13 April 2017
Uwe Rosenberg puts down the needle and picks up a trowel with this relaxing sibling to Patchwork
Upon first glance, it’s very tempting to compare Uwe Rosenberg’s Cottage Garden with the designer’s acclaimed family title Patchwork from a few years ago. After all, both prominently feature polyomino pieces picked from a central pool (surrounded by a ring of tiles) and carefully positioned on individual player grids. There’s even a comparison to be made in the quaint theming of both games; quilt weaving and flower arranging being the kind of gentle pastime traditionally associated with older generations, but now also blooming in popularity among hip twenty-somethings.
Make no mistake, however: Cottage Garden is far more than a green-fingered, four-player Patchwork. Yes, you are still attempting to maximise the placement of the vibrantly-illustrated pieces but, contrasted with the former’s obsession with plugging every gap on a single board, Cottage Garden encourages tactical placement to leave flower pots and cloche uncovered to earn bonus points – fill every space and you’ll be able to exchange the completed flower bed for a new one. Cat tokens can be cashed in to fill a single square after a piece is laid (one-space flower pots can be used to plug a gap the cost of not gaining a flower tile), with the adorable felines earned as players track their flower pot and cloche points.
The other big change is that the central reserve of flowers is itself a grid, with players only able to pick up pieces in the row indicated by the green gardener die (which, interestingly, is never rolled – the six sides are instead used to track the current round). The die always lands in the same rows for each player throughout, encouraging tactical selection of pieces that might end up in the hands of your rival gardeners. Rows missing the majority of their pieces are refilled in order from a surrounding ring of pieces, tracked by a twee 3D cardboard wheelbarrow, or by spending a cat to deliberately pinch the next useful piece. The gentle flow of the game is akin to the hobby of horticulture itself, with minutes passing in quiet contemplation of the right orientation of a zig-zagging bed of daisies or where best to place an equilateral picnic table – all helped by the rustic aesthetic and watercolour visuals.
Despite the accessible gameplay and easy-going appearance, there is a satisfying level of depth and strategy just under the top soil. The points earned with pots and cloches on completed grids can be used to move orange and blue cubes, respectively, along a points track – pots are worth one apiece while cloches are twice as valuable. Having earned a cat by moving your flower pot or cloche cube over the mouse line (a sentence that really encapsulates the delightful nature of the game), you can make a break for the final space to nab 20 points and – if you’re the first or second player to do so – a bonus beehive token for one or two extra points. However, you actually have three cubes of each colour, inviting the question of whether to try and get all three over the mouse line (and subsequently use the extra cats to complete more flowerbeds) or just power on through with a single cube.
This becomes even more important when the gardener die hits its sixth side and Cottage Garden transitions into becoming a (albeit mild) dash to complete your remaining flowerbeds, which are no longer replaced. You see, each turn now loses you two points, meaning being aware of the approaching finish and your ability to finish up beds can be vital to pulling ahead – do you hang on and hope to outweigh the cost of subsequent turns with extra flower pot and cloche points, or clean up in as little time as possible and hope your rivals see their hard work ebb away as they struggle to fill remaining gaps? This can lead to players who choose the latter option having to wait for those remaining to finish up, but each round slides so easily into the next that it’s hardly a labourious task.
Although it is theoretically competitive and tactically considerate, the warm nature of Cottage Garden’s theme and easily-understood mechanics make it a genuinely soothing experience. An ideal box to bring out on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it’s the tabletop equivalent of heading into the garden to do little else but soak up the sun and appreciate the simpler joys of life.
Cottage Garden is a meditative experience that sprinkles competitive aspects onto tranquil core mechanics. With wheelbarrows of charm, irresistible visuals and gameplay stripped back to a level that’s both engrossing and inviting, it could well become a pastime cherished as widely as its inspiration.
Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
Time: 60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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