Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale


Designer: Jordy Adan

Plays: 1-100 players

Type: lightweight roll and write


Ludoterms: Many people’s early gaming memories at some point include the game “Yahtzee”. Yahtzee is the classic roll and write game. These are games where you usually roll a group of dice and then assign values of the rolled dice somewhere on a piece of paper to gain points.


Quick Overview:

This is a roll and write that uses cards instead of dice. So I guess it’s a flip and write? The queen is looking to recruit the best cartographers in the land to help expand her empire. Your goal is to have the most points (reputation stars) at the end of the game to win.  The game lasts over four “seasons” and after each season you will evaluate your map to see how many points you receive depending on the queen’s edicts. A card is drawn that has a choice of one or two (sometimes more) landscape icons along with a tetris-like layout.



Each player fills in their map using that icon covering the number of squares to match the layout on the card. This continues card after card until the season ends and then each player evaluates their points for that season.



Along the way, monster “ambush” cards will arrive at which point players exchange sheets and your opponent places the monster icons where they’d like (again according to the card layout). These ambush icons give you negative points at the end of the season.



I’ve come to really love roll and write games. They tend to be very easy to teach, usually play larger groups, are easily portable, play quickly and (depending on the game) can be easy enough for new gamers to warmly embrace, but can have deeper strategies that are attractive to more advanced players.

Cartographers isn’t especially complex (although playing solo it is hard to get high scores) but I like that you have to think two steps (or in this case, seasons) ahead. What may only bring you a low score one season, could rack up the points later on. So there is some strategy in planning. Luck obviously plays a huge factor in terms of what cards are drawn, but I’m usually okay with luck focused games.



The art of losing

I remember years ago playing a game of Monopoly once with a few friends (yes, yes, I know. Monopoly???? This was before I learned there was a world of board gaming beyond Milton-Bradley or Hasbro).


One of the other players was clearly losing. You could tell he was a competitive player at the start of the game with the way he chirped other players but as his luck changed and he was falling behind, his good-natured quips became sullen responses. At one point he became so agitated at his position (his lack of property, the poor luck of his rolls) that he took an edge of the gaming board and joyfully shouted “Earthquake!” giving the board a jolt which sent all the pieces scattered. Needless to say, the game ended abruptly with another player angrily walking away and me vowing never to play with this individual again.

This incident always comes to mind when I think of playing with competitive people. My problem isn’t their ambition to be number one, per se, but rather in their quest to win, they often suck the fun right out of gaming.

Make no mistake; I enjoy winning. It feels good and imparts a strong sensation of accomplishing something worthwhile. But this isn’t why I play. I actually lose more games than I win. I tend to react emotionally to decisions and as a result, go with my gut when making a move rather than really studying and analyzing what could be the BEST possible move. Gut moves are great in social deduction and bluffing games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, or Sheriff of Nottingham but they can be deadly in worker-placement games like Lord of Waterdeep, Viticulture and Agricola.

Ludo-terms: A social-deduction game is one in which you are encouraged to talk with the other people playing the game in order to figure out what their secret identity/team/variable is all the while trying to keep some of your information secret from others.

Ludo-terms: A worker placement game is one in which players must choose one action from a large range of possible actions. Usually once this action is taken you cannot choose another one until it is your turn again and often it requires you to choose very carefully since these actions are limited in how many times they can be used.


I play for a lot of reasons, but “winning” ranks pretty low on the list.


So much of our culture is based on a “winners vs losers” dichotomy,  that it begins to seep into our consciousness. The idea of winning becomes the sole motivator to do anything. I see this A LOT when I play games with parents who have children. A child will be falling behind, or get a bad roll of the dice,  or make some move which they later come to regret, and the parent will inevitably say “That’s okay. Take another turn” or allow for the breaking of rules. Or even worse, they will simply let the child win the game. I’m not a slave to rules and when playing with children I’m of the mind that rules can be tweaked when a child is first learning a game. But it gets to the heart of what I believe the problem is; how do we teach our kids that it’s OKAY to lose a game? And how will they learn to know it’s okay if they never lose a game? There really is an art in losing gracefully, in learning that a game is more about the experience of being with others and enjoying the time spent with friends. Kids’ sports are notorious for their stories of obnoxious hockey moms and soccer dads who’ll yell at referees and have a shit-fit if little Johnny or little Susie isn’t the superstar champion that the parent just KNOWS they are. It’s the same with gaming. Those little darlings then grow up and embrace other forms of play where their competitive impulses are stoked and they sometimes end up around my gaming table.

So it’s okay to lose. It’s okay to win. Like life, games are a mixture of luck, skill, chance, and fate. And like life, the key to handling winning or losing is in how graceful you are in dealing with it all.

Forbidden Sky


Designer: Matt Leacock

Plays: 2-5 players

Type: lightweight Co-op

Ludo-terms: Co-op or cooperative gaming is where all players work together as a team to “beat” the game. There is no individual winner so you’re not working against each other. You sink or swim together. Co-ops are excellent for folks who don’t appreciate aggressive gaming or for those who simply enjoy problem solving with others. It’s a great way for everyone to contribute to a win.
One of the drawbacks of co-ops is if you’re unfortunate to have an “Alpha” style player on the team. These are the folks who will, inevitably, tell the other players what to do “No Karen! Do this! Karen, do that!” IGNORE ALPHA PLAYERS. drill-sergeant-illustration-vector-cartoon-600w-1020511492


Quick Overview:

Forbidden Sky is the third installment in the “Forbidden” series of co-op games. Like the other two before it, you’re working as a team to try and accomplish your mission (in Forbidden Island you’re trying to get off the sinking island, in Forbidden Desert you’re trying to escape the harsh desert, and now in this one you’re trying to get the rocket ship working to blast off the floating platform in the sky).


You take up to any four actions, (move, collect tiles, place tiles, add connectors) then draw cards which either make your rope shorter or cause damage via lightening strikes. Too little rope when the winds come, you get blown away. Too many lightening strikes and your health will be depleted. The goal of the game is to make an electrical current from one end of the launch platform so that it loops around to the other side of the launch platform making sure you use a certain number of components. If completed before any of your team members die, or before the storm meter reaches the top, your rocket ship will ‘blink and blast off’ for the win.




Forbidden Sky feels a bit gimmicky (getting the lights and sounds on the ship to ‘blast off’) without offering anything too different from the previous games. Still, I really like this series, and this is by far the most difficult of the three to master (the easiest in the series is Forbidden Island, followed by Forbidden Desert).  Getting the plastic connecting pieces all perfectly lined up is a bit tricky, a little messy, and causes some fumbling for those of us with big fingers. Great looking components and a definite fun panic that can set in when you realize you’re running out of rope or health and you just KNOW that the next few cards are going to be either lightening strikes or high winds.


Yeah, I lost this session. Too many lightening strikes and not enough of the needed tiles that came out too late