Uwe Rosenberg for Pegasus Spiele
I would have liked to say that after playing COTTAGE GARDEN it couldn't get much better with games of this genre - jigsaw-puzzle style family and gamer fun.
I would like to have said that, but I have already played the second in this Flora-based trilogy from Uwe Rosenberg and (amongst others) Pegasus Spiele - "INDIAN SUMMER". I am not going to claim that 'Indian Summer' betters 'Cottage Garden' but it certainly equals it, so much so that I am truly looking forward to the third in the trilogy 'SPRING MEADOW' which, I believe, is due out in the near future.
COTTAGE GARDEN is about completing a garden by planting beautiful, but often oddly shaped, flowerbeds, punctuated by Flowerpots and Cloches (small translucent covers for protecting or forcing outdoor plants).
Each player has 2 garden Plots, each being 5 x 5 squares around half of which is placed an L-shaped score-board where track is kept of aforementioned Flowerpots and Cloches at each scoring. Scoring take place when a player completely fills a garden Plot. The Flowerpots are added up - there are some printed on each Plot as well as on some of the flowerbeds - and one of the Orange markers (players have 3 orange and 3 blue markers) is moved along the number spaces on the track, one space per flowerpot and one point per space. Then the Cloches are added up and a Blue marker is moved along the track, each Cloche has a value of 2 points as do the Blue spaces. The scoring mechanic is what sets COTTAGE GARDEN aside from the many other puzzle-board games (Zooloretto, Aquaretto etc amongst others) available in game stores.
A rather neat difference from other games is that once a Plot has been scored it is flipped over and put to the side of the Nursery (see below) and the spare board already next to the Nursery is taken as a replacement, without flipping it; to help you remember whether you have flipped the Plots one side is printed darker than the other.
In the centre of the table is a main board, the Nursery, which is a plain 4x4 grid with the Player Turn Order printed around the edge. In the sixteen spaces created by the grid flowerbeds are randomly placed at the beginning of the game, it is from the Nursery that players draw their flowerbeds each turn. One thing to keep in mind is that the Flowerbeds placed in the Nursery may overlap the space they are in and can even overlap each other (hardly necessary but not a problem) but when they are placed onto a garden Plot they must never be allowed to overlap either each other or the Plot's edge.
The mechanic for replacing the flowerbeds into the Nursey is not entirely unique; it has some new ideas but they are dependent on a well used game mechanic. The remaining flowerbed tiles are randomly laid out in a conga-like line starting behind the rather elaborate wheelbarrow - yes it's a little ostentatious and unnecessary but apart from a garden hose or a rake a wheelbarrow makes commonsense for a garden (even though it is simply an object to mark the beginning of the line). As I said, this conga-line isn't new but its use is here.
To understand its use you must first know about the Turn Order Marker and Track. A D6 is used as the Turn marker. moving along the TM track on the outside of the Nursery after each player's turn - start player changes each round so that after a complete Round each player has been the first player once. The number of Rounds played remains the same but the number of Turns depends on the number of players.
The space (edge of) where the die is positioned indicates the rows and columns (with 4 players also diagonals) from which the player can take a Flowerbed. If there are 3 or 4 empty spaces within legal reach of the die then these spaces must be filled from the line of Flowerbeds beginning with the one nearest the Wheelbarrow. Now we get to the one bit of the game I don't agree with unless you are playing it as a family game with children involved. The space closest to the die (aka the Gardener) has to be filled first and then the next closest etc. This makes it easy for families to remember but takes away any strategic play by gamers. As everyone's garden Plots are clearly visible to all players, the positioning of the Flowerbeds when refilling can be very important - you can see where the Gardener is going to land next and whose turn it will be from the Nursery's edge and thus you can possibly place new Flowerbeds in such a way as to probably be of no use to them. If you have no choice of where you place them (other than if the empty spaces are equidistant from the Gardener) then you aren't truly playing a game you are following a linear set of instructions.
As you can imagine, placing odd-shaped pieces onto a uniform board (with 25 squares) is almost certainly going to leave one or more single square spaces. Some of these, if you have placed carefully, will be taken up by the Flowerpots and Cloches printed on the Plot but others will be blank, and you cannot have a complete Plot with blank spaces. Amongst the other pieces are a collection of pretty cats (beautifully illustrated round counters) and some Flowerpot counters (also round). These will not give you any points but they can be used to fill the empty spaces and thus complete your Plot. The rules governing the collecting and useage of all pieces, including the Cats, Flowerpots and Beehives - plus the Parasol - are simple and explained clearly in the rules booklet.
COTTAGE GARDEN is a well balanced, nicely illustrated (Andrea Boekhoff _REDLINE, Emden) game that actually does play quite well with 2 players, though it is for 1-5 players and there is little, if any, satisfaction in the solo game, at least not for me. It is a fine first game in a trilogy and is followed by INDIAN SUMMER which has some similarities but enough differences to make it a most appreciative second part of a three games series. If 'SPRING MEADOW' follows along similar lines and production then players will be delighted to have the games from this set sitting alongside each other on your game's shelf.