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Cardboard Counterparts: Cartographers Board Game vs. Cartographers App

Lately I’ve been really into roll-and-write games. Having players write in information after they roll can create really great replayability when designed in the right way. Cartographers, designed by Jordy Adan and published by Thunderworks Games, is my most recent kick.

The first time I played the game, however, was the digital app version. Now, there is a lot to be said about digital games versus their cardboard counterparts. Some people consider themselves ‘purists’ in that board gaming requires a physical copy of a game instead of playing on a screen.

As for me, a great digital port of a board game is amazing because it helps expose more people to board games. Additionally, it allows me to play my favorites on the go!

So, how does the digital Cartographers app stack up to the physical board game? Let’s take a look!

Cartographers Board Game

Cartographers Score Sheet
Draw these symbols however you want!

Cartographers puts players in the shoes of a renowned map-maker, plotting out the kingdom for the Queen. There are royal Edicts that, if accomplished, will raise your reputation and improve the Queen’s perception of you.

Play occurs over four seasons, wherein players place tetromino shapes matching specific terrain types. As they do so, monsters in the region show up on the map, causing players to act and neutralize the threats lest they overwhelm the kingdom.

The game has several strengths that make it stand out as one of my top roll-and-writes:

  1. Replayability – With an abundance of scoring Edicts, and a deck of Explore cards ensures that no two games of Cartographers are going to be the same.
  2. Uniqueness – I love that players all get the same information but can end up with completely different maps at the end of the game.
  3. Strategy – Players have to react to the monsters hitting the table, which throws a wrench into any potential plans. Do you let the monsters be, or do you quickly surround them to avoid negative points?

At the same time, there are a few hang-ups with the analog version, as no game is without fault. Even though I love the game, I should still be critical of its shortcomings, no?

  1. Learning Curve – There is a major learning curve with the scoring Edict cards in Cartographers. Because you’re playing with different cards each game, it can be difficult to remember what all of the iconography means. I recommend playing a couple rounds with the same scoring cards to really get a better feel for them.
  2. Monsters – The monster placement isn’t necessarily difficult, but there is a certain order that you have to go through in determining where the monsters are drawn during an ambush. I find myself referencing the rules for this quite often, or starting in the bottom left of the map to allow the monsters to enter from the bottom right. It can slow down the gameplay.
  3. Counting – Nothing is wrong with doing a little math, but there for each edict you’re going to be tallying up scores after each season, which can take a little bit of time. It would be nice to have a way to track that as you go along, to quickly progress form season to season.

All that being said, let’s transition over to the digital app and highlight its strengths and shortcomings!

Cartographers Digital App

Whenever I consider a digital application, there are a couple criteria that it has to fulfill, in general. Here at Nerds on Earth, we sustain ourselves on List of 7, but this article is turning out to be several Lists of 3!

Cartographers Digital App Placement
  1. Accurate – the game has to be an accurate representation of the original game. The built-in logic should be consistent with the game and shouldn’t have a bunch of errors that make it unplayable.
  2. Intuitive – Even if I’m familiar with the game, I don’t want to spend half my time trying to figure out what everything means. This could mean consistent iconography or abbreviations that make sense. It also means that I don’t want to have to dive in and out of menus.
  3. Mobile – I like my digital games to be mobile! Bonus points if I can play on the go with friends.

I can say, with absolute certainty, that the Cartographers digital app solidly checks these three important boxes. The interface is crisp, and there is nothing missing from the original game. In fact, there are even more modes offered that give players the option of how they want to experience the game.

There are two types of challenge modes besides the regular game. In the first mode, the scoring Edicts are the same but the Explore cards come in randomly each play. In the second mode, all of the cards are revealed in the same order. And what makes these nice is that each offers a global leaderboard so that you can see how good (or awful) your scores are compared to other players.

Another nice benefit to the digital version is something that all byte-sized adaptations have: no setup or cleanup! This means that I can churn through a quick game of Cartographers in about ten minutes. That’s not to say that the physical version has an arduous setup. It’s just that the setup, cleanup, and draw time incrementally adds up to create a longer analog experience.

The last key benefit of the digital app is that you never risk drawing icons in the wrong spot. The game knows when Ruins come up, and when you’re placing a terrain type, only valid squares are shown. As you can place icons in many configurations, the game actually constricts down the valid spaces as you tap.

So, does the digital app address my qualms with the physical game?

Learning Curve – This is something that you’re still going to see with the digital version of Cartographers. What’s nice, is that you can tap the Edicts to get a full text description of the scoring, in case you forget. Additionally, you can have just the current Seasons’ Edicts showing if that’s more your jam.

Cartographers Digital App Final Scoring

Monsters – The Monster Ambushes are all automatic, and you don’t have to worry about the placement rules. The game just swoops in and places them on your map. It’s quite nice to free up that mental energy for strategy instead!

Counting – This is probably my favorite thing. Beside each Edict is a scoring tally so that you know exactly how much you are currently scoring for each. It allows you to plan ahead for future Seasons, and if you’re me, it also reminds you when you lose points because you forgot the stipulations of an Edict card. I’m looking at you, Cauldrons.

Overall, I’m incredibly happy with the digital port of Cartographers, because you don’t lose anything from the superb cardboard game; you only gain value.

Cartographers: Parting Thoughts

Cartographers is a fantastic game that I’m always down to play. Players can also showcase their artistic talents, or just use colored pencils or markers on their sheets to distinguish the different terrains. There are some really beautiful maps out there that you should take a look at!

The digital app delivers in a big way if you’re looking for more even more from the Roll Player universe. Both games get the Nerds on Earth Seal of Awesomeness for being staples on the shelf for years to come.