Full disclosure: A review copy of Cartographers Heroes was provided by Thunderworks Games.
Been looking forward to this one for a while, so might as well launch right into it. New Cartographers! If y’all have been reading the site for a while, you might know that I loved the original game, so I’m excited to see how the latest entry compares. If you haven’t been reading the site for a while, welcome! Glad you could make it. This is very close to The Crew and The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, for me. So let’s get into it!
In Cartographers Heroes, you’ve been given the extremely important job of charting the western lands. They’re more dangerous, sure, but also more … impressive? That’s always gotta count for something, right? New monsters, new lands, and new hazards await, but this time you’re not going alone. Powerful Heroes can be recruited to help clear the way and protect you from the perils that await you out west. Will you be able to chart these unknown lands?
So, I previewed the original Cartographers, and this game plays mostly the same way. Rather than regale you with tales of something I really have already written up, I thought I’d focus on what’s new and briefly outline each of them and how they change up the game. That should be sufficient.
New Map Sheets!
There are new maps to play on! They’re not … extremely different from base Cartographers, and that’s fine. Just make sure all players are playing on the same Map Sheet.
New Explore Cards!
Not a ton to say about this other than there are new Explore Cards, they’re fresh, and they offer new shapes and styles to choose from as you play. No real surprises, otherwise; there’s still a 0-time “any 1×1 square” card and roughly equal numbers of other stuff. As usual, you still reveal one and add the indicated shapes / terrain types to your board, choosing between the two options as you’d like.
New Scoring Cards!
The new Scoring Cards are very different from the previous ones, and that’s exciting. They just offer new ways to score between rounds based on your Terrain on your map (or even the shape / layout of your map), so that’s exciting. You can mix these in with the base Cartographers game, if you’d like, as well. As with the base Cartographers, these adhere to the same standard categories, so you’ll flip one from each category for the A / B / C / D scoring rounds, as per the Queen’s Edicts.
New Ambush Cards!
The new Ambush Cards are significantly more complicated than the previous game’s. These have effects that can apply to additional rounds or change some game rules, like duplicating monsters, destroying terrain, or giving you coins if you defeat or surround them. Keep an eye on the Ambush Cards, and make sure that you put the relevant letter in the corner of the box so that you know which monster is which. Otherwise, Ambush Cards still play like they do in the base Cartographers game: you pass your Map Sheet to the left or right and add the indicated Monster to your opponent’s sheet.
Heroes are new and warrant a full explanation. These cards are added at the same time Ambush cards are (one is shuffled into the stack before each round). When a Hero appears, their sword icon (1×1) is added to any space on the board, but they then attack other spaces following an attack pattern indicated on the card. Add an asterisk to the corner of those spaces. If a Monster is there (or a Monster is drawn there in the future), cross out that Monster space. It’s now considered to still be a Monster Terrain type, but it no longer comes with a penalty (or the Monster’s effect, if relevant). Heroes and their ability to defeat monsters will be critical with the new Monster abilities. Once the Hero is played, like an Ambush Card, they’re removed from the game. Since this means that the average number of cards per round slightly increases (Heroes are a 0-cost card), the Summer Season has been shorted by 1 to compensate.
Nope; they’re gone from this version. If you’re reading this and you don’t know what Ruins Cards are, that’s fine; they’re a thing from the base Cartographers. Continue on with your life, unburdened. The ruins on your Map Sheet aren’t game-relevant, as a result.
Other than that, the game plays the same as Cartographers; play until four rounds have been completed, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not any, really, since there’s no real player interaction. Or, at least, there’s no scaled player interaction. You interact with the player(s) to your left and right during Ambush phases, as you pass the map to them and they draw the monster on your board, but, that’s it. It doesn’t matter if the player to your left and the player to your right are the same person, and you don’t interact with other players beyond that, so the player count can scale somewhat infinitely. I think BGG caps out at 100 players for a game, which, obviously I’d never go for that on just logistics, but I certainly haven’t had any issues playing this game with two people or six people. There’s a solo mode with instructions on how to add the monsters to your own board following some heuristic, as well, for interested parties.
- This helps me, but outline the area you’re filling in before you fill it in; that’ll help keep your shapes bounded and you won’t lose track of where you should be drawing symbols. I see other players occasionally mess up the shape they’re setting up and stray outside of it; I find that starting with an outline helps me organize where I want to go and also see the previous pieces I’ve played. Plus, if I make a mistake on the outline, it’s pretty easily fixed, whereas starting with the symbols and not the outline means I either need to cross things out, mark over them, or remember the error.
- Trying to predict where Monsters will be played isn’t really that useful; instead, either use Heroes to fill in 1×1 gaps in your board or play them to attack and defeat Monsters that already exist on your board. I find that placing Heroes to block off Monster spaces is really only useful if there are no current Monster spaces on the board. Otherwise, use the Heroes to defeat the Monsters that already exist, unless you’re trying to use the Zombies to fill some area in with Monster spaces or something weird.
- Monsters can be helpful or not, depending on where they’re placed. The Zombies self-replicate, so they can technically fill in an area on your board with Zombies, given enough rounds. Whether or not that’s helpful is … a bit debatable, but it’s possible. Still, Monster is a type of Terrain, and at least one Scoring Card cares about a variety of different Terrain types, so Monsters can potentially be that additional Terrain type that you need.
- If a Monster is next to many empty spaces, focus on filling them in, defeating the Monster, or mitigating the damage. The more empty spaces adjacent to Monster spaces, the more points you lose each round. Keep in mind that you can absolutely go negative for a round, so there’s not even a minimum that you can cancel out or something. Try to fill in the nearby spaces as quickly as possible so that you don’t lose points. Ideally, the spots you’re filling in should help you as well, but if you can’t make it work, it’s better to avoid losing points, I think.
- After a Scoring Card has been scored twice, it’s no longer relevant, so you really don’t need to focus on it. If you’ve gone through the water / field Scoring Cards two times, you’re not going to get any more points for taking those Terrain types (save for the map layout Scoring Card), so … take other ones. You may not have much of a choice, so, if you don’t, then focus on the map layout card (the one that isn’t specifically focused on other Terrains). Otherwise, keep looking ahead! There’s always more to do.
- Honestly, I tend to focus a bit less on the “B” scoring card; I generally haven’t played enough to score it in Round 1, and if I preemptively focus on C, I can score that twice and come back to A by the end of the game. This is just a purely weird thing that I do, especially since we tend to deal the Scoring Cards in Forest / Water + Field / Village / Map order, so it means that I almost never care about Water + Field Scoring Cards. That’s weird, but, yeah, if I focus on C early in the game, I can usually have a bummer second round but I can usually do well through the later ones.
- If you don’t have much to do, focus on getting early coins; coins are essentially worth (5 – current round number) points by the end of the game, since they score every round. The more coins you earn early, the more total points that they’re worth. That compounding can be pretty key for earning another 8 – 12 points. That said, don’t disregard late-game coins; even coins in the third and fourth round are still perfectly good points, and points are points.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I’ll be real; I really love this game, and I’m glad there’s more content coming out for it. I’ll review the Map Packs later, probably, but I’m currently just over the moon that there’s more Cartographers content out and available. It’s one of my favorite games and this is just … more? Which I appreciate. Sometimes more is more.
- Particularly, I like that there are all-new shapes to play around with. It offers some variety, and I imagine one could make a very interesting multi-shape hybrid deck. Just … maybe don’t fully mix the shapes in with base Cartographers? I feel like while the odds are the same, the variance is much higher since there are now twice as many cards. That may cause your rounds to get … weird.
- I also am a big fan of the new scoring cards. I just love more scoring options, and they’re interesting! Pretty much all of the “map shape-specific” scoring cards are super interesting, and the terrain-specific ones are a lot of fun, as well. Again, this just gives you fun ways to mix things up between games, so I’m a big fan of them.
- Look, the game gets a lot better if you play with the Ambush Artist variant. I think John Brieger taught it to me, so that makes it all but official, but instead of drawing Monster symbols in the Ambush Phase, draw a monster that fits in the area that the Ambush would take up. It’s much funnier and it makes the game artier. Honestly, you could do this with just about any terrain type and it would look good. Or you could get the stamps.
- The game plays at a good pace and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I’ve never found Cartographers to run long, and Heroes doesn’t have that problem, either. There aren’t a lot of 0-value moves, so almost every card you draw drops more than an eighth of the round, so it moves pretty quickly. The nice thing is that the drawing and shading and coloring allow players to invest as much in their maps as they want to, so if players are taking a little bit of time on decisions, there are ways that other players can distract themselves, as well. I tend to play with an ultrafine point Sharpie, so, I don’t have a lot of room for corrections. Risky, but the map looks so nice when I’m done.
- Shortening the Summer to accommodate the Heroes is a logical move. It’s a mild fix (dropping the length by 1) but I think it’s smart, since there will be more Heroes in the deck by the end of the game. It keeps the game about the same length with a minor modification, so I’m not opposed to it.
- Personally, I like the Monster effects and I think the Heroes are interesting, as well. They add an interesting bit of complexity to the game. Am I looking for more complexity? Not necessarily, but I’m glad that the option is there for people who are looking for more. Personally, I just really like the Dragon, since slaying it or surrounding it gets you a bunch of gold. I may just make an Ambush Deck that I use with either version that includes my favorite monsters from each.
- I appreciate the subtlety of the markings to distinguish between Cartographers and Heroes cards, but, it might be … too subtle? The difference comes down to a die in the corner of the card. Cartographers is a 1, and Heroes is a 2, and that’s great and all, but I wouldn’t call it immediately obvious? It took us a hot minute to figure that out.
- I need to figure out how I’m going to effectively store the Cartographers: Collector’s Edition box. I may keep the base game box handy for like, ease of transport, but it’s definitely going to be a Whole Thing to transport various versions of the game around for cons and stuff. I managed to get it to PAX Unplugged, which was the right move (one of the few games I played!), but I’m not sure how much energy I’ll have to keep dragging it to and from various locations in the future.
- The additional layer of complexity that comes with Heroes and the complex Monsters makes the game more interesting for seasoned players but much more challenging to learn for new ones, which hinders it somewhat, for me. I’ve tried teaching this to new groups a few times and they have much more trouble with it than base Cartographers. Some of the Monsters aren’t so bad, like the Dragon, but others (the Zombies) add a lot of extra work and book-keeping from round to round. Ironically, the Heroes are also a bit of extra complexity that I didn’t love, just because you have to track their placement, where they attack, and whether or not Monsters end up in those spaces (or are in those spaces upon placement). Compared to the initial game, the increase in complexity is interesting for me, an experienced player, but I’m not convinced it’s worth it for new players to start here.
- This is more of a product-level complaint, but while I understand why Cartographers: Collector’s Edition makes sense as a Kickstarter-level reward, selling it at retail seems like a very easy recipe for a bad time for the average consumer if they don’t know about it, since it doesn’t include the base Cartographers game. I think they’re somewhat aware of this, given that it’s listed on BGG as Cartographers Heroes: Collector’s Edition, but the box says nothing about Heroes on the front or the sides. The back includes information about the included components, but your average customer could be forgiven for assuming that this has Cartographers, Heroes, and the Map Packs. It doesn’t, though; it’s missing the base game. I’m obliged to mention that Heroes is a standalone expansion, so you don’t need the base game, but having Heroes more prominently featured (you know, in words) on the box would probably have alleviated this pretty quickly. That said, I assume this would require having produced a different unit entirely, which I imagine folks are loathe to do. This is all to say that if you’re buying Cartographers: Collector’s Edition, Cartographers isn’t included.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Cartographers Heroes is pretty great! There’s a distinction between it and the base game, sure. For one, like The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, I think it’s difficult to capture lightning in a bottle twice. It’s just tough. We get it. But that’s not really why I prefer the base game. I prefer base Cartographers because it’s easier for me to teach and easier for me to get new gamers to play. Heroes, I’ve taught a few times, and new players have a bit of trouble with the new, more complex Monsters and the Heroes. It kind of makes the first plays complicated, where the original Cartographers was smooth and engaging for all sorts. That doesn’t mean that the game is bad or anything, I’m just not convinced that the increase in complexity leads to a commensurate payoff in gameplay enjoyment for me or the folks I’ve played with. We’ve still had a pretty great time, just, there was a startup cost that wasn’t present when we played the base game. I’m also irked that the Collector’s Edition doesn’t include the base game, but I just feel bad for folks buying Cartographers: Collector’s Edition at retail and not getting the original game (especially if I think the base game is easier to start with). But that’s how it goes, sometimes. For fans of the original who are looking for that complexity increase, I think you’ll love this. New shapes, tons more Scoring Cards, and a whole wealth of Monsters and Heroes to fight them. Personally, I’ll probably keep the Dragon and move it into my base game rotation and then just randomly decide between the Heroes shapes and the base game shapes when I play. Plus, there’s the Map Packs to get into, as well. So, keep an eye out for those reviews eventually. If you’re like me and you’re looking for more Cartographers, I think Heroes is a solid sequel to get into! I’ve certainly had a blast playing it.
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