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Review: Patchwork

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Box and Components

A lot of time, hard work, and talent goes into making beautiful quilts that are passed down from one generation to the next. Now you can make a much less impressive quilt of your own in a fraction of the time!

How it Plays

Weaving a Quilt One Patch at a Time

Making your first quilt can be quite the undertaking. You start with a blank canvas and there are so many different fabrics to choose from. Which ones should you pick and how are you going to weave everything together to form a breathtaking masterpiece? Truth be told it probably won’t be all that impressive but you’ll have to start somewhere!

Setup

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when selecting materials for your quilt so I’ll make things really simple for you. Here are three patches that you can choose from.

Selection 1

Any of those catch your eye? Ah yes, the one in the middle. A fine choice! That’ll cost you two buttons. No, I don’t know why this store only accepts buttons as currency. Here, I just happen to have five buttons to get you started. That should be enough to cover that patch and hopefully leave enough for you next purchase.

Now find a nice spot for that patch on your quilt.

Placement 1

These things take time to get just right. Fortunately I’ve got a handy dandy scheduler to track your progress. Once you’re done we can update it. Each patch shows how long it will take to weave onto your quilt, the one you’re working on is going to take 3 hours. I’ll wait…

Finished? Good, let’s update the time track.

Time Track

There are still plenty more patches to sew into place before the day is through. Back at the store you may notice that there’s a different set of patches to choose from this time around. The available fabrics are based on the previous patch selected. Whenever a patch is taken the pawn is moved around the circle to its location and indicates that the three pieces in front of it are now available.

Selection 2

Because you’re low on buttons it looks like you can only afford one of these patches, the one in the middle. Taking it will deplete your funds but don’t worry, you’ll be getting some buttons back soon. Each time you move past a spot indicated by a button on the time track you’ll receive income equal to the number of buttons showing on your quilt. In your case, taking that patch will provide an income of two buttons.

Placement 2

Don’t worry too much about fitting everything together perfectly on your quilt. You’ll also be passing certain spaces on the time track that contain a small 1 x 1 patch and will allow you take and immediately place it on your quilt. Once you’ve arrived at the end of the time track your quilt will be complete. Or at least as close to complete as you’re going to get given the time constraints. Don’t worry, this is your first quilt so no one’s expecting it to be perfect.

Now it’s time to assess the quality of your work. Each empty space left on your board will cost two buttons and however many buttons you have left will determine how good your quilt is. Congratulations on a job well done!

You’re Not the Only Quilter Around

It turns out making a quilt wasn’t quite as hard as you thought after all, eh? Well get ready for a real challenge with the world of head-to-head competitive quilting! That’s right, now that you’re all practiced up you can put your quilting skills to the test against your fellow quilting enthusiasts.

Time Track Front
Go head to head in a battle of wits… and quilts!

Patchwork is designed for two players and uses the time track to indicate whose turn it is. Whoever’s pawn is behind on the track continues taking turns until they pass the other player. Play will continue this way until both players have arrived at the end of the track and quilts are judged.

Moving past a button provides income only for the active player and the small 1 x 1 patches are only awarded to the first player to pass over them. On their turn players also have a second option of passing and moving their pawn to the space directly in front of their opponent’s pawn. Doing so provides one button for each space moved through.

To further encourage competition in the friendly world of quilting there is a 7 button (end of game) bonus for the first player to completely fill in a 7 x 7 area on their board (which is 9 x 9 in size). Plan carefully because doing so could make it quite difficult to finish your quilt!

Buttons
Spend your buttons carefully, they are also your points!

 

Holistic Fabrics or Full of Holes?

Patchwork is the third entry into Rosenberg’s excellent small box 2-player line following Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small and Le Havre: The Inland Port. In addition to having a much shorter title than its predecessors, Patchwork is also the most accessible game of the bunch. That’s saying a lot considering how All Creatures managed to simplify Agricola into a bite-sized half hour affair and Inland Port is basically just about moving cubes around a grid (in the best possible way).

Rosenberg 2-Player Line
The Rosenberg small box 2-player line, simply the best around

These games all challenge players with puzzly decisions that emphasize resource management as well as providing some indirect interaction. They are all EXCELLENT games specifically designed for 2-players not simply adapted to allow for two. In regard to 2-player games they are perhaps my top 3 recommendations outside of super-heavyweight-by-comparison Fields of Arle. Patchwork fits very nicely in the series but uses a more abstract theme to boil things down to very streamlined and easy to grasp concepts. The quilting narrative is just as friendly as the other games but gets out of the way more quickly. I don’t mind this at all, Patchwork simply feels a lot more like you’re doing a puzzle than weaving a quilt. In fact, when you’re done your quilt will often look like a bit of a mess. After all, the goal of the game is to get the most buttons not make the most attractive quilt. Ascetics aside the design of the individual pieces is excellent for being able to scan the available information very easily which is incredibly important.

Making Perfect Information Accessible

I’m going to make a pretty extreme statement considering I’ve only played Patchwork six times but here it goes. If I had to recommend just one game from Rosenberg’s compact 2-player series it would be Patchwork. All Creatures is incredibly fun and cute, Inland Port is a brilliant and fascinating design, but Patchwork has taken care to make playing the game accessible and intuitive.

One of the things that sets Rosenberg’s designs apart from other 2-player games of the same length is that they are all perfect information games. Once you set them up no new information is added to the game. No randomization affects your decisions. Rather these games are driven by and don’t bog down because of the interaction with your lone opponent.

Perfect information games appeal to me because they allow for extensive planning and prevent external randomized factors from robbing me of my hard earned victory. This isn’t to say that you can plan perfectly because there’s still an unknown factor introduced through your opponents. Yet the very thing the appeals to me about these kinds of games is exactly what often causes them to bog down while players churn through the extensive possibilities in their head. Rosenberg has done an incredible job of reining in this problem both by reducing player count and making decisions (and chains of decisions) intuitive. These games play quickly not because they lack depth but because they allow players to grasp and process their options quickly and naturally. Patchwork is the pinnacle of this concept.

Each turn you are limited to four choices, pick one of three pieces or catch up to your opponent. However these choices each affect what four options will be available to your opponent (and in turn what they will provide to you). Your choices are inherently interconnected with those of your fellow quilter and as a whole provide numerous possibilities well beyond the four choices you are given each turn. This could get overwhelming quickly but there are several things that keep things moving quickly while still providing considerable depth.

Most importantly your ability to plan ahead is shrouded in the uncertainty of what the other player will do. Since your opponents is choosing which options to provide you with there’s an unavoidable tactical element to Patchwork. You can plan around what options might be available on your next turn but looking three or four turns ahead is nearly impossible to predict (unless of course you are getting that many turns in a row). This means you can play strategically and use the information available to you but you have to be adaptable and because of this you simply can’t get bogged down in your planning. You have enough control to make decisions meaningful but not enough control to overwhelm. That’s ideal for an accessible and quick playing game.

Additionally the available options are restricted initially (based on income) and as the game goes on (based on fewer pieces and shrinking board space). Once you have enough buttons to afford whatever you want you are looking for more specific pieces to fit the space and time that you have left. It’s a brilliant design that allows for natural progression which never suffers an awkward transition from one state to the next. The limitations are also loose enough to reward meaningful decisions and planning all the way until the very last turn. It’s a delightful system that reinforces players with visible progression but is punishing enough to allow players to gradually improve with experience.

Patchwork is perfect information made accessible, a miraculous feat. That’s why it gets such a strong recommendation.

Rules
This is how you lay out a rule book

One final note on Patchwork’s accessible. This is an inherently spatial game, that can make things more accessible to some and more difficult for others. I’ve found that spatial games are easy to explain and visualize but can create rather extreme disparities in competition. Your ability to visualize, specifically when it comes to planning several placements ahead, can make a huge difference in your ability to enjoy competing at Patchwork. Don’t get me wrong, even people that are terrible at piecing together their quilts seem to have great fun with this game but that requires two equally matched opponents or one that doesn’t mind losing because that can’t match their opponent’s spatial skills.

Casual to Competitive – Interaction for Every Level

Patchwork seems like a friendly game and it can be, that’s part of the charm for introducing non-gamers. If each player works on building up their own board and avoids interfering or racing then it can be very light, quick, and enjoyable. When viewed this way players are essentially puzzling side-by-side and introducing chaos and possibilities for each other. That’s great if it’s what you and your partner are looking for, a low conflict game with a social component (you aren’t puzzling alone). However, this isn’t ideal for competitive gamers and luckily Patchwork successfully caters to both audiences. The key is whether you’re willing to look up from your quilt and pay attention to what your opponent needs and the subtle interactions introduced through the time track.

In two player games denying your opponent something that they need is nearly or just as good as getting something useful for yourself. If you can do both at the same time then it’s even better. Paying attention to what your opponent needs not only allows you to deny them pieces that they can afford and would fit well on their board but also lets you set up future turns for yourself. It’s advantageous to give your opponent the piece that they need if it means that will provide an even better piece for yourself. Of course if they’re paying attention they’ll notice that and may not take the bait. In essence, there’s an opportunity cost to everything that you do. This kind of interaction can be as friendly or aggressive as players decide to make it.

There are also two different races that players are engaged in, small patches on the time board and the 7×7 bonus tile. One requires players to pay close attention to and make good use of time and the other space. The third resource, buttons, provides control over your ability to gain the upper hand in those two races. Managing and balancing these three resources is a subtle aspect of the game that opens up interaction as players learn to anticipate their opponents moves. The bonus tile also requires one player to grab less than ideal pieces to fill their board quicker. This dynamic seems a little off at first as the 7 points is a lot but experience should make attaining the bonus come at a cost that balances it out.

Game End
The time track itself is a quilt. A better quilt than you’re going to make!

Dimensions of Play – Clever Resource Management

I mentioned that all three games in Rosenberg’s light 2-player series are about resource management but Patchwork abstracts this concept as much as its theme. All Creatures has players gaining and using actual resources to build up their board, Inland Port does this as well but with the option to more directly spend those resources for points. Patchwork simplifies the spendable resources to a single currency, buttons, and introduces two new currencies, time and space. Time is essentially an interactive resource, it dictates both the pace of the game and gives players a form of conflict and control. Space on the other hand allows players to trade off flexibility for points. The more space you have, the more options but also the fewer points. As your space, and choices, dwindle your score grows and the more aggressively you pursue points the more limited your options.

These aren’t entirely new concepts but it’s the way the everything is integrated together that makes Patchwork unique. Buttons provide choice, Time provides control, and Space provides flexibility. All three require you to trade off resources for points either directly (Buttons, Space) or indirectly (Time). The system is transparent, when purchasing a piece you can figure out exactly how many points it will provide by assessing cost, size, and income. Whether it will set up your future purchases properly is the trade off that makes these decision more than just picking the best valued piece each time.

Start and End
An empty and finished quilt, just don’t expect to fill up your board!

A Patchwork to Share – Built for Two

I’ve talked previously about the strengths and limitations of restricting player count to two players but it bears repeating. I’d rather own two games, one specifically designed for 2 and another for 3 or more, than one that attempts both poorly. In general it’s the two player variant that gets the short end of the stick and I love when designers understand this and focus on one or the other. Rosenberg has proven himself in the past and continues to do so with Patchwork. The interaction in particular shines within the 2-player context and was tailored to toe the line between chaos and control.

I’ve also talked about my frustration with getting 2-player games to the table at my group without designating them to filler status. The difference between Rosenberg’s two most recent designs, Fields of Arle and Patchwork, is particularly telling. Even when compared to All Creatures or Inland Port, Patchwork has been the easiest game to get people to play. Sure it’s new but it’s also easy to teach, intuitive to learn, and addictive in nature. Coincidentally these are also the qualities that make it so good in a casual setting which is pretty much the holy grail of partner gaming. It ranges from casual to competitive and even allows players of mismatched skill to enjoy a game together (so long as the less skilled player doesn’t mind losing). Yet another reason why Patchwork gets a strong recommendation.

Time Track Back
The time track is double sided, a nice touch

The Final Word on Patchwork

Patchwork is an accessible, intuitive, quick, interactive, and deep 2-player game. It embraces perfect information without bogging down. It challenges players to manage resources which provide unique limitations and trade offs. So long as you don’t care about immersing yourself in the competitive world of quilting it’s a near perfect fit for any couple. There’s a tremendous amount of depth crammed into a short period of time and short ruleset. Rosenberg has proven himself once again to be a master of his craft.

 

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Mayfair Games for providing a review copy of Patchwork.

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  • Rating 9
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Summary

Pros:

Very simple ruleset
Incredibly accessible, intuitive, and quick
Tremendous depth in short time
Varying level of interaction based on competition desired
Unique resource/time management system

Cons:

Possibly the worst looking quilts ever
Spatial reasoning is very important to play well, can prove challenging for an accessible game

9.0 Excellent

I love optimization and engine games with tableau builders and card driven ones being my favorite. This usually means medium-heavy euros and medium-light card games.

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