I don’t know if you call it a mature palette, or an experience of bitter flavours but I’ve never been much of a wine drinker, while I’ve seen others slowly make the transition on to dry whites and full bodied reds, I’ve always wanted to jump in and be part of ‘that gang’. However in my experience, I find wine and all it’s many types really quite disgusting. I’m not sure if it is my sweet tooth, when I was younger and I witnessed adults quaffing and occasionally crying on the stairs I always thought that it would be the ultimate treat. Adulthood arrived and I sampled cry whites and full bodied reds and really thought that this stuff should really taste better than three day old socks. It sits there in the background and challenges me to grow and start tanning a bottle like all the other people apparently do all the time.
So being someone who doesn’t want to miss out, I decided to take my glass, fill it to the top and dip in some delicious cardboard courtesy of The Essential Edition of Viticulture, provided to us by the vineyard owner that is Jamey Stegmaier. Yes, ‘The Scythe Guy’ or as one of my dear heart friends call them, the lad that gave us Birb Girth.
Worker placement games to me are strange creatures. Often they demand a suspension of disbelief on your part. Placing a token and taking the action, with distilled versions offering you more downtime than you have actions at the table. The likes of the classic Lords of Waterdeep where adventures are served in thirty second slices with you spending the rest of the time hoping that someone isn’t going to take your spot and deny you the chance to complete a quest. Or you get the deeper more involved Anachrony, where the worker placement is part of a much bigger clockwork puzzle with elements and intricacies. But that’s because it’s Turczi and that is just to be expected.
Viticulture doesn’t do anything particularly new on first glance. You have a set of workers, and you take turns placing those workers and then you take the connected action. Thematically though, everything in the game just seems to tie in with what it is representing. the order of play is all down to who decides to get up early enough. you get the benefit of having first choice, but normally you miss out on bonuses to assist you including an additional worker for the round. Then you place your workers, take up spaces and take actions and if all the spaces are taken, you can always bring out the Grande worker who allows you to play on busy areas. You can give tours to make money, improve the vineyard by building structures, plant fields, harvest different grapes and even train workers. It all makes perfect sense from a wine business perspective. The board is split into two to emulate the summer and winter, where one side is all about growing and the other naturally about harvesting, bottling and fulfilling orders. You’ll get visitors to the vineyard who will help or allow you to influence the decisions of other players and give you bonuses for carrying out the normal actions. Space is designed to be limited, and it is not uncommon for players to have to mitigate for actions they’ve been blocked from taking which makes a change to the number of games where you are essentially playing multiplayer solitaire on the same board. Viticulture is interactive with scowls regularly happening across the table as your plans are thwarted.
On top of all of this is the players boards, where you mature your harvest and bottle wine to fulfil orders, and use the most delightful clear glass beads to measure your progress. Due some very clever graphical design choices, when the beads are placed on the white and red grape spaces, it appears as if you have little droplets of grape juice on your board, that slowly move left every round, suggesting they are aging and almost ready for bottling. It’s a small touch that I appreciate in a game full of small touches.
It all makes ‘common’ sense, which means when it comes to teaching others, they’ve already got a good idea of how they think the game should be played, and backed up with another wonderful rulebook means that your friends can be planting, placing and shipping orders confidently very early on in the game. I’ve played this with all different players numbers and levels of experience and I’ve not had anyone walk away who wouldn’t play the game again. Timing wise, it never seems to overstay its welcome. At the beginning you’ll wonder how anyone could make it up to the twenty victory point goal and then all of a sudden around the hour to ninety minute mark orders are flowing, Winter visitors are being played and you’re wondering how you’ll catch up. There’s a lovely crescendo to the game that builds up a frantic pace.
Ideally this is the game that you add to your collection if you enjoyed Wingspan and want to take things to the next level. It successfully mixes an ease of learning but has layers of play and tactics thanks to the inclusion of the Summer and Winter cards. Mention Stonemaier to most people and they’ll say Scythe or Wingspan, but for me Viticulture is the game that has aged wonderfully on the shelf and every time I have had the opportunity to play it, it never fails to delight. A full bodied cheeky worker placement with a strong hint of tactics and subtle planning. Probably great with some Sea Bass and baked peppers.
Designed – Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone & Morten Monrad Pedersen
Illustrated – Beth Sobel
1 – 6 Players
Ages 14 +
45 – 90 Minutes
We were provided a copy of Viticulture by Stonemaier Games for review purposes. We have no other financial relationship with Stonemaier Games at the time of release of this review.
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