Review: Cottage Garden24 Oct 2017 2
Review: Cottage Garden
Released 12 Oct 2017
We have a constant battle with cats in our garden. Actually, our efforts at controlling this feline menace would probably make a good subject for a game in itself. The problem is that the local kitty community likes nothing better than to use our vegetable patch as a toilet. Catch the blighters and they just give you that over the shoulder I don’t give a damn look, before skulking off. Cottage Garden runs contrary to my experiences by attempting to please both horticulturists and ailurophiles alike, thereby showing that cats and gardeners can both exist in harmony.
Cottage Garden is the follow-up to Uwe Rosenberg’s tabletop hit, Patchwork, the digital version of which earned a Pocket Tactics three-star review. The game sticks to the same Tetris style tile placement as Patchwork but also introduces a few ideas of its own. The first obvious change is that you now work to fill two puzzle boards simultaneously. The flower tiles that are used to fill your gardens are taken from the market grid. A gardener makes his way around the outskirts of the grid, their current position determining the row or column that the player can select a tile from. Over time, there will be fewer tile choices, but eventually, the market line will be refreshed with supplies of new flowers. After the gardener completes their fifth lap around the market, the game enters its last round, and the tempo increases as players race to complete their remaining plots as quickly as possible.
The flowerbeds also contain a scattering of flowerpots and glass planting bells. You can plant flowers on top of these, but it is not recommended as when a bed is completed, the number of visible pots and bells will determine how many points are scored. The scoring system is a little more nuanced than the one used in Patchwork. Each player has three orange scoring markers to record points scored by flowerpots, and three blue scoring-markers to record points scored by plant bells. When a bed is completed, points for visible flowerpots and plant bells are calculated. The player then has to choose to advance one score-marker of each colour. Every time a marker reaches a certain point on the scoring track, you get a cat. If you manage to move all markers from the starting space you earn a flowerpot, which you must place immediately. The first player to reach the top step of the score ladder also receives a beehive, which is worth extra points. The completed bed is then replaced with a new empty one and the game continues.
Having got this far into the review it has to be time to mention the cats. Each player begins the game with two cat tokens and can earn extra ones as the game progresses. Cats can be used as an extra bonus move to fill a blank space in your garden. They may also be used to refresh the flower tiles that are currently available at the market. If none of the available tiles look suitable then you can fill a gap with an extra flowerpot.
Cottage Garden sticks to the same design ethics as Patchwork, with the same breezy tunes, and colourful family-friendly graphics. The theme means that there is greater scope to make the graphics more interesting; flowers and cats were always going to be more of a crowd-pleaser than scraps of cloth. The interface is also heavily based on its predecessor, the selection, rotation and positioning of tiles is usually very smooth and instinctive, but there were a couple of times when I encountered a sticky tile that required an extra bit of persuasion to move into position. Having to fit two boards onto the screen does mean that the screen feels a little cramped, and the score ladder could do with being a clearer.
Patchwork was only designed for two players, whilst Cottage Garden allows up to four players to join the fun, or you can play a solo game. Online matches can be arranged through the Game Center. The options are pretty rudimentary; you can play an asynchronous game with a 24-hour time limit between turns, or try and link-up with other players for a real-time match. Another option is to take part in local pass-and-play matches, or battle against three levels of computer opponents. Since there is no information that you need to keep secret from other players, head-to-head matches work really well, although it isn’t always easy to tell who the active player is.
Cottage Garden is a game that focuses solely on the puzzle element. If you like spatial puzzles then it is definitely worth considering, you are constantly balancing the desire to grab the largest tiles with the danger of covering pots and jars, or leaving too many awkward sized gaps to fill. The way that the scoring interacts with the rest of the game is neat and requires players to really think about optimizing the advancement of their score markers. As the game enters the last few turns there is a growing incentive to complete beds as quickly as possible that adds a nice climax to proceedings.
The open-air theme will probably appeal to a larger audience, and being able to play solo or with as many as four players is a welcome addition. Patchwork wasn’t a hugely interactive game but there was a little more going on in that you could deny your opponent tiles and time your moves to grab the bonus patches. In contrast, pottering around in your garden feels very much like a solitary pass time. Cottage Garden is a stress-free, easygoing game with flowers and cats. Despite this, I still prefer the slightly more involved Patchwork, with its less cluttered screen, clever time management and button economy.