We had a couple of boys from Ireland over for the holidays this past week, and one of them, John, told me that he hadn’t played a board game in a long, long time. Like he couldn’t remember how long. When I offered to teach him how to play Uwe Rosenberg’s latest, Patchwork, he accepted the invitation and we set it up to play. I’d been through the rules, and knew the basics, but it was a first time for both of us.
It’s an engaging, two-player hybrid of a game. Turn by turn, you are attempting to fill in a personal, 9x 9-grid playing board with 33 (patchwork) tiles of varying shapes and sizes, arranged at the start, around a 53-space Time Board, on which your personal marker (lime green or yellow) will proceed, throughout the game, from Start to Finish. While a good deal of your focus will be drawn to the acquisition and placement of your patchwork tiles onto your personal board, you will find your time occupied, as well, by considerations of . . .well, time.
You move a marker along a path and when both players reach the end, the game is over. It’s a familiar ‘Euro’ kind of feeling, not having enough time to do all that you’d like to do. It seems particularly acute with this game, a fact driven home by the fact that in our first attempt, John and I scored negative points, derived by counting the number of ‘buttons’ we had in our possession, minus two points for every space on the 9 x 9 grid of our board that we had failed to fill. I think we failed to fill 21 and 24 spaces on the board, respectively. That’s minus 42 and 48 points, and neither one of us had earned enough buttons during the Income process of the game to even come close to making up that deficit (more on this, later).
On a player’s turn, s/he can advance a marker along the Time Track to one space ahead of the opponent, collecting one ‘button’ (currency) for every space moved. Or, a player can opt to purchase one of the patchwork tiles, surrounding the Time Board in a circle or oval. A neutral marker (which moves from time to time) indicates which tiles a player can purchase; any one of three tiles ‘in front’ (clockwise from) the neutral marker. Player pays cost (in buttons) indicated on the tile, and moves his Time Marker the number of spaces, also indicated on the tile.
Until a player actually moves his Time Marker in front of the opponent, that player may continue to play. Let’s say it’s yellow marker’s turn, and it is four spaces behind the lime green marker. The yellow player opts to purchase a patchwork tile, which instructs him to move his marker three spaces, leaving the player one space behind his opponent. That player may now play again, performing either A (advancing and collecting buttons) or B (purchase, and place patchwork tile, and move time marker, as indicated on the purchased tile).
Not an elongated (slow) learning curve with this game, but you will certainly benefit from increased exposure to the 33 tiles at the root of what exactly it is you’re trying to accomplish. Some cover a lot of space. Some, very little. There are only four, perfectly rectangular pieces; a 1 x 2, a 1 x 3, a 1 x 4 and a 1 x 5. There is only one perfectly square (2 x 2) piece. There are five, single-square pieces, which can only be attained if your Time Marker passes their location first on the Time Board. There are only three tile configurations which have more than a single tile. There are two each of these three types; a two-long, two-wide L-shape. A three-long, two-wide L shape, and a two-long, two-wide L-shape with an extra space at the bottom right (or left, depending on how you look at it) of the L-shape. Everything else, all 17 of the other tiles are of a unique configuration.
So, automatically, you’re dealing with this puzzle. How to get pieces onto the board that fit with one another and take up large sections of your 9 x 9 grid, so you’re not deducting major points off your ‘button’ income at the end. The first player to completely fill a 7 x 7 area on their board with the patchwork tiles, gets a 7-point bonus, which in the scheme of things is really paltry for all the work you need to do to get it. Personally, I think it’s counterproductive. You spend all this time trying to fit things together in a perfect square, and forget that you need to fill up as much space as you can on this 81-square grid before time runs out. This makes you look at the tiles a little differently, where lo and behold, size does matter.
I think if you’re deducting 40 or more points from your score for having failed to fill that many spaces on the board, it’s time to re-think what you’re doing. . . I think. . .
There’s really nothing magical about keeping positive scores. It might well be, with Patchwork, just a matter of assuming that the winner has the lowest negative score, instead of the highest positive score. Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-to.
That’s fine, really. I scored negative points for months when I first started to play Thurn und Taxis, but that hasn’t happened in years. I’m just not sure, that like Thurn un Taxis, one can develop a better sense of this game that will eventually lead to positive points. The income flow just doesn’t seem that strong.
Many, though not all of the tiles have pictures of ‘buttons’ on them; from one to three of them. As part of your display, these ‘buttons’ form the basis of your income, which you can claim nine times during the game (as your time marker advances on the board, it passes buttons on the track, signaling that you can collect your income). The more buttons on a tile, the more it costs to purchase it (with buttons). A six-space tile with three buttons, costs eight buttons to purchase, and moves your marker six spaces on the time board (a little less than 10% of the ‘time’ available to you). A four-space tile with a single button costs three, and advances your time marker more slowly; two spaces.
There is a delicate balance that has to be sought between development of an income stream, and the amount of time you want to take to develop it. Develop it too quickly, by purchasing expensive, space-consuming tiles, and your income will just be offsetting what you spent. And you’ll run out of time, as those big tiles force you to take giant steps on the Time Board. Then, your opponent can make money by coming from however far behind he/she was when you moved and move one ahead of you, collecting a button for each space moved.
If you take your time, and start small (tiles and corresponding advancement on the time track), you’re likely to find that the smaller tiles you’ve purchased haven’t filled up the 9 x 9 grid as much as you would have liked, and you don’t have enough income to offset the deficit.
It took me a few readings and some hands-on trial and error to grasp what exactly Mr. Rosenberg had in mind when he designed how this game would start. The player who last used a needle goes first. Each has five buttons at the start of the game. At the start, the chosen player can perhaps use some or all of those five buttons to purchase a tile, and that tile will instruct the player to move his marker a certain number of spaces forward. So opponent can now, on his/her turn, move ahead of the start player. But what if the start player doesn’t have access to tiles that cost five buttons or less and he’s forced to “Advance and Receive Buttons,” which dictates that the player move to a space, one space in front of his opponent, and collect buttons equal to his move? The opponent hasn’t moved yet, so how can the start player move ahead of him on the Time Board? The answer to this riddle is that the opening moves are a one-space-at-a-time, leap frog thing. Start player moves one space out onto the Time Board, where he is technically, one space ahead of opponent, collects a single button, and it’s opponents’ turn. Opponent now moves two spaces, one ahead of start player and collects two buttons. At this point, start player has six buttons and opponent has seven. Either one of them could buy a tile (probably), but maybe they don’t. Maybe they leapfrog again, collecting buttons until they’ve got a good-sized stash they can use to buy a good tile.
I like this game. It’s joining Carcassonne: The Castle as a favorite two-player game. I like that you have to balance time and task, that you have to choose tiles wisely, and quickly. As noted, a familiarity with the tiles in all of their configurations might assist you in developing your patchwork grid, and lead to positive scores, but I wouldn’t bet on it, especially if you commit time and energy in an attempt to collect seven bonus points for a completely filled-in, 7 X 7 area on your board. If, by chance or circumstance, someone out there plays this game and has no problem grasping the puzzle/time conundrum and scores positive points immediately and always, I will stand corrected (An image of the game on BoardGameGeek shows a board with all but two of the spaces filled. Player scored 34 positive points). But do stay in touch.
It’s picked up a 7.71 average rating on BoardGameGeek.com, from about 300 people, so far. A good number. Nobody has given it a “10,” but no one’s rated it below “5,” either.
Patchwork is designed by Uwe Rosenberg, probably best-remembered for Agricola, and more recently, its ‘twin’ – Caverna. Artwork is by Klemens Franz. Published by Mayfair, and Lookout Games, it is strictly a two-player game (there are suggested solitaire variants to be found in the game’s Geek pages),with an age range that starts at about 8; users have suggested that this could go down as far as six. Maybe, but the six-year-old would need to be really smart to pull off a victory. Components (board, tiles, money, markers) are sturdy and durable. Suggested retail is under $25.