I play games! You play games?!
Hello friends! I’m glad to be writing to you again today because let’s face it, I need to talk about some board games. What’s on the docket today? A game that I was lucky enough to pick up at BGG Con by the name of Cottage Garden. Now if you haven’t heard so much about this game that’s a true shame because it’s from designer Uwe Rosenberg who consistently produces fantastic games. One reason that you may not have heard of Cottage Garden is that 2016 was once again another banner year for tabletop gaming. In fact Uwe Rosenberg himself released a game called A Feast for Odin that helped to bury Cottage Garden in the flood of good games! His games are so good they are dwarfing themselves. What a problem to have!
Even though you may not have heard lots of buzz about this game I think it deserves a spotlight and some recognition because for me this game is one that will be played for a long time. The reason that I love this game and will play it is mainly due to the driving mechanism in the game, the Tetris like puzzle completion. Now if you follow Uwe Rosenberg’s games you will know that to date he has now released three games (what I like to think of as his Tetrilogy) that utilize this mechanic and in my opinion they are all wonderful, but each is for a different group.
He first released Patchwork, a two player abstract strategy game that has made its way into my top ten games of all time. He then released Cottage Garden and A Feast for Odin right around the same time later in 2016. Patchwork is fantastic for couples or friends that enjoy head to head strategy. A Feast for Odin is a heavier game that your regular game group of Euro loving buddies will enjoy. Cottage Garden fits nicely in the middle for me; it is a lightweight abstract puzzler that allows a family of four to pit wits against each other.
Now that we have a better feel for where this game sits in Mr. Rosenberg’s catalog we should dive in because each of these games is good for a different reason. Cottage Garden has a bevy of wonderful qualities that make it a favorite of mine for 2016. The theme of Cottage Garden is so wonderfully whimsical and fun. Every Uwe Rosenberg game that I’ve had the pleasure to play has such an unassuming but uniquely beautiful theme, and Cottage Garden is no exception. There is something so satisfying about filling in your garden bed with beautifully illustrated floral polyomino tiles.
To me that is the meat of this game. You have to find a way to select a tile from a central grid that will allow you to most efficiently stock your garden while still leaving open spaces that will score you points. This is a supremely enjoyable brain exercise for me. There is also a neat aspect to the central board that allows you to forecast moves in advance to plan a move or two ahead. The way tile selection works is there is a die (called the gardener) that moves space by space around a central board. On your turn you can select one tile from the column or row that the die is above or next to. The neat thing about the way the board is designed is that depending on your player order, you will have an arrow on the board associated with your turn. The first player’s arrow has one mark, the second player has two marks, the third player has three etc. So you will know that every time the die lands on a column or row with your arrow you will get to pick a tile from that lane. This allows you to plan ahead and potentially pick a different tile due to a tile you might have available one or two turns ahead of time. I love this aspect of the game.
The scoring in this game is interesting as well. You have three blue cubes and three orange cubes on a point track along the edge of your player board. What happens is you will try to cover the open spaces on your gardens but leave flower pots and plant covers uncovered. When all the open spaces have been covered you will score the flower bed. You get to move one of the cubes a space on your point track for each uncovered pot or plant cover. Plant covers allow you to move blue cubes and flower pots allow you to move orange cubes. Blue spaces are worth two points each and orange spaces are worth one for a possible twenty points maximum for each cube. This means that if all cubes reach the end of their track you can score a possible one hundred and twenty points.
At the start of the sixth and final round, any garden that has two or fewer flower tiles on it is discarded. Any garden that has three tiles or more has to be finished. The interesting bit is you must lose two points before every turn taken in the final round. That means you have to move an orange cube back two spaces or a blue cube back one. Now you may end up only needing a turn or two to score a tile and not lose many points. You may have to take four or five turns and that means you would lose ten points potentially! This mechanic creates a challenge of trying to score the most points in the most efficient way possible before the final round which can be frustrating or very satisfying depending on how well you have planned.
Many people compare this game in their minds to Patchwork. While I understand the the comparison because of the shared mechanic I think that these two games differ in many ways and if you like Patchwork it doesn’t mean you will love Cottage Garden. I think that this is an important distinction to make because there have been many negative comments about the game that use Patchwork as the motivation for their disappointment. I want to take a moment to compare and separate the two. If you’re anything like me your initial thought may be “they’re practically the same game...the Tetris mechanic is there and that’s really the game”. What I’ve come to realize however is that using that logic might be a bit flawed because the experience is so much different. The driving mechanic of both games is very similar but to me Patchwork really creates a tight, head to head competition that urges players solve a puzzle but at the same time deny your opponent the opportunity to solve theirs. This push and pull is essential to the experience of the game and can make a wonderfully light “Little Big Planet” type theme feel very tense and challenging. I love that aspect of Patchwork and it is the main reason Patchwork keeps climbing in my estimation and on my list of favorites.
Cottage Garden to me is all about solving a puzzle in the most efficient way possible, and managing your gardens and resources to allow for maximum points before the final round takes too much from you. The experience of Cottage Garden feels a bit like multiplayer solitaire which to me is not a problem (My favorite game ever is Imperial Settlers which has drawn a similar criticism). If you’re a fan of the conflict and the push and pull of Patchwork however you may feel that this game is missing something. Personally I’ve been able to separate the experience and really enjoy both games. I still probably enjoy Patchwork more than Cottage Garden but that being said Cottage Garden I liked more than most games I played in 2016 which to me speaks of how incredible Uwe Rosenberg is. One thing I will also mention is that I love the theme of Cottage Garden more than Patchwork. They are both quirky and different and fun but Cottage Garden is just so beautiful in its presentation and simplicity.
The other reason that I love Cottage Garden related to its gameplay is that it has an official solo variant (which is about 50% of my game time...being a dad can really cut into the game nights and this game can also play up to four. Those two factors alone bump this game up in my estimation quite a bit. So all told with the simplicity of gameplay and depth of thought required to really do well, coupled with the beautiful artwork and theming this game is a solid addition to my collection and one I will cherish. If you’re looking to get a Patchwork type experience for your whole family or a couple’s game night Cottage Garden may be a more relaxing yet still satisfying alternative. This is another in a long list of Uwe Rosenberg’s successes. I’ve included a how to play video in the instructional section so you can see how the game looks and plays. I hope you’ve enjoyed the content and until next time I’ll see you at the table.