Review: Patchwork

BGG Rank # 43 – 4/9/2017

Patchwork looks like a decidedly twee game of Tetris, where two players enjoy the simple pleasures of piecing together a quilt. However, today I’m going to propose an alternate hypothesis: Patchwork is actually about two knitters engaged in a cutthroat battle for survival, set in a dystopian future ruled by textile mega-corporations.

twee /twē/ (adj.): affectedly dainty or quaint

If you haven’t heard of Patchwork before, don’t worry, this post will still explain the rules and tell whether or not I like the game — just in a slightly unusual way. And if you are already familiar with Patchwork, I hope you’ll read on and enjoy the ‘fan theory’ that I provide.

About Patchwork

IMG_2712
Starting setup.

Okay, so you’re probably feeling skeptical. That’s fair. But consider the following: As you delve in, you are tasked with making a quilt but told little else– the rulebook can be read front to back in two minutes. Your payment for your labor is in the form of buttons. One can only assume that in this bleak world, all metal coins have been melted down to create giant sewing machines, and all paper has long since been fed to the furnaces in the yarn factories. To earn the lion’s share of those sweet, sweet buttons, you must endeavor to build the most aesthetically pleasing quilt by fitting fabric pieces of various shapes and sizes onto a 9×9 grid.

So how do you acquire these scraps of fabric? Naturally, they cost time AND buttons. So you have to spend buttons in order to earn buttons. It’s basically one big textile pyramid scheme orchestrated by The Man.

Spending buttons isn’t even the worst part. Each player has a limited amount of time to spend before they reach the center of the board. It’s unclear what unit of time is represented by each space, but I’m going to guess a month. The spaces couldn’t be years, because life expectancy in the harsh environment of Patchwork can’t be very long.

IMG_2699
The piece shown here costs 4 buttons and 6 ‘months’.

Think about it– this game was designed by Uwe Rosenberg, who is famous for classics such as Agricola, Caverna, and A Feast for Odin. What do those games all have in common? You must feed your workers or face the consequences. In Patchwork? Not a scrap of food in sight. A designer as meticulous as Uwe wouldn’t leave out that detail on accident.

So, if your malnourished workers toil away without complaint, they might just save up a few dozen buttons to pass on to their children. However, the government cruelly taxes wages at a rate of two buttons per unfilled square on the grid. There’s little margin for error in this material world. (Don’t roll your eyes- puns are the only legal source of humor in this dystopian land.)

I should probably explain a bit more about how buttons are earned. Some fabric scraps have images of buttons on them, and each time you pass a button icon on the time track, you collect income equal to the number of buttons shown on your quilt. Alternatively, you can expend time to earn buttons at a rate of one button per space (I’m going to assume that this represents playing hooky from the factory to beg for buttons?). This is a costly option as this time could instead be spent towards adding fabric pieces to your quilt.

IMG_2698
If you run too low on buttons, you might have to waste precious time begging for more.

There’s currently no option in Patchwork to sell a kidney for buttons but I suspect that this feature will be added in the first expansion.

One last thing — there’s a giant conveyor belt of fabric scraps that runs around the outside of the factory you work in. You can only buy one of the three scraps directly in front of you, and then the conveyor belt moves forward. Did you want some other piece? Well, you better just hope that it comes around to you eventually. For now, you’ll take one of these three pieces and like it! And no, you can’t hold onto the piece to place it on your quilt later, or move pieces around once they’ve been placed. What do you think this is, Disney Land?

IMG_2714
The pawn marks the current position on the ‘conveyor belt’.

Conclusion

So that’s Patchwork in a nutshell. Whether you accept my hypothesis or not, there’s one thing about Patchwork we can all agree on: it’s a fantastic game. It’s quick, portable, and manages to be a good mental workout without feeling the least bit strenuous. I think this game is particularly suited for people who like games with a spatial element, as it’s really satisfying to acquire that perfect piece that fits neatly into your quilt. I’ve had several friends who have bought a copy for themselves after playing it with me, and that’s always the ultimate test of how good a game is. I’d highly recommend Patchwork, and I consider it worthy of its spot in the Top 100.


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