Updated: Oct 24
This was one of the most hotly anticipated titles of 2019, not least due to its pedigree. With Viticulture, Euphoria, Charterstone and, particularly, Scythe, designer Jamey Stegmaier has an impressive track record, topped only by that of his publishing company Stonemaier - which also had the smash hit Wingspan last year.
Tapestry is at least thematically a civilisation game and it incorporates abstractions of all the elements that you'll have come to expect from your experience of previous Civ games, whether of the Sid Meier computer versions or the many board games that have followed in the footsteps of the late Frances Tresham's original design. Like its predecessors, in Tapestry players each guide the development of a civilisation. The game incorporates a degree of exploration and conquest, and the development of science and technology, and you'll be building your own Great Wonders.
Stonemaier's production values are through the roof. We liked the attractive artwork by Andrew Bosley but the pre-painted Landmark buildings (in effect, this civ game's Great Wonders), sculpted by Rom Brown, are the game's standout feature. Players start off with four plainer building types on their individual boards, and as you use these so they make more resources and bonuses available. At the centre of the double-sided board, there's a central map which is the focus of exploration and military conquest: the double-sided map is larger for 4-5 players than for 2-3. However, area control forms only a small part of this game. Most of the action takes place on the four separate tracks that surround the map. It's along these tracks that you'll be advancing over the course of the game as you seek to amass more victory points than your opponents. There's a fair bit of iconography in the game but it's well designed so you probably won't find it necessary to cling on to the reference guides supplied.
Tapestry is a game where there's a lot going on and where you have plenty of options to choose between but, on your turn, you'll basically be doing one of two things: either you'll take income or you'll advance along one of the tracks - paying the resources required to do so and taking the action that the advancement gives you (and often the option of a second bonus action if you can afford to pay for it). Most often, you'll be advancing along the tracks as drawing income (and moving on to the next epoch) is likely only to be what you do when you simply don't have enough resources to move any further on a track, Along the way, you'll be collecting technology and Tapestry cards which are likely to give you further benefits. It'll be a key choice in the game whether you decide to make progress along all four tracks or whether you 'specialise' instead by going go gung-ho to get as far as you can along just one or two of the tracks; which tactic you adopt may well be influenced by the cards you pick up. In any event, you will have your own sudoku-style 'capital city' mat on which you will be placing out some of your plain buildings and all of the landmarks you collect. You'll be seeking to completely full rows, columns and 3x3 squares on this mat because that too will give you bonus resources or victory points. In fact, beautiful as they are, the only actual purpose served by the pre-painted Landmarks buildings is to fill up spaces on the sudoku mats.
Tho' one of the four tracks represents military might, this isn't really a game about military conquest. Some territory will change hands but you'll not in Tapestry be replicating the exploits of Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. Indeed, one of the surprises in Tapestry is that you'll mainly be focused on your own civilisation without constantly looking over your shoulder at your rivals. You'll often want to get to points on the tracks ahead of your opponents, not least to grab landmarks, but you're never blocking other players on the track and interaction is mostly quite limited; indeed, you can even find that one player completes their game (ie: their civilisation reaches the end of their fifth era) while others still continue to play. If you're expecting a game with a strong 'take that' element, then you could be disappointed. The compensatory plus is in the speed of play: in most turns you won't suffer setbacks directly due to opponents' actions so you can usually plan your next turn while other players are taking theirs. That helps to make Tapestry a refreshingly pacy game (in that sense, much like Scythe at its three-player best). It also helps to make the solitaire (Automa Factory) version equally satisfying to play.
Just be warned tho', Tapestry is a game with a high luck quotient. Custom dice are used to determine military success and the result of research on the science track, and lucky card draws can result in wide swings of fortune. Players each start off with very asymmetric civilisations and they can expect to acquire a second but some of the 16 civs supplied in the game are demonstrably more powerful than others - to the extent that Stonemaier have already published an 'adjustments' sheet to better redress the balance. Even tho' Tapestry plays quickly, you can expect a four- or five-player game to take at least 90 minutes. If you begrudge investing that amount of time in a game where luck can play a major part in determining the outcome, then Tapestry may not be the game for you. If you don't mind the luck factor, then you'll find that Tapestry is a very accessible abstract civilisation game that can be guaranteed to deliver an enjoyable playing experience.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)