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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Cottage Garden, or Cornering the Flower Market

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Designer
Board Game: Cottage Garden
Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork debuted in 2014 to thunderous approval, with most players enjoying the challenge of managing their money and fitting together polyomino tiles to create an aesthetic (and high-scoring) cardboard quilt while denying their opponent the chance to do the same. (Here's my overview of Patchwork if you're not familiar with this excellent two-player game.)

When new German publisher Edition Spielwiese announced that it would debut at SPIEL 2016 with Rosenberg's Cottage Garden, at first glance — as shown in the "work in progress" image below — the game appeared like it would be the second coming of Patchwork, but now playable by up to four people.

From gallery of Photodump
Artwork in progress

While Cottage Garden indeed features polyomino tiles, the game otherwise has little in common with Patchwork. In the game, each player tries to complete flowerbeds in order to score points. Each flowerbed is a 5x5 grid with some arrangement of flower pots and plant covers (domes placed over plants to protect them from weather), and each player starts with two flowerbeds.

Board Game: Cottage Garden
One of eighteen flowerbed designs

The game includes 36 flower tiles, with each tile having 1-6 squares in area; sixteen of these tiles, chosen at random, are placed on the 4x4 nursery board (with one side being for four players and the other for 1-3 players), while the remaining twenty are placed in a queue. A gardener die is placed next to the nursery. On a turn, a player selects either a flower tile from the row in front of the gardener (as shown in the image below) or a flower pot (with these being piled in a supply near the nursery), then adds the tile or pot to their flowerbed, then advances the gardener. (Shades of Kupferkessel Co. or Maori for those who recall those Günter Burkhardt designs.) If the row in front of the gardener is empty or nearly so at the start of your turn, you first add tiles to that row from the queue so that you'll have more choices.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Select a tile from this row or take a flower pot

Each player starts the game with two cat tokens (each only one square in area), and you can place a cat in a flowerbed at any time. (And no, you're not planting cats to raise pussy willows! You're merely encouraging them to sleep on the warm earth.) If after you place a tile, pot or cat your flowerbed has no visible dirt spaces, you then score that flowerbed; for each visible flowerpot, you advance one of your three orange scoring cubes one space on your flowerpot scoring path, and for each visible plant cover, you advance one of your three blue scoring cubes one space on your plant cover scoring path. Each space you advance on the flowerpot path is worth one point — except for the final space, which jumps from 15 to 20 points. Similarly, each plant cover is worth two points, except for the final one that moves you from 14 to 20 points.

Each time you score, you can move any cube of the appropriate color, but all movement must be applied to the same cube. If you cross the mouse line on a scoring path, i.e., have more than six points in either color, then you receive a free cat token.

After scoring your flowerbed, you discard it, lay the flower tiles used in it at the end of the queue, and start anew on another one so that you always have two flowerbeds in progress.

When the sixth round begins (or the fifth round with 1-2 players), you're nearing the end of the season, so you need to complete your remaining flowerbeds as quickly as possible. As long as you hold an unfilled flowerbed, you lose two points at the start of your turn — which could bump you off the 20-point endspace on the scoring track if you haven't moved other cubes along to give yourself a cushion as winter approaches. When everyone has completed their flowerbeds or the season has ended, everyone scores points based on the location of their scoring cubes and whoever has the highest score wins.

In Patchwork, you're trying to be as efficient as possible, leaving no holes behind as you lay down the cloth; in Cottage Garden, on the other hand, you want those holes because that's almost the only way you'll score points! You need to decide — over and over again as you stare at the nursery and look ahead to see which tiles might still be available for you on future turns — how quickly you want to fill those flowerbeds. Grab a huge tile now that covers a pot or plant cover, or take something small and hope to fill the gap later? Maybe you instead adopt the Colorado model and rely on a pot-centric approach that fills a flowerbed one square at a time until something perfect comes available in the nursery. Groovy, man!
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