- Designers: Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone
- Players: 2-6
- Time: 45-90 min
- Ages: 13+
- Times played: 4
When I first talked about Viticulture, I gave a flippant Mini review:
Viticulture – it passes the initial Kickstarter game test – in that we have played it once and no one complained that it sucked, which has been the case with more than half of the KS games that have landed on the gaming table. Still needs another play prior to writing a review. The boys want to play it, so maybe I’ll get a different view of it when playing with them as opposed to the gamers.
I wasn’t sure how others would take this – but the one of the designers later commented “I will fully accept, “It didn’t suck” as a review of Viticulture. :) (But I’m looking forward to a full review as well–thanks Dale!)”
So, I’ve played the game twice more, and now I’m ready to say what I think about the game…
Quick Game Mechanic Overview:
Viticulture is a worker-placement game. It is played over a number of rounds until someone has scored at least 20 points. At the end of that round, the player with the most points wins. Each player has his own mat which shows his vineyard. There are areas for planting vines, for storing grapes, for aging wines, etc. There are also a number of structures on your vineyard which help you be more efficient in your actions.
The main board has two main areas – a summer area and a winter area. Each section of the board has different action spaces, but more on that later. There are also 4 different decks of cards used in the game: vine cards, order cards, summer visitor cards, winter visitor cards. Each round equals a year, and each of the four seasons is played in turn… until someone has at least 20 points at the end of a year.
SPRING: this is essentially turn order determination. There is actually a start player marker that rotates around with each year, but it pretty much only decides who gets to play in Spring first. In this first phase, players take turns placing their rooster token on any of the 7 turn order slots. The later you end up in turn order, the better sort of bonus you will get that year. For instance, if you choose to go first in order, you get no bonus. If you choose position #6 (out of 7), you automatically score 1VP – which is 5% of the total VP you need to win the game! Once all players have chosen a unique spot on the chart, the turn order for the rest of the year follows that chart.
SUMMER: In summer, you get to place some/all of your workers to do summer specific actions:
- Draw a vine card: add a vine card to your hand
- Plant vines: this is how you get vine cards out of your hand and onto the fields on your player mat
- Build structures: spend gold and build things which make your actions better (i.e. build structures cheaper, get more money for giving yours, draw more cards when you draw, etc)
- Give a Tour: essentially, get gold from bank
- Sell Grapes: Though you normally want to make wine, sometimes you need to sell your grapes to get a bit of cash
- Play a Summer Visitor Card: Visitor cards have special actions/abilities on them which generally break the standard rules of the game
It should be noted that each action has 1 (in 2p), 2 (in 3-4p), or 3 (in 5-6p) action spaces available – each can only be occupied by a single worker. If you are playing with at least 3p, one of the available action spaces gives you a bonus for taking that action – such as drawing an extra card, or gaining one extra gold when you tour, or paying one less gold when you build a structure.
FALL: not much goes on here – players get to add a visitor card to their hand. They choose whether it is a Summer or a Winter Visitor card
WINTER: you get to place the rest of your workers in this phase (the ones you did not play in Summer). The actions are different here, so you have to decide when in the year you need your workers to work.
- Draw an Order Card – get an order card from the deck
- Harvest Field – this is how you get grapes from your vineyard
- Crush Grapes – you convert already harvested grapes and turn them into wine. The better the quality of grapes you use here, the better the starting quality of the wine you produce.
- Fulfill a Wine Order – trade in wines of type/quality specified on the card and receive between 2-6 VPs
- Train a Worker – get an extra worker for use in later rounds of the game
YEAR END (Upkeep) – in between winter and spring, you clean up your area. All grapes and wines age – each moves to the next most valuable space on the chart – as long as you have space for them and capacity to hold that sort of wine. All players discard down to 7 cards in their hand (between all 4 types) and the start player token moves clockwise. Unless, of course, someone has at least 20 points. If so, the player with the most points wins. In a weird twist, you cannot score more than 25 points, so it is possible that two players could tie at 25, even though both scored more than that, and then go to the tiebreaker to determine the winner.
The whole wine production is a multi-step process, and it takes a play or two to really get into the flow of this process. The steps needed are:
- Get vine card(s) – done in summer phase
- Plant vines – summer
- Harvest field – winter
- Crush Grapes – winter – this is a complicated sub-step. Here, you might only use white grapes to make white wine, only red grapes to make red wine, one red and one white to make a blush or 2 red and one white to make a sparkling wine…
- Age wine – year end
- Draw an order card – winter
- Fulfill an order card – winter
MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME:
Viticulture is subtitled “the Strategic Game of Winemaking”, and I must admit that the theme is strong in the game. As you progress through this worker-placement game, you do often get the feeling that you’re toiling away in Tuscany making tasty bottles of wine. And, like I said in my first flippant review, “it doesn’t suck”. After 4 plays, I can confirm that it doesn’t suck, but it also didn’t get any better. It is a solid first design from both the designers and publisher, but there are a few areas that hold it back from being a great game.
As far as worker placement games go, Viticulture has a number of things going for it. I do like the turn-order choosing phase. Each player gets his turn to choose first for order, but there are some definite worthwhile bonuses that may make you choose later. I like this initial choice as both your turn order location as well as your bonus can really determine how your year goes. It’s not an entirely new mechanic – it has been used recently in Fresco and Last Will – but it fits in nicely here.
I also like the split of actions – it can be a difficult choice to choose when to use your workers. Most worker placement games allow you to use all your workers each year. In Viticulture, you have the added level of complexity of having to split your workers up amongst two completely distinct placement areas. The actions are all valuable, and it is crucial to make sure that you get the actions when you need them or else you’ll have to wait an entire game year to get an opportunity to do that action again… and this will slow down your entire wine producing engine for a year. The bonuses available for each particular action also add a nice bit of tension to the game because it creates some racing to each action in order to get the bonus.
Where the game falls apart for me is with the visitor cards. They are meant to add a bit of spice to the game as they are somewhat unpredictable and can allow for great swings in fortune. For me, they are too varied and not overly balanced. These visitor cards are essentially distributed at random – you get one to start the game, one in each Fall phase, and then you can place a worker on the summer or winter Draw a Worker card space to get them.
For example, in the summer cards, you might randomly draw the Architect which allows you to build a structure at a 3 gold discount. Now, 3 gold is nothing to sneeze at in this game, and the Architect does save you from having to fight for a build structure worker space (well, it just shifts it because instead you have to fight for a play-a-summer-visitor-card space instead). But… what if you had the Horticulturist, a card which allows you to uproot 1 vine card and discard it for VPs equal to the grape value of that card (as much as 4VP). Trust me, 4VP is worth many times more than 3 gold in this game. Heck, it’s 20% – TWENTY PERCENT – A FULL ONE-FIFTH! – of what you need to win the game. In a single card that you happened to draw randomly. The winter cards have similar weak and strong cards.
Now, I can see the argument that the draw a worker card space is open to everyone, and if you really want to get one, you can choose to go first in turn order to guarantee that you can choose them… but the variability is so high, it just never seems worth it unless you’re doing the equivalent of Grand Tichu in the last round of the game because you have no other viable choice. It would be madness to put all you eggs in the worker card basket early in the game… yes, you might get a card that essentially allows you to score 3 or 4 VP – which is huge in a race to 20… but you might also draw a card which essentially gives you 2 gold.
Some of the worker cards also seem to give you powers that are so strong that they take the place of 3 or 4 regular actions. These cards also seem overpowered a bit and detract from the engine building nature of the game. If this were a 30 minute game, that might be fine. But it leaves a sour taste in your mouth to lose a 2 hour long game just because I was lucky enough to draw an inhumanely good card in the last round on a random whim.
Overall, it’s a solid game, and I’m glad to have had a chance to try it. The production quality is of a high level, the cards have a nice finish to them, there are plenty of custom wood bits and the board/box has decent to above average art. There are many good ideas in the game itself and all of the concepts work as advertised. But, I’ve yet to have a game in 4 tries that all the players were satisfied with – mostly due to someone either getting all the good worker cards or one player getting only crappy ones and essentially being disqualified from the game as a result. With some tweaking of the cards this could be a great game, but the released version falls short of that goal. Like the wines in the game, this one could have used a few more turns of aging/developing to become a more refined and better product.
THOUGHTS FROM OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS:
Ted C: Only one play with the basic game. I would like to try the advanced version or the expansion. I don’t own the game so that is how it was described to me. Dale has hit the nail on the head with this review except the luck of the cards did not really bother me in my one play. I would agree they are not balanced and could use some tweaking, but I overcame the frustration.
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: I played the game and I found it a very nice worker placement game but the cards really ruin what I can say is a very good design. That is sad because the core mechanics are great and also how they fit with the theme. Like Dale I think the randomness introduced by the cards effects are good but come cards are too much strong and I really hope they can fit someway. I would like to say “I love it!” but actually is a game can’t show up again with my gamers group and I have to revert to “neutral”. I hope that this “lack” of balancement doesn’t shows up also in Euphoria (I’m waiting for it).
RATINGS FROM THE OPINIONATED GAMERS:
I love it!
I like it. Ted C.
Neutral. Dale Yu, Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
Not for me.
We have experimented with having 3 of each deck on display ticket to ride style so you can either draw blind or take something that everyone knows you have – not great for those prone to ap but smoothest out the luck aspect a lot
Dale–Thanksk so much for writing the full review! I hear your frustration about the visitor cards. Obviously I personally enjoy them–I like the different types of puzzles they provide each game–but sometimes random elements in games can be annoying. I’m doing a few things with the expansion pack that will mitigate the luck factor of the visitor cards. Thanks for the full review!