Sunday 17 January 2016

Cardboard - Patchwork board game review

Patchwork was released back in 2014, but for some reason I've been seeing it *everywhere* for the past couple of months. Everyone on Instagram seemed to have a copy except me and since it combines board games and crafting, two of my favourite things to do, it had to go onto my Christmas list. Not that I've ever actually done any real quilting; my sewing is a bit rubbish and I value my fingers too much to go near a sewing machine on a regular basis... Even so, I was lucky enough to find a copy of the game under our Christmas tree courtesy of my lovely husband.

Uwe Rosenberg is one of my favourite game designers, and while I've poured many hours into his bigger games like Agricola, Ora et Labora and Caverna over the years, it's a lot harder for me to get these heavier games to the table on a regular basis now that there's little baby in the picture. Rosenberg's smaller two-player offerings, like Le Havre: Inland Port, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small and now Patchwork are a great way to fit in a quick game when you're limited for time and players.

Patchwork (or 'Button Wars' as it shall henceforth be known in our house) is a two-player abstract strategy game where players are working to make the best scoring quilt. This is based on the aesthetic quality of the quilt and also its ability to generate little blue buttons, one of the main currencies of the game. Random, I know, but stay with me!

Each player has their own game board with a 9x9 grid of squares on which to create their quilting masterpiece. The quilt itself is made from colourful patchwork tiles of various tetris-style shapes and sizes. These need to be fitted together to cover as much of the board as possible in order to score well. Tiles cost a certain amount of buttons to buy; they also cost a number of units of time, the other currency at play, to sew into the quilt. Some of the tiles also help you to gain more buttons throughout the game, so you're constantly balancing the cost in buttons and time with the potential to improve your button-generating economy (not a phrase I thought I'd ever need to type...)

Button economy! | Random Nerdery

At the start of the game all of the tiles are placed in a big randomly ordered circle around the central 'time' track. 

Patchwork setup | Random Nerdery

Each player has a marker on the time track to indicate how far through the game they are, with the game ending when both players reach the end of the track. 

Patchwork time track with patches | Random Nerdery

Play begins with the person who last used a sewing needle (perhaps an unfair advantage for me in our household) and from then on the turn order is determined by whoever is further back on the time track. This can mean that if one player buys a particularly time-intensive piece, thus making a big leap forward on the track, the player left behind could have more than one turn if there are some low-time-cost pieces available.

The game would all be pretty easy if you could pick whichever piece you wanted to fill up your quilt. So you can't! At the start of the game, a large wooden pawn is placed in the circle next to the smallest piece. On your turn you can only make your selection from the first three tiles clockwise from the pawn. 

Patchwork patch choice | Random Nerdery

Once you've chosen a piece, pay its cost in buttons (if any), add it to your quilt and move your marker forward on the time track by the number of spaces indicated on the tile. The pawn then moves into the gap created by the piece just taken, meaning the next player to take a turn has a new set of three to choose from. If there's nothing you can afford or want to buy, you can instead choose to move forward on the track to the space in front of the other player and gain buttons equivalent to the number of spaces moved.

To help top up your button-cash throughout the game, when you pass certain spots on the time track you get a number of extra buttons equivalent to the number of blue button symbols shown on tiles in your quilt. 

Patchwork time track button spaces | Random Nerdery

There are also some single space 'patch' tiles to pick up for free on the time track, gained by whoever passes them first. These are really handy for filling up little gaps in your quilt!

Patchwork single space patches | Random Nerdery

When both players hit the final spot of the time track the game ends and it's time to decide who made the best quilt by scoring. Any buttons you have in hand turn into victory points, including a special points award for the first player to fill 7x7 of their 9x9 grid. Then you knock two points off for each empty square on your board (normally very painful) to get a final total and celebrate your fabric-based victory (or mourn your buttonly defeat)!

Patchwork completed quilt | Random Nerdery

I love this game. The rules are really straightforward but there are loads of decisions to balance which gives the game a lot more depth than the components would suggest. There's time and button-currency to manage, as well as the physical puzzle of fitting the pieces together on your board in the most efficient manner. You also need to keep an eye on what pieces are coming up for purchase - for pieces you might need, but also for tiles that might benefit your opponent. You could invest in expensive pieces that will generate more buttons in future turns, or focus on cheaper pieces to cover as much space as possible... I could go on! It's sometimes easy to get tangled up in analysis-paralysis once you start thinking about what your opponent is up to as well as your own quilt, but the game helps minimise this by limiting your purchasing choices and normally the whole thing clips along at a nice pace.

It's a really fun puzzle playable in a short time; the box says 30 minutes but we've found about 20 is normally enough, making it really easy to fit a quick game into a busy schedule. As a two-player game this limits the audience slightly, but it worked brilliantly for us as a couple who both love games. It's simple enough to make a great introductory game for newer players as well.

Everything in the box is really good quality and Klemens Franz's colourful artwork really helps the game to stand out when it's in play. It looks friendly, happy and calm, and it plays accordingly. I'm so glad this is in our collection now and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for regular two-player gamers.