Saturday, 1 July 2017

Cottage Garden

Plays: 3Px1, 2Px1.

The Game

Cottage Garden is a light game from Uwe Rosenberg (Agricola, Le Havre). It has the Tetris-like puzzle element, similar to Patchwork and A Feast for Odin.

Every player has two 5x5 player boards. These are your flowerbeds. Your job is to fill them up with the Tetris-like pieces, which are mostly flowers (some are other garden decorations or equipment). Each time you fill up a flowerbed, you score points, and then get a new flowerbed to start over. There are flower pots and plant covers on the flowerbeds. You want to keep them exposed as much as possible, because they are what score points for you. The L-shaped piece on the left is your score board. When you score flower pots, you may advance any one of the orange scoring markers. When you score plant covers, you advance a blue marker. Notice that each step a flower pot marker advances gives you 1pt, while a plant cover marker gives you 2pt per step. Also, between 14pt / 15pt and 20pt, there is only one step, so it is a steal if you manage to get there.

The cat pieces are 1x1 pieces which help you fill up your flowerbeds. They don't score points, but they are convenient and they can be used at any time.

This is the main board, called the nursery. During game setup, it is filled with flowers tiles. Players claim flowers from this board to add to their individual flowerbeds. The die is a countdown mechanism. At the end of every player's turn, it is moved one step clockwise. When it completes a full circuit around the board, its value is increased by one. When the value reaches 6, the game enters the final stage. Upon entering the final stage, flowerbeds with too few flowers are immediately discarded. The game ends after the remaining flowerbeds are filled up by their respective owners. The twist is from this point onwards there is a penalty at the start of every turn you take. So you want to finish up your flowerbeds as quickly as possible. Otherwise whatever you score from them may not be sufficient to cover the penalties.

The die also determines which flowers are available to the active player. On your turn you may only choose from the flowers in the same row (or column) as the die. The active row sometimes needs to be refilled. If there is only one flower tile remaining, the row is refilled before you take your turn. Alternatively, you may spend one cat to refill it, giving yourself more choices.

Notice the tile at the top left corner of the flowerbed on the right. There is a flower pot on it. These flower pots score points too, not only those printed directly on the flowerbed.

When I read the rules, I thought the rule for the parasol was rather silly. If you need to borrow a flower tile from the main board to see whether it fits well on your flowerbed, you are supposed to place the parasol on the spot from which you borrowed the tile, so that you won't forget where you need to return the tile to. I thought that was unnecessarily cumbersome. However when I actually sat down to play, I realised it was indeed easy to forget where I took the borrowed tile from. I was humbled. The gamemakers knew what they were doing.

Flower tiles not yet in use are to be arranged in a queue beside the nursery (main board), so that players know what is coming next. The hand cart points to the head of the queue.

This is a completed flowerbed. Look closely and you will see that two of the flower pots are actually round tokens and are not printed on the flowerbed. On your turn, in lieu of taking a flower tile from the nursery, you may take one of these flower pot tokens. This sounds like a good deal, since each flower pot is worth 1pt. However flower tiles are much larger and help you complete a flowerbed more quickly. So usually these flower pot tokens are used to fill up those odd spaces on your flowerbeds which are hard to find flower tiles for. When scoring this completed flowerbed above, you move one orange marker 6 steps (for the flower pots) and one blue marker 2 steps (for the plant covers).

The nursery is double sided. Depending on the number of players, the rules are slightly adjusted and you need to use the appropriate side.

That red line at the elbow of the L-shaped board means something. Whenever a score marker crosses the line, you gain a cat. The scoring mechanism in Cottage Garden pulls you in two different directions - quality vs quantity. If you focus on advancing a single orange marker and a single blue marker, they will most likely exceed the 14pt and 15pt spots on the score track, and give you bonuses by jumping straight to 20pt. Being first to reach 20pt also gives you a bonus. This is the quality angle. The quantity angle presents two incentives too. If you advance your markers evenly, more of them will cross the red line, giving you more cats, which in turn help you complete more flowerbeds. Also, each time your third marker of a colour leaves the starting space, you gain a free flower pot. This again helps you fill up your flowerbeds.

The Play

Playing with the children.

When I explained the rules to the children, they sounded a little complicated, because there were quite a few situations I had to describe and explain what needed to be done when they came up. However, the actual playing of the game was very simple most of the time. The various situations I had to explain did come up, but not frequently. Most of the time you are just picking a flower tile and placing it on one of your flowerbeds. This is a casual and relaxing game.

There are some tactics in picking the flower tiles. You can see which tiles fit your flowerbeds well, and you can calculate whether you will have a chance to claim them. You can also check whether a tile you want is useful to your opponents. If it is, you probably want to take it before someone else does. Otherwise you can probably risk the wait. You can also look ahead at the tiles which will be soon entering the nursery. Sometimes it is worth spending a cat to bring them in early, so that you can get your hands on a particularly nice-fitting flower tile. There are plenty of little tricks to apply, but nothing too taxing.

Tempo is something to consider too. You want to time your planting such that when the game enters the final phase, your flowerbeds are either almost complete, or barely started. A mostly empty flowerbed means you can discard it without taking penalty, and an almost completed flowerbed means you will take minimal penalty before finishing up and scoring points.

I have listed quite a number of tactical considerations, but I am probably making it sound more complex than it actually is. This is a light game. Perhaps I am being influenced by the artwork. I cannot picture this being anything other than a leisurely pastime, like some quiet gardening work.

A 2-player game in progress.

Chen Rui suggested we put the flower pots in the cart, which I thought was a brilliant idea!

The Thoughts

Cottage Garden is a light family game, a casual game. There is some strategy, but it is generally relaxing and non-confrontational. The main selling point is the Tetris-like spatial puzzle element. How much you like the game depends on how much you like this core mechanism. The rest of the game are supporting mechanisms. Comparing Cottage Garden and Patchwork, in Patchwork you won't be able to fill up your player board, but in Cottage Garden you will fill it up again and again. There are many tools to help you do this. It is as if Uwe Rosenberg felt bad for teasing you in Patchwork, and now wanted to give you the satisfaction of getting the job done. Cottage Garden has more rules and more components, and thus should be more complex. Strangely, it doesn't feel so to me. In fact there is one aspect in Patchwork which makes me feel it is the deeper game. In Patchwork you need to consider the economic ramifications when you choose a tile. You need to plan for the future, you need to stay solvent (even if your currency is buttons). Cottage Garden is more pure in driving you towards completing your flowerbeds. It is a straightforward, pleasant game.

1 comment:

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