Competitive gardening at its finest, how does Cottage Garden stack up in app form?
Android & iOS
# of Players
1 - 4
Cottage Garden is a tile placement game from legendary designer Uwe Rosenberg. Players compete to finish planting their gardens with a variety of flowers, flower pots, and even cats. Players score points based on the content of each completed flowerbed, and after six rounds the player with the most points wins. A game usually takes about 20 minutes.
Cottage Garden is another tile placement game from Uwe Rosenberg, notably following Patchwork. The game is a fairly straightforward experience, allowing players to tend their flowerbeds peacefully with no direct interaction between opponents and very minimal secondary interaction. It plays out like a relaxing puzzle, with Tetris-like placement elements, challenging players to find a better path to points than their opponents given the tiles available on their turn. That’s not to say there aren’t interesting or tough decisions to be made during the game.
A turn in Cottage Garden begins by moving the gardener around the nursery, which acts as the available pool of flower tiles players can draft from on their turn. The nursery is a 4x4 grid and the row or column the gardener is facing determines which tiles are available for choosing. The gardener also acts as the turn counter, with each loop around the nursery the turn increments until the final sixth turn. Players take a plant from the nursery, or flower pot or cat from a separate supply, and place it on one of their two active flowerbeds. The goal is to fill all tiles of a bed so it may be scored. Scored flowerbeds are swapped with a new one so each player has two active flowerbeds at all times. At the conclusion of the sixth turn, the game ends and the player who has accumulated the most points wins the game.
The strategy in Cottage Garden comes in the scoring. Scoring counts the number of flowerpots and plant covers on a completed flowerbed. For each flowerpot you gain one point while each plant cover earns two. The game doesn’t work on a simple running score counter, however. You have six scoring markers, three each for flowerpot and plant cover points, and you get to choose which to move each time you score a flowerbed. There are bonuses for being the first to reach the end of the scoring track with a marker, but if you don’t hit the end exactly, the excess points are lost forever. You also receive bonuses for reaching intermediate spots on the track which incentivise rotating which markers you move. The other major component of scoring is timing. You can place as many flowerpots as you want, one each turn, on your flowerbed which seems like a great way to score a ton of points. However, if you try this, your opponents will score a few flowerbeds in that time by covering theirs with large plant tiles, and they will easily outscore you. You can place plant tiles on top of pots or plant covers, which likely helps speed up the completion of your bed, but removes that pot/cover as a scoring piece. The tradeoff of how aggressively to finish flowerbeds versus scoring maximum points, along with how to use your points on the scoring track, make up the crux of the game. The final wrinkle here is that the sixth round is only played out for those who have unfinished beds with more than three plants on them, the round continues until those beds are complete. This could mean more chances for points, however, each turn you play in the sixth round begins with a two point penalty. Timing your beds right to avoid penalties can be a big factor in winning or losing the game.
Cottage Garden is a fairly lightweight, relaxing experience, but there are real strategic decisions to be made. Much of the game is tactical as you act based on what flower tiles are available on your turn, but there are some mitigation strategies to that, such as the cat tokens which can replenish the current row/column in the nursery prematurely to give you access to a key tile (you can see which tiles are next in the queue, allowing you to make highly informed use of your precious cats). That you can’t actively take tiles opposing players might have an immediate need for greatly reduces the cutthroat potential of this game compared to other tile drafting games.
Barrier to Entry
Cottage Garden has a short series of tutorials which walk you through the basics of the game. The tutorial might be a little too quick, as much of the details were lost on me, most notably the scoring aspects. The basic game aspects (pick a tile, place a tile, finish your bed) are well explained, but the details are glossed over in a way that will likely leave you a little confused heading into your first game. It won’t take long to get the full rules down once you start playing, but there is room for improvement in this tutorial.
The game doesn’t contain a rulebook which would have been nice to use as a reference. The game offers a video tutorial, which is a link to a YouTube video made for the physical game. This does a better job of clearing up some of the details, I’d recommend watching it if you’ve never played the game before.
Two empty flowerbeds
Queuing up a handful of asynchronous games
Look and Feel
Cottage Garden presents a clean looking, smooth playing app. The game does a good job of presenting all of the small pieces of information on the screen at one time. You can see the next tiles in the queue, the state of your opponent's score and flowerbeds, and everything else along with the essential nursery and your flowerbeds. This is a great achievement in game layouts. The menus all look good and are easy to navigate, no complaints there.
The biggest complaint I have is the touchiness of the drag-and-drop on the tiles. Playing primarily on a large phone, it can be tough to get the tiles, especially the single space pots or cats, to end up where I want them too. Also, grabbing a tile from the nursery occasionally proves difficult at times. Games which require precise drag-and-drops almost all have issues like this. In the end, if you love this game/app and are going to play it frequently, you will naturally learn and adjust to these controls and it won’t be an issue for you for very long. If you want to jump into Cottage Garden only on occasion, you might find this specific portion of the controls a little frustrating at times. It should be noted that the drag-and-drop nicely “jumps” to obvious landing spots, which is often very helpful in easing the action of placing a tile. One other small issue is that the iconography used throughout for menu buttons aren’t always highly intuitive. Play for a little while and you’ll figure it out, but it is a minor hurdle to get to that point.
Minor gripes aside, the app is extremely well done, it is quick to load and switch between games. It is truly a difference maker when you get a notification that it’s your turn to play and you can simply hit that notification and be playing your turn in a couple of seconds. Many apps have great implementations that take way too long to load that really becomes an annoyance when it takes a minute or three to play a 30 second turn. One final note, the option to speed up the gameplay is very effective and will reduce the total time of an AI game by a few minutes, this is always a nice option to see, especially as you get more familiar with the game.
You can play Cottage Garden online in one of two modes: Ranked or Casual. A casual game has you inviting a friend in an unranked game for bragging rights only. A ranked game is played for all important online ranking points. Ranked games can be asynchronous, which gives you 24 hours to take your turn, or synchronous which is intended to be played in one sitting. In a super cool feature, Cottage Garden allows you to join the queue for up to five asynchronous games with one push of the button. The game will place you as matches are available. This is a novel feature that I would certainly love to see copied by other developers.
Ranked games earn points towards the online leaderboards which are accessible via menu. Along with overall rank points, the game tracks details on how many games you’ve played, wins/losses, completed flowerbeds and all-important cat statistics. The game delivers system notifications when it is your turn, and notifies you if you are in a local game when it is your turn in an online game. There is also a local pass-and-play option.
Update: Cottage Garden received an update which addressed some bugs previously mentioned here. For simplicity, we have removed those complaints as they are no long valid.
Multiplayer on Cottage Garden is a treat. It is well implemented and the same is well suited for the asynchronous experience the app offers.
Single player in Cottage Garden is straightforward, you can play against three different AI levels: Easy, Medium, and Hard. You can play with a total of 2-4 players, mix-and-matching AI levels as you want. The easy AI is no pushover for new players, but you will likely outgrow it before long. Medium and Hard are noticeably better and should provide challenges for a while. Single player games can be saved, but you apparently have to explicitly do so otherwise the game is lost. I found this out jumping from an offline game to an online game when I saw my turn notification.
Advancing scoring markers
Filling up those flowerbeds
My first victory, by 2 points over easy AI!
Cottage Garden is listed in the Google Play store as having in-app purchases, but there are none to be found in the actual game, as far as I can tell. There is a screen which lists Digidiced’s other games, but those are just links to the Play store listings, not actual in-app purchases. The physical game has no expansions at this point.
The Wrap Up
This is another strong entry into the board game app world from Digidiced. As we’ve seen before, they are establishing an impressive list of ports and Cottage Garden fits right there among their others. The app runs incredibly smoothly, offering a great “pick up and play” experience. We have some minor control gripes that we have to take into account, but nothing that we consider game-breaking.
Cottage Garden sits nicely in the lightweight app category. It provides interesting decisions in a non-confrontational game that plays well with a great asynchronous online mode which should give it a long shelf life. If you have room on your favorite device for a game that fits this description, Cottage Garden is easy to recommend.