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Viticulture - Light and refreshing, with a delightful hint of strategy

Steve @ Blue Herring Games Viticulture

Viticulture: the strategic game of winemaking. I love a lot of things about this game, but I am going to start with one thing that has not been raised in any other review. And that is, the importance of a byline *.

Whenever I introduce this game to friends, it is never just Viticulture, but always: ‘Viticulture, the strategic game of winemaking’. From the get-go, this is a game that completely embraces its theme. You want a strategic game about winemaking? This is for you! If you’re looking for an anarchic game about winemaking, or winemaking in the days following a zombie plague, then it may be best to look elsewhere…

Viticulture takes its seat at the worker placement table of games. On your turn you send out a group of workers to accomplish various tasks; tasks that let you do more and more things as the game progresses. While I do enjoy these types of game, I have struggled at times to convey the intricacies to more casual gaming friends. Often, the sheer number of buildings to construct, places to visit and actions to complete can be overwhelming, requiring a number of plays in relatively short succession to see how the game ticks. Some worker placement games, like the classic Agricola (‘the strategic game of medieval farming’) simply require too much planning with too few actions available:

  • “This turn, I’d really like to buy some sheep.”
  • “Great decision. You’ll obviously need a fence first, to stop your sheep from wandering away”
  • “Thanks for the tip! Okay then, with my worker I’ll build a fence for my sheep”
  • “Were your parents farmers? – you’ve really got the hang of this. So to build a fence you are going to need some wood”
  • “Okay, then, I’ll get some wood... to build the fence... to buy the sheep”
  • “Hmmm – the last wood for this round was just picked up by my farmer. Would you like a carrot instead?
  • “…uh… sure”

In comparison, I found Viticulture flows logically and smoothly. Players will plant grape vines in their private vineyards. Vines will produce grapes throughout the game. Grapes can be bottled to make wine. Wine can be sold to complete wine orders. Fulfilling wine orders will generate money and points. Nice!

Like all games of this ilk there are alternative paths for generating money and points. But given that it is a strategic winemaking game, making wine is always going to be relatively high on the list of options. Fortunately, the winemaking element of the game shines. High value vines generate high quality grapes that can be bottled to make premium wines. Red and white grapes are mixed to make Rose’ and Sparkling wines. And after each year your grapes and cellared wine will age, improving the value of both. I cannot overstate the enjoyment of this last step: such a simple game concept, but one that is *ridiculously* satisfying.

The other element that works really well is establishing the turn order for each round. Each day, workers will head out to do various tasks (plant vines, build structures, fill wine orders, and so on). Early risers will have the pick and choice of available activities. Let your workers sleep in and you receive an immediate benefit (...your workers are well rested and feeling good, after all...) but you may not have a chance to do all of the tasks that you wanted.

The game feels more manageable than other worker placement games. Certain vines require a structure to grow them (a trellis, or irrigation perhaps). These special needs are stated on the vine cards themselves so you know what you will need to build upfront. Other structures (and there are only a few) give bonus coins and bonus points, but not all will be required depending on which path you want to take. And unlike other games, you can actually do quite a bit with relatively few resources. You don’t even need to make much wine! Accept that your local ne’er do well workers have no respect for your romantic tree-change vineyard ideologies, and will therefore never wake up in a reasonable time to actually produce anything of note. Instead, offer a few tours and wine tasting afternoons to bring in money and points.

The only drawback I have come across in my plays is how quickly the game can cascade to a conclusion. It feels like you only just have your vineyard working at capacity when the game is over. As an example, a single top notch wine order will give you 6 points (7 points if you are the first to fill an order for the season) of the necessary 20 to win. There is a risk that this could shift the balance to being a strategic winery making game – still a beautiful and very playable game, but something to watch out for.

Viticulture is marketed as a light worker placement game. It does what it does extremely well, in a gorgeous package. While I don’t always have the time or gaming group that would allow heavier worker placement games to flourish, I can see Viticulture making many appearances at my table. Indeed, Viticulture will provide a useful stepping-stone for many players into the heart of the hobby.

Future reviews will touch upon the many and varied ways in which the Viticulture experience is sustained, changed and enhanced by the Tuscany expansion. Tuscany contains a dozen expansions that are ‘uncorked’ and appreciated, one by one, over time. Alas, there is no nice byline for Tuscany. No “Aquaculture: the strategic game of brine raking” type sequel here, although the designers can have that title for free. (It could work! Own the theme. Always own the theme…).

 

~ Viticulture and Tuscany are available for sale through the Blue Herring Games website ~

For the perfect night in, couple your game of Viticulture with a beautiful wine from Paramoor, an award winning Victorian winery and great supporter of Blue Herring Games!

Additional information and suggestions:

  • Number of players: 2 to 6
  • Playing time: two bottles
  • Boardgamegeek.com, as the name suggests, is a repository of all things boardgamery. In December 2015, Viticulture had snuck into the top 100 (at #96), and was 55th on the strategy game ranking. 


* Blue Herring Games – The most in-depth analyses of board game bylines on the web... (back to top)

 



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