A lot of things can influence expectations. The pedigree of the designer, aesthetics, theme, these can all lead us to expect a certain experience. Tapestry feels like a game that’s been defined by its expectations. People have high expectations for any Stonemaier game, they also expect certain things when they think of a “Civilization” style game. To many people the game play elements were not what they were expecting, even though they may not have been advertised as such it still feels like this affected some opinions. Personally, I had no expectations going into my experience with Tapestry and I feel like that has been for the better. I enjoy Tapestry for what it is but I can recognize the awkward position it holds in the Boardgaming community.
Tapestry is a civilization building game. Throughout the game you will advance along four tracks that correspond to Science, Technology, Military and Exploration. You will make decisions on your player board that give abilities and personality to your civilization, while also spreading slowly across a unique landmass. The latter offers by far one of the smallest aspects of the game which unfortunately may by where most people were expecting the meat of the game to be. Typical “Civilization” style games revolve around the four X’s and involve territory control, combat, diplomacy and discovery. In Tapestry those elements are incredibly minimalistic with the majority of the gameplay centering around the inward focus of customizing and developing your own civilization.
Most turns in Tapestry will have you pick one of the four aforementioned tracks and pay the necessary resources to move up that track thereby taking its unique benefit. Run out of resources and you’ll have to take an income turn to generate resources. These income turns are fixed and once you take your fifth your game is over. This makes it possible for people to advance through the ages at different speeds and for some players to finish the game earlier than others. It also creates a system where you feel incentivised to maximize the number of things you can do in an era. It’s a system reminiscent of the one found in Everdell and one that I’ve become quite fond of.
All the gameplay elements combine to make something that is incredibly simple and accessible. To some people this would be considered a great thing, but to other hardcore 4X veterans this is to the game’s detriment. If you’re looking to add this along side Twilight Imperium, Eclipse, Dominant Species or even Civilization A New Dawn as another contender to the area control genre you should probably look elsewhere. If you’re looking for an engine building game which streamlines rules in favor of accessibility that happens to have a Civilization theme then this game may pleasantly surprise you.
Once any expectations of a typical “Civilization” style game are removed I really enjoyed the particular puzzle Tapestry presented. Every turn I would look down at how many resources I had left and try to plan out the best actions. Some actions even grant additional resources and I would often try to think of ways to keep chaining resources together to allow me to stay in an era the longest. Other actions might trigger things from other trees further adding to the planning of making sure I was in the right spot on the right tree when a particular action came up. There is also the inclusion of income buildings, I would often be presented with the option for more resources now, or a building that generated more in the future. Prolonging your stay in an era might not always be the best thing either, the first person amongst their neighbours to advance to the next era gains bonus resources. Finally, some spots on a track give bonuses to the first person to reach them making popular tracks less appealing. It all led to an incredibly fluid experience that presented me with a host of well defined but interesting decisions each and every turn.
While the decision space keeps me engaged in the game, it’s the variable customization that kept me wanting to play again. During each era you play a “Tapestry” card that gives you a certain benefit for that era. This might focus you on certain goals and could make you want to stay longer in a particular era to maximize the benefits. I found this gave my civilization great personality and told its own story about the progression of my game. My first game saw my British style civilization experience eras of Mercantilism and an age dominated by Steam Power before descending into Theocracy. I was later able to use an ability that allowed me to overwrite a card with a new one and I replaced Theocracy with Militarism creating a story that the people were unhappy with their declining civilization and orchestrated a military coup. The player terrain board where you add buildings to try and fill up blocks/rows/columns Sudoku style was also fun to play with. It all created a sense of immersion that pulled me into the story of my civilization. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of character interaction which may or may not be a significant issue for you.
The component quality in Tapestry is also top notch. The buildings are gorgeous and pre-painted to a standard that doesn’t feel as cheap as many other games. The player boards and cards are clearly of very high quality. The art is decent and the iconography is incredibly clean and minimalist in a good way. Everything about the components in Tapestry feels high quality and I can definitely see why this game has the price tag it does.
The game play experience though might not justify $100 to many groups. Tapestry is a game that feels like it can be figured out by more experienced groups. Gamers who will never play Tapestry more than a dozen or so times will still be emerged in the wonder of its possibilities, but that kind of group might not want to shell out a cool hundred for a game. The hardcore gamers that love to play a game dozens and dozens of times could start to unravel its balance. According to the designer in a BGG forum, the number of multiplayer playtests was a little over a hundred, with another 200 solo tests. As someone who works in Data Management, that number is shockingly low. Some imbalances do show through and the game has already had it’s first civilization balance. I have noticed that some tracks, especially near the end, are clearly not as strong as those in other tracks. The type of group that will spend $100+ on a board game is precisely the type that might quickly uncover these flaws.
I should say that I didn’t pay for my copy of Tapestry, my good friend Scott owns and lent me his copy. I love playing the game and enjoy the puzzles it offers. I also don’t want to over play it because I feel like this is a game accessible enough to show many of my friends and I don’t want to be the guy that’s mastered it. If I’m offered a chance to play Tapestry a smile would instantly light up my face and I’d say “Of Course”, but I would probably see myself reaching for it infrequently if it was in my collection. While the components clearly make the price a fair one, I don’t see myself ever wanting to drop the MSRP for the experience it offers. Tapestry is a game I highly recommend everyone play, but not one I’d recommend many buy.
Interesting puzzle to solve with action selection
Each game allows you to tell the unique story of your civilization which really draws you in.
While the components justify the price, the gameplay experience might not.
May not meet people’s expectations of a civilization building game.