There’s this designer. He’s a low key fella that I’m sure most people of never heard of. His name is Uwe Rosenberg. He’s made a bunch of games which people don’t like a great deal too. Although you may have heard of one or 2 of them. Some of his low key accolades include: Agricola, Glass Road, Caverna, Fields of Arle and A Feast for Odin. You know, small releases that fell under the radar but take up obscene amounts of shelf space.
What you may not know about Uwe Rosenberg though, is that he has designed some really clever small games based around some really dreary themes. His first one being Bohnanza (all you ever need to know about beans) and more recently, one of my favourite 2 player games: Patchwork (a game all about quilting). Most recent of all of these comes in a much larger box and that’s what I am talking about today. It’s Cottage Garden, the high octane high stakes game about… Gardening.
Now don’t get me wrong, Uwe seems to have a knack of taking a dreary theme and making a stonking game out of it. At its core Agricola is just about farming, but it is well loved by gamers at large (for the sake of transparency, I’m not one of them though) and really, who could get excited about quilt making? However, Patchwork while relaxing to play is also really clever and exceptionally good fun. So the question is, will Cottage Garden live up to its predecessor?
Before I get into Cottage Garden too much, I’d like to present a theory. I’m now pretty certain that Uwe Rosenberg has been a lover of Tetris since its inception. Cottage Garden is a lot like Patchwork but on a grander scale, and if you’re not familiar with it, Patchwork is a challenge to try and make the nicest quilt with the most buttons by putting together a random assortment of shapes into a quilt… See? Tetris!
Whilst you can see that Cottage Garden has come from the same stock, this doesn’t mean that the games are identical. The first change is that where Patchwork is only for 2 players, Cottage Garden is for up to 4; hence the bigger box.
Let’s get gardenin’!
The core idea of Cottage Garden is to make a nice garden (or several) whilst having the most visible plant pots and cloches. You know you have stumbled upon something interesting when you have to google exactly what you’re playing with. I appreciate that gardening while trying to score points sounds really easy and honestly not very interesting, but there’s some intense challenge involved.
The game is set up with a main board covered in pieces of garden which you can use for your personal garden boards, a die around the outside for the turn and round marker and each player has a small boomerang shaped score board and 2 plots of land to start working on.
You also need to lead the players up the garden path… quite literally. Once the tiles are on the main board, you have a wheelbarrow and a table which signifies the start and end of the garden path and then you place randomly chosen tiles between the 2 to make a path.
Who nicked my wheel!?!
I’m beginning to wonder if Mr Rosenberg may have something against me. When I bought my copy of Patchwork, I ended up having to get in touch with Mayfair games because one of the patches was missing. It wasn’t game breaking, just annoying. Imagine my surprise after I open Cottage Garden and start getting my first game together to see that there’s no wheel for my wheelbarrow. On this occasion I didn’t feel it necessary to get a replacement since it’s only cosmetic, but I do wonder if it’s something personal.
Back to the Cottage Garden
Now I’ve finished complaining about only having a barrow instead of a wheelbarrow, I’ll get back to the game.
Each player needs to choose a piece of garden from the centre board either on the horizontal, vertical or diagonal line and the choice between the 3 depends on where the die is around the outside. Once you have chosen, you can place it on your personal cottage garden board to fill it up, as you can only score your garden once it’s full. You can also add single pots to your garden if you think you may be unable to find a piece of garden to fit what you want, and while this can be useful for scoring, it can also be detrimental as it takes time.
A garden is scored by adding together the amount of plant pots and cloches visible at completion. You start off with 3 cubes on your scoreboard for each feature and can only score a maximum of 20 points for each of the features in your cottage garden.
Round and round the garden…
Cottage Garden is played over 6 rounds which works out to a maximum of 32 turns. As mentioned before, this is cleverly done with the die around the outside. It moves around the outside of the board when each player completes a turn, and once it hits the start point again, the pip number on the die is increased to show which round you’re currently on. Simple, but really clever I thought.
A cottage garden is not complete without a cat (apparently)
On each scoreboard, there’s a red line after you score 6 points, and once you cross said red line you net yourself a cat…
Sorry, I had to take a moment then as that is something I never thought I’d say to anyone, let alone write down to be read by other people.
The cats are another clever little mechanism in Cottage Garden to try and help you out. Once you have placed a garden tile or plant pot on to your garden board, if you have one, you can fill up a space with a cat to score your garden.
Oh, and there’s also a bonus beehive or 2 for the first person to hit 20 points…
OK, the more I write this for this review I can appreciate one thing more than anything else. Cottage Garden is not the most thrilling, high-octane game that I have ever reviewed. In fact, as far as board games go, it registers on the more towards geriatric paced games that I have ever played. With all the talk of cats, and beehives and gardening and all, I feel like a doddery old man just talking about it. But you know what? I like Cottage Garden anyway.
I have re-written this review several times to try and make Cottage Garden sound interesting, and I’m not sure it’s possible. You’re trying to make a complete cottage garden and you can take shortcuts by placing lazy cats in spaces to help you win; it sounds like manure no matter which way you cut it. BUT, it is a good game.
I fell in love with Patchwork because of the fact it wasn’t high octane. It’s calm, collected and nice and sedate. It’s a game you can play while having a civilised adult conversation about lawnmowers and DIY and… well adult things, and I like Cottage Garden for the same reason.
Middle of the Garden Path
Cottage Garden is definitely not for everyone. I have introduced a few people to it and it’s had a 50% success rate. A few loved it for much the same reasons I did (and there are some clever tactics involved in play if you’re willing to go and find them) and others found it mind numbing. I have never seen quite such a division in anything else I have introduced my friends to.
I think it’s the theme. Not everyone has any interest in making their own Cottage Garden, and some people will not be able to see past the theme to the game which is underneath. Honestly, I think that’s their loss. I have only met one person which has ever been excited about spending 20 minutes making a virtual quilt too.
Chelsea Flower Show or Old Man Allotments?
If you’re looking for the big box, heavy decision, shelf stealing game that Uwe Rosenberg is generally known for, then you’re not going to find it here. Cottage Garden is not even the illegitimate lovechild of any of those games. It’s more like the creepy stepchild that nobody wants to talk about, that has to sleep under the stairs. People have been pretty mean about it, but I’m not sure why. It’s calm and relaxing and wholesome fun.
Cottage Garden is a great game which can give you difficult decisions and luck more than judgement kind of strategies, but it’s a pleasant way to spend 30-40 minutes of an evening and I suspect it’ll find its way into my Charity Tabletop Day (a masterful plug, even if I do say so myself) just as a change of pace from some of the more crazy and intense games. I think the game, as with a real Cottage Garden, you’re going to get out what you put in. If you’re willing to put a little faith in and some time, it’ll grow on you. If you’re not interested and are instantly dismissive then I think you’re probably missing out.
All in all, I like Cottage Garden. It’s not going to rate as highly as some of the other games I have reviewed because it just won’t hit the table as often as they do, but I give Cottage Garden a solid, well fed, respectable 7.5 out of 10.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.