Plans and Ploys is the first expansion for Stonemaier’s Tapestry, a game that (from what I can tell) a lot of people really liked, but that had a lot of conversation focused on the categorization question of “is it a civilization game?” and how balanced the civilizations were. The former isn’t really relevant to whether it’s a fun game, or to this review, but the latter sort-of is. The biggest impact from Plans and Ploys is a lot of new civilizations and a bonus landmark for each player that provides an early-game goal, but there are also new tapestry cards, space tiles, and a couple other new landmarks.
Plans and Ploys is a small-box expansion, and as a physical matter most of the expansion is taken up by the same thing that took up the base game box – the landmarks. Plans and Ploys introduces seven new landmarks, all of which are gained in new ways previously unrelated to landmarks (note: with all those landmarks I was still, barely, able to get everything in Plans and Ploys to fit in the base box with the base insert still in there). One comes from a tapestry card, while a second comes from a new space tile. The remaining five, however, come from new landmark cards. Each player starts the game with a landmark card (they are drafted in reverse player order). Each card specifies a condition – meet the condition and you get the landmark. Conditions include things like controlling enough hexes, having a fully upgraded technology, or completing enough of your capital. The existence of landmark cards made it notably easier to fill in our capitals, improving the scoring potential of science/population. On the bright side, the landmark cards provide a little extra goal to focus your play in the early game. On the downside, how much synergy there is between your landmark and your civilization may introduce structural variance in scoring potential. Of course, the landmark miniatures in Plans and Ploys are as fantastic-looking as the ones in the base game – big, chunky, and colorful.
Along with the landmark cards, the most impactful aspect of Plans and Ploys is the ten new civilizations. Civilizations can drastically change how a game of Tapestry plays out, so every new one is a big deal. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the new options:
- Advisors: Focus on tapestry cards – draw extras at the start of the game, cycle through tapestry cards, gain victory points for having lots of tapestry cards. But the overall most impactful aspect is the ability to interfere with which tapestry cards other players get (although you might not get to do it as much as you think because it discourages your opponents from gaining extra tapestry cards in the first place).
- Aliens: Gain early access to space tiles.
- Infiltrators: A two-track civilization, the infiltrators either creep into the new territories of other players (gaining resources and earning control points) OR directly infiltrating an opposing capital, gaining some victory points and eventually a new civilization card.
- Islanders: The islanders are an exploration-focused civilization that does that exploration off on their own island, instead of on the main board, gaining a VP boost if they can arrange their tiles correctly.
- Recyclers: Heavy tech focus – start with a tech, get extra tech upgrades, and can gain tech out of the discard pile.
- Riverfolk: Permits and encourages covering up impassible spaces in your capital city.
- Spies: Copy abilities from opponents – tapestry cards, advancement track benefits, tiles, and tech cards.
- Tinkerers: Give out start-of-game tech cards to opponents, then gains benefits based on advancement tracks, mostly from moving up or down (possibly moving way up or down).
- Treasure Hunters: Encourage exploring but not directly conquering territories, instead using player tokens to take control of empty territories and gaining benefits in the process.
- Utilitarians: Landmark focused – get a free landmark at the start of the game, and the option to gain unique abilities based on which landmarks you gain during the game.
The Aliens civilization was popular for us for flavor reasons. You don’t get to advance tech a terrible lot in Tapestry, so the Recyclers was a nice option. The Tinkerers can be pretty exciting for everyone, with powerful moves of their own and goodies for everyone else, although they encourage some serious long-range planning that might make a game drag depending on who’s playing them.
I noted that Plans and Ploys sort-of related to the question of civilization balance because, in addition to the new civilizations, there are adjustments for existing civilizations from the base game. I say it is “sort-of” related to Plans and Ploys because, of course, Stonemaier already makes these adjustments available on their website; it’s not like you have to buy the expansion to get them. Half of the sixteen original civs get adjustments. I would try to compare which civs are strongest or weakest vs. which civs were adjusted, but it would probably be madness to go down that sort of analytical rabbit hole. Suffice it to say that the Heralds, Futurists, and Craftsmen, are weakened, while the the Alchemists, Architects, Merrymakers, Chosen, and Traders are strengthened. Most of the adjustments consist of gaining or losing 1-2 resources.
Most of the rest of the expansion is a question of which aspects of the game got new content. There are no new terrain tiles, but there are new space tiles – the Monolith, mentioned above, and several tiles that provide ongoing benefits (all of the space tiles in the base game provided one-time benefits). Plans and Ploys includes a bag for the terrain tiles, however, in case you found stacks of tiles an underwhelming way to select at random. I’m not too enthused about the new space tiles, because they reward victory points for advancing on other the tracks, so they can be really situational. There are no new tech cards, but there are about 15 new tapestry cards. The new tapestry cards on average seemed less situational than the base game tapestry cards, and introduce some non-trap ways to interact with conquering tiles controlled by other players (including cards useful both on attack and defense). There is new automa/solo content, including scenarios for varied gameplay but, as usual, I am not in a position to evaluate the value of that content because solo board game play is not my thing.
Plans and Ploys is fairly straightforward as an expansion, with one new mechanic (landmark cards) and much of the rest of the punch coming from expanded player-power options, which matter a great deal more than the smattering of new tiles and tapestry cards. I liked how the landmark cards make it easier to fill out the capital city mat. I think the new civilization options are great, although I can’t say that the selection in the base game was lacking. I like the new tapestry cards, although the number added is small enough that it doesn’t make a big difference. Overall, there’s a bit more interaction between players, between the powers of a couple of the civilizations and the new tapestry cards that interact with conquest. I think pretty much anyone who liked Tapestry will like Plans and Ploys.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.