Time: ~100 minutes
Times Played: 14
When Tapestry was being teased on social media, I remember the board game community creating a substantial buzz around a civilization game from Stonemaier Games. When the review embargo was lifted and posts and information started to emerge, the buzz continued to grow even if players were thought the aesthetics or the mention of a mechanic were not for them. When it was available for pre-order, copies sold out in 32 hours. What I’m trying to get at is that Tapestry was on the tip of everyone’s tongue in the community once they knew about it.
Except me. I’m not trying to sound like a hipster that ignores the new hotness or anything like that, but with a newborn sleeping in my house, I imposed a moratorium on brand new games. The reasons were as follows: One, they’re typically expensive; Two, I probably wouldn’t have time to get them to the table; and Three, our shelf of shame is surprisingly full. It’s not a fun realization to have but it is the responsible one.
To make a long story short, the following review will be from someone who knew of Tapestry’s existence but nothing more than that. I wasn’t boarding the hype train as it left the station nor was I eagerly awaiting an opportunity to put in for a copy via pre-order.
For full disclosure, I was provided this copy of Tapestry from Stonemaier Games for this review. The provided copy has not impacted my views below.
Tapestry is mid-to-lightweight game that has players paying resources to move up one of four Advancement tracks on the main game board to expand their civilization. It features some tile placement similar to Carcassonne when expanding the shared world map and it features asymmetric player powers as the sixteen Civilization cards are all unique from one another.
Compared to other Stonemaier Games, I find this to be slightly more complex than Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig but not much more. BGG has it rated slightly behind Viticulture Essential Edition but I disagree with that assessment. Tapestry seems the most entry level of Stonemaier games, besides Between Two Cities.
The complexity of Tapestry comes from the inner-connectivity of the tracks on the main board. Knowing how and when to string together combo’s to advance your civilization is at the crux of the complexity for the game. With the differing Civilization cards, there are a mountain of strategies available to the players but once a player is familiar with the mechanics of the game, the strategy is what will cause players brains to work; not the mechanics.
After my first two plays, I wasn’t sold on Tapestry. I wasn’t wowed at the intuitiveness like I was with Viticulture, I wasn’t marveling over the engine building like I was with Scythe, I wasn’t even that excited about playing again and righting my missteps like in Euphoria. What I had played was a solid game but I wasn’t hooked. However, Tapestry is a game that can grow on you and without a doubt, you’ll know if this is a game you want to continue playing after two or three plays.
The basic structure of Tapestry is that each turn, a player will take one of two actions that will decide their turn. The first option is to take an Income Turn, which will advance the Civilization into a new era. The very first action of the game for every player will be an Income Turn. Income Turns have several steps but depending on which Income Turn you’re completing depends on which steps are activated. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and the player board has the details listed so players do not need to memorize any aspects.
The steps for the Income Turn include Activating your Civilization Ability, which is tied to your Civilization that you chose before the game began. Not every Civilization has an effect that will take place during this stage so it won’t be applicable to everyone. The second step is to Play a Tapestry Card. From the players hand, they’ll choose a Tapestry card and play it onto their player mat in the next space available. This will give them the direction that their Civilization is moving towards for the next era. There could be an immediate benefit or an ongoing effect depending on the card played. If you’re the first player to advance to the next era, you receive a resource benefit listed on the player mat. The third step is to Upgrade a Tech Card. You are able to upgrade one Tech card and gain the benefit. When you move a Tech card from the bottom row to the middle row, you will gain the benefit that is listed in the circle on the Tech card. When you move it to the top row, you gain the benefit in the square space. However, to move a Tech card to the top row there are requirements that need to be met for players to upgrade to that level. During this same step, players will also Gain Victory Points from the Income Track. When players place their Income Buildings, new benefits will be revealed. If these victory points are unlocked, players will score based on their benefit. Lastly, players will Gain Income. This income comes from exposed locations on your player board. You track resources using a resource track on the bottom of the player board. Players may also be allowed to draw Territory Tiles and Tapestry Cards during this stage.
Players will complete five Income Turns over the course of the game and after their fifth Income Turn, their game is over. This is of note as players may end their game at different times. In most of our games, players tended to end their games around the same time as one another. It was typical for the first player out to be out of the game for five or ten minutes while the rest finished up. We did have two occasions however where the first player finished well ahead of everyone else and they were sitting on the outside looking in for closer to twenty minutes. These were more outliers but I could see them occur more often than not if players were prone to really try to min/max their player turns.
Besides Income Turns, players other option is Advancement Turns. Players can take as many of these turns as they can. Basically, a player will select one of the four tracks (Exploration, Military, Science, and Technology) available on the main board, pay the resource cost to advance, and gain the benefit. That’s all. All tracks generally have two benefits, with one being the placement of the building corresponding with that track and the other being more specific to the track.
The Exploration track is used for two benefits: moving Farms from their player board to their Capital City and gaining Exploration Tiles. Players use this track to draw new tiles and place them on the main board.
The Military track focuses on players conquering land that has been discovered (aka placed) on the main board. The Military Dice are rolled when this action occurs and players receive a benefit of their choosing from the two rolls. The other benefit the track offers is the placement of Military Buildings onto their Capital City board.
The Science track allows players to improve other tracks through one of two ways. The first is the Science die. When rolled, it will allow players to move up on the track that matches the rolled die. When this action is taken, it the space on the track will either have an ‘x’ or not. The ‘x’ means that players move up on the rolled track but do not gain the benefit whereas no ‘x’ means they’re free to take the benefit. The Science track also allows players to place Houses onto their Capital City board.
The Technology track allows players to gain Tech cards and upgrade Tech cards outside of the Income Turn. The track also lets players place Markets in their Capital City.
Besides the benefits listed, Tracks are also the primary way to gain Landmarks. Once players advance to certain stages on the tracks, they gain the Landmarks and are free to place them in their Capital City. Landmarks are first come, first serve so they’re only available to the first player to land on their designated space. Once claimed, they must be placed in the Capital City.
Each track also has specific additional actions and bonuses for reaching the end of the track. There are also in-game achievements that players can score to bolster their point values. Like the Landmarks, they are a race as well as the earlier a player completes an achievement, the more points they’ll get compared to their opponents. The achievements are static across all games and include Completing an Advancement Track, Conquering the Middle Tile of the Main Board, and Conquering two Opponent Outposts on the Main Board. Players can only complete each achievement once.
After all players have completed their fifth Income Turn, the game ends and players will tally their final victory points. Whichever player has the most points is labeled the victor.
Tapestry introduces a lot of randomness each time you play the game. The combination of Civilization’s available, Tech cards, Tapestry cards, and the choices of your opponent(s) will dictate how each game is played. The randomness makes each game you play unique and a strategy that worked in one game very well may not work in another. I found myself aligning my strategies with the Civilization I was dealt more often than not.
I’m not sure how I feel about the different Civilization cards though. Don’t get me wrong; I love the diversity and asymmetry of their design but some feel like they’re pigeonholing you into a strategy that you may not want to play. For example, the first game we played had me drawing Architects and my opponent drawing Entertainers. Entertainers provides some clear decision making without forcing a players hand in any one direction. Architects however really only grants a bonus if you play your Capital City map a certain way. These Civilization’s made my choices clear to me (and my opponent) and I felt like I was just keeping the boat steady as opposed to actually steering it. Now, other Civilization’s did not make me feel this way and that’s why I promote playing multiple sessions if possible because you may love or hate the game due to a Civilization or a card draw and that’s not the entirety of the game. The balance and synergy is clearly better between some Civilization’s and some Tapestry card’s but that’s clearly up to chance.
However, to play devils advocate on my own opinion, forcing a player to play a certain way wasn’t the worst way to learn Tapestry as a Civilization might clearly be forcing a player down the Militant track and that gives the player a clear outline of what they should be accomplishing throughout the game. It’s a great learning tool and definitely made some of our early games easier. The rulebook for Tapestry is only four pages long and allows players to jump right into the game but having a path carved definitely helped smooth out some early rough patches. The Civilization’s also offer a diverse array and after thirteen plays, I can’t say that I really see one as being more overpowered than another. Each time we played, I may not have liked the route I was being led on but I never felt like I was at a disadvantage because of that path.
What is interesting though is the steps Stonemaier is taking to ensure balance across the Civilizations as they ask players to upload their winning Civilization and score to their website. I’m very intrigued to see how this is tracked and what comes of it.
I briefly mentioned the rulebook and want to double back on it. It is only four pages. There’s a lot of graphics to ensure players are certain as to what the rules are illustrating as well. If you’re worried about the rulebook being too short, the game does feature two full size front-and-back reference sheets that detail what every technology is and what every main board track space entails. There are only two of them, which causes an issue with having to pass them around the table for players to look at. They’re also full-sized, which makes them bulky when passing back and forth. After a few plays, we no longer required the aids but they were invaluable the first couple of times.
Returning to the randomization, the luck tied to the draw of Tapestry can cast a sour mood over the game. For instance, I was playing as the Heralds and the benefit was that during an era, I could perform the immediate action of my Tapestry card again (once per era). Unfortunately, my first three draws were two Trap cards and one card that didn’t grant me an immediate action. It really stunted my growth during the game as I now did not have a Civilization benefit and to utilize that benefit, I would have to get more Tapestry cards. To get more Tapestry cards however would result in me deviating from the best course of action that was available to me at the moment. This doesn’t always happen (due to luck) but it definitely was a rough game and it’s hard to feign enjoyment when you feel the deck stacked against you. I will say though that through all our plays, this was the only time it was an issue but it was an issue. If this would have been my first play, I would have had a hard time pushing forward to the next game.
The Tapestry cards do however allow players to potentially unleash some great combos during play that really lets the game shine.
Games produced by Stonemaier Games have become synonymous with outstanding production and Tapestry is no different. The Landmarks are large, colorful clay models with a decent amount of detail. The board and cards are colorful with clear iconography and many of the player mats, rulebooks, player aids, and more have a textured, linen finish that is unmatched in most productions. Whether or not the color palette’s and design choices are to your suiting is one thing but it can’t be argued that Tapestry looks great when compared to its peers. The game has a clear table presence and I’ve had friends reach out to ask about the game after seeing some of my social media posts.
Like most recent Stonemaier Games productions, Tapestry has a unique insert custom designed to fit the Landmarks that are included in the game. This is a nice thought as the Landmarks are a major selling aspect of the game and keeping them pristine is definitely important but what about the other components? The insert includes a general section that is a hodgepodge of tokens and Income Buildings but this isn’t ideal.
The Capital City mats, Civilization cards, and other materials also don’t have great storage solutions and I’ve already seen some wear on the larger Civilization cards and Capital City mats due to this. This might also be in part to the textured finish that the cards and mats are adorned with, as it appears like that finish is causing the cards to scrape along and damage one another.
The Landmarks, while physically and aesthetically pleasing, don’t really do anything to add to the playing experience. Do they look neat on the Capital City map? Of course they do. The add a three-dimensional feel to a traditionally two-dimensional media. Even if the art style isn’t for you, it’s clear that they add a presence to the Capital City map. Unfortunately, that’s all they do as they’re all but space fillers for the map grid. They don’t offer any benefit besides occupying space when added to your map. There might be a benefit attached to a Civilization card for when they’re placed (like the Nomads) but that’s all. The Tank Factory doesn’t create a better way to conquer territories; the Train Station doesn’t make exploring any faster; nor does the Tech Hub offer a way for Technology to improve at a better rate. The pieces are just tchotchkes. Well-designed tchotchkes, but tchotchkes nonetheless.
I’m also not entirely convinced that they’re vital for a winning strategy. After around five plays, I wasn’t hard-pressed to add these to my Capital City board as it was difficult to add more than one to the map. The pre-designed maps offer plenty of locations that are off-limits and cause an issue with fitting the larger Landmarks anywhere of use. A small victory is that the Landmarks can hang off the edge of the Capital City board but then you’re wasting the benefit of getting them in the first place. If anything, I was only getting Landmarks in my later plays to ensure other players didn’t get them.
I also have an issue with the physical bases for the Landmarks. The Landmarks have clear sizes listed but when placing them on your Capital City, they’re not a perfect fit and if you measure up against a wall or corner, you might not get the overlap you’re supposed as the bases don’t reach out and fill the entire square grid.
That being said…designing your Capital City is neat. It introduces an abstract puzzle to a eurogame and a well laid Capital City can score players a surprising amount of points. The addition of the Landmarks, while not providing a unique power, does give the rewarded player a rush as not only were they able to move up the track at a better rate than other players but it also feels so rewarding being able to cover four or more spaces on the map and gaining the benefits of doing so. The different Capital City maps offer enough of a difference layout wise to not feel the same without over complicating the game for players.
The interaction of the game can be seen on the world map but it’s really found in the race to improve your standing on a track. While there is the Conquer action that results in interaction between players on the board, it’s the race to the landmarks that will provide the most contention between players.
I was not a fan of the Conquer action and how it plays out on the main board. Each tile, according to the rules, can only house so many Outposts and once you’ve been conquered, there’s no way to get back what you lost. You may not necessarily need those territories back unless you have scoring involved with them. I understand not wanting to create a tug-and-war over a specific location as the game certainly isn’t long enough for that, but it hurts the narrative that Tapestry is trying to weave.
For all the color and design, Tapestry feels like a traditional euro game trying to mask itself as more. Moving up one color track, say blue (Exploration), will eventually let you place a blue building on your Capital City map, which eventually gains you points but in the meantime only grants you blue resources, which in turn lets you move further up the blue track. I’m moving cubes up a track. Not once does doing that result in an action that makes me feel like I’m building or laying the history for a Civilization. The actual words on the tracks (or on the building huts of the player board) don’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of the game.
Now, if you put some thought into the tracks, the theme starts to bleed through a little bit. Science for instance, starts with players rolling a die that lets them advance on a random track. This shows that what you did didn’t work but you gained knowledge from performing the experiment. Eventually, the die roll grants you the benefit of the roll and that shows your civilizations advancement in Science. Near the end of the track, it allows you to just choose what you want to do since you’ve become a clear cut master of the sciences. I assume this is the reasoning behind the track layout as this is more a conversation I had with my spouse as opposed to something I found in the rulebook.
This thinking is paramount for the storytelling that you need to make your Civilization seem more than just cards on the player board. Nothing is intrinsically spelled out for players but you can think of a story that befits your Civilization based on your initial choice and the Tapestry cards. Creating this storytelling device will not be for everyone so know that going in. If you’re looking for the story to be told to you, Tapestry provides only the vaguest of frameworks.
Tapestry is not a long game. I feel confident in saying that most games came in under the 100 minute mark and they never truly felt that long. Once we got accustomed to all the iconography and play structure, we were completing two-player games within an hour. Adding another player to the mix adds an additional twenty minutes per player and if you have a fast playing group, that might be less than ten each. On the flip side, this game could take much longer as even though the actions are straightforward, the combos require planning and players may take their time trying to find the perfect combination to propel them forward.
Tapestry features an Automa mode that is familiar to those who have played other Stonemaier products solo. The card based system is simple to follow once you understand how the cards are used. The first few minutes were slightly confusing to me but once I handled the learning curve, I was very impressed with the design of the Automa deck. I would recommend playing the solo mode twice as it didn’t really click with me until the second play through. If you enjoyed the Scythe Automa, you’ll probably enjoy the Tapestry version as well. I personally wouldn’t buy Tapestry just to play as a solo game but then again, there are very few games I own that I play strictly solo.
Playing at two-players, with or without the Shadow Empire Variant, was a pleasant experience. The Shadow Empire Variant (and the Automa for solo play), seem to be weighted towards interaction between the players. Without the Variant, players will have to make their own interaction on the main board and the game is really just a race up the Advancement tracks. There’s nothing wrong with this but the conflict is lacking. I felt like I was able to “control” two Advancement tracks without the Variant and that made the game a little easier to play. Adding the Variant removes that as players need to be aware of the Shadow Empire. Three-player games are similar. Players can interact but don’t necessarily have to. If players forget the achievements, they may not interact at all. We found most interaction at these counts were due to rushing the middle of the board.
Four- and five-players utilize the reverse side of the board and while the board is bigger, it feels just the same as the three-player game. The map is larger but features the same spacing as the other player counts. The only big difference will be in a four-player game when two players have an open spot to their side. We didn’t see this cause any big issues but I could see a more experienced player take advantage of the openness, especially with a Civilization/Tapestry that appeals towards expanding. Where the differences are truly felt are the advancement tracks. With more players vying for the same amount of spots, it creates a tension each and every time a player moves up a track. You need to not only be aware of where you can take yourself, but where your opponents can take themselves. It makes Landmarks feel even more important as filling your Capital becomes that much more vital as you fight for points.
I think what needs to be known about Tapestry revolves around ones expectations for a Civ-Building game. Most games that involve this type of theme are epic, serious games with a depth of strategy and tactics. Tapestry is not that. There is clear strategy but the randomness and swing factor make this much more lighthearted than any other Civ game I’ve ever played.
The problem is that it feels too short to be a game where you’re birthing a civilization from making fire to potentially exploring the cosmos. If I thought the play time was short, the actual time in game is even shorter as I’m making fire one moment and inventing lithium batteries the next.
I’m not sure I would use Tapestry as a gateway into other games with a civilization theme as those games are much heavier and provide a vastly different experience. Tapestry feels like a gateway game with its ease of learning, quickness of play, and streamlined everything but I wouldn’t lump into it that category, even with its vivid colors and accessibility. That’s not to say that someone brand new to the hobby couldn’t handle it or understand the rules, but the amount of symbols and players progressing at different times could be a bit much for rookie players.
I did enjoy playing Tapestry. I think the game is well-designed and balanced. I enjoyed racing up the Advancement tracks, trying to beat players to a particular location. I enjoyed the color and Tapestry cards.
I definitely didn’t love it though. The randomness impacted games too much, the Narrative of building your Civilization was almost non-existent, and the main selling point of the Landmarks were just pricey paperweights. Well designed and made paperweights, but paperweights nonetheless.
I wouldn’t turn away playing the game but don’t think it would be my first choice either. I think the game is fine but not necessarily worth the hype. If the production quality was less or the designer different, I don’t know that Tapestry would be receiving the buzz it has been getting.