The game: Patchwork Express by Uwe Rosenberg. The game was published by Lookout in 2018. My copy is a review copy from Asmodee Nordics.
Elevator pitch: A simplified, easier to approach, faster version of the loved two-player game Patchwork, making the game more suitable for both children and elders, thanks to larger pieces and simplified game play.
What’s in the box? The usual Lookout square two-player game box contains three boards, one of time-keeping and one for each player. There’s also a bunch of large patch tiles used to create the patchwork, some cardboard buttons for money and couple of wooden pawns.
The components are bright, pretty and easy to read. The patterns in the tiles are more childish than in the old Patchwork, and look really nice and colourful. The component quality is excellent.
What do you do in the game? The goal is to fill your 7×7 grid with patch tiles. The tiles are in a circle and every turn, you choose one of the three tiles in front of the common tracking pawn in the circle.
The tiles have price in two currencies. One is buttons and if you can’t pay, you can’t take the tile. This somewhat limits your patch choice and can cause situations where you can’t pick any of the tiles available to you. I’ll get back to that later.
The other currency is time. You mark the time spent on the time tracking board. It tells which player gets the next turn: the player who has spent the least time gets to move. If you choose patches that don’t take much time, you can get multiple turns in a row.
If you can’t take a patch, you can always move ahead on the time track until you are ahead of your opponent and take one button for each step taken. That way you can get more money by spending time.
There are button spaces on the time track. When you pass one, you get paid in buttons. The tiles have button icons on them and every button icon on your patchwork pays you one button income. The first player to pass certain spaces on the time track is also awarded a leather patch, a 1-square patch tile that can be used to fill holes on the track.
Lucky or skillful? There really isn’t much luck involved in the game. The availability of the tiles is all there. There’s a bit of input randomness in the order of the tiles, and some tiles are added later in the game also in random order, but that’s all. The rest is calculation and some chaos caused by the unexpected moves from your opponent. This is a game of skill, despite being a lighter, more childish version.
Abstract or thematic? The patchwork theme is fairly abstract, there’s not a deep thematic connection here, but it all looks nice and bright and gives some character for the game. I’d say this is as thematic as is necessary.
Solitaire or interactive? There’s fairly little interaction, but of course, when you have an option to choose between tiles and other things being equal, you always want to take the tile your opponent covets most, or you may want to consider your moves based on what kind of options they open for your opponent.
Thus there’s a small element of being mean, but it’s fairly minor and unlikely to upset anyone. You can’t always calculate like that, often you just take the tile that is best suited for your needs.
Who can play? The publisher age recommendation is 6+ (compared to the 8+ for original Patchwork). I’ve not tested that, but I would assume that’s pretty much correct. There’s enough calculation involved that this isn’t the best game for smaller kids to play without adult supervision, but if kids can handle the maths required for scoring, then why not.
The Express version is slightly better for children, but also for older players, as the pieces are slightly larger, with bigger numbers.
What’s to like: The game looks really bright, colourful and charming. The simplification hasn’t really changed the elements that make the game good, but the play time has been cut in half.
What’s not to like: The original Patchwork isn’t by any means a difficult game, so is this version really necessary?
My verdict: The decision to publish Patchwork Express has left some folks puzzled, and I can see why. I appreciate the concept of streamlined, shorter versions of games – for example I find Ticket to Ride: New York adorable and easy to recommend – but here, trimming a simple 20-minute game to make a 10-minute game seems somewhat unnecessary.
However, I trust that the folks at Lookout Games know what they’re doing and know their market – there must be some group of people interested in games who find the original Patchwork interesting, but slightly too complicated. Since nobody is forced to buy the new version, I see no problem with it. Gamers definitely won’t need the new version, but if you mostly play with children or elderly people, Express may be a better choice.
I’m not particularly enthusiastic about Patchwork and after playing both version, don’t really have a strong preference in either way. I now have both, but I don’t think I need two different versions. I’ll probably keep the original, because it offers slightly deeper gameplay, but I do appreciate the swiftness of the new version and find it interesting how relatively little has been lost in the conversion. The time track may be half the length of the original track, but there’s at least 80% of the game left.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Patchwork Express gets Suggest from me.