achievements work as a mix of goals and high score tracking as some of them are vague “achieve a high score” type goals, but it does keep you high score. The stat keeping has me a bit confused as only two of my dozens of games have registered for record keeping, I’m not sure what is going on there.
Nothing to report here!
The Wrap Up
Cartographers follows in the path paved by digital roll-and-writes of the past year or two: basic, bare bones solo experience with a high score/point chasing aspect being the primary draw. Well, if the primary draw isn’t to simply try the game before buying the physical version, that is a very valid use of the app. Cartographers doesn’t break any new ground and has some minor issues here and there that don’t really affect your ability to fire up the app and play a fun flip-and-write in a few minutes.
My personal issues with this game mostly land in the feeling that I’m much more at the mercy of the cards than I am in other -and-writes. I really enjoy the polyomino aspect and the rotating scoring cards provide a lot of depth. Simply put, I think this is a game that is likely much better with multiple players than it is as a solo experience. The technical nitpicks involve a crashing rulebook, occasional dated visuals, and odd record keeping.
If you like Cartographers and want to have the option to play it at any given moment, have been curious about it but not wanted to plunge into the full game, or are simply a fan of digital -and-writes, Cartographers is a solid choice.