What can be better at this time of year than playing one of Uwe Rosenberg’s most celebrated and beloved polyomino games? It has to be playing a festive re-design of it! Don your reindeer jumper, make your cocoa, and snuggle under that blanket with your favourite holiday gaming buddy because it is time to unwrap Patchwork Christmas Edition!
If you are already familiar with Patchwork then you will know the game and how it works - this version brings nothing new to the technical gameplay itself. But what it does do is provide a beautiful, seasonal rendition of Rosenberg’s tile-laying two-player powerhouse and the novel, colourful present wrapping design is a perfect excuse to add it to your existing collection, or to gift it to somebody who has been very good this year!
Santa’s Set Up
For those of you who have not yet come across the mechanics of Patchwork, the game is simple to set up, easy to learn, and fairly quick to play (around the time it takes for your mince pies to cook!). But underneath the lid is layer upon layer of tactics, strategy, and depth that belies its small box size and cosy cover, and Patchwork Christmas edition is no different.
In this festive version, each player begins with a blank 9x9 board (silver or gold) and five golden buttons. The time track board is placed in the centre, with the players’ gold and silver tokens placed at the start and all the polyomino present patches arranged in a circle around it. On the time track are placed five additional single patches which will be gifted to lucky recipients as the game plays. The Christmas tree marker is then placed immediately to the right of the small 2-button-1-space candy-striped patch and that’s it; time to put the Quality Street down and get ready to puzzle out those polyomino presents!
On a player’s turn, there are two available moves; buy one of the three patches located clockwise of the Christmas Tree marker or pass. If you want to flash your game cash, you will need the buttons in your supply to afford it and then immediately place it on your board. You can flip, twist, and reverse the patch, but you cannot overlap existing patches or allow them to overhang the edge of your board.
The Patchwork Christmas tree marker then replaces the present patch you have just taken and your marker moves along the time track, corresponding to the number of spaces indicated by an egg timer icon. If you don’t have enough buttons to purchase the perfect present on your go, you must pass and move ahead to the space in front of your opponent on the time track. Bypassing, however, you gain a button for every space you advance (more gold buttons… my precious!) and if you cross a button printed on the time track, you’ll also receive a button for each one already on your own board.
Button bonanza! Pass a beautifully wrapped single present bonus patch and you will be able to add it to your prezzie pile! What’s more, if you are the first to completely fill a 7x7 portion of your board as you are tessellating your tiles, you will receive Santa’s seven-point bonus! Snow-tastic!
Your turn continues until your token advances ahead of your opponent on the time track and the game ends once you both reach the centre square. But whilst this game embodies a number of races, the first reindeer past the post won’t necessarily be the one wearing the Christmas crown at the end!
Whilst the choices in this cosy looking game look simple, the decisions you make are critical. Ultimately, you need the most buttons at the end of the game to win. And whilst some patches represent 2 or 3 buttons each (payday every time you go over a button on the time track!), the trade-off is two-fold; you incur a greater dent in your currency stash, and you have to move a higher number of spaces ahead of your opponent, potentially enabling them to rack up several turns in a row and preventing you from affording better patches next time.
On top of this, because you can only choose from three predetermined patches each time, and your opponent’s choices are directly affected by your selection, you have to decide whether to focus on your own gains or frustrate theirs. The temptation to race ahead to secure a bonus single patch or to go over a button must also be balanced against the need to slow down in order to pack out your board and fill up those empty spaces before one of you reaches the end of the time track.
If you don’t, you’ll be on Santa’s naughty list and will incur a 2 button penalty at the end game scoring for each vacant square on your board. Because of this reverse-racing element, passing, rather than a no-other-option turn, then takes on a tactical aspect that can frustrate your opponent like a tiger tangled up in tinsel!
Underneath the pretty wrapping paper, Patchwork Christmas is the same tight resource management game for two as the original Patchwork, but the festive re-design is so lovely that it becomes pretty irresistible at this time of year. I can see why Uwe Rosenberg is hailed the king of polyominoes because he has managed to design a tight 2 player game where all the information is laid out on the table (literally) and yet it is still almost impossible to predict what is going to happen.
Your next choice is always going to be directly impacted by the decision just made by your opponent, and there is no random and unforeseen luck of the draw for which a deck or a dice can be blamed! Combine this with the almost infinite replayability that the circle of patches provides and Patchwork Christmas becomes a game perfect for those who love a little festive cheer at any time of the year.
And for people who like a little more nightmare before their Christmas, we have Patchwork Halloween addition too!
Editors note: This blog was originally published on December 18th, 2020. Updated on November 10th, 2021 to improve the information available.