In Cottage Garden the players start as gardeners. You have two gardens in which only a few flower pots and protective covers (to cover young plants) are depicted. The aim is to fill up these gardens as quickly as possible. You try to leave the flower pots and protective covers open, because that is your source of points.
In the middle of the table is a 4 by 4 board with tetris-shaped pieces on it with all the things that make a garden more pleasant (like plants and garden furniture). On the edge of this space is a green die. When it is your turn you may take one piece from the row where the die is and place it neatly on one of your gardens. If there is no piece you want, you may instead take a single flowerpot and place it in your gardens.
The funny thing is that rows are not immediately replenished when a piece is taken. This only happens when one or none piece is placed. Usually you don’t have four pieces to choose from, but you have fewer. Luckily there is a possibility to fill up earlier. Namely by handing in a cat token. At the beginning of the game you receive two of these tokens and during the game you can receive new tokens if you cross the line between 6 and 7 points on the scoring track.
Cat tiles can not only be used to complete rows, but you can also use them to fill loose spots in your gardens. The cats do not score points, but you can use them to fill an empty hole. The gardens are only valued when they are completely full. And then you clear your garden and you get a new one so you always have two gardens to work on.
When a garden is full you count how many flowerpots and protective covers are still visible. Each flowerpot scores one point and each protective cover 2 points. These points are recorded on a separate scoring track. You keep track of the flowerpot points with orange cubes and the protective covers with blue cubes. For each species you have three cubes and you may decide which cube you want to move with if you get points (only you may not divide the points you get for one garden over several cubes). There are several bonuses to be earned, such as the cat tiles if you move a cube over the line between 6 and 7 points, a bonus flower pot if you have moved all three cubes of one colour from the zero markers, and bonus points if you are the first to get a cube on the last square of the track. And with this last square there is also something special, as the last step scores 5 points on the flowerpot track and 6 points on the protection track.
Every time the green die has gone around the board it is increased by one point. The end of the game is ushered in when the die is rotated to the 6. At this moment all gardens with a maximum of 2 pieces on them are removed. These gardens do not have to be finished anymore. The remaining gardens have to be finished. That sounds more fun than it is, because every turn you need for that costs you 2 points and that is quite a lot. The player with the most points wins the game.
Cottage Garden will appeal to many people
I had to get used to Cottage Garden because it doesn’t look like Patchwork (see my review of Patchwork here) as much as I expected. In Patchwork you’re quietly building up your position (getting the knotting machine going) while Cottage Garden is much more of a game where you try to gather points in many short, fierce sprints. In Cottage Garden you hope to quickly fill up a garden with a few large, well-fitting pieces so you can grab points and then quickly move on to the next garden. But there is more! You also need to think carefully about what advantages you are trying to gain on the scoring track (cat chips, bonus pots, extra points for reaching the final step). And finally, you also have to keep an eye on how you enter the last round (you have to finish some more or make sure you’re ready).
Cottage Garden is a game that will appeal to many people. It’s fairly simple, the turns are quick and exciting until the end. And it looks beautiful too, with the (sweet sleeping) cats chips as a highlight.