Review: Patchwork: The Game26 Feb 2016 0
Review: Patchwork: The Game
Released 24 Feb 2016
Uwe Rosenberg’s Patchwork, in cardboard form, sits at rank 46 on BoardGameGeek’s list of the best games of all time, and it’s surpassed by three other Rosenberg designs (two in the top ten!). Head-to-head turn-based Tetris with a theme which makes it easy to get to the table with the conflict-averse is a pretty solid pitch, and he crushed it. The game earned a pile of awards, and developer DIGIDICED put out a well-regarded (after some early bug stomping) adaptation of Rosenberg’s Le Havre: The Inland Port. So we’re expecting revenues from the opening weekend to fall just short of The Force Awakens only because this isn’t as good a weekend for people’s entertainment spending.
Patchwork is absurdly good at wringing marvellously balanced tensions out of a very simple ruleset. You start at the beginning of a time track with five buttons, and each turn you can buy one of the next three patches in a queue and stitch it onto your quilt, or you can pass and move to the position on the track just after your opponent, collecting buttons for each space moved along the way. But patches cost not only buttons, but also time; buy one which is expensive in time, and you’ll likely give your opponent two turns in a row. The time track is also littered with effects which either give you income equal to the number of buttons on your patches, or a single-square sized patch perfect for filling the smallest holes. You’ll often want those, because your final score is your buttons + the number of buttons on your quilt - twice the number of open squares in your quilt, plus a seven-button bonus for the first player to sew an unbroken 7x7 square.
So you end up trading off cost in buttons against future button income, lost time, space covered, and the effect on the ease of placing later patches against each other, all while trying to set yourself up for a strong next turn without giving an even stronger one to your opponent. There’s also a timing issue. Just as most deckbuilders have a point at which you want to stop focusing on improving your deck and start collecting victory points like mad, skill at Patchwork relies on recognizing the decreasing importance of patches with buttons as time goes on. You need to know when to stop trying to get more button income and fill as much space as you can in the time remaining. Similarly, the seven-point bonus for a 7x7 square is big, but your whole quilt is only 9x9, and two-square-wide ribbon you tend to leave yourself around your square isn’t easy to fill in late in the game, so you have to estimate whether the restriction to which patches you’ll be able to fit later in the game is worth going for that square early.
Making that determination is best done with a pretty strong sense of what’s coming, which is where the interface on the iPad misses the extra width of a phone, which allows you to see farther ahead without having to scroll. That’s a little bizarre, because there’s a wonderful summary which makes use of the simplified pure-white depictions used in the overviews next to each player’s icon, but it’s only available when you’re sewing on a patch, and then only if you tap on the wood-grained pawn. How often do you find yourself wishing an interface deployed its brilliant feature more widely? Basically, though, the interface is perfectly satisfactory, it just doesn’t make quite as thorough use of the additional screen real estate of a tablet as it does on the phone, where it sings.
That turns out to be fantastic, because the game excels as a relatively short, approachable, but still reasonably meaty multiplayer game, much like Ascension. The AI isn’t especially strong, and the three levels don’t seem much different from one another. My six-year-old son beat the hard AI on his first try, and I’ve lost to it only about one in ten games, and I’m no Patchwork expert. So that online option is important, and with default (and seemingly unalterable) turn length of a day, you should expect relatively consistent engagement with the game. You can even watch full replays of completed games, though they take five minutes or so to complete, because the option to speed up animations apparently works only while you’re playing.
Sadly, online play doesn’t work so well yet. I’m heartened by reports that DIGIDICED’s earlier game also launched buggy but was patched quickly and well, but they have a lot of work to do here. Part of the problem is doubtless Apple’s Game Center, which I had hoped would have gotten more features and optimization by now. Instead, it seems to be the slowest part of the process, and may well be responsible for the fact that notifications work less often than the boss’s nephew. But it’s surely not the sole problem here--I’ve had online games go missing entirely or appear multiple times and some repeated notifications, but I’ve also seen the game lock up in a menu or during a game several times, and on one occasion the 7x7 bonus wasn’t awarded (perhaps because the relevant square didn’t butt up against two edges of the quilt). Killing and reloading the app fixed the lockups without the loss of any data on the games, so they weren’t a big deal, but it seems like an awfully large proportion of online games end unexpectedly or disappear into the ether. For a game with strong potential as an online mulitplayer staple, that’s particularly sad.
I’ve managed to reach the final paragraph of the review without mentioning that this version is entitled Patchwork: The Game, which I regard as so deeply silly I’m going to refer to it that way henceforth. Patchwork: The Game is based on a simply lovely tabletop predecessor, and largely captures that in a format which is perfect for on-the-go play. If the developers can get it to work reliably, Patchwork: The Game has the potential to be one of the most-enjoyed boardgames on iOS of the year. Until then, the weak AIs and online frustrations leave it as only a tempting appetiser.