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Board Game Review: Tapestry

It’s usually several months after a Stonemaier Games release before we pick the game up for our collection. By then, the flurry of strategy articles on the BGG forums have been written, the F.A.Q.s on the rules have been clarified, and the debate on where the game falls in the ranking of the entire Stonemaier catalogue is well underway. Tapestry, designed by Jamey Stegmaier (artwork by Andrew Bosley and Rom Brown), is no exception. The game was released in 2019 and arrived just a few months ago to our household.

In Tapestry, each player takes control of a civilization and its capital city, and works to advance their civilization more adeptly than other players. It’s played over rounds (called eras in Tapestry)  but in a departure from many other games, players advance rounds independently of one another. I might be well into in my third era while you are still in your second. This is a bit different than Jamey’s other games where play might come to an abrupt end for everyone when one player reaches a final milestone. There are incentives for being first to enter a new era (resource bonuses) but there also can be drawbacks to doing so (for example, if you control the Heralds and you enter the 2nd era before anyone else, one of your key civilization abilities might be hindered).  In addition to the special abilities and powers granted to each civilization, at least once every era from the 2nd-4th, players can lay down a Tapestry card that affords them some advantage or benefit; at times these also provide a lesser benefit to other players in win/win fashion. During each turn of an era, a player advances on one of the four development tracks, paying for the advancement with resources and obtaining the benefits or completing the actions of the new space they have landed on.  New resources can be earned during an era as a side benefit of certain actions like exploring or constructing a military outpost, or through some special civilization or Tapestry card powers, but are always replenished during the income turn that begins a new era. In fact, what typically triggers a player to end the current era and begin the next is running out of all resources. Throughout the game, victory points come from strategically arranging buildings on the Capital City maps, the network of territories controlled on the shared central map, bonuses for the number of buildings of each type constructed, bonuses from the income mat, bonuses from action spaces on the four development tracks, technology upgrades, Tapestry card benefits, and civilization bonuses.  TL;DR: there are many many ways to score points in Tapestry.

In the short amount of time Tapestry has been with our family, it’s quickly become one of my favorites. I think it might be a good fit for a lot of gamers and their gaming circles too. Like all of the other Stonemaier games I’ve played, it offers solo play in addition to accommodating couples or small groups without proving to be dramatically weaker at any player count. In light of the ongoing pandemic, it’s useful to have games that scale well down to single player. It features some of Jamey’s signature design touches (stars, “first to” victory point bonuses, win/win actions) but differs widely enough from his other games so as not feel redundant. It’s a journey in a box with dozens upon dozens of ways to walk your path to victory given the permutations of Civilization mats [16]+Capital City mats [6]+Tapestry cards[50]+track actions[4] each turn.

   

My first game of Tapestry – I controlled the Heralds and beat my opponent.

The few complaints I read about Tapestry  before I got the game are that it’s (1) unbalanced, (2) too expensive, and (3) not precisely a civilization game. To these criticisms I answer that (1) Jamey, never one to stand on pride,  showed enough humility after the initial release to rebalance the game following player feedback (see here for the updated starting rules for each civilization: https://app.box.com/s/uqp6m71co7gdyfahz5qamp3bd7o1v06i), (2) the pricing is competitive with games of similar component quality and strategy weight, and (3) by definition, civilization games offer you the chance to improve a society over time by advancing in different areas such as agriculture/technology/warfare/economy/exploration and Tapestry  does that with a creative twist using the development tracks players move their tokens along as the gameplay unfolds.

       

A later game of Tapestry – I controlled the Nomads, which are able to build on the central map in addition to their Capital City mats.

The artwork is lovely, the color scheme serene, and the components are of high quality, excepting a few of the landmark buildings that look a little amateurish (as though they were shaped and baked in an introductory ceramics class).

The rulebook is pretty thin compared to most and although it manages to convey the necessary information in summary fashion, it can be easy to miss a rule. We played several games before we realized we overlooked a key rule – you can’t upgrade a technology unless you or your neighbors meet the upgrade requirement.  I’d recommend a read through of the BGG Tapestry rules forum to clear up any questions.

Strategy tip : Balance your development track progress carefully. You can’t go all in on just one track to the exclusion of all others and expect to claim victory. At the same time, I’ve never seen anyone pull off a win by maintaining equal progress across all four tracks – that’s too thin of a spread. Best to concentrate on two tracks at a time that play well off each other and with your civilization abilities and powers.

As most of my readers know, I’m the queen of analysis paralysis. I own a t-shirt that reads “It’s still my turn”. So I’m a very good judge of whether a game is going to drag on when folks like me play, and Tapestry doesn’t suffer from such problems. There’s usually enough time on my opponents’ turns to plot out my next move, and since this isn’t a game where players can typically block one another from actions (although a few special Tapestry cards do just that), there aren’t many last minute changes to my plans. 

My favorite thing about Tapestry, as I alluded to previously, is the myriad of ways a game can unfold. Every game I’ve played has progressed completely differently from the last, with players focused on different tracks and strategies to come out ahead, given their civilization, capital city, and Tapestry cards. I’ve had games where I scored well over 300 and other games where no one pulled past 180. Jamey’s constructed a good balance between luck (Tapestry card draws are all about luck) and skill (how one handles their civilization and approaches the development tracks is 100% skill). This gives Tapestry a high degree of replayability and gives players a chance to puzzle through different strategies every game.

I’m really glad we added Tapestry to our board game library; it was well worth the wait and I look forward to any expansions (more civilizations? more Tapestry cards?) that are forthcoming.

-------------------------------------------------

Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Players: 1-5 (We played with 2 and 4)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 3 hours per game
Game type: tile placement, hand management, dice rolling, area control
Retail Price: $85 direct from the publisher https://stonemaier-games.myshopify.com/products/tapestry

Rating:

review-OUIOUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

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