Tuscany, a Belated Review of an Excellent Expansion

https://i0.wp.com/stonemaiergames.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Tuscany-box.jpg

Tuscany Review

Designers: Morton Monrad Pedersen, Jamey Stegmaier, and Alan Stone

Artist: Beth Sobel

Publisher: Stonemaier Games

1 – 6 players (1 player uses the Automa)

60-120 minutes – assuming you are already familiar with Viticulture and don’t add too many expansions all at once. Caveat Expandor.

This is based on a review copy that was received at the end of 2014, reviewed in January 2015, but unfortunately not posted until now.  I am very sorry for the delay, but hope you enjoy our thoughts.

https://i1.wp.com/www.umbriatuscanyreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/san_gimignano-1.jpg

Source: http://www.umbriatuscanyreview.com

Tuscany is the area around Florence in Italy.  Full of culture, gorgeous hill towns, and a leaning tower.  It is also the new expansion(s) for Viticulture, a creation of the Stonemaier Kickstarter machine.  I’ll be straight up – I’ve had my KS successes and my KS failures.  Viticulture, Euphoria, the Treasure Chest, and Tuscany were all successes.  These guys do good work and are learning from their few mistakes.

That said, in the age of the disposable game, does it make any sense to go out and get Tuscany?  Well, read on and find out.

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Viticulture is a worker placement game about wine making.  The goal of the game is to have the most victory points when someone has 20 vps at the end of a year.  There are two editions of Viticulture, and my references to the game will be referring to the Second Edition.  There is a wonderful upgrade pack, so no one need feel left out.

Each year has the same pattern.

Spring – place your rooster to note your wake-up time, a la Fresco.  The later you get up the more goodies you get but the later in the turn order you go.

Summer – Take actions with your workers, such as planting grapes, building new buildings in your vineyard to plant better grapes or make better wine, get more visitors, sell grapes, give tours, etc.

Fall – Take one or two visitor cards, depending on whether or not you built a cottage.

Winter – Take actions with your remaining workers to harvest grapes, make wine, take wine orders, fill wine orders, etc.

That is the heart of a fine game.  Note the word ‘fine’.  It is a very good game for what it is, which is an extremely well themed, beautifully produced worker placement game.  As it is, Viticulture is a top shelf classic modern Euro.

This is where Tuscany fits in.  Tuscany basically lets you build out Viticulture is a staggering number of ways.  It adds not 10, not 11, but 12 new expansions for Viticulture.  The rules describe them as ‘Legacy-style’ and while I get why they said that, they are not really Legacy style for a few reasons.

The expansions are all described in the rules, so there are no surprises.  Before writing this review, I asked if there were spoilers other than the secret packet and was told no.  In addition, the expansions were described in the Tuscany Kickstarter.  For me, the Legacy experience is when you open the packet and your jaw drops, followed by rapid breathing and anxiety.

Second, you will not be harming/altering the board or pieces in any way, so if you ever want to play plain old Viticulture again, nothing is stopping you.  There is something profound about irrevocably altering a game board or tearing up cards.  This expansion does not bring that level of angst.

So, when I first got it, I opened the box and was amazed at how much was in there.  My hats off to the BGGers who decided to put all of Tuscany in Viticulture box, but I think you are nuts.  I tried that and it felt like a huge Euphoria ingot.  Then it was like fishing bits out of a poorly arranged Terra Mystica box.

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Source: http://lacaveajeux.over-blog.com/2015/03/viticulture-toscany-in-english.html

There are tons of cards, meeples, sub-boards, a big board, tiles, metal coins (if you got that version), and even animeeples.  It has a nice internal divider system to keep everything straight, and this is for good reason.  This is not one of those expansions where you jump in, chuck it all in the game and take off.  There are three tiers of expansions.  The first tier are pretty simple and expand the play flexibility within Viticulture.  The second tier are a bit larger, including the new board and the new buildings.  The publisher suggests integrating the expansions one at a time, so it would take you at least 8 game just to integrate the first 8 expansions.

I understand why this is recommended.  There are two reasons.  First, the pieces can interact with each other, so if you have not played either of two expansions, you might not see how the gears mesh when they both come into play.  Second, there is a sense of discovery by adding them incrementally.  If you add all the first tier ones, it is like taking two wrapped gifts and opening one with your left hand while you open the other with your right.  Ultimately, it is a personality test.  are you someone who savors or someone who gorges?

All 8 Tier 1 and Tier 2 expansions can be played at the same time, so you are adding complexity to the game, but there is no mutual exclusivity.  About the closest I can come is to suggest they are 8 substantially developed and diverse Queenies.  Unlike Queenies, these expansions really do change the game.  Want to start with different resources?  Use the Mamas and the Papas expansion.  Want some hidden goals?  Go with the Patronage expansion.  Maybe you want to use your fields as property, rather than for grapes.  If so, go with the Property expansion.

Special Workers is a pretty extraordinary Tier 2 expansion within Tuscany.  Viticulture and most worker placement games have generic meeples as workers.  Place them where you want and they do what you ask.  But how can that worker that was just farming start making glass?  Special Workers adds individual meeples with special trades.  In base Viticulture, you start with three workers and can expand up to six.  Each one other than the Grande is the same as any other one.  Special workers adds lots of different workers that have special abilities.  In an excellent decision, only two are available in any game.  This expansion alone adds amazing replayability to Viticulture.  One game might have the Politico and the Merchant.  The next one might have the Chef and the Mafioso.  Each of the 11 workers (customized meeples) has a different special ability.  You get them by paying a little extra when getting a new worker.  So, if you would normally spend an action to get another worker, you can now pay more and get a Professore instead, if that is one of the two in the game.  For example, when you place the Professore, you can take back one of your other workers and redeploy her.

Several of the expansions, notably the Advanced Visitors and New Visitors spice Viticulture up by adding new possibilities.  There are two larger Tier 2 expansions, the new board and the new structures.  The board is double-sided with one side for use without the new structures and the other side for use with them.  In general, any Tier 1 or Tier 2 expansion can be added to the others, but the new buildings must come after you are using the new board.

  1.  That is all cool.  New board, new cards, new twists, and new workers.  but the real kicker here is the Tier 3 expansions.  I am not competent to review them in depth, but can explain why they make the box so valuable.  These are the expansions that don’t just add chrome or fuzzy dice to Viticulture.  They basically replace the engine block.  Ok, now that my knowledge of car repair has been exhausted, let’s move on.  Tier 3 expansions, unlike Tier 1 and Tier 2 expansions, are used one at a time and cannot be combined.

Wine + Italy + Mafia?!?!  Yes, one of the Tier 3 expansions is seeking protection.  In the Second Edition of Viticulture, one of your workers is larger than the others and called the Grande.  He/she is able to go to a location and take the action even if there is not a spot free. Normally, you use the Grande to get the action you need where you could not otherwise take it.  Here, each Grande has a package, a ‘donation’ to the Capo.  The package is a cards are numbered 1-9.  Whenever you are at the same location as another Grande, you have to exchange packages (cards) for some reason.  Now you can both look at your packages and figure out if you got a better or worse package.  This is pretty important because from here on, you have a piece of information about which package is better.  Now you can go try to trade with someone else.  At the end of the game, the player with the best package – stop your snickering – get extra VPs and the one with the worst package loses one.  But wait, there’s more.  If you place your Grande where is no other Grande, you can discard your package and draw a new one.  This called to mind Mystery of the Abbey.    As a fan of purer deduction, this one left me feeling like it was a crapshoot.

By now, I’ll bet you are tired of wine.  Perhaps you would prefer to expand into apples, tomato sauce, and olive oil.  I have no idea why you are qualified to do this, but you are and you are forcing your workers to work even harder.  This adds a morale track, also a la Fresco to the game.  It also adds new sub-boards and new buildings, as you need refineries, millstones, and warehouses to handle new new crops. As I understand it, this expansion was included in the earliest Kickstarter for Viticulture.  I like aspects of this board, but it also makes the game a bit longer, and feels slightly bolted on.

We’ve paid off the Capo.  We’ve cornered the tomato sauce market.  What’s left?  Cheese!  The Formaggio expansion is the best one in my mind.  This adds a new sideboard with cheese storage and new action spaces.  In the wine portion of the game, the wine never spoils as it ages.  This makes it a relaxing process.  Formaggio adds tension because cheese does not necessarily improve with age . . . it rots.  This expansion adds a whole new level of balancing your enterprise because the element of time works for you with wine and against you with cheese.  In addition, some cheese gains value as it ages (Bitto and Reggiano) while others, Mozzarella and to some extent Fontina don’t gain that much value and rot quickly.  I quite enjoyed this one.

The 12th expansion is an Automa that plays against you in the solo game.  I know solo gaming is hot these days, but I game for interaction, so I’ll leave it to others to comment on the Automa.

OK, time for the wrap-up.  If you have hundreds of games and Viticulture is sitting near the bottom of one of many piles, I’m not sure Tuscany is for you.  These expansions enhance the game, but are not going to cause you to trade Agricola or stop playing whatever shiny newness your friend brought over.

If you have played Viticulture more than three times and pull it out with friends on a semi-regular basis, Tuscany is awesome.  It will give the game fresh legs for months to come.  The rulebook even includes some fun ideas for how to choose the order you add the expansions.

If you played Viticulture at a friend’s house and thought about buying it, but it felt a bit samey compared to other games, Tuscany, and Formaggio in particular, definitely kicks Viticulture up a notch.

Whichever camp you fall in, you cannot help but admire Tuscany as a creation.  It expands the streamlined Viticulture in new and different directions while offering the players the flexibility to customize the experience to their own personal preferences.  This is a wonderful way to spice up/refresh an already very good game.  Viva Italia and Stonemaier!

Comments from other Opinionated Gamers:

Dale Y:  I was neutral on the base game when it first came out (https://opinionatedgamers.com/2013/09/04/dale-yu-review-of-viticulture/), but I’m glad to say that the expansion brought new life to the game, and I really wouldn’t imagine playing the game without the Tuscany expansion.  For simplicity’s sake (and my own sanity), we have only added at most 3 of the modules to our games.  First, it makes it easier to keep track of the new rules, and second, this gives us a fresh feel to every game of Viticulture because we’ll pretty much always be playing with a different subset of modules, and thus, my approach to each game will have to vary based on the new combination.

Alan H: I have played about half the expansions now and Viticulture without Tuscany will never be played again.  In fact the Tuscany board making and extra season is also now mandatory.  The area I was most disappointed in was the stars but that is now much better when you play with the cheeseboard. I am quite happy for the game to go on for far longer than intended just so I can see more of the cards, the buildings (which is also a great new expansion). I also always play with the land that can be sold as the cashflow implications are interesting.  So Tuscany is probably one of the best ever expansions I have encountered.  In my last game two weeks ago I think the only reason it ended was because someone had train to catch and suddenly all our latent victory points were played as we raced over the line in the last 30 minutes. It’s just a tremendous improvement on the second edition and more kudos to Stonemaier games.

Chris W:  I am also only part way through the expansions, but so far I’ve found Tuscany to be a brilliant addition to Viticulture.  Stonemaier games really hit this one out of the park: they managed to find that rare sweet spot where an expansion intuitively add to the base game without adding much complexity or administrative burden.  Some parts of Tuscany — the Mamas and Papas, Patronage, and Property come to mind — are seeing a lot of time in my Viticulture-obsessed game group.  I’m greatly looking forward to trying the rest of the package.  Wine (errr… board game) Spectator Rating: 95.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it! Alan H, Chris W

I like it. Jonathan F (but love some of them), Dale Y

Neutral.

Not for me…

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4 Responses to Tuscany, a Belated Review of an Excellent Expansion

  1. Pingback: Tuscany, a Belated Review of an Excellent Expansion - eJouer.info eJouer.info

  2. ianthecool says:

    This is quickly finding its place in best expansions of all time category, by the sounds of it.

    Just curious, how would you compare Viticulture to Vinhos?

  3. Dan Blum says:

    I have to say, everything I hear about Tuscany makes me less interested in trying Viticulture. I think my interest may now be about zero. I’m afraid I find it impossible to believe that all these extra bits and bobs were actually playtested in all possible combinations to make sure they are balanced.

  4. Pingback: Dale Yu – Review of Viticulture: Essential Edition | The Opinionated Gamers

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