I typically judge a game's solo potential based on accessibility, puzzly fun, and thematic ties/immersion. The more thematic the game, the more I'm willing to sacrifice a bit of the accessibility, while for a puzzly kind of experience, I'd prefer a game with quicker setup and minimal upkeep that allows me to get in and get out after a solid brain teasing session.
So where does #Tapestry fall in this spectrum? Here are my first impressions after playing through ~50% of my first game (I had to wrap it up quickly before my son woke up from his nap).
- The "4 page rulebook" is great - I've previously read through criticisms regarding the short rulebook, that it doesn't give enough room for clarifications. Based on my solo play, I was pretty amazed how simple the rules are to pick up. It'll take time to learn the icons though and you'll find yourself referring to the reference sheet quite often in the beginning.
- The Automa in this game has a slight learning curve but runs smoothly - Oddly enough, the solo mode rules are longer and take more time to digest. I can see why though, because compared to a game like #Viticulture: Essential Edition, the Automa in this one needs a more complex decision tree to be able to offer good competition. But the Automa still runs very smoothly and involves little upkeep.
- Setup time is just "okay" for me but likely great for veteran solo gamers - Depending on the person, setup clocks around 5-10 minutes. In the beginning, taking out the minis and placing them down on their respective areas (on the board where players will be taking the minis from) will take you more time than you'd imagine! Also, if you're primarily a solo gamer, you'll want to store the Tapestry deck separated in two different baggies or something. Of the 50 cards, 13 of them need to be taken out when playing against the Automa. Teardown time goes super quickly because there aren't that many different pieces involved considering that it's a civ-like game.
- There's randomness, and quite a bit of it. Presents a great challenge for solo gamers but it could be problematic for multiplayer sessions - Luck factor is received very differently among gamers, and some will be optimistic about it and focus on making the best out of the situation (similar to what you'd experience in #Viticulture: Essential Edition pre-Tuscany expansion), and others will not enjoy this. The synergy of your civ's power and the right card draws can absolutely kick off your engine, while a series of bad draws will slow you down quite a bit. There are ways to mitigate this by taking actions to draw more cards, but it does mean that you'd potentially use up your resources and turns to advance along a track that's not the best for you. And while luck can leave room for less experienced gamers to catch up while presenting a serious challenge for experienced players, the opposite could also mean a bad experience where you're completely behind and feel like you won't ever catch up.
- $65 is great but $80? Hmmm... - I see that this game is now at $65 from Amazon, which is a lot cheaper than where Tapestry started out at upon release. I think that's a great value but knowing what Tapestry encompasses, I wouldn't have gone for it at an $80 price tag. Big part of this is that the minis (and the potion of the insert that houses them) comprise about 30-50% of the box's volume, and that's a whole lot of space and money for something that's mostly for visuals. I'll get more into the minis in the section for "Thematic Immersion".
Summary: Like most games from Stonemaier Games, there's a strong focus on accessibility. As I'll get into below, there's a whole lot of abstraction that keeps things simple and straightforward. So in return for a loss in thematic immersion, Tapestry offers a "civ-like" game that you can introduce to your friends and family without hesitation because it's light on rules, looks fantastic, offers satisfying gameplay, and doesn't have you beating up on one another like in #Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization.
- Tapestry is a satisfying engine builder - More than a civ game, Tapestry comes across as an engine builder with several civ-like elements thrown into the mix. Similar to how #Wingspan offers a fun brain teaser with its 3 separate engines, Tapestry gives you four of them: Military, Technology, Science, and Exploration. The competition with the Automa and the Shadow Empire leads to making a lot of tactical decisions while your civilization's unique power sets the course for more strategic, long-term decisions. It's satisfying to push along your cubes across these tracks and have your moves grow ever more powerful.
- Offers a spatial puzzle - Whenever you build a structure or score one of those landmark minis, you place them on your civilization board that has a grid pattern that notates habitable spaces. You score points in your income turn based on the completed rows and columns and certain sections on the board.
- Automa presents a serious challenge - As a solo gamer, you will be playing against the Automa that's also assisted by the Shadow Empire. The Automa is the primary threat while the Shadow Empire keeps the race along the tracks (and the competition for the landmarks) even tighter. The game presents a tough mind puzzle of trying to figure out how to squeeze out the most amount of efficiency from your limited resources to make some serious progress along the tracks before needing to head into the income phase.
- Tactile goodness! - Some might call it overproduced, but it sure adds to the experience. The big player "boards" and many other cards have a grainy, rough finish. The income generating buildings and the minis are rubbery and fun to hold. You have the smooth player cubes that you push along the track. You have the tiles that you place on the board as you explore beyond the territories you control. And lastly, the game comes with some cool dice that you can chuck.
Summary: If you're a fan of Stonemaier Games, you'll likely at least enjoy the solo mode. Tapestry is a different game but there's a familiarity about it in its engine-building puzzles, while also offering civ-like elements such as exploration and conquering (conquering part is admittedly not that exciting though, at least not on the level of YESSS like in #Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization). Plus, Tapestry comes with a rich tactile fun that I always seek in a great solo game (otherwise, zero tactile fun makes me think "why play this instead of an app?"
Thematic Immersion (in other words, is Tapestry a civ game?)
- This question is loaded with subjectivity - For me, a civ game should ultimately deliver on a feeling of progression and story, where you can look back after finishing the game and easily reflect on its moments of triumph and downfall. Doesn't really matter how complex it is or how it achieves it, but I'd expect every move I make to feel like I've advanced a part of my civilization and hopefully made it for the better. And my answer to this is that Tapestry comes close, but not quite there for me.
- There's a lot of abstraction that makes Tapestry accessible, but at the expense of thematic ties - Advancing along a track requires an increasing amount of resources in the form of coin, food, worker, or culture. It feels odd when you're making leaps in history and just paying two workers and a coin. It's also a bit anti-climatic that many of the benefits in advancement is in the form of taking an income generating building (see the yellow, gray, brown, and red buildings in the picture) and placing it on your civilization board, where during your income turn, you will generate income based on all icons revealed. So there's a bit of that engine-building feeling of progression, but you never quite get that satisfaction of taking a super inefficient building and upgrading it beyond recognition by the end of the era. Then there are the great looking minis, which only serve to act as points. As mentioned above, placing the buildings and landmarks on your civilization board is for scoring points based on a spatial puzzle, and all these minis are good for is for covering up more footprint. And while there are many other points I can get into, your civilization will also produce anachronistic technology, where the typical pacing of real-world history will not match yours and you will find yourself developing dynamite way before discovering currency.
- There's a lack of player agency in directing your civ's history - In a game like Viticulture, there's justification for luck of the draw because it's a game in which players are relying on nature to produce their goods. I feel like this doesn't quite work for Tapestry where players should be given more control over directing the course of their civilization.
Summary: With so much abstraction in place, Tapestry leaves a lot of room for interpretation and imagination. At the same time, it never quite takes players away from thinking in terms of VP's and resources. One thing's for sure, and it's that the narrative of your civilization will look drastically different across all of your plays.
Final Thoughts: So with that said, how do I feel about Tapestry? I definitely need to give it more plays to decide, but it's a great game with lots of wonderful ideas that comes across as more of a puzzly experience than a thematic one. I'm looking forward to getting into this more in the future and it sits in a good spot where the setup time is just within what I could tolerate for a puzzly (plus more) kind of gameplay with highly competitive Automa.