WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 1-5
Published by: Stonemaier Games
Designed by: Jamey Stegmaier
When Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games announced a few years back that he was making a Civilization game, I was about as excited as a 40 something year old can get (legally)! I certainly remember a few walls being bounced off!
When the game itself was launched, my friend bought a copy and we played it on the day it arrived. We were both instantly absorbed in Jamey’s world. I loved the game and the experience, and now with my own well played copy, I thought it about time to talk about a few things on my mind regarding Tapestry.
Tapestry is a fantastic game. The production is off the charts, the rules incredibly smooth, and the gameplay rewarding, challenging and variable. I enjoy playing this game immensely and think I will for many years to come.
I love teaching new players this game. Especially players who are not quite as obsessed with games as I am! They see the large set up with multiple components, icons and images and can be intimidated. But within 5 minutes are relaxed into what is, a very simple game rules wise. It’s a great gateway for this reason. Like Wingspan, in that it gives new gamers a feel for what modern gaming is all about in an accessible and quickly understood manner. The rule book is only a few pages long, so it doesn’t take long to learn yourself. And once you realise there is only really two options on your turn, it does click into place quickly.
Tapestry is a simple game at heart. You are given a Civilisation card at the start of the game with a unique asymmetric power. This is the heart of the game and a big part about what brings people back to the game over and over. There are more of these civilisation cards in the Plans & Ploys expansion too.
In each turn, you will be given two choices. To advance your Civilisation to the next stage or try and develop your progress within this one. You will use resources to move up four different tracks. Advancing your powers in either Science, Technology, Military or Exploration. If you have the resources available, generally you will advance one of the four tracks, if you don’t, its time to advance to the next era. Seems simple enough right? But there can be occasions when this simple decision can be overwhelming for some.
You can usually move on either of the four tracks. Each one will offer something of use and other players cannot block you from taking a certain route. So, it won’t always be obvious which is the right path for you. Based on you own tapestry card for the era and civilisation card for the game, players can be led in a certain direction. But deciding which track would be best for you to advance on is down to you. There are no bad choices, but you will find that your end games score can vary quite a lot. I have run from the mid 80s to the high 200’s so far. As such, players can sometimes suffer a little from analysis paralysis as they ponder their next move. However, as you can only do one thing on your tun, and you can’t do anything between turns except plan your next move, a well-oiled group can fly through this game.
Saying that, one of the beauties of this game is the combo moves you can build as you advance your civilisations powers. Turns from the mid-point can start to become a lot more powerful and intricate. For example, advancing on the science track often allows you to roll the science dice to advance on another track. From the mid-point of era two, you can also claim the benefit of the other track you move on when you advance on two tracks like this.
Also, many spaces offer bonus moves if you have the resources available. As such, this game is as much about resource management as anything else. Manipulating your moves to squeeze out extra turns is crucial to scoring well in Tapestry. This is something that I find highly enjoyable in any game, particularly here in the way it has been executed. Finishing a grid on your city board to get an extra resource to take one extra turn before you move to the next income phase is a beautifully satisfying thing.
One of the most enjoyable things about Tapestry is the decisions the game asks you to make from the early stages. Alongside deciding which of the four tracks you can advance on, at most stages on each of these, you have a choice to make here too. Often this will be between taking a small building from your player mat and moving it to your capital city or taking an action akin to that track. On the exploration track for example, it will be the choice of a farm or explore action. On the military track, an armoury or conquer action.
These choices make a big difference to your progression in the game beyond just the turn you take this move. Removing buildings from your personal player board and placing them on your own capital city mat unlocks hidden bonuses. This gives you the ability to earn extra resources and score more points in your next income phase. A player who focuses on placing more buildings early on can often find they can do more actions in the later part of the gam due to having more resources. However, in making this choice, you may find you fall behind in other areas on the main board. Trying to find a balance between these two areas is one key to success in this game.
A key area in Tapestry that builds a lot of the enjoyment, engagement and replayability is the civilisation cards. There are 16 unique civilisations in the game. Each player is dealt two at the start and one is chosen to use. The powers given from each is quite different. So much so, that designer Jamey Stegmaier, a few months after release, issued a few start-up rules changes to level the playing field. Asymmetrical player powers are all the rage in the gaming community, but they must be so difficult to play test and any imbalance doesn’t land well with the community. Let’s be honest, no matter how much testing and maths you do in pre-production, play testing can never be as rigorous as the real-world environment of selling the game to thousands of gamers!
After a few weeks of Tapestry being released, questions around the civilisations comparative abilities to score equally with begun. Jamey listened to this and released the revised start up rules to equal this out. A few points here, a few resources there, and the civilisations can now be chosen without fear of disadvantage.
As such, for fans of asymmetry, there is a lot of enjoyment to come from this part of the game. The variation is huge, and as well as developing your sense of immersion into the game, it heavily affects your tactics too. For example, the Militants start with their eight outposts covering different spaces on their civilisation board. Each time you conquer a new part of the map you move one of these off to expose a new benefit that you will acquire on the income phase. This encourages players to advance more on the exploration and military track.
A favourite civilisation card for many is the Futurists. At the start of the game, with the Futurists you can advance on each of the four tracks four spaces! You also gain one of each resource. Although, as part of the adjustments that Jamey released., you now must remove one of any resource and one culture, but it still feels like a huge head-start over any other player. Especially when it comes to progressing on the tracks quickest to get the building bonus available for each player that move to a new era on each track first. Which is a big part of the game for many people. Perhaps more as the pre-painted building miniatures are so beautifully made and tactile than the actual benefit to you as a player in the game.
Moving through each of the four parts of the board becomes harder as you play. In era one you only need to give up one resource to move and gain the benefit. In era two, it is one specific resource and one extra of your choice. Then in era three it is three resources in total. As such, with the futurist civilisation, starting the game in era two with the number of resources available to you at the start of the game, it is hard to progress quickly. And of course, you have missed out on the benefits of the first era that you simply skipped. However, after this early jump, there is no other benefit from this civilisation. So, you can build your strategy however you like after this based on the cards your opponents have. There is no part of this civilisation that is pushing you in one direction.
This can be beneficial, as players advancing on the same tracks at the same rate does not work out for all players equally. Moving up the tracks first offers more benefits due to the buildings that are on offer to the player that gets to the first spot on each new era first. As such, ideally players want to pick one to three tracks to try to advance on quickest depending on player count. And of course, it doesn’t always work out as smoothly as this. If all players choose the same tracks to move on based on the tapestry and era cards they are dealt pushing them in the same direction, someone will miss out.
All of which can make Tapestry a very different experience each game. It can be a very solo exercise in trying to gain the most points possible through your own efficiency and strategic play. Or you could try to affect your opponent’s more by conquering their land tiles and moving up the same tracks as them. Some players complain about the game being solitaire but this is only the case if all players choose it to be. Tapestry is very much what you make it, and this is one of the reasons I love it. I like games that you can play how you like, rather than as the board dictates. Although I do concede that this can be frustrating for some players if they want to have one type of game and another player around the table is trying to play in a conflicting style.
Finally, I want to talk about the theme of this game. Build as a civilisation game, some have said this does not shine through as you play. Admittedly, I do not feel like I am inventing tools or developing scientific elements as I play, and often overlook this part of the board. Each space has a specific development associated with it. Be that developing Mathematics, Ships or Tanks, I mostly ignore this part of the game. For me, the development in this game is less about one of a group of people advancing through different years and ages, and more the development of my own abilities in the game as a player. As such, this can become a little abstract.
But immersion in a theme is down to the player as well as the game. If you want to delve into the idea of advancing a civilisation of people then you can. It is your choice to read the flavour text or not. But I would say, if you want a civilisation game alone, this may not deliver what you want. However, if you are looking for a beautifully made game that generates high levels of satisfaction as you traverse through the phases of the game, then you will love this. If you like the idea of developing your understanding and awareness of how best to score well with each different civilisation card over multiple plays, this could be a real winner at your gaming table.
Tapestry is a very good game. There is no question of that. Those that attack it for its solitaire aspect or lack of immersive theme have valid points as discussed already. But I would say this does not make it a bad game. It just makes it a game that is not for them. If you are unsure if this is for you after reading this that I would say it probably isn’t. But if you are left intrigued and exited to see what this world could bring to you and your gaming group, that I would encourage you to give it a try as I think you will be highly satisfied with your experience.