Board Games = A Cartographer’s Dream Come True

If you have been watching Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, he has mentioned at one point that there are four pillars of classical European-style Board Games.

  • Carcassonne
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Ticket To Ride
  • Alhambra

These four games all have one thing in common: they all operate on a map. Aside from Ticket To Ride, the maps for these games are customizable. While this can lead to fun-filled nights of beer and board games, it can also lead to a fun and creative night where you can create an entire realm for you to roam in, or perhaps for your party to make of it what they will.

How is this achieved? Simple. The maps come in the form of tiles that you place on the board. Each method of laying tiles is different according to the game though, for example, sides have to match, you must be able to walk to it, etc.. Ticket To Ride is an exception though, as the map is already pre-made, so let’s get that out of the way.

Ticket To Ride is a train-based game. Its fluff says that you and your friends are rich, wealthy aristocrats who, inspired by the book Around the World in 80 Days, make a million dollar wager to whoever could make it across USA the most in seven days, tracked with the trains you put on the routes.

In that tradition, you can use the map as the setting for a cross-country, modern day (or 1900’s as the fluff says) RPG and put the trains on the map to keep track of where the party has gone and where they’re going. You could make it a bit more tense by putting certain events at certain locations or using different color trains to represent things such as rival parties, villainous evil-doers, or even another half of the party (if you’re into splitting). There’s multiple maps, so you could have an adventure set in Europe or Asia.

Well, that’s the simple game out of the way, let’s go with the more advanced games.

Settlers of Catan has a hex-based map that contains 19 sectors, each containing a certain setting ranging from deserts to forests to plains to mountains. The list goes on. You may get a pretty good idea of what hex contains which setting, and perhaps which setting contains which dangers. For example, a mountain might have a big, scary dragon sleeping inside it. Its hex, located near the sheep-producing pastures and wheat-producing fields could represent that it’s sleeping in a close proximity to a village and if not dealt with soon, it might go and feast on a few lamb or people for its breakfast.

Carcassonne can easily create a map for a kingdom. The large tracts of land, the long open roads, and the expansive cities… Hell, some people even created a complete map using the tiles they have. The way you can customize it, especially with expansions, makes map making for your main settings a breeze, especially when planning out where important locations are, like the capital city or the castle where your evil dragon slumbers in.

Alhambra is more smaller though. For scale comparisons, if Carcassonne is how you map a land, then Alhambra is how you map a town in the land… Well, an Arabian themed town… I actually think Granada, despite its sea-bound setting, fits more for a fantasy town than Alhambra, especially since they give more buildings. I guess just pretend the water are walls and boom, you have tiles set to create a town bustling with buildings.

Personally, I prefer Carcassonne, since it makes a pretty good map if you use the tiles properly and adding expansions to it helps adds life to the map. Hopefully this post helps give you ideas the next time you’re pressed for map ideas and you happen to own one of the four (five if you count Granada) board games mentioned here.

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