Epic Gumdrop Ep 43: Patchwork Stronghold

Patchwork Stronghold Review

This episode James and Jeff look at two wonderful 2-player games, the delightful Patchwork and the destructive Stronghold 2nd ed.

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(Length: approx 33min)

Patchwork & Stronghold 2nd edition

Some thoughts on the 2p Game

A lot of games say they support 2 players, but how many times have you opened the box with glee and opened the rules only to find it’s some hacky 2-player modification from regular gameplay. Like you’ve now got to play with a dummy player or something. While The gesture is lovely, the box should really advise that it’s a 3 – 5 player game or whatever, although playing with only 2 players is *theoretically possible* like some arcane concept in quantum physics. The box should also have a funometric rating bar that shows us our probable enjoyment level based on player count. No publisher wants to say this, but it’s better than a disappointing game experience.

So even if it’s not a weird game mod to allow 2 players, it’s often not the best experience. If a game says 2-4 or 2-5 I now usually assume the 2 player version will be much weaker, probably a poor representation of the optimal game experience for that title. This holds especially for games that have controlling various areas of the board as their core idea.

A 2 player game that only does this one thing, support two players, is a welcome game in our house. Gaming is sometimes just me and my oldest child and a solid 2 player game is something we get to enjoy together. When you game against the same person a lot it’s cool to see how each of you approach the game over repeat plays. By game six or ten we have each developed our own style and strategies. This makes for a really nice shared experience. My son and I have been playing Netrunner against each other for quite a while now and I’m sure we’ll have years of fun together because we’re really invested in our personal competition.

How often is it just you and your partner or child when you both feel like playing a game? The 2 player, like a great solo game, has an important place on any boardgame shelf.

Patchwork

We’re fans of Agricola and Caverna in this house, so when we saw that Uwe Rosenberg had a new game we were in, sight unseen. If you’re not familiar with his work the theme might not be one that immediately grabs you. In this game you and your opponent will each be making a patchwork. But don’t let the idea of taking part in a game simulating a relaxing hobby fool you.

Uwe Rosenberg Patchwork

The Idea

You each take a small gridded board and a few buttons. Buttons are the economy in this game, they’re your money. The center of the table contains the scoring track. Surrounding the scoring track are a wide variety of material in various shapes and sizes. These will be the pieces that you are vying for in order to build the best patchwork.

Uwe Rosenberg Patchwork

What makes a piece good?

Each piece will cover a certain amount of gridded area on your board. Maybe it’s two by one. Maybe it’s three by four with some extra bits on the end. You need to be able to fit it on your board. If you fill up most of the board you might score some bonus buttons at the end of the game. But right now the end seems like an impossibility when you consider the jumble of parts you have to choose from. Besides shape, though, what else do you need to consider? Each piece has three other critical pieces of information that will help you choose:

Uwe Rosenberg Patchwork

  1. Cost. Most pieces will cost you buttons.
  2. Time. Most pieces will cause you to move ahead on the scoring tracker.
  3. Buttons. Some pieces have buttons on them that will earn you button money later on at various points throughout the game.

Each point of the game has you weighing these factors when you make a choice. It’s less a game about shape placement than it is about jockeying with your opponent for the best scoring pieces. There’s one final piece of the game that is all important…

Uwe Rosenberg Patchwork

The score board. It’s not just a place to tally up your points. It’s what drives the game. Unlike other games where you alternate taking turns and scoring, this game builds a lot of the strategy into the score board. If your opponent is ahead of you by a bunch of spaces, you have a few choices. You can make up the space between you and receive button money as your reward. Alternatively, you can take a turn by choosing a cloth patch off the table and moving the amount of time that it says it costs. However, if your opponent is ten spaces ahead and your patch only costs you five moves in time, then you get another turn. You might get two, three turns in if you play it right and the pieces are randomly set out just so. On the other hand, if you really need that time expensive piece that fits just so then you might dramatically overpay for it in time and suffer the consequences. The game swings back and forth like this.

Uwe Rosenberg Patchwork

Uwe Rosenberg Patchwork

What makes this game so good?

  • Ease of set up
  • Brevity of play
  • Replayability
  • Easy to explain to anybody
  • All ages can enjoy (our five year old holds the high score)
  • Small size. This game will travel with us.
  • It’s a 2 player delight! And not just two players who are taking a break from chess or Mage Wars. Any 2 players can enjoy this one.
  • There’s an app for the game! Are 2 players still a stretch? Solo play! Or online cross-platform multiplayer!

Uwe Rosenberg Patchwork

Stronghold 2nd ed.

Although they look like completely different games, Patchwork and Stronghold have a few things in common. They’re both 2 player only games. They both utilize time as a form of economy, with Stronghold using little blue wooden hourglasses. And, most importantly, they both involve building siege weapons and fighting back your enemy’s Orcs.

Stronghold 2nd edition

I’ve been reading the Ranger’s Apprentice books to my son at bedtime, and the 2nd edition of Ignacy Trzewiczek’s 2009 game came out at just the right time. We were reading book six and were at the climactic siege of Castle Macindaw as this game arrived in our house. We quickly hurled everything off of the dining table in a berserker rage and began to set up the sprawling board for a bit of rapid medieval warfare.

The Idea

Stronghold is an asymmetrical game of siege warfare. One side will play the role of the stronghold defender, the other will bare their teeth and yell fiercely while performing each action as the bloodthirsty invader.

Gameplay

Each side has a menu of choices available to them as they each perform actions leading to the final assault each round. After a number of these rounds the game is decided.

Invader

The invader chooses from a menu of cards. These let you do things like build siege weapons or move invader units around the board. They’re broken into some broad categories like Supplies, Machines, Equipment, Training or Rituals. These choices will let you gain small advantages here and there depending on your overall strategy. These choices will cost you wood or units, the primary economies in this game. Additionally, each time you spend units in setting an action into motion the defender gains an hourglass to spend on their turn. In other words, your decisions enable your opponent to have more options against you. How much do you want to injure yourself this round? Here’s a few examples:

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

Defender

The defender chooses from a menu of items that looks a lot like the world’s worst brunch menu. Unless of course you are defending a stronghold, in which case The Forge, The Workshop, The Scouts, The Cathedral, The Barracks and The Guards all sound like delicious options. The difference between the invader and defender is that the defender can invest partial time payment against a choice each action. In other words, while setting a Trap costs two time tokens I can simply place my last one there and finish paying it off (and implementing it) next turn.

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

The Assault

This is where it’s all decided (this round). Did you move the right troops to the right place? Did you sabotage the right things and place the right units? Was the cauldron of hot oil effective? Did the marksmen do their jobs? Now’s the time when you resolve all of your decisions and siege! And then you move the turn token forward and start the process over again.

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

What makes this game so good?

  • Fast pace: This game moves so quickly. Because there is a defined menu of choices it helps prevent players from spending too much time thinking. And thinking. And doing math in their heads. And thinking.
  • Ease of setup: While I was a little scared when we opened the game box up for the first time, my son surprised me and set up the game by himself while I was making dinner. The game manual does a great job of outlining this. I timed him the second time and he set up most of it in around ten minutes. When we set it up together it’s less than that. The main reason is that most of the initial placements are laid out for you and even the random elements are quick to shuffle together. Invader cubes are randomly pulled from a black bag so there’s little nail chewing to do in making these decisions.
  • Ease of play: The overall game structure ensures the game runs smoothly. Choices are straight-forward. This structure also made this game easy to play with a child. The only other cube based war game we’ve played together is 1812: The Invasion of Canada (which is excellent) and this captured his imagination even more. And a 90+ minute gameplay time is really nice for something this involved yet this straight-forward.
  • The rules: Because this is a 2nd edition I felt assured that they had probably worked most of the bugs out of the gameplay and rulebook. The rules do a nice job of outlining set up, each player’s turn and a detailed explanation of how to resolve The Assault phase. Plus there’s a nice double-sided hotsheet that explains all of the main action choices. Not sure how the marksmen work? Check the sheet. Can Training Actions be used multiple times in a turn? Check the sheet.

Stronghold 2nd edition

Stronghold 2nd edition

Overall Stronghold thoughts

It captures the feeling of a fast-paced dining table siege. I’ve sieged hundreds, perhaps thousands of dining tables in my day and this is the most accurate game out there. As for real life castle sieges, I have no idea. But we certainly like the way this game feels. It’s fast without completely sacrificing strategy.

While you don’t completely sacrifice strategy you are still definitely working within constraints. The menu of options may not feel entirely satisfactory if you were looking for a traditional wargame. There are no dice, no lookup charts. If you are looking for a good 2 player family game that has more thematic weight and far more casualties than Patchwork then this is a wonderful option.

The art is great. It’s gritty, fits the theme and most of the bits and cards are cleanly designed. The board looks crazy the first time you see it, like some kind of aerial nightmare that has been bombarded with mud, but within a few moments you realize how perfectly it captures the feel of the game and provides the right atmosphere for both players. The defender knows what they are defending, the invader feels the difficulty of the paths leading to the stronghold. It’s gloomy, it’s dangerous, that Orc is probably not going to make it. The Troll has a decent shot. Those goblins are definitely toast.

Stronghold 2nd edition

The replayability is decent as some actions aren’t used every game. Also, you can take turns Invading and Defending. One criticism I’ve read about this game is that the Defender role is less interesting than the Invader role – the strategic choices are less sophisticated. This probably mostly applies to unit movement, which seems like the most sophisticated action on the Invader side.

The Defender side also has limited movement but nothing that adds so much choice and drama to the game. This difference in sides is something that definitely reminded both my son and I of Netrunner – interestingly, he prefers both Corp and Defender in these games. His comment was that the decisions were a little easier to make as they are more reactive. The attacking side seemed too open with too many decisions for him. I’m not sure if this is entirely true as I seldom get a chance to play the other side!

Overall Patchwork & Stronghold thoughts

These games are both wonderful and are nice examples at two very different approaches to making a 2 player game with heaps of satisfying strategy and high replayability.

You should own Patchwork because it is amazing and can be enjoyed by anyone. We’ve been playing it constantly since we’ve gotten it, taking shifts around the clock. The five year old and I have the 3 am time slot, but it’s totally worth it. She’s used to working night-shift over at the coal mine anyway.

You should own Stronghold if you and your gaming partner love big, combative strategy games without dedicating the next three months of your life to real-time skirmishes.

If you’ve got any 2 player boardgames you think we should check out, click on the show notes page for this episode and please leave a comment. Or you can shout at me @epicgumdrop.

Stronghold 2nd edition

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