Hello everybody, welcome to the latest review that I have for you. The game that I will be going over this week is Viticulture: Essential Edition from Stonemaier Games. Let’s crush this one! (Get it? Its a grape joke. It’s a wine game. I need some better material don’t I?)
If You Love
- Worker Placement
- Fluctuating scoring
- Medium Level Strategy
- Hand and Player Board Management
- Player Blocking
- Wine Making Theme
How It’s Played
There are many avenues and choices in Viticulture, and I would be writing for probably close to a year if I went into detail on every single one, so instead, what I will try and accomplish is an overview of the decisions made during a round (read a year from here on out), and a quick rundown of how the player boards work. First of all, the goal in the game is to make it to twenty points to trigger the end of the game, and spend the rest of that year gaining as many more points as able to try and win the game. Each year is split into four phases, which will coincide with real like seasons. Each phase has distinct objectives. In the spring, each player (starting with the first player) will place their rooster token at a specific stage on the wake up chart. This will indicate the play order for the rest of that year. Each space on the chart will have a bonus that you receive immediately. The higher up the chart you ascend, the less enticing the bonus’ are, but the more likely you are to have a more beneficial space to choose to place your workers through the year,as you will be going sooner. Once all players have placed their roosters and received their bonus, the summer phase then begins. The player who is highest up the chart will place one worker in a yellow summer space, and take the coinciding action. This could be building structures, planting vines, or a number of other various things. All of these actions need to be planned out to help you build a great vineyard to supply wine to customers. During the fall phase, you will draw what are called visitor cards, which are in two distinct piles. There are summer and winter visitors, which are allowed to be played only during the proper months. Then the winter phase starts, which focuses on harvesting your fields, crushing grapes, and filling orders, among other things. Once the year has been completed and all workers have been placed, all grapes and wines will then age one year, you retrieve your workers and residual payments. Then the next year will start, and you continue until a player reaches 20 points.
The Pretty Little Bow
Viticulture has some of the most elegant art work I have seen in a game. The art on the player boards, and main board give a feel of almost being in old vineyards and managing the workers you have through the year. It has a very country feel to me, and no eye popping colours which I feel would be unnecessary for this style and theme of gameplay. All of the wooden pieces are great quality, and having a different piece for each building, and score marker is an excellent choice. All buildings could have been the same shapes and just placed in an area of the player boards and that would have been sufficient, but that extra step to have them all represent the building that they are was a fine touch. All the details in this game have been covered as far I am concerned, going as far as having a functional tray to store the game. The only issue I had with the game at all component wise was warping on my player boards after I opened the packaging. However, once they were pulled back straight again, I haven’t had any need to readjust, so it was only a minor issue. Overall, this is a beautifully put together game, that gives a more serious feel to board gaming.
What’d You Love?
There is honestly so much for me to love when it comes to Viticulture. There is the set up of a round into seasons, worker management, the two separate types of visitors (summer and winter) and beyond. I would have to say that my favourite thing about it overall though is how the Mama’s and the Papa’s can really setup your strategy for the entire game. If the option for differing starting resources were always the same, I feel that a winning strategy would be easily consistent, and make for a game that gets played about five times and it put into a closet to collect dust for a few years. Having different resources every game though will really get you thinking about how you will use your current resources in the most effective manner, changing your strategy from game to game. As well, having visitor decks and vines that are never the same is a big adjustment from game to game. To narrow it down to one aspect that I loved about this game is quite hard, but I think that the variability, and therefore replay ability is what keeps bringing me back to Viticulture.
What’s Not To Love?
This was a tough thing for me to figure out, due to falling for it so quickly right out of the gate. The two biggest things that irk me though are the vine/order cards, and the tray for storage. First, I’ll go over the storage tray. It is fairly well thought out, however, not without some drawbacks. The height of it for one, is just shy of keeping all the components tight to the top of the box. I know games have extra space because they need to have punch boards in there when it’s new, but it is frustrating when you take it out every game and you have to dump it all out because all the components have mixed together and need to be sorted out. Another thing is the card storage. There are four decks used in the game (vine, summer visitor, orders, winter visitor), but only three sections to store them, which forces. Why not just have one section at that point then, and have a nice, more open spot for the big cards in the game (mama’s/papa’s, fields, automa)? I mention those cards because where they currently sit is in a rounded bottom space. This means the bottom cards get stuck in the bottom and it is a nightmare to get them out of the space they’ve gotten themselves in. Saying this, I am well aware that other games do much worse and I should be happy there is anything, which I am. It’s just a little sad to see how close to an excellent insert the game has and stumbles after storing, or transporting the game. Now, onto the vines and order cards. This is much more of a gripe that is only sometimes relevant. It does however happen enough that I feel a need to mention it. The issue I have found is that even with sufficient shuffling of the decks, there is always at least one player who is not drawing vine and order cards that can possibly match. For example, they are only picking up white vines, but red orders need to be filled. I know that this is a fairly silly complaint and a strategic placement or two could probably nullify this, but it is something that continuously happens, and I feel it is almost unfair for that player, as they are doing everything they can to stay competitive, and instead losing because of poor draw. I know there really isn’t a way to “fix” this at all, and it probably doesn’t happen to others as much, but it was certainly something noticeable so far in our games.
What’d You Think?
Overall, I think that Viticulture is a very fine tuned machine. There is enough going on from game to game that will really immerse a player in the game for a couple of hours. The on your toes thinking through the entire game is wonderful, and it avoids a player planning the perfect strategy through each year. Having only so many spaces per year really makes you think through your decisions to make sure you can do what you are planning on each turn, as well as hoping opponents don’t step on your toes while you are planning, and making your decisions. This will without a doubt be a part of my collection for many years to come, and will likely be in my game bag for every game night I go out to for at least the next six months to a year.
I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts on Viticulture: Essential Edition, and don’t forget, I love you all!