Patchwork with Dan Parker: A Review

Patchwork
(or Koumpounophobia the board game)

…”I was hanging on by just a thread as I felt the lumpy pillow of mental subjugation pressing down hard on my face. Eiderdown, down, down I spiralled towards the end – just another poor haberdasher’s feeble fate. Fingers tattered and de-thimbled. No space to move, no place to go. My own fault though, punished for previous transgressions against spatial logic, I plead Quilty your honour”… page 69 – The Patchi-nomicon 2014.

Hmmm. A game about quilting right?
From renowned games imaginator Uwe Rosenberg comes this 2014 sort-of-tile-layey, head-to-head embroi-duellery themed blanket creation simulator. It all fits in a very small box, and fittingly with its theme it looks nicely boring in its delightfully drab brown wrapping. Twee would be one word, and in fact is indeed probably the only vaguely positive word to describe this tedium dripping cardboard coffin of blanditude. Books/judging/covers, a phrase to consider certainly – but does it apply here?

patchwork.jpg
In the centre of the table will sit a large cardboard tile featuring a swirly looking time track. You’ll both be moving your player markers around its inexorable whorl to the centre. Upon arriving at your destination, your final bounty of collected buttons/points will determine the winner. Why not call them “Buttoints” for the time being – or forever?. It sounds satisfying, or maybe like a special cream. Maybe thimble lubricant. Encircling the temporal textile altar will be an array of uniquely shaped tetris-esque patches, each one showing the time it’d take to tack it onto your quilt, and how much you’ll need to shell out for it. You’ll be creeping or leaping forward around the death spiral each time you’re placing these patches, and haemorrhaging precious buttons for the privilege. Patches also feature a number of button icons, always somewhere between zero and more than zero. Whenever in-game and end-game scoring take place, these will provide an income.

Each player will receive an initially desolate 9×9 cardboard grid of potential quiltiness, and 5 buttons (aka buttoints) to frivol away. You’ll hate spending these, as they are both your currency and also end game victory points, but it’s unavoidable. Your Mission: Fill, Fill, Fill that grid with the biggest and best patches you can. If at all possible remember to do it very neatly, oh yes – and quite quickly, ah, and not forgetting cheaply, and also ensure you have the most buttoints left at the end. So off we go, treadle to the metal, and let’s get quilting!

On your turn you’ll either be moving forward on the time track and collecting buttons per space you pass, or you’ll be choosing a patch from the circular array and sticking it on your quilt. If you patch grab you’ll also be paying the appropriate amount of buttoints out, and advancing an appropriate amount of time. Basically you’ll always be moving forward in time (that’s the inexorable part) and also panicking about how short the game suddenly became (the awareness of one’s own mortality part).
So you chose to move forward? Nice option, get splashed with some lovely tasty buttoints and enjoy a little stroll over blankey-town. It doesn’t matter – you’ve got all day, yawn. Hey, you might even pass a bonus checkpoint, and trigger a buttoint windfall! Maybe you’ll even get a teensy bonus mini patch to stick in those tricky to reach quilt gaps. Who needs big patches anyway? (hint: the winner does)

Didn’t fancy strolling on? Well grab a patch tile then! At game start there will be a little pawn set out to show where your choices start on this wheel of misfortune, and you’ll be free to pick any of the next three raggedy little rascals clockwise, provided you can cough up the buttoints to do so. Once you’ve done that, the little pawn fella steps up to mark where the new choices will start from. Some of these tiles are Poundland specials, and some are a bit more Waitrose in their costliness. But hey. Who needs loads of Buttoints anyway? (hint: the winner does)

This simplicity is deceptive however, as stabbitty needle sharks dwell beneath those rumpled rags, bobbin’ around just waiting to catch you unaware and drag you under. You see, you will reap what you sew in this title, it’s woven into its very fabric. There is no real turn order in this game, as the most rearward position on the destiny whorl determines who goes next. Race ahead too far all at once, and you may find your rival becoming your own unravelling. Being behind can mean picking up basket loads of itty bitty cheapo bits in a row unfettered by interference – for very little time spent. You can pick up the most tessellatory tiles, make sure you’ve got max blankey coverage, and leave your opponent with only the overpriced/oversized tiles at their disposal. Check out the enemies chequer-board creation, and make sure only the most malformed of offerings remain in the market. Watch them mentally squint at the available L-shapes, S-shapes and @&$£$%-shapes, desperately trying to bend them by pure will power into more accommodating patterns.

As end game scoring cruelly dishes out negative pain points for every grid square you neglected to beautify, measured against how many buttoints you managed to accrue, you can actually wind up in the realm of anti-buttoints. Scary.
The games creator has already delivered other quintessentially country-life quaintosities such as Agricola/Caverna, and more recently Cottage Garden, but did he hit it out of the park with Patchwork? The answer is Yes, I think so. It’s playable from just one read through of the incredibly short rules pamphlet, and teaching someone else is even quicker/easier. The pieces are simple peasant fare, but more than adequate for purpose, and aesthetically reflect the somewhat nothingy theme in a surprisingly satisfying fashion. For such a little box, it’s actually going to take up a fair old amount of table cloth, yet take no time to set up or down. Whilst there’s no direct actual conflict, you will feel the delicious reward of denying choices by stitching up the limited options and manipulating the games length. It’s basically just a crafty puzzle sprint that’s going to appeal to some people more than others thematically, but it has the power to win over nonetheless.

I personally hate sewing and all its evil accoutrements. My first detention at Comprehensive school was brought about by an intense hatred of Home Economics Textile lessons. This resulted in me scissoring out the centres of all the dept’s cotton reels to avoid having to utilise a sewing machine. I paid dearly for that, and was sentenced to hob washing in the cookery area for an entire lunchtime. Despite these scars I’m still able to function normally-ish in polite society, and even more importantly, to strongly recommend this game. It’s tailor made for gamer and non-gamer couples alike.

– Dan Parker

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