In Patchwork, players stitch together a quilt by purchasing tetris-style pieces of material and placing them on their individual boards. Patches cost money and time, but also provide income, so players must work around these interlocking mechanics to make a better – which often means bigger – quilt than their opponent.
Have you ever spent six time units sewing on an L-shaped patch of fabric onto your quilt, only for your opponent to jump ahead of you and receive twelve button income, an extortionate amount for someone who’s nowhere near their seven by seven?
Didn’t think so. But in Patchwork, you’ll quickly pick up the lingo as you begin to navigate a game where surprisingly, income and expenditure are actually more important to winning than design and aesthetic.
Patchwork is quick to pick up and play, with a gentle thread of engine building running throughout. Piecing together a quilt is as family-friendly a theme as they come, and while there is some direct head-to-head competition in this, you’re probably not going to make your opponent sweat and curse as they might do in other two player games.
Strategically it’s quite light, then, but the sheer presence of having to build a good economy is quite surprising given this game could easily push aside Scrabble for the one you always pull out when you visit your elderly aunt. Each turn you’ll have a choice of three patches to purchase, with each patch having a cost in both buttons and time units. Time units push your player pawn forward on the time track a number of sections, which is important, as whoever is last on the time track is the one who gets to take a turn. This means you can link together multiple turns by purchasing low-time-unit patches, before overtaking your opponent and letting them back into the action.
The second thing to keep in mind when considering the time cost of a patch is located on the time track itself. There are regular spaces on the board which mean you can collect a button income, the amount of which varies on the state of your current quilt. More importantly, there are also 5 single-square patches on the time track which if you are the first to pass over, you get to pick up and place onto your quilt. So there’s a fine balance between deciding whether to try and take multiple, low-cost turns, thereby denying your opponent an action, or picking up patches that will launch you forward on the time track, grabbing you a timely haul of buttons or a potentially crucial single-square patch.
But boy, do you want that button income so badly. Each patch you buy gives you zero to four button income when you pass that section on the time track, which is the second thing you have to consider when deciding which patch to purchase (I’m trying but I cannot avoid this alliteration, I swear). How many buttons you have at the end of the game is also how the winner is decided, so bringing in that income is an extremely important part of your decision making.
So how does it feel to play Patchwork? Oddly enough, the theme sticks quite well. You can imagine that rushing through this adventure means you’ll end up with a shoddy quilt full of gaping holes. You’ll also lose – this is a game that rewards players for starting slowly and building up a good foundation before splashing out on some of the larger, flashier bits of material.
Does it make you care what the other player is doing? Absolutely… to a point. There aren’t many parts where you’ll be in direct conflict throughout (which is just as well because if there was then the game would have had to somehow work in a mechanic for stabbing someone with a knitting needle), and this is, well, it’s okay. You might be racing to pick up those small single-square patches on the time track, and there will be one or two occasions when your opponent buys a piece that you had your eye on. This will happen by accident more than on purpose, however, and you won’t really be mad because, let’s face it, this is a nice game for nice people. Instead you’ll tut, laugh, and move on, perhaps stopping to make a pot of tea or butter some scones for you both to share.
It might appear that I’m doing Patchwork a disservice in highlighting it’s gentleness, but really that’s all part and parcel of the game, from the theme and the mechanics to the artwork and, really, the price. Sometimes, you just don’t want to stick your opponents head on a spike, you know? Patchwork belongs in your collection not because it’s groundbreaking or special or irreplaceable. No, Patchwork belongs in your collection because it strives to bring the two of you together more than it does split you apart. And that’s a really great experience to have on hand.