Cartographers Heroes has just been released, a sequel to the brilliant 2019 title Cartographers – A Roll Player Tale. Published by Thunderworks Games, this standalone game, which can be combined with the original, was designed by Jordy Adan and John Brieger, and features artwork by Lucas Ribeiro and Davey Baker. Bringing adventurers back to the flip and write board game experience, Cartographers Heroes sees more maps drawn. However, this time around there are trusty heroes in the deck to help fend off those pesky point losing monsters! Is this more of the same or an improvement on the original? Let’s find out!
As with the original each player takes their own map sheet. These are designed differently from the original, though maps C & D are once again referred to as either wilderness or wastelands. A new deck of scoring cards is included, with the 4 types of scoring cards independently shuffled with 1 of each type selected. These 4 scoring cards are placed underneath the A – D edict cards, in any order. One ambush card is shuffled into the draw deck, though new in this game a hero is shuffled in each round too!
Gameplay wise things remain mostly unchanged. Each turn is split into multiple phases, with all of the players simultaneously completing them. First, players explore – with the top card of the explore deck flipped over and revealed. In Cartographers Heroes there is no ruins card in the deck – though ruins are depicted on the new maps in case you combine the games.
Each standard explore card depicts either a terrain type and two polyomino shapes, or two terrain types and a single shape. Each player draws this shape onto their map, with the whole shape needing to fit. If the player cannot fit the shape they must instead draw a single square of any terrain type, not limited by what was depicted on the explore card.
Breaking this logic are the ambush and hero cards. When ambushes are drawn the players pass their maps in the indicated direction around the table, with an opponent drawing the monsters on the map before passing it back. Monsters act uniquely. For example, the gorgon destroys an adjacent space when drawn, whilst zombies can spread to adjacent empty spaces. Countering these are the heroes. Drawn like any other terrain type the heroes take up a 1 by 1 space, however they also show a pattern from them that they can attack. Writing a * symbol onto these spaces doesn’t fill them. Instead, any monster already there or drawn on a * marked space later on is destroyed.
Each season has a limit, with each explore card adding up as they are drawn. When the season limit is reached the season ends, with edicts and more to be scored. At the end of each season the two edict scoring cards indicated by the season are scored. For Spring this is A and B through to Winter where D and A are scored. These range from having square gnome colonies to a column of trees. The players then score points for the coins they have collected. These are earnt for surrounding the mountains on the map and for choosing to use specific shapes on the explore cards. If players have undestroyed monster symbols on their maps they also lose 1 point per empty adjacent space. At this point the explore deck is reshuffled, with an additional ambush card and hero card added in. The four seasons play out the same way, with players slowly but surely filling out their maps. The winner is whoever has the most points after winter, with ties broken by the fewest points lost via monsters.
Cartographers Heroes does very little differently from its predecessor. If you have played one then effectively from the game experience you have played the other. New to the series are heroes and yet if you hadn’t played the original for a while you could easily believe there were in it too. Cartographers is a fantastic game though and there is the old saying if something isn’t broken why fix it. As sequels go though it is extremely minor tweaks that are reminiscent of buying an expansion not a new game.
Putting this into context one of the changes wasn’t even noticed until pointed out by the rulebook. The Summer season card in the original had a value of 8, like that of Spring. In Cartographers Heroes it has been reduced to 7, again not a blockbuster change but a subtle tweak. A benefit of this similarity is that players of one can pick up and play the other with no problem at all. Combining them is also made super simple, just pick an explore deck and shuffling all of the objective cards before picking four.
As mentioned there isn’t a ruins card in the sequel, though when combined the rulebook not only suggests including it the rules require it to be in play. There’s a little awkwardness to the interaction between heroes and ruins, with ruins temporarily ignored when a hero is drawn. As long as the player running the game has played before though this isn’t hard to remember or remind players. Combining both games therefore doesn’t make the experience any more complicated than playing them separately, so new players never need to be left out.
Two new map designs are included in the box. The wilderness side C is very much like the A side from the original, just shifting the mountain spaces slightly. The wastelands map also follows the same logic, with the D & B maps both featuring chasms. The wasteland chasm isn’t one central area this time around though, with 3 chunks dotted around the map. Still, both feature 7 wasteland spaces. Being minute changes from the original they are nice to have but aren’t as impactful as the expansion maps – which we will be reviewing in the next week or so.
Cartographers Heroes is very much more of the same. As sequels go it is much more about slight variety, in terms of new map designs and scoring cards. The “big” change being the introduction of heroes feels somewhat underwhelming, as if they had always been there and nothing mind blowingly new. As a fan of the original though, and treating this more as an expansion, Cartographers Heroes starts to shine. Many won’t want both games in their collection, and both present brilliant, albeit too similar, experiences. You could buy either and have an equally great game in your hands. Regardless, fans will enjoy the additional variety that comes with having even more combinations of objectives to score.
(Editor’s Note: Cartographers Heroes was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)