Oct 032013
 

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Where the Water Flows Like Wine!

In Viticulture, from Stonemeier Games, you are a the owner of a scenic, pre-modern, Tuscan vineyard [remember The Godfather when Michael is hiding out in Sicily after killing Sollozzo in the restaurant? That is what I picture when they say “pre-modern” but with less guns]. Resources are limited and competition is tough. You only have a limited pool of interested buyers, so many visitors, three fields and the years are quickly sliding by. You need to push your workers to their limits, get orders filled and keep the whole place in peak condition as demands for better and more complex vintages start flowing in.

Each player is provide with a player board with fields, crush pads [used to make wine], cellars and places for building improvements; three workers and a couple of lira. On the main board you vie for valuable space and resources with your competitors. From vine to glass you will need to properly manage your income, resources, and spaces in order to achieve the 20 victory points needed to win.

Basics

  • Designers: Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone
  • Year Released: 2013
  • Category: Economic, Farming, Bad Habits
  • Game Mechanic: Hand Management, Worker Placement, Binge Drinking, Regretted Decisions.
  • Number of Players: 2-6
  • Playing Time: 60 minutes [120 w/actual wine]
  • Expansions: Viticulture: Arboriculture Expansion, Viticulture: The Tuscany Expansion Pack (2nd Edition, coming soon?)

How do you play?

  1. Spring Phase: Determine Player Order.
  2. Summer Phase: Place Workers on Summer portion of the board.
  3. Fall Phase: Choose a Summer or Winter Visitor Card.
  4. Winter Phase: Place Workers on Winter portion of board.
  5. End of Year Phase: Recall Workers. Age Wine. Resolve Residual Profits. Fill a glass.

Viticulture is a pleasant,  tight, worker-placement game. How tight, you ask? Tight enough that if you placed a cabernet sauvignon grape in it, it would likely pop out as a diamond [it is possible, science it.]. The game is made up of several rounds each round equaling a year and containing four phases of play following the seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter). The main board is split into two primary areas – Summer and Winter, where workers are placed during those phases.

There are four sets of cards:

  • Vine Cards: These cards represent the types of vines you may plant in one of your three fields located on your player board. Each vine creates a certain type and quality of grape and may need additional buildings to be planted (trellises and irrigation).
  • Summer Visitor Cards: These are picked up as bonuses during the Summer phase or during the Fall phase and provide certain beneficial actions that can be played strategically during the game.
  • Wine Order Cards: These cards provide your main venue of victory points and state what type of wine and in what quantity it needs to be produced in order to score those points.
  • Winter Visitor Cards: These are picked up as bonuses during the Winter phase or during the Fall phase and provide certain beneficial actions that can be played strategically during the game.

One of the more interesting aspects of the game are the seasonal mechanics.

During the Spring, players determine turn order for the year. Placement of your rooster token early in the day will ensure first placement throughout the year and thus capturing pivotal areas on the board. Placement later in the day can provide certain turn bonuses such as extra cards, money [lira], victory points or an extra worker for the year.

Summer is the time of choosing the right vines, planting fields, giving tours of the glorious facility, making additions to the facilities and selling grapes. Place your workers where you need ’em. You can also play your Summer Visitor cards during this phase for some additional bonuses.

During the Fall you take a well deserved break and choose either a Summer or Winter visitor card.

Winter is the time of harvesting grapes, making and storing wine, obtaining or filling wine orders, and training new workers. You can also play your Winter visitor cards during this phase for some additional bonuses.

And that is it. That is one year. Once winter is over you age [increase in value/quality] your leftover wine and grapes. Determine any residual money from completed orders and retrieve all your hard working men and women from the fields.

How do you win?

All you need to win is 20 paltry victory points. Similar to one of my other favorite worker-placement games, The Manhattan Project, you can go a quite a few rounds with barely any movement on the score track as you build your vineyard’s economic engine, gather some cards and start to implement your strategy.

There are two basic paths to victory. Your strategy can be to build a “working” vineyard as you can plant, harvest, crush grapes and run to fulfill as many orders as possible. Or you can be more of a touristy vineyard and appeal to visitors through tours, new buildings and numerous pulls of the visitor decks. You can also sit somewhere between these two extremes and bask in your own relative dullness.

Personally, I prefer a ship-shape vineyard. I have very few vines, very few grapes harvested and very little sitting in my cellars. If I were an actual vineyard, I would be one of those little efficient jobs run out of a red farmhouse. My wife, on the other hand, tends to have a very large and sprawling vineyard with grapes spilling out of every possible nook and cranny. You can’t spit without hitting a grape!

What was confusing?

Overall Process of Making Wine: In the Summer, get a vine card and plant them. In the Winter, harvest your grapes, crush them (make them into wine, see “Crushing Grapes/Making Wine below) and then fulfill any outstanding orders and pull a few new orders. At the end of all this you age your grapes [increase the numerical quality…say, from a 1-value grape to a 2-value grape] and wines and start anew.

Crushing Grapes/Making Wine: Basically it works like this. Whatever grapes you have harvested and stored in vats can be “crushed” into a total of 2 wine tokens. So each red or white token would become a corresponding red or white wine. If you had a 2-value red grape and you “crushed” it, it would then be a 2-value red wine. Likewise a 2-value white grape would be crushed into a 2-value white wine and placed in your cellar. Blushes would be made by crushing a red and white grape together and combining their value. So a 2-value white and a 2-value red would “crush” into a 4-value blush. Simple right? Sure…

What did you [dis]like?

Likes!

  • The graphic design and theme are miraculous. I feel as if I am actively competing against other vineyards to make my wine and sell it. The board art is lovely. The pieces are amazing. The game practically exudes sophistication and I play that up with new players, especially older adults who still think games are for kids.
  • The tight game-play. The fact that you will not be able to do what you want to do sometimes appeals to me. I love the tension it creates. That being said, there is THE GRANDE WORKER which allows players to occupy a resource on the board even if all the spaces for that resource are already taken. It eases up on the tension and I don’t tend to use that piece when I play but it is wonderful to use for new players who will appreciate the ability to get everything they need in a turn.
  • The turn order mechanism. Love it! Go first, get no bonus. Go later and get a different one. Delightful! Although, granted, credit for this devise goes to the game Fresco. But still, a good implementation.
  • Allocation of workers across the seasons. It would have been simple to simple recall all workers after the summer as well as after the winter and provide more decision space for players but it reduces that tension that I love so much where you need to determine how much you can dedicate to one half of the board.
  • Ease of teaching. For a mid-weight worker-placement euro-game, it can be taught fairly easy to newcomers because the theme is so innocuous…even if they don’t “get” board games . If the Travel Channel had a game, it would be this one. It feels adventurous but not too adventurous.
  • THE BOX! Oh, I love the box. You abnormally-shaped delight. It just stands out on my shelf. It fills all my empty spaces. It completes me….<<shiver>>
  • Bits, bits ,bits, bits, rooster meeple, bits, pieces, three sizes of cellar. OH! The pieces and bits!

Dislikes!

  • The Grande Worker ~ I don’t like ’em. I don’t use ’em but I do allow new players to use them as it allows a more fulfilling experience with less dead ends…but as I stated before…I like the dead ends and tension and El Hefe there just takes too much of it away.
  • The Visitor Cards ~ This is a general dislike I’ve heard from people I’ve played with. They don’t find them balanced since you can win the game without making much wine by utilizing the cards! But this is completely with the theme. Go to a tiny vineyard and most of the vines are for show so they can attract people for weddings and Bed & Breakfasts and parties and tours and … all sorts of things.

Would You Rather?

Would you rather play Viticulture or Stone Age? Viticulture. Unless with kids (13-18) then I would probably stick with Stone Age.

Would you rather play Viticulture or Lords of Waterdeep? Viticulture. End of story. Next!

Would you rather play Viticulture or The Manhattan Project? Tough one…I would say Manhattan has the added benefit of more player interaction so depending on mood and company, I would probably go with Manhattan. I have more “fun,” measured with laughter and bombing raids, with Manhattan.

Would you rather play Viticulture with someone you hate or Munchkin with someone you love? <<blinkblink>> Wow…I hate Munchkin so much that yes, I would play Viticulture with someone I hate and I would El Hefe the heck out of them.

Closing Verse:

Is the Grande Worker against your nature?
This is the most serious issue of all.
If you have a question or concern,
Pop the cork, pour a glass behind the shed.
And place your workers whilst he nods his head.

About John Pappas

I'm John ~ a short, mustachioed Library Director of a small branch library outside of Philly. I'm a father, geek, librarian and zen practitioner. I wear glasses, play board games and tend to read pretty much anything that comes across my desk. I organize and host three gaming groups at my library ~ The Golden Gamers (65+), Tabletop Gaming at the Library, and a Game Design Guild. The name of this column "Roll for Fire" comes from my love of Flash Point: Fire Rescue [ and cooperative games in general] and the desire I have to watch it all burn down.

  12 Responses to “Poppin’ the cork on Viticulture”

  1. LOVE the review, but the only comment I have is it isn’t so tight you cannot make mistakes. I play against seasoned vets and still find myself in the lead with a couple of screwed up placements. It is a great game and despite the complexity of your options it doesn’t hurt my head like some other games.

    • Hi Zap,

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I agree that you can still make mistakes and I love that the cards provide an additional bit of luck to the game-play.

      Completely with you on the ease of picking the game up despite complexity. Viticulture can be taught so easily that I love the game partly to introduce it to new players. Gameplay is complex [has plenty of options] but not convoluted [those options are intuitively laid out].

      Generally, I can explain the process of going from vine to glass simply enough where burgeoning board gamers pick it up quickly and have lots of fun.

      Cheers!

  2. Thanks so much for playing, reviewing, and writing about Viticulture, John! I really appreciate it. I’m like you–I like really tight games. It was tough to pull the trigger on the new Grande Worker ability, but I definitely think it was the right choice to mitigate frustration and make the endgame more epic. Also, he still gives players an interesting choice: Use him to get the bonus, or use him as a backup for an action that’s full. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Euphoria!

    • Jamey,

      I have to admit, I do like the image of this hulking Italian field hand lumbering over and grabbing bonuses…”scuse me, you gonna eat that? Didn’t think so.”

      And I am all about giving players choice. If you like the ability, use it. If not, don’t. Choice is good.

      I can’t wait to roll around in the hay with Euphoria for a spell. It looks amazing and I expect it plays that way as well. The dystopian theme is perfect for a librarian.

      • Ha ha…I like that image, John. I think some people call the grande worker “Mondo” for that same reason. :)

        Dystopian game + librarian = awesome. Can’t wait to hear what you think in December!

  3. […] Viticulture (Troll in the Corner) […]

  4. I’m a little late to the party, but nice review, John. After loving Euphoria, I’m seriously considering getting Viticulture.

    I know the KS goes up next month for Tuscany (and it will include the base game as an add-on). My question is about the current expansion Arboriculture. Have you played with it? Should I pick it up with Viticulture?

    I’m hoping you can get an early copy of Tuscany for review. I look forward to your thoughts on that expansion.

    • Hey Cal,

      Euphoria is amazing! I love it and will get a review up soon. As far as the Arboriculture expansion, I have not played Viticulture with it but I desperately want to [wish I had it]. I would definitely include it from what I have seen of it when Rahdo ran through Viticulture. It seems to add some extra decision space to the game by including worker moral (almost like keeping the workers dumb in Euphoria!).

      As for backing Tuscany on Kickstarter… I am right there with you!

      John

      • Cal: I’m glad that you like Euphoria enough to want to give Viticulture a try! They’re very different games, as you can tell from John’s review, but if you like worker placement, I think you’ll enjoy Viticulture (and Tuscany).

        I wouldn’t say that Arboriculture is needed for Viticulture or Tuscany, but it does add a new element to the game. It will be available as an add-on to Tuscany (not Viticulture) during the upcoming Kickstarter campaign.

        • I’m gonna see if the FLGS has Viticulture. If it does, I’ll probably pick it up this weekend. If the expansion is there, I’ll probably snag it, as well.

          @Jamey: I think I read somewhere that Tuscany is going to be adding an evolution element (a la Risk Legacy). Is that true? And if it does, will the evolutions be player-based?

          • Cal: Good luck! We’ve been sold out of Viticulture for a long time, but it’s possible some game stores still have it.

            Indeed, the rumors are true (at least, currently they are true). Tuscany has a bunch of expansions in one big box, and at the end of each game (or best of 3, which we recommend), the winner will get to choose a new expansion to add to the next set of games. Most of the expansions can be opened in any order, but there are a few that are dependent on other expansions. Thus players will be able to tell the story of their vineyard in a way that is unique to all other games.

            That’s the only legacy element in the game. Beyond the expansion unlocks, there is no writing on the board or tearing up cards or anything like that.

  5. Great review for a great game. I love the format of your review, how to include likes/dislikes, setup, etc. Can’t wait to read some more :)

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