One of the best things about playing board games solitaire is mastering the game’s systems. Players get better and better with each play, developing their skill and getting higher and higher scores. Large board games will have lots of strategic territory to explore, but always take a long time to play; smaller board games allow players to play and replay quickly, letting players get better faster. Today we’ll talk about a fast-playing solo challenge with excitement, variety and a high skill ceiling.
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale delivers a sweet little experience of the fast, iterative variety. It falls into the category of flip-and-write. Flip-and-write games are a sister category to roll-and-write games, descendants of the ubiquitous classic Yahtzee. In a roll-and-write, players roll dice and make a strategic decision. Then they write down the results of their decision on a scoring page. Flip-and-write games replace the dice portion of the formula with a custom deck of cards. Many roll-and-write games can be played solo, such as Imperial Settlers: Roll and Write and many flip-and-write games as well, like Second Chance.
Building a Fantasy World, one Flip at a Time
As the title implies, Cartographers has players creating maps. A small stack of Explore cards represents the terrain that players encounter; a row of Scoring cards shows rewards for fitting terrain onto their Map score sheet in specific ways. And there’s your Tetris-like polyomino gameplay. Planning ahead to leave space for future Explore cards is a critical part of the strategy.
The twists that make the game interesting are integrated into the Explore deck and the Scoring cards. While there’s only a handful of Explore cards, players won’t see all of them in each round. When a round ends, players reshuffle the Explore deck and start flipping again. Additionally, Ambush cards are seeded in the Explore deck, representing awkward shapes that goof up your plans.
Then, the Scoring cards are randomly chosen at the beginning of each game, too, and there’s a bunch to choose from. The game only uses four Scoring cards at a time, and each round only activates two of them, in a round-robin fashion that forces players to adapt and pivot their strategy often. The input randomness of the Explore deck and the Scoring cards does a great job of adding variety to repeated playthroughs, and doesn’t punish players in the name of dramatic tension.
Elegant Solitaire Rules
As a lot of roll-and-write and flip-and-write games, Cartographers is very much a “multiplayer solitaire” game already. Games like this throw in a few rules to provide player interaction. However, Cartographers does this cleverly with the Ambush cards. When you’re playing with other players, and an Ambush card appears from the Explore deck, you hand your score sheet to your neighbor who draws the Ambush shape in the worst place they can come up with. But, you get to do the same to your other neighbor! And, just as cleverly, the way you play Cartographers solo is just by following a little counting algorithm to place the Ambush shape in an awkward, sub-optimal position. Easy!
Fast-Playing Solo Challenge
Once the player understands the rules and game flow, they can complete a game in about 10 or 15 minutes. This even includes setting up the game for a new round. Secondly, the input randomness keeps the game exciting, but still demands skill from the player. Thirdly, the wide selection of Scoring cards keep the game fresh, with lots of variety. Finally, the game very easily pivots from multiplayer to solo without using “ghost player” rules. Cartographers is a great buy for players who want a fast-playing solo challenge, or entertain a crowd of friends of any size.
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