Tapestry is the boardgame hype of the season. And why not?
It’s yet another gorgeous looking production from Jamey Stegmaier, who is a gamers’ game designer with a damn near perfect resume.
It’s a medium-weight, 2-hour, five player, engine-building, asymmetric civilisation game. If you were playing boardgame-buzzword hotness bingo at home, you just hit the jackpot. This looks like just the right game for right now.
Stonemaier Games has a knack of carefully reading the gamer zeitgeist, of cultivating a purposeful engagement with players, and designing games that anticipate the demands of the grognardy gamer community and the casual boardgamer alike.
But it’s arguably the most polarising game that they have produced to date. It doesn’t even have a retail release for another week or so, but already there are more than 2,800 ratings on BoardGameGeek, and well over 800 comments from gamers. Not all of them are as positive as you would expect from a game that looks this good on paper.
In Tapestry, players compete with one another to create the civilization with the richest and most unique history, from the beginning of humankind and on through into the not-too-distant future. Your civilisation makes progress along the four advancement tracks of science, technology, exploration, and military, with the player-directed choice of focusing in on one area or balancing out. Make money, build your city, crank your abilities engine and gain tapestry cards to tell the story of your one of a kind civilization. Go from the creation of fire to space exploration, and be home in time for work tomorrow. That’s the premise, at least, and it’s a good one.
Too good, perhaps? Stonemaier Games had allocated what they thought was enough games to satisfy the demands of a four-day preorder window.
The pre-order sold out entirely in just 32 hours.
In fairness, they had limited the preorder period to 4 days in response to previous criticisms from retailers, who argued that they had missed out on potential sales of Wingspan because such a large portion of the early buys were from Stonemaier directly. This time, they instead devoted a significant share of the first print run to retailers instead. As Jamey noted on his blog (in an article entitled “Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t?”
[A]s you can imagine, it didn’t feel great for me to cut off direct-order consumers 2 days early due to an artificial constraint on supply. Yes, it’s important that I have solid relationships with distributors, retailers, and the many people who buy games from retailers, but is it right to prioritize them over fans who want to order directly from Stonemaier? Especially given how short the preorder period was? I could have just let the 4-day preorder run its course and allocated the remaining games afterwards. I can always make more games for distributors, but there’s only one first-printing preorder for fans.
This is one of the explanations for the abundance of hate-raters that this game has already attracted. But the negative reviews of the game go beyond criticisms of the pre-order process. Principal among these is the argument over whether or not this is a civilisation game, or a civilisation-themed game. It seems to matter a lot to players. Some of the reviews on BGG bear this out:
Thematically, it just fells wrong. Things like getting Radio technology turn 1 then The Nail turn 4. Little interaction. Other than a race on a track to get an achievement.
In terms of it being a “civ builder,” Tapestry is utterly devoid of any of the trappings of an actual civ game. It has the ever-so-thinnest veneer of tech and military and so forth, but it’s slapped on with water soluble paint that strips off with a sideways glance. Calling this a civ game is an absolute joke.
The game is most definitely not coherently expressive of any theme associated with civilization games. This game is all setting brought about through artwork and flavor text. If this game has theme, any game with a little flavor text has theme. Whatever story is being attempted to be conveyed by the tapestry cards, the board play, and the tracks is incoherent at best. And, in actual practice, the players do not care about the names of the technologies they procure, nor do they care about the various labels attached to the tracks and income house tracks. Instead, players only care about the effects and how those effects feed into the optimization puzzle. The optimization puzzle fails to evoke any connection between a civilization theme and the overproduced setting.
I did not care about what I built, nor invented, as long as I earned the most VPs. The game does not let you play with technologies. It’s just a bonus and a means to a VP-maximizing end. As we played, I did not think I was suddenly some more powerful civilization with this or that technology as the game ran its course: I was still the same abstract entity at the start who now gains more things to turn into more points. Tapestry offers no compelling flavor to make you want to care. Numerous laurel-wreathed symbols tied to scoring icons left no illusions on the focus of the game: advance our lead in points. Again, the “how” was often obvious. A lengthy game that lacks opacity is a boring game.
Without having played the game, I’m not completely put off by the negative reviews, any more than I am blinded by the pre-release marketing hype. It is not uncommon for a game like this to receive an (un)fair share of pre-release or early release commentary, and its key purpose is to let the consumers know that the game exists. Mission accomplished.
And as brutal as some of these reviews seem, there is an emerging theme that among them. It is now a growing consensus that calling it a civilisation-building game was a misstep by the design team, and created expectations that the game has not lived up to. That of itself doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good game, but if you are expecting a rival to Through the Ages, Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game, Antiquity, Nations or Innovation, you might be better off looking elsewhere for your fix.
Tapestry will be available for retail purchasers on November 1st. If you’re like me and you missed out on the pre-order, to can spend the meanwhile reading the reviews from Board Game Quest, and Strange Assembly for further research.