This review is written mainly for readers who are already familiar with Patchwork.
Uwe Rosenbergs Patchwork is not my kind of game, really, but I’ve enjoyed it occasionally. I tend to dislike games with perfect information. I tend to dislike games with little or no randomness. I also tend to avoid abstract games since I find them unengaging. I like dice-rolling and piles of shuffled cards, conflict, narrative and immersive, emotional gaming.
Patchwork has a few things going for it, though: the rules are super simple and easy to learn and to teach, but despite this the game is surprisingly challenging; every decision is important; gameplay is reminiscent of Tetris to some extent and the game looks great on the table too.
When I heard about the Patchwork Automa it piqued my curiosity. First I was baffled; I dream of Automas for games like Android and not for tiny, abstract, short games. “Why would anybody want an Automa for this game?” I narrow-mindedly thought to myself. Then it struck me that one of the things that always bothered me a little with Patchwork was how the completely open information made me reevaluate all my decisions and think too many turns ahead; it always felt like I played in a more analytical and careful way than was warranted by the lighthearted situations where this game would hit the table. Playing against an automated opponent I could take my time without bothering anybody!
The Patchwork Automa was designed by Lines J. Hutter together with Morten Monrad Pedersen of the Automa Factory and released by Lookout Spiele as a gift included in their customer magazine in 2018. It consists of two decks of 12 cards each in shrink wrap. Nothing else. The rulebook is not included but available online.
Learning the Automa rules is as easy as learning to play Patchwork in the first place. The Automa is an abstracted player. It doesn’t put the tiles on a board like you do, it just stacks them up for scoring. It only uses buttons for scoring and not for currency. Yet it makes it possible for the player to make more or less the same kind of decisions, based on the same kind of information, as when playing against another human being. The goal of the Automa is not to emulate an opponent, but rather to emulate the experience of playing against one.
The Automa has five difficulty levels and the two decks offer two different playing experiences. The “normal deck” was developed first and it replicates the ordinary Patchwork experience rather well except for one thing: it doesn’t provide any information about the automated opponent’s current buying power. When it’s the Automa’s turn and you flip over the top card you always get a little surprise. “Oh! It can buy a patch for 10 this turn!” The other deck is called the “tactical deck” and the only difference is that all the backs of the cards display how much the Automa can afford to spend when the card is flipped over. Playing against the tactical deck feels more like the real thing, but the normal deck offers an element of surprise that can be enjoyable
Just like an ordinary game of Patchwork, the solitaire variant is a race to complete the 7x7grid first and to get the little 1×1 patches, and just like in an ordinary game you have to think carefully about what patches to buy, weighing cost against time and always keeping in mind what your decision will make available to your opponent.
The Patchwork Automa is a brilliant addition to your Patchwork box. It’s very easy to learn and very easy to handle, and it does an impressive job of simulating the challenge of playing against a human opponent. I found the Patchwork solitaire experience surprisingly enjoyable. As a matter of fact the Automa rekindled my interest in this game to some extent. If you enjoy Patchwork and like playing solitaire sometimes, I strongly recommend getting the Automa.
If the Patchwork Automa seems interesting to you, you should have a look at this article by Lines J. Hutter, one of the designers.
Thanks for reading! Meow!