Image: José Luis Zapata De Santiago (BoardGameGeek)
It is likely you've never played a board game about making patchwork quilts. It is also likely you've never played the greatest 2-player game every designed.
Although making quilts does not sound exciting, what is exciting is this: Patchwork is the #1 Abstract game on BoardGameGeek, and #2 Family game on BoardGameGeek. Of all time.
The designer is Uwe Rosenberg, most famous for Agricola (aka SimFarm) and Bohnanza (aka the Bean Game). The beauty of Patchwork - and it is a beautiful, beautiful game - is that it's simple enough to play with your five-year-old, and intricate enough than you won't beat your hard-core gamer friend without a great deal of deep thought.
A single game takes 30 minutes, which means you can fit in a second go-round. Also, it might just be better than Chess.
I'm not here to diss Chess. But Chess is the embodiment of an abstract strategy game, and that's what you get with Patchwork too. There's no hidden information, no bluffing, and no luck here: everything hinges on the other player's moves, and you response to their moves. Everything is on the table.
Image: Matt Ridding (BoardGameGeek)
You'll find the game reminiscent of Tetris or Blokus. Scraps of cloth come in irregular-shaped pieces that cover a certain amount of squares.
You buy pieces of cloth and stitch them into your blanket, trying to minimise gaps. You've got a 9x9 grid to fill. Each of the shapes will provide a certain amount of buttons on your quilt, cost you number of buttons, and cost you a certain amount of time.
You're rewarded if you manage to stitch together a 7x7 square blanket without any holes, however you're penalised for the area you don't cover on your 9x9 grid.
There are two forms of currency: buttons and time. You spend a certain amount of each in order to buy a scrap of cloth. A scrap of cloth might come with none, one, or several buttons. More buttons on your blanket will increase your the number of buttons you draw every few turns. You'll want those scraps of cloth with lots of buttons, but of course, they'll cost a lot of buttons, or a lot of time.
The Patchwork time track. Image: Pongracz Zsolt, BoardGameGeek
Time works like this: there's a "time track". Different scraps of cloth cost different amounts of time (thematically: how difficult it is to sew onto your blanket), and will move you a certain number of squares down the time track.
The player who's behind on the time track takes as many turns as they like until they overtake the other player on the time track. Then it's the other player's turn. Or, you can pass, which places you one step above the other player. You pick up buttons equal to the number of spaces you move.
The game isn't a race, precisely. The time track adds a whole spate of nuance and tactic to the game. If you overtake the other player too far on the time track, your opponent will be able to draw a vast number of buttons, or take several turns in a row without interference, which lets them plan quite precisely.
But you also want to make forward progress, because at various points on the track you will either receive a income of buttons (which you can use to spend), or receive a bonus 1x1 square of cloth which is perfect for filling those gaps in your blanket.
A Tetris-shaped jigsaw puzzle. Image: Knusprich Frisch, BoardGameGeek
Then there's the art. The artwork is delightfully cute. It treads a neat line between looking old and vintage, but not worn and boring. The scraps of cloth come in pastel patterns, and the blue buttons just scream to be collected.
If you play the mobile version, a patchwork doll (Ute) and a patchwork owl (Hoot) guide you through your tutorial game.
Speaking of which, the mobile and online versions of the game are there to be played on both iOS, Android and Windows mobile. The mobile game is excellent. The artwork carries across from the game, and is even more delightful, animated.
You can play a pass-and-play game against a friend in the same room, or play the AI. There are several AIs ranging in difficulty, and it is unknown if anyone has genuinely beaten the Uwe AI. There are stories, but they're all apocryphal.
If you need a less difficult challenge, there is an online community around the game. The app will let you play online and gain an ELO ranking (similar to Chess rankings).
This is what a game should be, on so many levels. The game is elegantly simple. The theme is integral to the game, and allows you to play the game very intuitively. This lets the game scale really neatly: you could play it with a six-year-old quite easily and she would enjoy it, but against adults, you might well struggle to win.
There's a tactical aspect, a spatial aspect, and a financial aspect, with calculations at every point. You're constantly asked to make hard decisions, and yet the game is so finely tuned and balanced that there is never a bad option, and nor is there much cause for analysis paralysis.
It allows for quite a number of strategies, but also forces you to be reactive to your opponent's moves. Yet it's not a zero-sum game. Win or lose, by the end of the game you have accomplished something: you've built a blanket!