Reviewed by Pevans

ROSENBERG TRILOGY: COTTAGE GARDEN, INDIAN SUMMER, SPRING MEADOW (Edition Spielwiese/Stronghold Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 60 or less minutes; $59.95 each)


Somewhere along the way, I completely missed Uwe Rosenberg’s Patchwork. Probably because it’s a two-player game. I first became aware of it when I came across the queue at Spiel ’16 for Cottage Garden. “It’s multi-player Patchwork,” enthused the people in the line. This didn’t help me much. Since then Rosenberg has followed Cottage Garden with Indian Summer and now Spring Meadow in a trilogy of “puzzle’ games” all themed around flora and fauna.

What the games have in common is that they all use polyomino tiles. That is, “a plane geometric figure formed by joining one or more equal squares edge to edge” according to Wikipedia. If you’ve ever played Tetris, you’ll know exactly what these are. In the games, the tiles can be anything from one to six squares in size and in all sorts of configurations. Players draw tiles and use them to cover their own board. As you’d expect, tiles must stay within the confines of the printed grid on the board and can’t go on top of each other. Thus, a six-square tile may be very useful in terms of the area it covers, but it can be tricky to fit it in – even if it’s just a rectangle.

I thought I’d cover the most recent game, Spring Meadow, first as it’s freshest in my mind and l think it’s the simplest of the three. The theme here is an Alpine meadow as the first flowers of Spring pop through the final snows of Winter. Hence players’ boards are white and the tiles are green with brightly coloured flowers, so the white turns green as the game goes on.

                                         Spring Meadow components

There are two things to notice here. First, each player’s board has a pattern of burrow entrances on it – marmot (or groundhog, if you’re in North America) burrows. Tiles can be laid across these, but don’t have to be – a burrow counts as ‘covered’ when it comes to scoring.

Second, most of the larger tiles have a round hole in one of their squares. Position the hole on top of a burrow and that’s a bonus point towards your score. What’s more, laying a tile so that its hole is adjacent to other hole/s means you pick up and place a rock tile. This is actually a good thing as the rocks include one- and two-square polyomino tiles, which are so useful for filling in the odd space (and you won’t find them amongst the flowers).

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Players have to acquire tiles first. These are laid out at random in a 5 x 5 grid on a central board. A marker (it’s a signpost in this game as players are meant to be hiking) on the edge of the board designates which line of tiles the current player can choose from and then moves on at the end of their turn. This is very necessary as it limits the analysis players go through when choosing a tile – they have five at most to consider. What’s more, players can see which rows they’ll be picking from in their next turns and can assess which tiles they’d like in advance.

Having taken their tile, the player can flip it over and/or orientate it any way they like before placing it on their board. I should point out that Herr Rosenberg is a nice man: he lets players take tiles and try them out before deciding (there’s a placeholder to remind them where they took the tile from). They then place a rock, if they gained one, and move the signpost to the next row. If this row has only one tile left, players score their boards.

Ah yes, scoring. To do this, players start from the bottom of their board and count the number of complete rows before their first incomplete one. Each full row is 10 points (it has ten squares) and they add the number of covered squares in their first incomplete row. (Remember, marmot burrows count as covered.) Each burrow visible through a hole in a tile (anywhere on their board) is worth an extra point, but is then covered by a marmot piece so that it can’t be scored again. Whoever has the highest total takes a ‘hiking pin’ token. If that’s their second pin, they win. Otherwise, the central board is refilled with tiles drawn at random and the next player takes their turn

Simple, eh? What you think of it probably depends on your spatial awareness, though. The strategy seems simple enough: fill your board from the bottom up, keeping a careful eye on when a scoring is likely to happen. Being able to look ahead at what tiles will be available to you on a later turn is invaluable. Just as long as nobody else pinches the tile you want – the only player interaction in the game. I don’t normally like games that are effectively competitive puzzle solving, but I do enjoy this one. Spring Meadow gets 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.

                            Indian Summer components

The previous game in the series is Indian Summer, where the theme is a hike through the New England forest in Fall (Autumn to me). The tiles are thus more colourful: rich reds, oranges and yellows. It’s also much more complex. To start with, player boards are smaller and the winner is the first player to fill their board. (To be accurate, when one player fills their board, the round is completed and there are tie-breakers if more than one player then has a full board.)

The leaf tiles that players place on their board are only three-, four- and five-square shapes and each of them has a hole in one square. Thankfully, there are also one-square squirrels to fill the odd space. Icons printed on the player boards represent the ‘treasures’ of the forest: berries, nuts and such like. These can be covered over, but it’s more useful to place a tile’s hole over them. In this case the appropriate treasure token is placed over the hole.

When a player completes one of the marked sub-divisions of their board, they take all the treasure tokens off it. They can then play these during their turn to take a special action (spending a nut to add a squirrel to their board, for example) or modify their tile placement (adding two tiles for a feather). These are all very useful, which gives players an incentive to complete a sub-division. The question to weigh up is whether the treasures gained are worth potentially compromising the completion of your board.

Players have more control over what they’re placing in this game. Each starts with five tiles and can place any of these. However, they only refill this set when they play the last tile (there’s no ‘drawing a tile’ part of their turn). The rest of the tiles are lined up in a ‘path’ and a player refilling their tiles takes the next five, so you can see what you’ll get in advance. If you spot a useful tile or two at the front of the path, discarding a berry treasure also lets you refill your tiles to five.

There’s one more wrinkle to this: animal tiles. Each of these is a specific shape (the fox is a T, for example) and can only be placed over contiguous, empty tile holes on a player’s board. Players can do this at any point in their turn and it gives them any treasures visible through the (now covered) holes. Hence, you may be able to get two treasure tokens for each treasure square, which may change how you value them.

The core of a player’s turn is very simple: place one of your tiles or take and place a squirrel. However, on top of this you may have to refill your tiles, gain treasures, place animals and gain more treasures. Plus, of course, you can play any or all of the treasures you have in hand. Early turns tend to be straightforward, though players do start with a few treasure tokens. Once you’ve got options and treasures, things get rather more complicated.

As I said, Indian Summer is much more complex than Spring Meadow. You’ll notice there isn’t significant player interaction in this one, either – though the mushroom treasure does let you pinch other players’ tiles (you have to place them immediately). Personally, I find it a bit too fiddly. So my strategy is simply to race to fill my board, treating treasures as incidental bonuses. (This is probably why I keep losing to subtler players – but sometimes I win.) While I do enjoy Indian Summer, I prefer the simplicity of Spring Meadow, so Indian Summer gets 7/10 on my highly subjective scale.

This brings me to the first game in the series, Cottage Garden. Here, the player boards are the smallest in the series, a 5 x 5 grid, representing flowerbeds. However, each player gets two of them. They also have a scoring track each. This is actually two tracks, as players score for two different things (flowerpots and plant covers – mainly printed on the flowerbeds), and they have two marker cubes for each track. The tiles are flowers – with which to fill your flowerbeds – and do not have holes. There are also flowerpot and cat tokens that can be used to fill single squares.

                          Cottage Garden components

As in Spring Meadow, players get their tiles from a central board (4 x 4 in this case). They take one tile from the row indicated by the marker – a large green die. Each time the die completes a circuit of the board, its value increases by one and the final round starts when it’s turned to six.

A player’s turn consists of choosing a tile from the current row – or taking a flowerpot – and placing it on one of their flowerbeds. They may also add any cats they have available. They then move the green die on one space. If this row has one or fewer tiles, it’s immediately refilled, taking tiles in sequence from the line of unused tiles. Thus players can look ahead to see what tiles will be appearing as rows empty.

Players score immediately when they fill one of their flowerbeds. They move one of their orange scoring markers forward one space for each flowerpot visible on the bed and a blue marker for each plant cover. Each orange space is worth a point, each blue space 2. On both tracks the last space is worth extra points, giving players an incentive to get to the end. After scoring, the player clears the flowerbed, adding the flower tiles to the back of the row of unused tiles, and swaps it for one of the spare ones.

There are a couple of other wrinkles on the scoring track. Firstly, moving a marker past the mice shown on the track gets you a cat token. You can’t have too many cats. In this game anyway. Second, the first and second players to get a marker to the end of a track get a few bonus points.

At the heart of Cottage Garden, as with all three games, is the puzzle of fitting the oddly shaped tiles onto your board to fill it. Larger tiles cover more ground, but are harder to work around or fit in. But you’ll need more of the smaller, easier tiles. On top of this, you then have tactical considerations: do l concentrate on one flowerbed or fill both? When is it worth taking a flowerpot? When should I use my cats? And which marker shall I move when scoring?

The final thing to bear in mind is the last round of the game. During this, players lose 2 points each turn until they’ve completed all their flowerbeds. While it may be worth paying the penalty for a few turns to complete (and score) another flowerbed, it quickly becomes prohibitively expensive. Thus it’s crucial to be aware of when the game will end. (FYI: Each of these three games has a solitaire game in the rules.)

As far as I’m concerned, Cottage Garden is definitely simpler than Indian Summer and more complex than Spring Meadow. You can also see the development of the later games from this one, some mechanisms being used in one and others in the other.  Play time estimates can be doubled for beginners and for Indian Summer. However, one thing is consistent across all three: there’s very little player interaction (something I’m happy with, but will turn others off these games). Much as I like the simplicity of Spring Meadow, Cottage Garden remains my favourite of the three. For me, it strikes a nice balance between tactical opportunities and simplicity. I give it 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.  – – – – – Pevans

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