20th July 2021 (Online)

Since last time, there had been quite a bit of debate about returning to the Horse and Jockey, but there was a little hesitancy and with the extremely hot weather, staying at home this week turned out to be the right choice all round.  As the decision had been just a little bit last-minute, we chose to keep the “Feature Game” simple and opted for the Skills Mini Expansion for Cartographers.  We have played Cartographers several times and everyone has really enjoyed it.  With the Spiel des Jahres winners announced this week, this was also the nearest we could get to playing a game to mark the occasion (it received a nomination for the Kennerspiel award last year).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Cartographers is a “Roll and Write” type of game, but one with more of a “gamery” feel than most.  It is based on Tetris, with shapes revealed on the flip of a card in a similar way to other games we’ve played this year like Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle.  However, the thing that makes Cartographers more “gamery” than these is the addition of terrain and players usually have to make a choice, either of the shape or the terrain.  The terrains are tied in with goal cards, four of which are revealed at the start of the game.  Two goals are then scored at the end of each of the four seasons, in a similar way to another game we like, Isle of Skye.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of other little aspects of the game that make it interesting—the presence of Ruins and Ambush Cards in the deck, for example, deliver a curved ball, just when players feel they are in control.  Players can also build their income by surrounding mountain ranges and choosing to play certain shapes; this gives more points at the end of each round.  The Skills expansion gives players a way to offset this income for special actions which potentially give players other ways of achieving their goals, further adding to the decision space.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the most impressive things about Cartographers is the amount of variety that is built into the game, which means every play feels different and the game stays remarkably fresh.  So, there are two different player maps and four of each type of goal card.  This variety is carried through to the Skills expansion; there are eight cards of which three are chosen at random.  This time we chose the B side of the map (with empty “wasteland” spaces marked) and drew the Greenbough, Mages Valley, Wildholds and Borderlands goal cards together with the Search, Negotiate and Concentrate skills cards.  These skills cost anything from free (like Search) to three (like Concentrate), and each can be played multiple times per game although only one can be played each Season.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

We quickly realised that the expensive skills like Concentrate are only likely to be played in the final round, as the cost is in “income” and that income is generated at the end of every round.  So, playing Concentrate at the start of the game will ultimately cost a player twelve points, while playing it in the final round will cost three just three points.  For this reason, the free Search skill was always likely to be used by almost everyone in almost every season (and so it proved).  Of course, the higher tariff reflects the increased power though:  Search allows players to increase the size of the shape they are drawing by a single square; Negotiate (which costs one) allows players to draw a two-by-two shape, and Concentrate allows players to draw the shape a second time.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as the skills which we had not played with before, several of the goal cards were new to us as well, including Greenbough (which rewards gives players one point per row and column with at least one Forest square in it) and Mages Valley (which gave points for each space next to a Mountain—two points for each Lake and one point for each Arable).  We’d played with the Wildholds goal before though (which gives six points for each Village of six or more spaces) and, although Borderlands was new to us (which give points for each completed row or column), we’d played The Broken Road goal which is similar (giving points for completed diagonals).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game began much as usual, and Pink, who was watering the tomatoes in the “mini-market-garden”, commented that he could hear Burgundy muttering, sighing and generally sounding stressed from outside.  Although we had played with “Wastelands” before, we had all focussed on how the fact some of the spaces were already full would help.  We had all forgotten how much the Wastelands obstruct plans and generally make life considerably more difficult.  Blue made a bit of using the ruins spaces to give her more flexibility later, but had forgotten that it would reduce the number of spaces she would be able to fill later in the game.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

It was clear after the first round that Ivory was going to be tough to beat, a feeling that was cemented after the second round.  Unusually, Burgundy was the first to post a score, with a total of one hundred and forty-one.  Although this was high enough to earn him second though, when Ivory’s score came through he was a massive twenty-five points ahead.  Once again, it had been a very enjoyable game, and as we tidied up there was a little bit of chit-chat about the skills and what they added to the game.  Since they are not compulsory, the consensus  was that we should add them every time, though it was clear that they had been widely used because of the presence of the free Search skill, which everyone had used, and some in every round.

Cartographers: Skills Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

With Cartographers over, we had a bit of a discussion about moving back to our much loved and greatly missed, Horse and Jockey.  We’d conducted some anonymous surveys over the preceding week to try to gauge opinion trying to ensure that nobody felt under pressure to do anything they weren’t comfortable with.  Some of the group had been back on occasional Thursdays, playing old favourites like The Settlers of Catan, Wingspan, and Roll for the Galaxy and new games like Red Rising, Mercado de Lisboa, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam, Tapestry (with the Plans and Ploys expansion), Ginkgopolis, Everdell, and Draftosaurus (aka “Sushi Go with Dinosaurs”).  Others, however, had not been to the pub for nearly eighteen months.  After some discussion, we decided that we’d schedule a trial visit in ten days time, so that those who had not been out could see how they felt without committing, and those that went could report back to those that were feeling a little more reticent.

The Horse and Jockey
– Image by boardGOATS

After that, we moved onto Board Game Arena.  It was a quiet night without both Pine and Lime, and once Green and Ivory had left as well, we were down to five which gave us a lot of options.  Coloretto was one, but in the end we chose Niagara, a game we’ve all played quite a bit, but never online, and we were keen to see the new Board Game Arena implementation and whether losing the tactile moving river would leave the game lacking.  A strong element of the game is the element of simultaneous play, however, and this was a large part of the appeal this time.  Players simultaneously choose a Paddle Tile which dictates how far their canoe will move in the round.  Then, in turn order, players move their canoe up or down the river, paying two movement points to pick up a gem from the bank (or drop one off).

Niagara
– Image by BGG contributor El_Comandante
adapted by boardGOATS

The winner is the player to get four gems of the same colour, five gems of different colours, or any seven gems safely home and into the shallows.  On the face of it, this is relatively simple, but the really clever part of the game is the movement of the river.  In general, the river moves at the speed of the slowest boat—if the lowest numbered Paddle Tile is a two, then the river moves two spaces and all the boats move with it.  However, one of the Paddle Tiles is a weather tile which enables players to increase or decrease the rate to make life harder or easier.  Since everyone has to play all their Paddle Tiles before they can recycle them, the timing of their weather tile is critical: players who leave it to the end run the risk of the river running fast and losing boats over the cascade because they can’t do anything about it.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

And it wasn’t long before that’s exactly what happened, when both Blue and Black got their timing wrong and lost boats over the falls, so had to pay hard earned gems to get new ones.  Then, to add insult to injury, Pink sneakily crept up on Blue and stole another gem from her.  Players can only steal if they land on the same space as another boat while travelling upstream, and even then it is a choice.  There was much ill feeling especially from Blue, but she wasn’t the only one.  And with that, the gloves came off and everyone tried to redress the balance and ensure that such bad behaviour would not go unpunished.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Pink was abreast of that though and had a plan.  Knowing his bad behaviour would make him a target he collected gems in one boat letting others take them while he stole the gems he wanted and got them to shore quickly.  Much to everyone’s disgust, he soon had five different gems and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him getting them home.  Burgundy actually had more gems giving him a nominally higher score, but his set of six did not include five different colours and Blue’s set of five included three nuggets of amber.  The victims of Pink’s grand larceny were unimpressed with his terrible behaviour, and as it was getting late, we decided to call it a night.

Niagara on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  Theft is totally unforgivable.

2 thoughts on “20th July 2021 (Online)

  1. Pingback: 3rd August 2021 (Online) | boardGOATS

  2. Pingback: 12th August 2021 (Post-Covid Test Event) | boardGOATS

Comments are closed.