Cottage Garden is one of this year’s biggest releases and bears some striking resemblance to another fantastic game called Patchwork by the same designer. Is that where all the similarities end or are the similarities only in the visuals? Read on!
The most obvious thing you’ll notice about Cottage Garden is that it can play up to four players rather than the 2 player only restriction in Patchwork. More players aren’t necessarily better since it can lead to long wait times between turns and sometimes games just work better with two instead of a small group and vice versa.
The great thing about both Patchwork and Cottage Garden though, is that even though there’s a clear visual overlap, Cottage Garden is much more than “Patchwork for 4” and Patchwork doesn’t deserve to be insulted as a “watered down 2-player Cottage Garden”. Both games are brilliant at their design and makes sense for their targeted players.
The thing I love about two player games is that it gives way for a lot of back and forth action of “here what I’m doing to do” and giving the finger saying “oh haha looks like you can’t do that thing you wanted to do”. Patchwork is a race of knowing when to pull ahead in first and when to pull back and slow down to let the other player pull ahead. It’s such a delicate balance and having good control of that is hard to achieve.
With Cottage Garden, the dynamic and way your options for piece selection changes depending on the number of players. When you play with 4, you’re given a new direction of choosing your pieces (diagonally instead of only orthogonally) and makes choices so interesting and so aware of not only of what possibilities are ahead for you but also the other player’s possible choices and how that will affect your selection. Contrast that to when you play with 3 or 2, the direction of your choices will be changing constantly, you’re watching for different patterns and definitely changing strategies according to how many you’re playing with that it requires you to be both flexible and tactical every time you plan to bring Cottage Garden to the table no matter the size group you bring it to.
In Patchwork, scoring in negative points is a very normal and natural result if you’re terrible like me. Patchwork works more like an engine of trying to get economy (in BUTTONS!) so you can afford to buy new pieces. Scoring will be based on how many buttons you have left at the end of the game minus how many empty spaces you have in your quilt (grandma would be ashamed).
Cottage Garden on the other hand, only scores whenever you fill your flowerbed completely. Filling your board is a rare achievement in Patchwork but in Cottage Garden, your life depends on it. Thankfully, in Cottage Garden this is much, much easier to obtain but your scoring will be dependent on how many features you have in your flowerbed (i.e. per pot and plant covers).
The other separating factor between the two games is that Cottage Garden has two different score tracks (one for how many pots you scored and one for how many plant covers you scored). The increments for each feature goes up different depending on how often they appear, scoring up to a maximum of 20. But the thing that really sets it apart is how you’ll have 3 markers on each track, making it an odd balancing act of crossing a certain threshold to get a cat piece (for filling gaps or for their ability) versus trying to get a higher numerical score. It then turns into Sophie’s choice between getting a higher score or a cat token for filling gaps/opening up tile choices. (WHY SOPHIE, WHY!?)
In Patchwork, timing is everything. The game completely revolves around time since your game is over once you reach the end of the time track (while the other player can keep going if they haven’t reached the end yet). You have to know exactly when to steal that wonderful 1x1 square piece for covering that one empty corner that’s been bothering you for half the game and then when to fill your board and when to get tiles with buttons.
Cottage Garden is about timing in a different way. You’re thinking spatially trying to time when to get what piece and when while you’re playing with the timing with how to push your scoring markers so you can get the optimal points and the optimal bonuses. You have to look at the layout of the tiles that will be available for taking and know when the right time is to take it vs getting it later on and potentially getting two tiles you really need because you know you’ll have the opportunity to grab it again later.
Visuals and Quality
Patchwork has a very fun look to it. The end product of looking at your board when the game is over is a wonderful smorgasbord of colours and textures. The colours come off a bit muted but the pieces are well made and it’s fun to see when people sub the cardboard buttons for real ones.
Cottage Garden is visually compelling to me. The colours are much deeper and goes for a more “realistic” look. The cat tokens are totes adorb AND you get a 3D wagon barrel! Is it necessary? NO, BUT LOOK HOW PRETTY! The game is equally as well made as Patchwork, even having a slight edge for me due to its colours, variety in flowerbed boards and just altogether having a variety of visuals and pieces and sliiiiightly thicker cardboard.
To put it really simply (and based on our own opinions and observations of both games), we’ve come to this basic conclusion:
|Complexity||Light - Mid Weight||Mid Weight|
|Easy of Play||Easy yet difficult to master||Easy|
|General Strategy||Balance between economy, pacing of when to get ahead and when to slow down||Understanding of choices and timing so that optimal pieces show up in order to score based on building around features and not carelessly covering all empty space|
Both games at a first glance look very similar, and it’s normal to look at Cottage Garden and say “hey, that’s Patchwork for four players”. Well, yes and no. There’s a lot of Patchwork’s spirit in Cottage Garden, but it does well enough to stand as its own identity and plays different enough that I’d say it’s safe to say that owning both games will fill two completely different voids you might have. No matter which of the two you’ll play, I guarantee you’re gonna DIG either one! (obligatory pun win, yes!)