The Cartographers board game, published by Thunderworks Games, puts you in the shoes of a kingdom’s map-maker, documenting every nook and cranny of the world around you. Recently, Thunderworks released three new Cartographers Map Packs to expand the gameplay and mechanics of Cartographers.
Cartographers is my most-played board game of all time, coming in at well over 200 plays. These plays are split over the physical game and the iOS app, which makes it super easy for me to play on the go. And if I was able to play that much with the base game, you KNOW I was already sold on the expansions!
In this board game review, I’ll be touching on the three newest Cartographers Map Packs:
- Frozen Expanse: Realm of Frost Giants
- Kethra’s Steppe: Redtooth & Goldbelly
- Hornhelm: Wasteland Market
These are Cartographers Map Packs 4-6, which is the second wave of new maps for the game. Someday I’ll probably cover Map Packs 1-3, and I’ll link to those here when that happens.
What do we think about the Cartographers Map Packs? Let’s break them all down!
First, let me give a brief rundown on the base Cartographers board game so you know what you’re getting into. If you’re already familiar, feel free to skip down a bit where I talk about each of the expansion maps.
Gameplay in Cartographers takes place over 4 rounds, called Seasons. At the end of each Season, players score based on two different Scoring Cards. Over the course of the game, each Scoring Card will be scored twice, so you need to plan out your turns so that you can maximize those benefits and focus on the cards coming up.
During each season, Explore cards are revealed one at a time. Explore cards will display one or two types of terrain, and one or two shapes. Players need to draw a combination of the terrain type and shape in an empty spot on their individual map sheet. If a card has two terrain types showing, then there will only be one shape, and vice versa.
Sometimes Explore cards will reveal a Monster Ambush! If they don’t want to score negative points, players need to focus on containing the monster threat by surrounding these squares on all sides. And if you don’t encounter monsters in the first season, there will be a higher chance of encountering monsters in the next season!
At the end of the game, points are added across all four Seasons to determine the winner! Don’t forget to name your Kingdom so that it can be added to the great atlas of the world!
Frozen Expanse: Realm of Frost Giants
For the Frozen Expanse: Realm of Frost Giants map pack for Cartographers, I feel like I’m back playing Elden Ring in the Mountaintops of the Giants! This map pack introduces Frozen Lake terrain that’s hard-coded onto the map from the start. You can’t draw on these lakes, but if you manage to fill in all of the adjacent squares, you’ll earn 3 or 4 coins depending on which side of the map you’re playing on.
There are also Scouted spaces, which have a faint image of a specific terrain type. These squares can ONLY have that terrain drawn into them. This makes the game much more difficult, as a terrain type restriction isn’t present in the base game at all. It’s like playing on expert mode!
The Frozen Expanse map pack for Cartographers also comes with two new Ambush cards. One Ambush card, Dire Wolf Prowl, also comes with the destruction of another space on your map. The other one, Frost Giant Advance, allows you to fill in a ruins space or a scouted space with terrain when the Frost Giants are completely surrounded. Not a bad gig!
If you’re looking for a way to amp up the difficulty in Cartographers, the Frozen Expanse map pack is a good way to go. The scouted spaces aren’t terribly numerous, but they certainly change the way you think and plan out your strategy. In a way, there is usually a more optimal path apparent when drawing the terrain each turn.
Optimizers – look no further!
Kethra’s Steppe: Redtooth & Goldbelly
If you’ve ever wanted to light the warning beacons in the White Mountains to alert Gondor, Kethra’s Steppe is the map for you! This map features two beacon sections that function similar to the mountains; if you fully surround the beacon, it becomes lit.
There are new scoring cards that are impacted by spaces in the vicinity of the beacon. These come into effect once the beacon is lit. For example, you might score based on clusters of different terrain types within the beacon’s range, or you can lose points for empty spaces in the same row or column as a lit beacon.
What I like about Kethra’s Steppe is that it adds strategy to the center of the map. Normally when I play Cartographers, I’m working my way out from the corners and sticking along the edge. That’s the best way to combat those pesky monsters from invading. With this map pack there’s a lot more nuance into what’s going on in-between.
There’s also an aspect of timing that sparks its own strategy. You want to light the beacons early to get the points for them over more rounds, but you also want to make sure that you aren’t taking heavy losses from the negative points. None of the other cards in the base game have a negative modifier on them, which makes this map pack really feel like its own thing.
I’d recommend the Kethra’s Steppe map pack for people who feel like they’ve mastered the base game by drawing their terrain in anticipation of where the monsters will emerge. You’ll enjoy the new strategy of now needing to care about the entire map!
Hornhelm: Wasteland Market
If you’ve played Cartographers enough, you know that you’re just piling up the gold pieces! Wouldn’t it be nice if you could spend all that gold on something useful? Welcome to Hornhelm, the Wasteland Market!
With the Hornhelm map pack, you actually get to manage two sheets at once. The back side of the map has the Wasteland Market goods on it, ready for purchase. In between the Seasons, you’ll be able to spend coins to buy items depending on the Merchant card that’s revealed. Each Merchant has three items for sale to choose from.
Once you spend a coin, you’ll no longer get that point bonus at the end of the Season, so you’ll need to choose your purchases wisely! Each of these items has a special ability and most have an ongoing effect as well. This might be tied to drawing certain shapes, certain terrain, or even comparing adjacency to other terrain.
As you use your items, you’ll gain journal points. These will give a one-time bonus at the end of the game.
The Hornhelm map pack is fun because you have a resource that you can actually manage now. Even though there was likely some focus on surrounding mountains before, it’s even more important with this map. Again, it’s a trade-off between getting those sweet items and keeping your coins for scoring at the end of the Seasons. Usually it’s in your benefit to buy some items, because the journal points should outpace your spent coins.
My only gripe with this map pack is that you need to flip around the map to remember which items you purchased. You can, of course, just give everybody a spare sheet and have that face-up for them. That’s actually what the rules say to do. Unfortunately, I don’t want to go through double the amount of paper to make that happen. I’ll probably end up laminating some sheets so that they’re reusable with dry-erase markers.
Thinking of picking up the Hornhelm map pack? The benefit of this pack is that it really sets the players apart from each other in terms of strategy. Depending on your purchased items, you’ll be focused on placement differently than the other players. This creates even more unique maps over the course of the game.
Cartographers: Put it on the Map!
I’m so glad that Thunderworks Games keeps putting together these map packs! Cartographers is my favorite roll and write game and map packs keeps the game fresh and exciting. It also helps to flesh out the universe that Cartographers, Cartographers: Heroes, and Roll Player take place in, giving more attention to theme.
This, of course, is a LONG time coming, but I’m happy to award Cartographers and these three Map Packs with the Nerds on Earth Seal of Awesomeness Award! Anytime you can come back to a game for 10+ plays, it’s already well-deserving of this distinction, so 200+ plays is more than a shoe-in! I can’t wait to keep diving into these map packs further and become an expert cartographer!
You can pick up the Cartographers map packs directly from Thunderworks Games, or look for them at your FLGS!
Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Cartographers Map Packs 4-6 from Thunderworks Games in exchange for an honest review.