If your exposure to Uwe Rosenberg's games started with games like Agricola, Le Havre, and Caverna, you will be quite surprised with Patchwork, because it is something very different. Patchwork is a short, 2-player-only game. It is a light strategy game with a significant spatial element.
Both players start with a blank 9x9 board (see left of photo). You want to fill up your board as much as possible, using tiles bought from the centre of the table. Available tiles are arranged in a huge circular track (which takes up much space). A common pawn (see lower left of circle) is placed between two tiles in this circle, and will move clockwise. On a player's turn, he may buy one of the three tiles in front of the common pawn. The common pawn is then moved to the space vacated by the just-purchased tile.
The objective of the game is to have the most money, and the currency in the game is buttons. You spend buttons to buy tiles. Some tiles have buttons on them, and these tiles earn you buttons at specific points during the game. At end-game, you need to pay 2 buttons for each exposed space on your board. Whatever you have left is your final score.
This is the central board. It is a countdown device. The 2 players start from the outermost space and work their way inwards. The game ends when both player pawns reach the centre. Each step in this countdown track is one unit of time. When you buy tiles, you need to pay the cost in two currencies - buttons as well as time. Buttons is straight-forward. It's your main currency in the game. Paying the time cost means moving your player pawn on the central board, i.e. counting down.
The turn order mechanism is like Thebes and Tokaido. Whoever is behind on the time track goes next. It is possible to take two or more turns in a row, if your opponent is far ahead in front of you and you take small steps.
Two important things to take note of in this photo: (1) Whenever your player pawn passes one of the small 1x1 pieces, you claim it and use it to fill one space on your board. This is something you race for and try to manipulate your pawn movement to grab before your opponent can do so. (2) Whenever your player pawn passes one of the buttons, all the tiles with buttons on your personal board earn you buttons. This is how you get income, which you will need to buy more tiles.
When you can't afford to buy any of the three tiles in front of the common pawn, you have another option - you can spend time to gain buttons. You move your player pawn to the space exactly in front of your opponent, and gain a number of buttons according to how many steps you have moved. This happens quite frequently in the game I played.
This was my player board in the middle of the game. My income level was 9 - I had 9 buttons showing now on my board.
I played with Allen. Both of us were new to the game. The rules are quite simple. This is a flexible complexity game. If you want to think of all the possibilities when you make your move, you can. You can consider which of the three tiles available to you fits well on your board, whether there is one among them that your opponent wants and you should deny him, whether you are going to put the common pawn in a position favourable to your opponent after you buy a certain tile, and so on. If you want to play in a light and easy manner, you can too. You can play by gut feel and with minimal analysis. The decision you need to make on your turn is simple - spend buttons (and time) to buy a tile, or spend time to earn some buttons.
I noticed that Allen did do some tactical calculations, e.g. timing his move precisely so that he could grab one of those 1x1 tiles before I could, or so that he could take two consecutive turns. There are such clever moves that you can try to pull off. There are such small, interesting tactics in this seemingly simplistic game.
The tiles come in many different shapes, and many are quite large and unwieldy. It is quite challenging to fit them well on your player board. It is a fun puzzle to figure out from turn to turn.
The pawn always moves clockwise. The available tiles are the next three in its path.
This was my player board at the end of our game. I still had 9 empty spaces - 3 at the top left, 5 at the top right and 1 at the bottom right.
I imagine Patchwork will work very well as a spouse game, i.e. when one spouse is a gamer and the other isn't. It's not long or complex, but it's challenging enough and it has some strategy. It's a cute package. It is a puzzle with a spatial element. Your circle of tiles will be different from game to game, so despite being an open information game, the game does not always progress in the same way. I think Patchwork will work well as a filler game too, and as a parent-child game with an older child. It is not a main course game, but it is a refreshing side dish.