The game: Tapestry by Jamey Stegmaier, published by Stonemaier Games in 2019.
I got a review copy from Stonemaier Games. Originally they told me no, but when a local gamer who had preordered the game got a dented box, Stonemaier had him pass the damaged copy to me, while he got a brand new game to replace the damaged game. I think that’s pretty clever.
Elevator pitch: A two-hour civilization game where players develop their unique, non-historical civilizations.
What’s in the box? It’s a typical 30 ⨉ 30 cm box, but 10 cm deep, so it’s a bigger game. The components are a bit over the top, really: you’re immediately drawn to a set of 18 painted landmark building miniatures, some of them quite big and chunky. Each player also has a set of 20 smaller income buildings.
There’s a big game board, lots of cards and player boards and plastic cubes. The insert is fairly well designed: it keeps the big miniatures intact, but the rest of the components don’t fit as well.
The art in the game has a consistent feel and is fine. The component materials are good: the player boards paper, not cardboard, but are made of a slightly unusual material that has a slightly rough feel to it. It should increase the friction between the components and the boards.
All in all, while the game is expensive, the components do make it feel like a proper big game. That said, I would’ve preferred more lowkey components, a smaller box and lower price – but more about that later.
What do you do in the game? In the middle of the board is an unexplored map. The important things happen elsewhere, though. On the sides of the board there are four technology tracks, and these are really the main arena of the game.
Each turn, players must choose to do an advance turn or an income turn. When you do an advance turn, you pay the price and advance on one of the technology tracks and gain whatever benefit the next step offers. On an income turn, you play a Tapestry card, improve one of your technology cards and collect income and victory points based on how many income buildings you’ve managed to build.
Each player will do five income turns during the game: one on the first round, then three “full” income turns, then a final one where no Tapestry card is played and that is mostly about collecting final victory points. Once you’ve done your five income turns, you’re out of the game. Players may be in different eras, so someone may finish earlier than other players.
The tech tracks are exploration, military, technology and science. In exploration, you get new hex map tiles which you can then place on the board, collecting resources and creating more space for you. Military is about conquering those hexes and spreading your influence on the board, possibly defeating other players while at it.
Technology is about technology cards, which represent innovations your civilization develops. Each technology card offers two rewards, but getting the second reward has a prerequisite: you or one of your neighbours must be sufficiently advanced to get the benefit. Science is about rolling the science die, which lets you advance on other tracks.
Each track has a matching income building and lets you build those income buildings. Each track also has three landmark buildings, which are awarded to the player that first advances to a new tier on the track. All these buildings are played to the capitals of the players. The capitals are 9 ⨉ 9 grids with some prefilled squares. The capital scoring is based on completing rows and columns on this board, and if you manage to complete a 3 ⨉ 3 square on the grid, you get a bonus resource. The big landmark buildings really help this process a lot.
One major factor are the Tapestry cards. You collect these during the game and must play one on income turns 2, 3 and 4. They shape your civilization, either in the shape of “When played” effects or “During this era” effects that let you bend the rules a bit during the era. There are 43 different Tapestry cards, so plenty of options are available.
Each player also has a unique civilization. There are 16 different civilizations that have different abilities. Each civilization requires a different approach. Which leads us into…
Lucky or skillful? Tapestry is a game of skill. It’s an optimization puzzle and a skilled player will easily lap a bumbling newbie on the 100-point score track. It’s a snowball engine builder, so early in the game, points are scarce, but a good plan will lead into huge 100-point scoring rounds in the end.
However, the game does have random elements to it. It starts from the setup: it’s already fairly obvious some civilizations are simply better than the others. Based on some statistics, Futurists for example are seriously dangerous especially in two-player games, while Traders are just generally weak. The Tapestry cards can also be a source of point swings, if things fall together just right.
I’m fine with that. I assume Stonemaier Games will have some ideas about balancing the civilizations once they get enough data. Meanwhile, I don’t mind – having a good civilization is not enough, you need to know how to play, and if somebody can get a lucky swing and get a great set of Tapestry cards that match their plan and their civilization and will score plenty of points and win the game, that’s something I’d just be happy to see, even if it wasn’t me.
Abstract or thematic? “A civilization game” can mean so many things to different people. I think it’s safer to say Tapestry is a civilization-themed game, just like some games are war games and some just war-themed games.
But it ticks enough civilization game boxes for me: there’s technology development, exploration and conquering, you can develop science and so on. It’s not real-world history and doesn’t try at all to present a coherent timeline from stone age to modern times. Don’t expect one, and you’ll probably enjoy the theme just fine.
Solitaire or interactive? The focus of the game is in advancing your own engine. It’s an optimization puzzle, and as such, mostly solitaire. There’s something of a race element on the technology tracks, as first to advance gets the landmark buildings, so you have to consider what other players are doing, and there’s also the possibility to conquer lands from someone else, but that’s fairly minor. The multiplayer game doesn’t differ much from playing the solo game against bots. If you’re looking for heavy interaction, look elsewhere.
Players: 1–5. Now, the box says the playing time is 90–120 minutes, but that’s just not true. 25–40 minutes per player is a better estimate that should cover most cases. Thus you can see why I’m not particularly interested in the five-player games: while 125 minutes might still be tolerable, over three hours simply isn’t.
To me, Tapestry is mostly a 1–3 player game. I might consider a four-player game if the players were experienced and known to be fast.
The solitaire game with the Automa (especially using the MyAutoma app) is a very satisfying optimization puzzle, and you can also use the Automa to add a third player to a two-player game to add some pressure on the tech tracks.
Who can play? The publisher age recommendation is 12+. Tapestry has fairly straightforward rules. There are lots of icons to digest, but the basic gameplay is simple. Doing well requires more work, and I’d be somewhat reluctant to introducing this game to more casual players.
What’s to like: Tapestry offers a delicious optimization puzzle: it’s very pleasing to figure out a way to squeeze out one more resource, allowing you to reach that extra step on the tech track to get a good move that will allow you to exploit something else to get lots of points. I generally don’t play solo games at all, but I have already played Tapestry four times solo, because I like figuring it out so much.
What’s not to like: This one’s easy, I’ll just quote my friend here: Tapestry doesn’t feel like a civilization game at all. Some of the tech tracks don’t make any sense. The combat is horrible or non-existing and the game in general is unbelievably random. The eye candy looks ugly and the game is too expensive. Capital map feels unnecessary, and there’s no satisfaction at all in doing what you do.
My verdict: It’s safe to say I disagree completely with my friend. Well, not completely: I agree the landmark buildings aren’t that pretty and the game is too expensive. I’d really prefer if the landmark buildings were just cardboard tiles (they wouldn’t block the view that way, for starters), the income buildings were 1 cm wooden cubes, the box would be 6 cm tall instead of 10 cm and the price tag said $60 instead of $100.
For me, Tapestry is one of the highlights of 2019. I had zero expectations for it, so it was a pleasant surprise. The game feels unusually satisfying, trying to puzzle out a good path through the era so that resource production is maximized and one can achieve as much as possible. In all this, other players are just obstacles and downtime, so for me, Tapestry is best with fewer players and unusually pleasing as a solo game.
Tapestry has enough downsides that I can’t recommend it without reservations. If the price tag doesn’t scare you, you love low interaction optimization puzzles and tech tracks and you don’t mind including a bit of randomness and point swings in the process, Tapestry is worth checking out. If you’re looking for a game with high interaction and a coherent story of civilizations developing from the stone age to the modern era, Tapestry is not your game.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Tapestry gets Suggest from me.