Patchwork is a recently released game by publisher Mayfair Games and designer Uwe Rosenberg of Agricola fame. I’ve written up the gameplay and my initial thoughts after my first play.
If you already know how to play, feel free to skip ahead to the “My First Impression” section.
Patchwork is a 2-player game in which each player is trying to construct the best quilt by using their buttons to purchase patches of different shapes and sizes and place them together. However, whoever has the most buttons when players reach the end of the time track is the winner, so you have to think carefully about how you spend them!
To set up, the time track is placed in the middle of the table, and all of the patchwork pieces are randomly arranged in a circle around it. A neutral token is placed in the circle just before the smallest piece in the game, the 2x1 rectangle.
Each player is also given a board that they will make their quilt on, and five buttons.
The start player will be randomly selected, but during the game players do not necessarily alternate turns. Instead, the player who has spent the least time, and is behind on the track in the center, takes their turn. This is a rule I forgot when I taught and played the game, and trust me that leaving it out makes the game very strange! (Luckily, we corrected our play halfway through.)
You can choose to do one of two things on your turn: buy and place a patch or receive buttons.
Buying a patch
The player can take one of the three patches clockwise in front of the neutral token. To do so, they move the neutral token to the patch they would like, pay the cost indicated in buttons, place the patch on their player board and finally move their time marker forward the indicated number of spaces.
In the example below, the green player may take the 2x1 piece, or the cross piece, as they do not currently have enough buttons to pay for the L-shaped piece.
They decide to take the cross as shown.
They then pay 5 buttons (all of their starting money), and place it anywhere on their quilt board.
Finally, they move forward on the time track by 4 spaces.
If the player is behind on the time track, they can choose to advance to the space in front of the other player and take one button for each space they move.
Continuing from the example above, the yellow player could move 5 spaces forward and take 5 buttons.
The time track
As players advance along the time track, they receive income. When a player crosses the button symbol on the track, they receive as many buttons as they have on the pieces of their quilt. For example, the cross piece that green placed shows two buttons, and will provide two buttons each time green receives income.
Players may also receive leather single-space patches. The first player to cross a leather piece on the time track immediately places it on their board, potentially filling in a gap in the quilt.
Once both players reach the end of the time track, the game ends.
Players add up all the buttons they have, and then subtract 2 buttons for each empty square on their quilt board. Additionally, the player who first made a solid 7x7 square on their board during the game (if any) earns a bonus 7 buttons.
The player with the most buttons has succeeded in making the most beautiful patchwork!
My first impression
The first half of the game was slightly strange, because I had forgotten the rule about the player furthest behind on the time track taking their turn. (To be fair, it was the third new game I’d taught and played that night!) Without that rule, the person ahead was stuck continuously buying more patches (not having the option to skip ahead and take buttons), both running out of money and pulling farther away from the player behind. Once we realized my mistake, however, the game improved drastically!
I really enjoyed the element of time being a resource. It’s a mechanic that I’ve seen variations on in other games, such as Village and Trajan, and it always introduces interesting choices to consider during the game. In Patchwork, players have the same amount of time as each other, and the same amount of time every single game. The game isn’t about racing each other to buy more and more pieces, it’s about trying to use the little time you have as cleverly and efficiently as possible. I also think it ties in well with the theme of the game – I imagine two people entering a patchwork competition, with a limited amount of time to work on their project that they have to use as carefully as they can.
The other interesting aspect of the time track is that you need to be thinking about where you’re moving to on the track, in relation to your opponent. You don’t want to get too far ahead and allow them to gain a lot of buttons by skipping ahead of you. You also don’t want to stop on the space right before the leather patches, because then your opponent can again jump one space ahead of you and use it on their quilt instead. When you buy a patchwork piece, you need to be thinking about where it will leave you on the time track and what advantages you might be offering your opponent, and not just whether it will fit nicely on your board or how many buttons it gives you for income. I only saw a little bit of this board manipulation in my first game, but I think that was because we were getting used to the rules and we played incorrectly for half of it. It seems that being mindful of how you’re spending time in relation to your opponent will be important – more plays will tell!
You also have to think carefully about how you build your quilt. You need to find a balance between the cheaper pieces that don’t give you income, and the more expensive pieces that do. You need to find a balance between fitting all your pieces together perfectly, and covering more space with those large but difficult to fit in pieces. We both started trying to make “perfect” quilts, but soon ran out of options. At the end of the game especially, both of us started buying the large pieces in a mad rush to fill in more of our quilts and avoid losing points from those empty spaces. I also found that purchasing pieces that provide income early in the game gave me a large advantage at the end. Each time I received income, those pieces were paying me back, and ended up providing far more than what I paid for them. The main difficulty with this strategy is constantly having a shortage of buttons at the start, because each of those pieces is so expensive.
Finally, I think the components are well done. The patchwork pieces are nicely patterned, and make the completed quilt a pretty sight. My Essen edition also included real buttons, real fabric patches, and a cute spool of thread as the neutral token marker (alongside the regular components), which add to the theme and flavor of the overall game.
I’m looking forward to playing Patchwork with the correct rules from start to finish! There are more factors to consider in the gameplay choices than I initially thought there would be – it’s not just about fitting your pieces together nicely! You have to spend your buttons carefully to buy those perfect pieces, while also thinking about how much time you’re using up and whether you’re setting your opponent up for an advantage. I think Patchwork will end up being a nice strategic addition to my 2-player game collection.