Buzzworthiness: Patchwork

Time to review a game I’ve talked a lot about recently, but haven’t actually reviewed.  Here’s

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Patchwork is a 2014 game from designer Uwe Rosenberg and publisher Lookout Games (Mayfair in the US).  It’s a game for two players only set in the thrilling world of quilting.  Players are assembling quilts on a 9×9 board, attempting to collect buttons and trying not to leave any spaces empty.

The game comes with 33 patch tiles, 50 cardboard buttons, a pawn, two player tokens, two quilt boards, and a double-sided time board.  To set up, all of the patches are spread in a circle around the time board.  The pawn is placed between the smallest patch (two squares) and the next patch clockwise.  Each player receives five buttons to start, and the two player tokens are placed on the start space of the time board.

The player whose turn it is will always be the player in last place on the time track.  This means that you could potentially have multiple turns in a row if you don’t quite catch up on your turn.  If you’re both on the same space, the player on top goes since they got there last.

On your turn, you either buy a patch or pass.  To buy, you look at the first three patches in clockwise order and pay the button cost.  You will also move your player token ahead a number of spaces as indicated on the tile.  If you cross a button icon, you collect one button per button on your board.  If you are the first to cross a single square special patch, you collect it and place it on your board.  Whatever happens, you will place the patch you purchased on your board immediately, orienting it in whichever way you please.

To pass, simply move your player token ahead until it is just ahead of your opponent’s token.  You will collect one button per space moved in this way.

The game continues until both players have reached the center space of the time board.  You then add up your buttons and subtract two for each empty space on your board.  The player with the most points is declared the winner.

image by BGG user Becienz
image by BGG user Becienz

COMPONENTS: The bits in this game are pretty great.  The patch tiles are all Tetris-like, though many of them are bigger than the ones you’d find in Tetris (which are just four squares).  The visual of the these tiles on your board really does give the impression of a quilt, though not really a cohesive one.  More of a homemade one slapped together with whatever you could find.  The tiles are all clearly marked with their costs, and the buttons are easy to spot because they stand out on each tile they are on.  The pawn is a nice big chunky wooden piece, and the player pieces are thick discs.

A couple of dings on the components here.  First, the time track.  To Mayfair/Lookout’s credit, it is double sided with one more colorful side and one more bland side.  The colorful side it bright and fun to look at, but the borders of the track blend in and are easy to miss when moving your piece.  The bland side is just that, bland.  It’s easier to use (function over form), but not as much fun to look at.  I like the colorful side and would use it every time if it wasn’t quite so busy.

The other ding is that I really wish they had used real buttons instead of those cardboard ones.  I know, keep costs down, yadda yadda.  Real buttons would have been cool.

Overall, I really like the bits in this game.  They all contribute to the unique feel of the game.

THEME: There aren’t a whole lot of quilting games out there, maybe because it’s not a very popular side hobby in our particular sphere.  I don’t know a whole lot about the process of making quilts, but I assume it doesn’t involve spending buttons to only buy one of three patches (when there are up to 30 others also lying around).  Honestly, the theme is not terribly important to the overall spatial experience, but I do think that without the theme, you wouldn’t have a game.  It would be just an economic and spatial exercise.  The art really brings out the feel of building a quilt, plus the theme is unique, so good job Uwe.

MECHANICS: The first usage of the time track mechanism (as far as I know) came in 2004 with Jenseits von Theben (Peter Prinz) and Neuland (Peter Eggert/Tobias Stapelfeldt).  Jenseits von Theben later was reimplemented by Queen Games as the Spiel des Jahres nominee Thebes in 2007, and that’s where most people really got their introduction to the concept of the last place player being the active player.  It doesn’t get used as often as it should these days, which is a pity since it’s a phenomenally clever mechanism.  Patchwork uses it to great effect as the player on turn is the one further back.  The passing mechanism in play here, where you pass to move just in front of your opponent and collect buttons, is a great way to not only keep people relatively close, but also a genius way to introduce a way to get more buttons.

The market track is another mechanical aspect of note, as you can see all 33 tiles but can only purchase one of the first three.  This allows for planning as you know what’s coming up,  as well as trying to overshoot something your opponent might be looking for, if not grabbing it for yourself.

Other than that, it’s just tile placement and spatial awareness.  People who like games like Tetris will feel right at home.

STRATEGY LEVEL: You’re kind of playing your own game in Patchwork, and therefore are working on more of a puzzle than anything.  That’s not to say that there is no opportunity for strategic thinking.  As I mentioned, the layout of the patch tiles gives you an opportunity to look ahead for something you want and plan for it.  Also, the ability to pass may be not only economically necessary but strategically a good idea to prevent a patch you want from being lost to you.  So there is a good amount of strategy, but not enough to make your head hurt – the game really does move pretty quickly.

ACCESSIBILITY: Patchwork is a relatively easy game to learn.  Buy a patch, place it on your board, try to fill the board up.  It’s not complicated, and I expect a lot of people could figure it out easily.  To become good at it might take some time, but I think the basic rules are simple to grasp.

SCALABILITY: This is a game only for two players.  There are some solo variants out there, but this was designed as a two-player game, and works very well as a two player game.  It could be interesting to combine two sets to try a four-player game, but I’d stick with two.

REPLAYABILITY: I think there’s a lot of replayability here, primarily because the tile distribution will always be different.  There’s a lot of flexibility in how you build your quilt, and the puzzle nature makes it a new challenge every time.

INTERACTION: There is not much in the way of player interaction here.  There’s some indirect interaction as players can swipe pieces that the other wanted, or can try to maximize their number of turns from last place.  But it’s mostly two players playing their own thing.

FOOTPRINT: This game takes up some space with the ring of tiles that you need.  I suppose it’s possible to just stack all of the tiles up and only reveal the three that are eligible, but then you lose the preplanning that comes from looking down the line.

THE OTHER SIDE: If it’s not apparent, I really like this game.  But I’m trying to include some contrasting opinions in my review, taken from BoardGameGeek.  BGG user theaaron, who rated the game a 4, says:

“I liked the idea here but it’s really just not fun. Also situations can arise where one player almost has no chance, based on which tiles are out on his turn.”

Fun is a subjective term.  I find this game to be a lot of fun, but if it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing.  The point about one player potentially having no chance is a valid complaint, but most games where there’s a random setup have the same potential.  I personally find that the ability to pass to gain more buttons can be a pretty great equalizer.  For another comment, BGG user jgoyes (who rated the game a5) says:

So far, I have liked every Rosenberg game I have played, but I was disappointed in Patchwork, I was expecting a heavier game from him.

This is definitely NOT in the style of more recent Rosenberg games, like Agricola, Le Havre, The Fields of Arle.  It’s more in line with his earlier career, games like Bohnanza, Mamma Mia!, Bargain Hunter.  But if the later Rosenberg is what you like, yes, this will be much lighter and less complex.

I usually discount 1 ratings on BGG as mostly sour grapes.  But, in the interest of making a balanced review, here’s the comment from BGG user Pro_player:

Boring, ugly piece of crap.

I completely disagree, but there’s no doubt that the visual style of the game can be jarring.  The pieces don’t blend together, and it makes a mishmash of a quilt in the end.  I definitely wouldn’t call it ugly, but it’s certainly not as pretty as some games out there.  And it isn’t boring – maybe not exciting, but not boring.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  This is a great game that I think all two-player gamers should try.  A great puzzle with some well done mechanics, and a worthy addition to my collection.  Thanks for reading!

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