The Secret History of Quilts
You know how people are always comparing time and history to a tapestry? Me neither, it just seemed like something someone might have said at some point. Who’s to say they didn’t? In the event that someone did compare history to a tapestry, Patchistory is probably the game of their dreams, provided that tapestries are anything like patchwork quilts.
Allow me to put it another way: Patchistory is a game about quilting. Also history. Together for the first time.
I trust everything is clear now.
Not Your Great-Grandmother’s Quilting
There are a whole lot of little things going on in Patchistory. For instance, when I tell you that you begin with a basic “patch” that shows a handful of resources, I’m talking about a rather finger-stretching handful, as Patchistory sees you keeping constant track of your attack, defense, political points, transportation level, resources (which I think represent ore, coal, and oil, depending on the current era), food, culture (which is fancy-speak for victory points), and money. If it sounds daunting… well, it can be a little bit, especially at first, and more especially if you’re struggling to parse the translated rulebook. However, the beauty of the game is how it all comes together so seamlessly, which I’m informed is a bit of a quilting pun because quilts have seams? Maybe? I have no idea.
As I was saying, everything comes back to those patches. You start with a single oversized patch, representing the meager beginnings of your civilization. Then you hold an auction for new patches, buying them out from under your opponents at the start of each round. The game opens back in ancient times, so in addition to the usual farms and forts and money-makers and undeveloped wastelands, you’ll be patching in heroes like Alexander and Homer, or great wonders like the Ziggurat of Ur or the Colosseum, all for cool bonuses that give your civilization an edge over your opponents. Cyrus the Great, for instance, turns your trade routes into a means for generating culture, while the Great Wall of China increases your defense and gives your opponents fewer of your resources when they threaten you. Some are investments in the future, like the Pyramids, which actually cost you culture points until the end of the game when they’re worth a whopping heap of points.
The best patches tend to be hotly contested, players pouring their hard-earned cash into their bids. Early on, for instance, patches that give you political points and resources are a big deal, probably until you realize you’re falling behind on something else. Cleverly, the big sexy wonders and leaders require upkeep every era and don’t usually provide as many raw bonuses as regular patches, so you’ll need a combination of basic stuff and more impressive additions in order to pull ahead.
I Don’t Know How Complicated Quilting Is, But This Has Some Complications Too
Upon claiming a patch, you stitch it into your empire, laying it over or under something else — and thereby covering one or more of a patch’s squares in the process. There are a few rules to bear in mind, like how workers wind up on top of any patch laid over their tile, or how water is troublesome and can’t be patched over or under. You’re limited by size, five by five tiles in the first era and a bit larger in later eras, and it’s almost a certainty that you’ll eventually have to sacrifice something that was crucial to a previous era as you continue to expand and modernize. Moses was appealing in that first era for the free worker he gave you, but he’s looking mighty obsolete once you’ve got a railroad strung over the Red Sea.
By spurts and leaps, your quilt of history gradually spreads to include a diverse terrain of industries, cultural and political buildings, leaders and wonders, economic and transport hubs, and worthless seas and deserts. It’s much like making a real quilt, possibly, if making real quilts brings heady long-term consequences that might affect millions of imaginary lives.
Every time you patch something new into your empire, you adjust the little markers that indicate what your civilization is worth. Nicely, thanks to the chaotic nature of your expansion, no two empires will ever be truly alike. Some will have more money than they know what to do with, while others will develop into warmongering turd-kickers. Some will have so many political actions that they’ll go blind from analysis paralysis trying to spend them all, while others will be streamlined food-and-industry engines. Of course, much of your civilization’s design will hinge on the special structures you’ve built. Why bother with military when you’ve got Julius Caesar making your political power do double duty as your military too, or why stockpile food and ore to maintain your wonders when you have Machu Picchu removing all maintenance costs? Better yet, claim a couple punks like Patton, Bismarck, or the Gustav Schwerer cannon to really batter your enemies. My favorite is the Stealth Aircraft, which turns war into a deadly serious game by demoting one of your defeated opponent’s precious spaces into a wasteland. Mmmm.
Let’s Talk About War
One of my favorite things about Patchistory is that it could have very easily been one of those solo-multiplayer games where everyone is doing their own thing on their corner of the table, fussing over their own little civilization and not really talking or interacting in any meaningful way. Instead, Patchistory sparks all sorts of conversations, usually about how to screw someone over. And all of its myriad ways of conducting diplomacy begin with a trade route.
Trade in Patchistory is represented by these thick cardboard tracks that you place between yourself and another player. At the cost of some political actions and food, you can then move a worker onto your newly-established route. While this means the little guy is no longer working the land for whatever bonuses you had him extracting, now he’s moving along at your civilization’s transportation speed (at most; he can move as quickly as he likes) and gathering trade resources. More importantly, he’s headed for your opponent’s side of the track.
Upon arriving at that far end, you and the player whose territory you’ve just breached hold a little negotiation, a simple game of both players revealing one of two sides of a tile. If you both reveal that you want peace, good for you! Now you can plop down an alliance, a new trade route that you can both traverse and which brings improved trade goods. Hooray for peace!
If, on the other hand, you reveal that you’d like to go to war… well, then you’ve got a round to prepare, and then you compare combat numbers and maybe add some ore to bolster your strength. Higher number wins and gets a bunch of culture points. It’s simple, but also a crucial way for certain empires to propel their way to victory. If you’re extra clever, certain leaders and wonders let you steal points or otherwise turn war into an even more lucrative prospect.
That’s diplomacy at its most dramatic. There are also options to send aid to other players, trading money or resources for points, or to threaten to steal their hard-earned cash and culture. As with war, it’s a simple system, and you can always tell which civilizations are headed down the path of aggression, leading to these miniature cold wars where suddenly everyone is bidding on attack and defense patches instead of juicier peacetime options.
Just like in quilting.Quilthistory: The Final Score
Patchistory is replete with all sorts of clever ideas, many of which I haven’t touched on. Like how you earn votes to bid on the victory conditions that will activate at the conclusion of each era, or how you have just enough hidden information to make bidding on patches, war, or the aforementioned victory patches an uncertain prospect. It’s a smart game, through and through, and the novel “patching” system is just the beginning.
But do I like it?
Heavens yes, I absolutely do. It took a couple games to iron out the rough patches, not to mention my group realizing we had been missing a minor but crucial rule that upon being fixed made the first era go from ponderously slow to brilliantly zippy, but upon figuring everything out, it’s a surprisingly meaty game for how non-complex it manages to be. The patchwork civilization you end up with looks terrifically abstract; and yet, the instant you begin moving workers from place to place, it comes together as a sort of fantastical ideological geography, comprehensible at a glance — though it’s crucial to keep your resource trackers up to date or your eyes will get sore from information overload.
Here’s my final recommendation: this is the only game I know of where you can have a late-game revolution with Che Guevara, use your Colossus of Rhodes to make your military victories all the sweeter, and sacrifice all of your workers (and those belonging to your opponents) to Montezuma for an enormous pile of culture points. And have the whole thing look like a rainbow pooped on your table in the process.
I don’t know anything about marketing, but that’s the sort of box-quote that convinces me to buy games. Patchistory: “…like a rainbow pooped on your table.” —Space-Biff!