Patchwork – a Game of Divination


From ancient times, people yearned to understand more of the world.

This I’d argue has very little to do with curiosity, but all to do with necessity. The need to avoid sickness, bad harvest, war, or simply a bad spouse. Since both the human mind and the tools it uses are limited, even today, let alone thousands of years ago, divination arose.

 Much as some of us would like to think otherwise, we are mostly ruled by our emotions. These are not just the big and obvious, but also more subtle, more passive and pervasive ones. A sense of (dis)comfort, an instinct, a slight nagging at the corner of the mind… These subtle emotions are easy to dismiss, or ignore. However they often tap into the subconscious, into our inner perception and understanding of the world. For that reason, divination searches at the source of exactly those emotions to find answers, as it rightly realises there is something to be learned there.

 In order to help on that path of understanding, humans employed their intrinsic proclivity towards tool-making, and so precursors to board games were created. Over time, games branched out and acquired other purposes and forms, but every now and then they slip back, sometimes even unknowingly into their original role of divination. Such is the case with Patchwork.

The experience is eminent right from the set-up, with a clear callback to the old throwing sticks.

A slew of multi-shaped tiles, each unique, are tossed into the air to randomize their position allowing destiny to leave its mark. There is something wildly satisfying in the complete unpredictability of the ensuing result, a sense of uniqueness that is born from it, which is crucial in validating the method, since we understand our lives and key moments in it especially, as one of a kind events.

 Another throwback to ancient times comes from the game layout. Tiles encircle the central spiral track, a clear representation of a temporal device, like a calendar or a sun dial, which makes for a different, more precise approach. Measuring of time is the most accurate way to predict the future to date. So much so, that it stops being a tool of divination, and becomes that of predestination. The idea of destiny has been a long obsession of mankind, many ancient myths and stories dealt with it. In many ways we are not liberated but rather entrapped by this knowledge. This reveals a paradoxical nature of sapience, to a fool the world is open to a myriad of possibilities, while the wise man is bound by but a few of them.

 Lastly, all forms of divination usually find their justification in tradition. Past acts as a rooting system that nourishes any speculative venture into future or indeed present. Thus the theme is very appropriate. Patchwork is amazingly astute in representing an assemblage of past experiences converted into something new. As an undertaking in which you wrestle chaos into order, it invokes strong mythological connotations, creating a somewhat tautological self-confirmation.


There are however modern elements to Patchwork (beyond its year of naissance).

One of those is the fact that it’s a two player game with no luck. Neither is modern on its own (sic!), but it is when coupled with divination. Unpredictable forces have traditionally had primacy in influence on the world and consequently on ourselves. Religions for instance, we could argue, formed as a tool in dealing with and combating that reality. Modernity though offers a different experience. With the advent of science and apparent understanding of the world, the scope of unpredictable narrowed.
  Another shift happened in regards to perception of homo sapiens. Through the majority of human existence, we were but a slice of nature, and as such we bowed down and looked for meaning in the world around us. However with the huge increase in population, birth of psychology, and mastering of our surroundings, the focus shifted almost entirely inwards – to ourselves. We no longer search for meaning out there, but rather right here. The wisdom, zeitgeist says, comes from simply exploring and conquering ourselves, like we once explored and conquered new lands; subconscious is a function of human and not divine. That’s why Patchwork is not a solo game. It relies, in fact, on homo homini lupus est. Certainly not a modern concept, but exemplified in the world of anthropocentrism. Today, the only measure of a man, is another man. There are no more dragons to slay. Hence the most competitive player count that doesn’t allow one to hide, from the other, nor from self. For those reasons, a throw of the dice no longer accurately represents a modern understanding of divination. We don’t need a divine mediator such as chance, to tap into ourselves, and from there into the world. What we need is a mirror, a complete inversion of the ancient view. This realisation unveils why it’s even possible to speak of Patchwork as a divination tool.

 A modern approach also shows itself in accumulation of points. The laws of nature are pretty simple, approximated by live or die, and by the longest time we lived primarily on those settings. The advent of civilisation brought a degree of nuance, a degree of separation from such polarities. It is not however until recently and the age of numbers that the concept truly took off. Today’s is the world of counting, measuring and enumerating, and thus the feedback gained from divination also needs to be quantifiable and gradable. Once, a shaman would look at a liver and say it’s too red, today he would say it has too high a red cell count.


To make sense of it all though, one must step into the game and play it.

Divination is an act, it is a doing, a process. As I suggested at the beginning, all the tools are nothing without the self to use them, and the self to interpret them. Every action taken is reflective, and assessing your opponent’s moves acts more like a function of assessing your own. This is because the main tension comes from dealing with your intuition and (in)ability to perceive the best placement of tiles on your board. Therefore you strain your third eye and in the process visit corners of your mind you are seldom aware of. Furthermore, every decision is multilateral and consequential, requiring your full attention, forcing at least a part of your brain to rely solely on instinct. Thanks to that, true divination occurs and its results can be trusted. In order to read from a coffee cup you first have to make and drink the coffee, in the same fashion, in order to read from the final layout of your board, you have to go through a process of picking tiles and patching your budget of buttons.

 In the end, Patchwork is a divination game because in it wining isn’t everything, it is in fact barely of significance. A sense of achievement is had regardless, that of a custom tailored experience. That of a spiritual kind. I don’t go to church, I play Patchwork.

The Mind – A Mindful Perspective


It is more difficult to write about The Mind than most other games. This is in direct correlation with the simplicity of its ruleset, but also with its emphasis on establishing non written rules among the players. To write about The Mind is not to write about its mechanics, but the metagame that revolves around it.

The premise of the game is insultingly simple, ordering of numbers, a sort of task that could be considered a punishment in hell. If one is to find meaning in it, he would be hard pressed to justify it as anything else but a concoction of a pseudo-intellectual. The restrictive element of the rules, which makes The Mind a game and not a torture is the fact that communication is not allowed. There is nothing novel in this approach, but it is worth noting again its paradoxical nature, an uninteresting task made interesting by constraining such a basic human element, forcing the players to find new ways of getting around the problem.

What makes The Mind special is that the metagame, which is the core of this subgenre of games (restrictive communication coops), is not much, if at all facilitated by the game mechanics beyond the initial input. The mechanics of the game are too simple and too limiting to influence a metagame change. This makes The Mind a very pure distilled experience, giving an appearance of a prototype.

The first reaction to someone hearing the rules is that winning is impossible. Yet after playing with the same group enough times, winning can become somewhat of a norm. This has nothing to do with becoming more familiar with the game systems, but rather with the other players. In order to win, and indeed in this game to also have fun, one must learn to read your coplayers’ face expressions, mood, instincts, thinking. However this is not enough, a certain mind meld is also necessary.

As it is quirkily drawn and written on the level cards (German edition at least), creating a group self is where the game needs you to go. Individual involvement is high in this group think, but the guiding force is not from within self. A player enters a metagame in earnest when its rules are his master. This allows him to decide, or instinctively do, the appropriate move, it informs him of others and indeed himself.


I’ll try to explain more the entity that is this hive mind – group think. I’ll try to explain it by explaining how it is built.

Every game changes and evolves by multiple playthroughs, but it is rare that this is something taken into account as a key feature when making a game, as is the case here. The process starts by guesswork, and it feels akin to trying to tame quantum instability. It is no secret that you can ‘cheat’ the game by agreeing beforehand to simply count the seconds and play numbers accordingly. Although this would defeat the purpose of the game, that is to play, it correctly assesses measuring of time as a winning strategy. However when you don’t count but simply feel the passing of time, it is not as easy to determine when to play a card. Every person decides this based on a different internal compass, that fluctuates even within itself.

After agreeing with yourself on what makes good tempo, how long does it feel right before playing a card, you can start noticing other’s feel of their tempo. The game then becomes an attempt in walking the minefield. By trying to assess coplayers’ sense of timing you also try to accommodate to it, which then causes their sense of your timing to fail, and mistakes are made. This then becomes a vicious cycle where luck seems to rule the show. As is apparent, simply reading other people is not possible.

The next step, a jump to hive mind happens by predicting not the right moves, but the bad ones. This understanding of your coplayers’ failings happens through time. Thus failing with the same group of people is essential to progress. A common utterance among veteran board gamers is that the length of post-game discussion is a measure of a game’s quality. That is also usually a path to improvement, but in The Mind doubly so. It is in those moments of often raised voices and blame finding that you realise just how insane and irrational your friends are. I’m not sure what that does to friendship, but it does wonders to improve your play experience, as it unveils the background of coplayers’ bad moves. In the unexpected and unlikely moments of the game, knowing others’ mental failings is crucial. If all players are dedicated to learning others’ internal clocks, both in how they should and shouldn’t work, then the hive mind can start forming.

The final factor is alignment. Once you know everyone’s insanity, it is not enough to simply be mindful of it, as it may not all be reconcilable. For that reason it is important to create a custom – a shared culture of behaviour. This can be a simple product of an agreement born out of discussion, or perhaps more likely, it can be a process of accommodation. By means of classical group dynamic, some players will be more influential than others, some more flexible, but in the end an equilibrium must be formed. It would be interesting for an anthropologist to observe this process, and see the differences between the groups and individuals.

There is something wonderful when the stars align and the group clicks, and you manage to win, at first this is primarily a feeling of disbelief and a sense of witnessing a miracle, a spiritual experience, but as you increase your win rate and become very comfortable with the group you play, the feeling becomes that of strength and confidence, as you can see your efforts bare fruit. But an even more powerful feeling then forms, as the mind melt becomes real, that of love, that of deep and selfless bonding.

Life in Dominion

-# As the youngest of children, I inherited but three estates and a small copper mine. I have seen my cousins in similar position fall to ruin or become leeches on the family fortune. This will not happen of me. I intend to grow my fortunes and my lands, with a bit of help from lady Luck. To this end I decided to build a wishing well. May it serve me well.

-# In order to have something to throw into the well, I need more money. Therefore I started a new mining operation. It looks promising.

-# Ambition is first and preparation the other half of success. So I hired a scout to look for new lands and opportunities.

-# I struck gold, the mining venture proved to be well worth the investment. I’ll reward myself, with a glass of beer.

-# I hoped to invest in even more mining but didn’t manage to procure enough cash. The holdings required unexpected expenditure. I decided to build a second wishing well in another estate instead. So I can always throw a coin wherever I am.

-# More expenditures.

-# Struck a new gold vein, oh joy! New mining investments.

-# All my wishes come true! An extremely prosperous year. This is it, this is what I’ve been working for. I managed to buy a small province. Everything is more beautiful there.

-# Nothing remarkable. Maybe I should get I wife?

-# As the fame of my name spreads, I become targeted. A neighbouring baron tried to swindle me but failed. I expect more such attempts in the future.

-# My gold mine is bringing steady income now, so I procured a new province.

-# No wife, but I built a harem instead.

-# As I enter my golden years the competition grows fierce. Land available for purchase is dwindling by the day. I am ahead of the curve but have to remain vigilant to stay there. Crazy times we live in.

-# This is it, I achieved all I could. I have the money, influence and power, that surpasses others’. My coronation is today.