Reviewed by Pevans
TAPESTRY (Stonemaier Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 90-120 minutes; $99)
The most striking thing about Tapestry when you open the box is the collection of model buildings – from little squat things to chunky towers. (There’s a handy diagram on the side of the box to help you put them back into the correct slots. I can’t decide whether this is excellent attention to detail or deeply condescending – fitting differently-shaped pieces into the right slots is only a challenge for three-year-olds, isn’t it?) The models explain two things about the game: why the box is so deep and why it’s so expensive.
In game terms, the thing that matters about the buildings is the size of their base. You earn them by passing milestones or developing technologies and they are placed on to the square grid of your “Capital City” board. There are bonus resources for filling a block of your city and points for complete rows and columns. So you have incentives both to clump buildings together and spread them out.
In addition to these “Landmarks”, players also have little plastic buildings that take up a single space in their capital. However, the main reason for playing these is that they come off the income tracks on your player board, revealing what’s printed on it. Your income at the start of each “Era” (including the start of the game) is shown by the revealed icons on these tracks: resources, points and other useful things.
Your current resources are shown on the track at the bottom of your player board, using a different marker for each type of resource. Spending these resources lies at the heart of the game. Most of your turns will consist of spending resource/s to move your marker to the next space on one of the tracks at the sides of the central board. Initially, it doesn’t matter which resource you spend but, as you move along the tracks, they get more expensive and you have to pay specific resource/s.
This is all inter-connected. Thus, the blue track is “Exploration” and moving along it will let you take brown buildings from your brown income track, thus giving you more brown resources (when you next take income), which you will need to move further along the Exploration track. This feedback loop means that you will naturally focus on one or two of the tracks, possibly moving on to others once you’ve hit the end of a track (and if you achieve this, you’re doing well).
Of course, taking buildings is not the only action you get on a track and these actions get more powerful as you move further. The focus of the Exploration track is gaining and placing hexagonal tiles to expand from your Capital marker on the map (in the centre of the main board). As you reach the end of this track, you get to take and place “Outer Space” tiles. (This is one of my secret goals for the game – get into space!) Each tile you place also scores points and provides some bonus – often a resource, but it could also be the opportunity to remove a building or something else.
The “Military” track (red) complements Exploration: actions on this track let you take control of those spaces you’ve explored (or remove red buildings from the red income track, providing red resources which you’ll need to move further along the Military track). Each time you do this, you roll the “combat dice” and get the bonus shown on one of them. Actions on the “Technology” track (orange) provide Technology cards (or remove yellow buildings from the yellow income track). The cards are drawn at random from a deck and players can advance one each time they take Income to gain a bonus (which can be a specific Landmark).
The final track is “Science” (green) and is less obvious. The main action here is to roll the 12-sided (green) die and then move along whichever track is indicated by the die. This track also lets you remove grey buildings from the grey income track (providing grey resources etc). This doesn’t seem all that useful initially, particularly as you don’t get the action of the space you move into (until further along Science, anyway). However, it means that when you move on this track normally, you get a more powerful action than you would have done. The first game I played was won by the player who concentrated on Science, so it’s certainly a strategy worth considering.
Another feature of the four tracks is that they are divided into sections. Each section increases the cost of moving into a space. What’s more, the first player into a new section gets the associated Landmark. There is thus an incentive to move along the tracks quickly – and another useful aspect of rolling the Science die as it doesn’t matter how you get to make that move.
Sooner or later, though, you will run out of resources and have to take an “Income” turn – you may do this earlier for tactical reasons. As the name suggests, you get the income shown by the tracks on your player board – all four resources, points, exploration tiles, Technology and ‘Tapestry” cards. You also play a Tapestry card as you move into the next “Era”. These can be quite powerful, giving you an immediate bonus or an advantage through the new Era.
The key thing about Income turns is that players take them at different times. This provides an interesting twist to the game and makes it difficult to assess who’s ahead. What’s more, once you’ve taken your fifth Income turn, your game is over. Other players continue playing until they, too, take their fifth Income turn.
Of course, players produce more resources as the game goes on, so each Era tends to be longer than the previous one. There is an incentive, extra resources, to being the first to move into each new Era. However, the longer you spend in an Era, the more actions you’re taking, which has to be a good thing. (A benefit of Exploration and Military is that you are likely to produce bonus resources and be able to pay for more actions in early Eras.)
The final element of the game is”‘Civilization” cards. Players get one of these at the start of the game (draw two at random and select one) and it’s the third card on the table in front of you – you need a bit of room for this game. Each provides bonuses throughout the game and may steer players in a particular direction. For example, ‘Militants’ get extra income from conquering places, so will definitely be taking the Military track. Note that these are not balanced. In fact, designer Jamey Stegmaier has published a set of handicaps (“Adjustments”) for the different Civilizations. Thus, “Heralds” (who get to re-use Tapestry cards) start with -15 points, while there’s no penalty for being the Militants.
Tapestry is beautifully produced, though the models are not my cup of tea, with great attention to detail (the main board has rounded corners, leaving space for your fingers and making it easy to lift out of the box). There’s a clever solitaire game, which I found particularly useful for getting to grips with the rules. It’s no push-over either – the “Automa” tends to be well ahead of you, right up to the last scoring (hopefully). Although 90-120 minutes to play is what is advertised, play time is around 3 hours in my experience. The big issue is the price tag – though I guess a lot of the people who want it would have backed it on Kickstarter. I see its RRP in the UK is down to £90, but you could still be picking up 2-3 other games for that amount.
Tapestry is sub-titled “A Civilization Game” and I suppose it is though I don’t really have the feeling that I’m developing a civilization as I play it. Some of the standard features are there – such as expanding geographically and coming into conflict with your opponents – while others aren’t (no technology tree here: you can discover nuclear fusion before writing). Regardless, it is a clever and engaging game that I am playing with a great deal of enjoyment. It gets a solid 8/10 on my highly subjective scale. – – – – – – – – – – Pevans
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