Board Game Review: Tapestry, A Unique Anachronistic Civilization Building Board Game

Tapestry from Stonemaier games is a beautiful civilization building game that’s doing something different. It plays very differently from other civ games out there, like Through the Ages or Clash of Cultures

Along with being a unique look at civilization building, Tapestry also features some of the best production quality I’ve seen in any published board game. 

Disclosure: Stonemaier Games was cool enough to provide us with a copy of Tapestry to check out. No other compensation was provided. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What do you get with the board game Tapestry?

Tapestry from Stonemaier GamesTapestry was designed by Jamey Stegmaier. It features artwork by Andrew Bosley and sculptures by Rom Brown. It was published in North America by Stonemaier Games in 2019. 

A game of Tapestry plays one to five players with games taking around two hours on average depending on player count and experience. 

Tapestry is not cheap, it has an MSRP of $99 USD. Though once you see the quality of the components used in this game the price becomes much more palatable. 

Tapestry is a civilization building board game featuring only two possible player actions each round. You either collect income and enter the next era for your evolving civilization or you move up on one of four progress tracks, which include Exploration, Technology, Science and Military. Moving up these tracks is what makes the game interesting and by doing so you will expand your civilization, conquer territories, invent technologies, complete research, build your capital city and more. 

This game features some of the best components I’ve ever seen in a board game. You can see these for yourself in our Tapestry Unboxing Video on YouTube

The building and landmarks in Tapestry are extremely impressive.There is a ton of stuff in this box, all of which was even better quality than I expected.

I knew that this game was well produced, but I was surprised by many elements that I hadn’t heard about before. Things like the fact that the box has an insert to store and hold the three-dimensional landmarks, the fact that those landmarks are printed in colour and not just pre-painted, the way all of the player boards are textured so as to prevent things from sliding, the quality of all of the buildings including the individual player houses and outposts, and even the material the rulebook is printed on, is a step above what you would expect in a modern boardgame. 

I do have to admit that most of this is extraneous and has no impact on the actual mechanics of the game. If they wanted to reduce the price point, the houses in Tapestry could have easily been cubes, the landmarks could have been cardboard polyominos, etc.

That said, I appreciate the overall aesthetic and tactile nature of the components in Tapestry. I don’t think I would enjoy the game as much as I do if it just featured chits and cubes. In this case, I do really think you get what you pay for.

Tapestry: Overview of Play

All set up to play a game of Tapestry.Learning to play Tapestry can be interesting. The actual rulebook for this game is only four pages long with an entire page dedicated to the components and set up. The reason for this is that the actual rules are very simple. Each turn you only have two choices. It’s the implementation of those choices that can be quite complex.

You start a game of Tapestry by putting the board out on the table on the correct side for the number of players. Each player then takes a player board, which they fill with five of each of four different types of buildings. Each building type representing different civilization advancements including Markets, Houses, Farms and Armouries. 

Players are then dealt two random Civilizations and one or two (depending on the number of players) Capital City Mats.  Players select one of each of these and place them to either side of their player board. Two Outposts in their player colour are placed onto their starting island, as indicated by the numbers on their Capital City Mat, and one cube in their player colour is placed at the start of each progress track and at the start of the victory point track.

Next to the main board you will place the shuffled Tapestry Deck and Technology Deck, and draw three face-up Technology Cards. Other materials, like the exploration tiles, space tiles, dice, landmark board and landmarks, etc. are placed beside the board. 

A four player game of the civilization building game TapestryFinally, players check their Civilization boards and the Civilization Adjustments sheet and do any adjustments before the game starts, such as taking free resources, placing cubes or gaining victory points. The Civilization Adjustments sheet is something that was added to the second and later printings of the game and includes modifications to balance the various Civilizations in the game. This file is updated regularly with the latest version being available online. The current version as of the time I’m writing this review was updated in March 2021

Each turn players will decide if they want to collect Income or Advance on one of the progress tracks.  

Since no one has any resources at the start of the game, each player will begin by taking an Income Turn.

Each income turn, players will go through four phases:

  1. You track your progress and amount of resources on your player board in Tapestry.Check and activate any “during your income phase” abilities for their Civilization (this is skipped on turn one).
  2. Play a Tapestry Card from your hand. If you don’t have one you draw a random one. If you are the first of your neighbours (the players to your left and right) to play a Tapestry Card for a given era you will earn some bonus resources (this is skipped on turn one).
  3. Upgrade a Technology Card and gain Victory Points. Move one of your tech cards up one level and claim the appropriate reward. Each card has two levels. Victory points are gained based on what is currently showing on your player board (which will be nothing at the start of the game). Potentially points can be earned for the number of technology cards you have, for complete rows and columns of buildings on your Capital City Mat, for advancing on the Farm track, and for controlling territory on the map. These scoring opportunities are unlocked by getting buildings into play, and thus removing them from your player board.
  4. Collect income. There are four resources in the game. Money, Food, Workers and Culture. Each income phase you will gain a number of each based on how many income symbols are unlocked on your player board. These are also unlocked by playing buildings from your player board. 

Instead of collecting income players can choose to advance. 

Fairly early in the civilization game TapestryPick one of the four tracks to advance on. Pay the cost, in resources, for the next spot on the track. Move your cube to the new spot. Take the action indicated on the spot then complete any bonus actions available on that spot. 

Here’s where things get interesting. Players have all kinds of options. Each track has twelve different spots on it, each of which is totally unique. While some may be similar, such as where you take a Tapestry Card and build a building of a specific type, most of these actions are completely different and are unique to each track.

It’s too much for me to cover in detail here, but what I will do is talk a bit about each track type and the actions it provides in general.

The Exploration Track: This track is about building farms, collecting exploration tiles and expanding the game map. One of the most common actions on this track is the Explore action that will let you place a tile onto the board. You will get points for doing this based on how many sides of the new tile match up with what is already on the board and you will also gain some form of bonus for placing the tile. Usually, the bonus is resources but sometimes it’s cards or the ability to build something. 

The technologies in Tapestry may not follow our own historical development. The Technology Track: This track is all about building Markets and inventing Technologies. When you invent a technology you place it next to your Capital City Mat. It does nothing for you until you are able to advance it. You can advance technologies during the income phase, but there are also many spots on the Technology Track that let you advance your Technology cards. Each technology contains two rewards, one you get after the first advance and another that is earned if you advance that same tech again. To complete this final advancement there is always a requirement based on either how many buildings you or your neighbours have built or how far you or your neighbours have reached on the different progress tracks. 

The Military Track: This track is all about building armouries and conquering territory. To conquer a territory you take one of your outposts and place it onto a tile adjacent to one you control. You then roll the Military dice and get a reward. If there is an enemy outpost there you topple it, setting it on its side. Each tile can only ever hold two outposts total. 

The science track and die from Tapestry the Civ building board game.The Science Track: This track is all about placing houses, and going up even further on progress tracks. When you first advance in science you will go up on random tracks and get no reward, but then there are spaces further down the track where you can advance on multiple tracks while claiming all of the rewards. Get high enough up on the Science track and you can even turn back time. 

While advancing on these tracks you will get the opportunity to build buildings. This lets you take a building from your player board and place it on your Capital City Mat. This not only lets you fill up your mat but also uncovers spots on your player board leading to more income and scoring opportunities.

You can also add to your Capital City Mat through the advancement of certain technology cards and by collecting landmarks. The first player to advance to a new level in one of the four progress tracks gets a landmark for free. These tend to take up a large amount of space which is great for completing rows and columns for victory points as well as filling in 3×3 areas on the mat which earns you a free resource of your choice.

End game scoring achievements in TapestryAdditional victory points can also be earned by completing one of three targets. These include getting to the end of any one of the progress tracks, conquering the centre map tile, and toppling two opponent outposts. In all cases, points are awarded to the first player to do each of these with fewer points awarded to the second player to do it. On the four to five player side of the map, some of these also give points to the third player to accomplish them.

The game continues with players each selecting between the two actions until all players complete their fifth Income action. It’s interesting to note that players do not have to take income at the same time and that one player’s civilization could still be in era number one while another is in era three. This is by design and intentional. The choice of when to take income and advance to the next era is an important part of the strategy in Tapestry.

A completed capital city in a game of tapestry.It is possible for some players to be done playing while others still need to finish up. While players who have finished can no longer influence the game or take actions, they do still earn any benefits gained on other players turns based on their Civilization(s).

Once all players have taken their fifth income action, the player with the most points wins.

It’s worth noting that there is no real end game scoring in Tapestry, though players can and will earn a significant portion of their points in that last income phase. 

In addition to these multi-player rules, the game also includes a solo variant using two bots one of which can also be added to a two-player game. Both bots use an interesting card based action system to determine which tracks they advance on and what they do when they advance.

The Automa board used for playing Tapestry solo.The Automa bot acts as an opponent for solo play and features a very simplified action system. Each round it will go up on one track, claim any landmarks it earns and then take that action if possible. Actions the bot will take include conquering, exploring, rolling the science die, clearing the tech cards and collecting Tapestry Cards (which are only potentially used if they are traps and you attempt to conquer an Automa territory). In each income phase, the Automa scores points for the number of landmarks it’s collected, for the territory it controls, and for how far it’s progressed up each track.

The Shadow Empire bot is even simpler than this. Each turn this bot will progress up one track, collecting any landmarks along the way. It can also claim the reach the end of the track achievement but nothing else. In solo games, The Shadow Empire’s outposts can end up on the board in a toppled state but only through an Automa conquer action. The Shadow Empire bot earns no points. 

Tapestry is a very different civilization building game and I like it.

A four player game of TapestryThere was a huge media blitz when Tapestry hit the market back in 2019 and I can’t say that all of the news was positive. While everyone seemed to love the components for this game, the gameplay definitely turned some people off. A part of this was a number of people claiming that Tapestry is not actually a civilization game. This is an opinion I just don’t understand. 

Obviously, when people hear the words “civilization game” they get certain ideas in their head about what to expect. Ideas that are driven by the original Avalon Hill Civilization game (which the popular video game is based on), or more modern civ-building games like Clash of Cultures and Through the Ages. People also seem to expect that the game will follow a timeline similar to the one humanity has experienced in real life. The thing is Tapestry does neither of these things.

The entertainers have proven to be our favourite civilization in TapestryIt’s a different kind of civilization game, an anachronistic one. In this game, you are leading a civilization, one that can evolve into something more over time. You will be inventing technologies and improving them over time. You progress on four different tracks, representing the key civ-building elements of exploration, science, technology and warfare. You will build up your capital city and in doing so complete developments that will increase your income and ability to generate points. You will expand your territory by exploring and conquering the territory held by other players. You will exploit that territory for resources. All of these are staples of civilization games, they are just done in a new and interesting way. 

While moving a brown building from your player board to your gridded capital city board may be what you are doing mechanically, thematically this represents the development of farming and the growing value of your city. 

A tech heavy strategy in Tapestry pays off.Yes in this game your civilization that just developed fire could potentially take the transistor technology card. As I said this game is anachronistic in many ways. It’s not meant to represent any current civilization’s progress through our history but rather a variant one. Plus just taking a technology card, to me, seemed to indicate your society was thinking about that thing. They just have the basic concept down. It takes advancing a tech to actually get benefits for it and you haven’t fully developed it until you have advanced it twice. 

Anyway, let’s put the “Is Tapestry a civilization game?” argument aside and take a look at the game on its own merits. 

A five player game of Tapestry from Stonemaier Games.Ever since our first game, I have been having a ton of fun discovering Tapestry. That’s exactly what all of my games have been at this point, a discovery. Trying different things, experiencing different civilizations, figuring out which tracks work best with the others, discovering which technologies synchronize with what strategies, learning how best to fill my capital city board and so much more.  

I am extremely impressed with how Jamey was able to distil the basic mechanics of Tapestry down to only four pages. The basic gameplay is really that simple. Gain income and enter the new age or progress on one of four tracks. That’s it. The decision of what track to advance, when to advance on it, how far to advance, and when you should take an income turn, is what gives this game its weight and complexity. Added to these decisions is the complexity of having to look at what your opponents are doing and react based on that. 

There's a lot going on in Tapesty but it's not as hard to learn as it looks. While the basic options available are simple, what to do with them is not. There are a ridiculous number of ways you can play this game and so far we have found a number of very valid strategies.

There are sixteen different civilizations presented in the game, with five players playing that would give you 4,368 different possible starting civilization combinations. Added to this variation factor is the fact that it is possible for players to earn additional civilizations in the game.  

Now the downfall of this variability is the fact that no one could possibly try every possible combination and due to this, the civilizations in Tapestry aren’t fully balanced.

The Civilization Adjustments Sheet for TapestryTo address this Jamey has created the Civilization Adjustment document that I mentioned earlier, which seems to do a good job of fixing any serious balance issues. This is a living document, which has already been updated three different times so far and I expect it to continue to change. 

To help with these updates, after a game of Tapestry you can go to the Stonemaier website and log your play. I highly recommend that everyone playing do this, as it benefits all of us who enjoy the game as well as potentially improving the game for anyone new to it. 

As already mentioned the production quality here is top notch. I love how tactile everything is. This game not only looks good, it feels good. 

I can't get over how impressive the components are in TapestryTapestry is one of those games, along with others like Terraforming Mars, where at the end of the game I feel like I built something. That feeling of building something from the ground up, to me, is even more important than winning a game. These types of games always have me coming back for more and Tapestry is no exception. To be honest, score wise, I’m terrible at Tapestry, but I’ve had fun every single time I’ve played. 

That enjoyment has spread over all player counts, though I will say that a five player game does go a bit longer than I would like with quite a bit of downtime between turns. The full player count also increases the odds that one or more players will finish playing before the others and have to wait out the end.

The start of a four player game of Tapestry.Now Tapestry players on Board Game Geek claim the game is best at three and I have to disagree with that. I like it most at four. The reason for this is the neighbour rules that come up both when taking income and when trying to advance technologies. With three or fewer players everyone is both your opponent and your neighbour, once you get up to four and five players there will be one or two other players who, while still your opponents, aren’t your neighbours. 

I was surprised just how well Tapestry worked with two players. It’s not often that you get a 4x game that plays well at two. This is even without using the Shadow Empire Bot (which can improve two-player games by having something else in play to snatch up landmarks). I was even more surprised by how much I enjoyed this game solo. I’m not a big solo board gamer. Thankfully, even during a pandemic, I’ve got my family to play with as they all enjoy board games. However, I could see someone picking up Tapestry strictly to play it solo. Solo play is that solid.

The end of a two player game of TapestryOverall we really dig Tapestry. Everyone we’ve taught the game to has enjoyed it at well, with one friend now considering it one of her favourite games of all time. I’ve enjoyed every single play of Tapestry both with new and experienced players. It’s got amazing production quality and features gameplay that leaves you feeling like you’ve accomplished something, whether you win or lose. 

If you dig 4x style games that feature things like progressing on tracks, exploration and conquering, and development of technologies, with variable player powers and asymmetry, I think you are going to really dig Tapestry. Just leave any preconceived notions about what is and isn’t a Civilization Building game at the door and sit down and enjoy.

Tapestry works well with only two players.One big advantage Tapestry does have over other popular civ building games is that it’s much shorter (plays in under 2 hours) and much less complex (weight of 2.88 on BGG). Due to this, even if epic 4x style empire building games scare you, you should give Tapestry a try.  

Now if you are looking for the next Clash of Cultures or Through the Ages, you aren’t going to find that here. Tapestry is a very different type of civilization game. I do still recommend giving it a shot, but don’t go in expecting the same experience you’ve had with other civ builders. 

Due to the mixed reviews on Tapestry, I didn’t rush to pick it up when it was first released. So many people were bashing on it for not actually being a civilization game that I avoided it. I regret that now. This is a fantastic game that simply does things a little differently from what most people expected. 

What’s the last game you played that wasn’t at all what you expected but that you still loved regardless? Let us know in the comments below!

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