The range of theme in hobby games took a long time to break out of its geek origins. The majority of games were sci-fi, fantasy, or real world war based with little consideration given to gentler colours. As the hobby grows, and especially from the German school of design, we got themes of farming, trading in the Mediterranean, and farming.
In recent years we have seen an explosion of different themes from birds, to city building and even making quilts. Forget all those other themes though, who wants to make a quilt? No-one? Hear me out.
From the mind of Uwe Rosenberk comes Patchwork (AL), a seemingly gentle two-player game of making a patchwork quilt. It is anything but gentle. It’s a battle. A contest of anticipation, resource management and your Tetris skills.
The premise is simple enough. Fill out this 9x9 grid, with polyonimo patches (we will get to those in a moment).
The winner of the game is the person who has the most buttons by the end, deducting buttons for empty spaces left on your board. Starting with a mere 5 buttons, every turn you’ll consider which of 3 patches to stitch into your quilt and they’ll cost an amount of buttons and time to add in.
A Stitch in Time
There is one more board we haven’t looked at yet and this is the crux of the game, where the real battle will take place.
On this board stand two pieces, one for each player, a bunch of single square patches, that you can’t get round the circle of patches and a winding track to the centre. The track pulls us down the whirlpool of time towards the end of the game. Our job is to get our board filled before it pulls us under.
Each turn you’ll consider one of the three patches in front of the big wooden pawn you can see in the picture above. Every single patch is a different shape and can be put on your board in any orientation; twist, turn it, put it upside down. Filling up the board is a very satisfying thing to do, balanced with those moments of face palming when you realise you’ve absolutely screwed up. Such is the way of the patchist.
Back to this central board. Whenever you add a patch to your quilt, you spend time on the central board, moving your piece a number of squares towards the centre equal to that time. Cross one of the single square patches and it joins the others on your board. Cross a button marker and you earn the number of buttons showing on your patches. Reach the centre, the game is over for you.
You’ve got to spend buttons to make buttons. In adding patches to your board you are not only considering how much area they cover and how much they cost in time and buttons, but also how much they can make you. If a patch has buttons on it then every time you cross a button on the central board you are going to make those buttons back. Buy a patch, move the pawn to where that patch was and your opponent has a whole new set of problems to consider. This can be manipulated to your advantage and you'll find on your turn not only considering what to buy for yourself, but what opportunities your choice will give your opponent.
Did you know that a clever patchist can manipulate time? Turn order is not determined by a simple back and forth, but rather who is nearest the start of the track, furthest from the finish, however you want to think about that. If you are smart you can sometimes get two or three turns in a row and it is a great feeling when you manage to pull this off.
Patchwork is an excellent piece of design hanging tricky choices on an easy to understand framework. For such a tiny game it has moments of emotional highs that rank up there with the biggest boardgame epics; the satisfaction when the correct piece slides into place, the elation of correctly manipulating the turn order, the frustration as you realise you shouldn’t have put that one where you did!
I wasn’t sure about Patchwork when I first picked it , I had no two player only games at the time, but I have loved every game of it. Easy to teach, difficult to master (unless you are a tetris fiend like my wife) it’s one of the best two player games out there.