Cartographers Heroes Review, Explore a fantasy world in this flip and write

Cartographers Heroes adds heroes to the mix with a new entry point to the Cartographers series of flip and write board games.

This new starter set includes all new cards including new terrain, scoring cards, monsters, and a totally new card type, heroes. It is fully compatible with every other Cartographers product out there. This is a great entry point to the series, as well as a great expansion for long time fans.

Disclosure: Thanks to Thunderworks Games for hooking us up with a review copy of Cartographers Heroes. Links below may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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What is Cartographers Heroes?

The box for Cartographers Heroes from Thunderworks Games

Cartographers Heroes was designed by Jordy Adan, and John Brieger, it features artwork from Davey Baker, and Lucas Ribeiro and was published by Thunderworks Games in 2021. It is the follow up to the popular flip and write game Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale and is part of the same setting as the game Roll Player and many other games from Thunderworks. This new version of Cartogaphers is fully compatible with the original version and all previously released expansions. 

According to the box this flip-and-write game can be played with one to one hundred players, or potentially more. I have seen this game live streamed with tons of people playing along. In person though you probably want to stick with three or four players. While the box says this game plays in thirty to forty minutes our games tend to last over an hour, but not by much.

Cartographers Heroes has each player playing a royal cartographer hired by the king to head out and map the uncharted Western Lands. You start with a nearly blank map with the only features being some mountains and maybe some chasms. Exploration happens by flipping cards which show one or more terrain types in one or two shapes. Each cartographer will draw one of these features onto their map. At the end of each season, everyone will score their evolving maps based on randomly determined scoring cards and the amount of gold they have collected. At the end of four seasons, the cartographer with the most points wins. 

For those that know the original game, Cartographers heroes features a new two sided map sheet and all new cards. These include a new type of card, Heroes, which can damage monsters and protect squares on your map from future monster draws.

What you get in the box for Cartographers Heroes (image from Thunderworks Games)

Check out my Cartographers Heroes Unboxing Video on Youtube for a look at what you get with this new starting point for Cartographers. This includes a nice thick pad of two sided map sheets, some pre-sharpened pencils, a bunch of cards (terrain cards, scoring cards, monster cards, hero cards, and season cards) plus, of course, a rulebook. 

The rulebook is decent, It has a good reference section which provides additional information for each scoring card. Component quality is also good and I have no complaints. However, be aware that you shuffle the terrain deck quite often, even during a single game, so you may want to sleeve those cards.

How Cartographers Heroes plays

The various card types in Cartographers Heroes a flip and write board game

You start off a game of Cartographers Heroes by separating out all of the cards into different decks. The season cards are stacked spring to winter, one scoring card of each type is drawn and placed where everyone can see it, A-D cards are placed above these and each player grabs a sheet and a pencil. 

Either side of the map sheet can be used but everyone has to use the same side. One side features mountains and the other has some impassible chasms as well as mountains. There are also ruin icons on both sides of the map but those aren’t used in this version of Cartographers

The terrain deck is built by adding one monster and one hero to the rest of the terrain cards and giving that a thorough shuffle. The game starts in spring with the top card of this deck being flipped over. Then each player will draw one of the terrain types in one of the shapes on the card onto their map sheet

There are a variety of terrain types in Cartographers Heroes; Forest, Village, Farm, Water, Monster, and Hero. Most cards offer a choice of what terrain type to draw (usually two) and one or more patterns you can draw that terrain type in. Patterns can be rotated in any direction but can’t be flipped. 

An example map sheet from a game of Cartographers Heroes (art by my daughter Gwen)

Drawing the terrain is straightforward. You draw the matching pattern on your map, filling empty squares with the terrain type you picked from the terrain card. If somehow you can’t fit the pattern onto your map, you instead get to draw a single square of any terrain type. Some cards will give you gold if you choose a smaller pattern to draw. Any gold you gain is marked on the bottom of your map. 

Monsters are an exception. When a monster is drawn you pass your map to one of your opponents who then draw the monster pattern on your map. Heroes are also special as when you draw them they show certain squares they protect, no monsters may be drawn there and if there’s already a monster terrain in a square that a hero now protects, they defeat it and it is crossed off. 

You continue to flip up terrain cards until the numbers on the top of the revealed cards meets or exceeds the number on the current season card. When this happens everyone draws based on that final card and the round ends and everyone scores points. 

Each season, two of the four scoring cards revealed at the start of the game are active and all players will get points based on their requirements. These are grouped into four groups of terrain types and what you score for each type is widely varied.

The scoring cards in Cartographers Heroes a fantasy flip and write game

Examples include getting points for having a group of four village squares together in a two by two grid, having water next to at least two farms, having full rows or columns on your sheet, your longest straight line of forests, etc.

In addition to scoring for the terrain types and patterns on their maps, players also get points equal to their current gold total. Finally, everyone loses one point for each empty square next to a monster. At the end of four seasons, the player with the most points wins. 

There’s a bit more to it, but all of that comes through on the cards themselves. For example, if you surround the Dragon you get a reward of three gold, Zombies multiply every round, and there’s a special terrain card that lets you draw one square of any type except heroes or monsters.

Like many card games, Cartographers Heroes is an exception-based game where the cards can break or change the core rules. 

Cartographers Heroes is a really solid and quite thinky flip and write

Playing Cartographers Heroes at one of our local pubic play game nights.

I’ve been hearing good things about the entire line of Cartographers for quite some time and have been meaning to check the game out. Thanks to Thunderworks Games for giving me that opportunity with Cartographers Heroes. It ended up being a very solid game with more depth than I expected, and that’s a good thing for me and the people I usually play games with.

For whatever reason. I tend to think of roll, flip, or whatever and write as lighter games. I expect quicker almost party style games from this genre, despite having played some thinkier ones like Dice Kingdoms of Valeria, so I wasn’t expecting Cartographers Heroes to have the depth it does. There are some really hard decisions in this game and it really rewards thinking ahead and long term strategic play. A building you place on turn one can potentially affect your score for the rest of the game.

Due to this strategic depth, Cartographers Heroes rewards game mastery. Playing multiple times and knowing what possible terrain patterns exist can help you draw things more intelligently. Even just having a vague idea of what shapes you are going to be expected to draw will help. This gives experienced players an advantage over newcomers. To combat this I suggest letting a new player flip through the terrain cards before their first game.

A finished map at the end of a game of Cartographers Heroes

While the depth here surprised me during my first game, I now love it. Cartographers Heroes gives me the feel of a solid empire building Eurogame, all through flipping up cards and drawing things on a map. It also gives me a solid sense of building something and I love checking out everyone’s finished maps and comparing them at the end of the game. I’m always fascinated by how different the maps end up when everyone had the same input to work with.

The biggest downfall in Cartographers Heroes is all of the writing and drawing. There are a lot of symbols in this game and some are easier to draw than others. During my first play I was reminded of Doodle Dungeon, another flip and write we have reviewed. It also had a lot of symbols but included a template for each player to use and I think something like that might have helped here.

To be fair players could simplify things by picking an appropriate letter or a set of simpler symbols to use instead of the ones on the cards. I’ve also seen it strongly suggested elsewhere that an even better solution is to get different coloured pencils for each terrain type in the game and then just block in areas of colour instead of drawing icons at all. We haven’t taken that step yet but I think it will be worth doing. 

The Monster Cards from Cartographers Heroes

An aspect of Cartographers that I really dig is the monsters. I like the way you have to pass your map to another player who then gets to mess with you. This does a great job of making sure that the game isn’t just multiplayer solitaire, as many of these bingo style games tend to be. I also like the way that one monster is shuffled in each season and then may or may not show up. I’ve had games with only one monster for the entire game, and others where three showed up all at the start of winter (which really messed with everyone’s endgame). 

One thing you aren’t going to find in Cartographers Heroes is any kind of story, as it is there isn’t much of a theme either. While the scoring cards are called things like Gnomish Village, and you are drawing Dragons, the actual mechanics of the game are just drawing abstract shapes on a grid and then matching those drawings to scoring cards.

Overall, I went in expecting to like Cartographers Heroes and I ended up liking it even more than I expected. I found the game to be quite brain burny, with more difficult decision points than I predicted, and that is a good thing. This is also why my wife Deanna, who’s into heavier games, really loved it. Her expectations were lower than mine going in and in the end I think she enjoys it more than I do (and I really enjoy it). 

Playing Cartographers Heroes a fantasy flip and write board game

If you like thinky games with hard decisions that reward long time planning where something you did in turn one could come back to haunt you later in the game, then Cartographers Heroes will probably be a good fit for you, especially if you don’t mind some randomness and other people potentially messing with those plans. 

If you enjoy solo gaming I can see the small footprint and strategic depth of Cartographers Heroes being rather appealing. On the opposite end of things, if you like to livestream games Cartographers Heroes could be great for playing with a huge group online as you flip up the cards and everyone else draws (you can get PDF map pages free from Thunderworks)

My wife and I found Cartographers Heroes to be a great coffee shop and/or bar game due to its small footprint. There aren’t many games this size that pack this much punch. If you like some brain burn with your cold brew, Cartographers Heroes is a great choice. 

If what you want from a whatever-and-write is something fast and furious filled with comparing notes and laughter, that’s not what you will find here. While flipping over a card and drawing the matching shape on a map grid is a pretty simple mechanic, it is going to take some thinking to score well in Cartographers Heroes

That’s all I have to say about Cartographers Heroes from Thunderworks Games, a fantasy flip and write with some serious meat to it.

What’s your favourite roll, flip, whatever and write game? Let us know about it in the comments below!

Cartographers Heroes | Standalone Expansion
  • EXPLORE THE WILDERNESS: The Queen has tasked you with scouting new territories in the World of Ulos! Cartographers Heroes serves as both a core game and expansion to the original award-winning Cartographers game.
  • NEW CHALLENGES: Featuring all-new double-sided maps, scoring cards, explore cards, and ambush cards.
  • NEW HEROES: Introducing the Hero cards mechanic! These Heroes will help you fight back against ambushing monsters and protect the Queen’s lands from invasion.
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