4 Chits, 2 Giggles
I’m pretty sure what makes board games special is the fact that they aren't afraid to try out new and unusual themes. Some might even say boring ones. The big three mediums like to experiment, it’s true, but they have more of a responsibility to present something a little more exciting to their audience, particularly if they want to be successful. Often this means you’ll see repeats, remakes and retreads of similar yet slightly different ideas with the occasional unexpected surprise, but how many times have you walked into a cinema to watch a blockbuster where Tom Cruise is an energy magnate trying to provide electricity across the USA? Or do you remember the last time you played a Playstation game where you control an elk trying to hop across a river to get to the other side? Or have you ever Sky +'d a TV show where two heroes sow patches of peculiarly shaped fabric together to make a quilt?
Which brings us neatly to this game, Patchwork; a unique two player game created by Uwe Rosenberg and published by Mayfair Games. You and your opponent are both competing to fill up your quilt board, a nice square 9 x 9 cardboard grid, with as many oddly shaped patches as you can get your hands on, while making sure you don’t run out of buttons (the most adorable currency I’ve ever heard of) or time. It seems pretty simple at first glance, but there is quite some depth to your options, especially when it comes to the puzzle element of the game, which is getting all of these pieces to fit together. “A bit like Tetris” says pretty much everyone I’ve shown it to, but not quite accurately so.
Each turn you can either purchase one of the patches, or move ahead on the ‘time track’ which will net you a few bonus buttons. The patches will almost always have a cost in buttons and time, the latter of which is marked by the aforementioned central track. The player furthest back on this track always gets the next turn, and once you run out of time, that’s it, there is no more game for you. When you’ve both reached the finish line, you count up your buttons and declare the winner. This creates an interesting balancing mechanic, as you’ll constantly be trying to make sure you have enough buttons to buy the more valuable (and more useful) pieces, but without running out of time. Any gaps left on your quilt board after your game ends deduct points from your final score, so you really don’t want to leave any holes in your quilt, not just because you’ll get into negative numbers but also so your toes don’t freeze.
It’s not as easy as choosing the best piece though, as the only available patches you can buy are the next three in a line around the table. A wooden marker denotes the current space and, as a result, the next purchasable pieces, and once one of these is taken which you must then place it in a permanent spot on your board. The marker takes its place in the line, so the next players options are different, and this way you can strategise and plan ahead.
Additionally, every time you pass certain spots on the time track, you will gain buttons depending on the number of symbols depicted on some of your patches, but also there are five elusive 1 x 1 patch pieces which are great for filling up holes and fixing errors in your planning. Both of these mean that the number of decisions you'll make are many and you'll fluctuate between doing something for yourself now and giving your opponent what they want, or doing something that stops your opponent to your own detriment. It's a classic gameplay mechanic hidden beneath a soft, quilty surface.
It’s created by Uwe Rosenberg of Agricola fame, so it isn’t surprising that there is a careful balancing act to be mastered here between time management and point scoring. However, playing it is so much fun that even if you lose, you still feel like you had a good experience, particularly when you manage to fill up your board in a satisfactory way. I’ve not yet achieved full quilt board completion during a game but I’ve been so close that I’m sure it’s possible, which is a major reason why I keep coming back for more.
My board game collection has neglected many two player titles thus far as I prefer to buy games that are less exclusive, my reasoning being that when I do entertain people, I can pick from a bunch of games we can all get involved with. However, I couldn’t resist buying this one for myself because it ticks a bunch of boxes for me; it has a puzzle based element, it is relatively quick to play and most importantly, it is something my partner and I enjoy playing.
Casual gamers, a subset of gamers of which they are a part, will find this game easy enough to understand but it does well by not then alienating the more hardcore audience, who will enjoy the array of options available to them. Do they pick the piece that will get them the filler patch but giving their opponent the piece they so desire? Or can they buy the big, awkward patch with very little time cost so that they can get another turn straight away? Player interaction is a factor here, though it rarely gets frustrating because of the huge number of components available before the end of the game and multiple ways to rework your strategy on the fly. Besides, it’s a game about making a quilt, a widely known method of relaxation and calm. If you’re getting angry about it, then something’s gone wrong.
Ultimately, and sadly, it seems that a lot of people might miss this game because of its dull theme and dated looking box art despite it being a new game, but if you are able to get over that and try it out, you’ll be rewarded with a game that not only tests you but gives you an entertaining, replayable twenty minutes of gameplay.
Review by Russell Chapman
BONUS: Check out our new "How To & Should I Play" video for the game below: