It occurred to me the other day that traditional American patchwork quilts would be a lovely theme for a puzzel game.
I never thought much about quilts until reading Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace for a Canadian Lit course. The novel retells the story of the 1843 Canadian murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Atwood works subtly with her sources, and in addition to newspapers, trial proceedings, and other more “standard” sources, she also makes regular reference tradition patchwork quilting. Each chapter is named after different patchwork blocks, and whenever the main character interviews the titular Grace Marks, she quilts while she speaks with him.
(In the novel, the patchwork quilt is probably as much a metaphor about the patchwork-nature of historical sources and commentary as it is a part of the story’s historical ornamentation. One of my favorite moves in the novel is the (at least) four-fold significance of the pattern “Lady of the Lake,” which has significance in the story by way of the quilting pattern itself, through Scott’s poem of the same title, was also the name of the steam vessel the historic Grace tried flee her arrest upon, and a kind of mythic archetype of which Grace Marks is the paragon.)
There is of course already at least one significant “patchwork” quilting game on the market, by one of my favorite designers no less. However, as fun as this game may be, it has in my view, at least two serious drawbacks: first, the “quilts” players make are composed of random shapes and bear little resemblance to quilts one might actually make (let alone to traditional patterns); second, I don’t even find the finished products to be that beautiful.
So far, I’m not sure what this game I’m imagining might look like, but I have a few thoughts about what I’d like it to accomplish. I’m thinking of two real-game analogies: Wingspan and Azul.
Wingspan: A game that’s gently educational
The more I play Wingspan the more I have started to notice birds in the “real” world (and even feel a general sense of benevolence towards bird-kind). The game does have a level abstraction and there is likely a limit to how much I’ll actually learn about birds as I play, but at the very least it has encouraged a new sense of appreciation for its subject. I play it and I like birds more.
I’m dreaming of a game that does the same thing for patchwork quilts. However the game would actually be played, It must be based upon real traditional quilting patterns. At the very least players might learn a few facts and learn how to recognize different kinds of quilts, and at best players might realize they like quilts a little more than they thought they did.
Azul: A game that’s lovely to handle and touch
Such a quilting game wouldn’t be worthwhile if it didn’t tap into the beauty and tactility of actual quilts. This, like Azule, would be as much about the materials of the game as it is about the game play itself. Players should enjoy handling the components as much as they are surprised by their beautiful creation.
What to do now
Research is clearly the first step. Even before I know how the game works it will be fruitful to just learn as much as I can about quilts.
Even so, there is one early problem about game play to solve. The question is, will this be a puzzle game about putting compete quilt blocks together, or about creating the blocks themselves. This is a difference of scale. Should it be a game about putting square tiles together (like, say, Carcazone) or a game about putting smaller shapes in to individual patterns and blocks (trangles, squares, rectangles). In the first concept players asemble blocks into a complete quilt, in the first they asemble smaller shapes into individual patterns.
Right now I’m brimming with ideas and I think some more brain storming and experimentation is the way forward.