One of the most surprising games that I've played has to be Viticulture.
In Viticulture, you are competing wine makers, attempting to gain the most fame for your operation by giving tours, growing grapes, and of course, selling fancy wine. The game is played in a series of "years", and in each year, the players will get to send all of their workers to help grow their vineyard. The years are split into four different seasons (you know - like in life... unless you live in Houston). In the first season, the players select how early their workers will "wake up". The earlier you wake up, the earlier you get to place on the board, but the later you wake up, the happier your workers will be (represented by getting various bonuses). In the next season (codename: "Summer") you will get to place workers on all of the Summer spaces - these actions will let you improve your vineyard by building buildings, planting vines, etc. The third season consists of only drawing a "visitor" card, and then the fourth season (Winter) allows you to place your remaining workers (the ones you didn't place in Summer) on the various Winter action spaces. These actions let you fill wine orders, harvest grapes, crush them into wine, etc. (As a note - I think how short the Spring and Fall seasons are really show that the designer lives in the Midwest USA. I've lived there; it really does seem to go straight from Winter to Summer with only one day of "Spring" and "Fall".) Along the way of performing these actions, various things will get you victory points - with the primary way being by fulfilling orders for wine. The game continues year by year until one player has scored at least 20 victory points. At that point, the players finish the year, and the player with the most victory points at the end of the year wins!
|The rooster track|
My next pro for Viticulture is that I like the feeling of needing to do everything at once - and not being able to. There are a couple of limiting factors on what you can do - the number of workers that you have and the number of spaces on the board (which, as I type, I realize is just like every worker placement game that has ever been made). However, though this isn't a unique feature to Viticulture, I still think that it has been done well. Essentially, every spot on the board has enough spaces for half of the players to claim one. And, you also get a reward for being the first person to use each action. So, in addition to needing to make selections based on which actions you need to execute this year (should I be planting more grapes, or do I need to use that worker to finally crush some grapes into wine?) you also have to factor in whether you should forgo your plans temporarily to jump on a golden opportunity to get a bonus - and deprive the other players of it! Worker placement games achieve varying degrees of success in creating this placement tension, but I believe that Viticulture has created it masterfully.
|A player's wine making operation|
Now that I've said my favorite pieces about the 'culture, there are a couple of things to mention. First is the theme. I specifically call this out, because I don't drink. I actually jokingly thought about calling this review "the tee-totaler's thoughts on wine making." However, though the theme doesn't really call out to me, and I have to reference the rulebook when trying to make sure that I remember rules that may come naturally to wine connoisseurs (like how many red and white grapes are required to make a champaign), I still enjoyed the game. So, whether you only drink beer, don't drink at all, or love wine, I think that this is one that you can still enjoy.
The second thing to call out is something I alluded to in my first pro. This review is based on the 2.0 rules of Viticulture. But, what's the difference? The main difference is that the "Grande Worker" is now part of the core game instead of part of the Arboriculture expansion (which came with the original KS version of the game). The Grande Worker is a special worker that can be placed on parts of the board that are already full. So, for example, if you really need to plant vines and all of the places to plant vines are taken, you can still place your Grande Worker there and plant them. In the 1.0 version of the game, the decisions about where to place your workers were much more tense, and I miss that in 2.0. However, they were so tense that you essentially were forced to always select the top of the Rooster track whenever you had the chance. Additionally, you could get into a situation where you were the last person to play, and you could not fulfill a wine order on the last turn, simply because you were the last to place your rooster on the wake up track - thus waking up last, and having all of the wine order spots taken before you could select them. So, as a whole, I think that including the Grande Worker was an improvement. The other "big" change in the 2.0 rules relates to crushing grapes into wine. In the original rules, you could make all that you wanted of a single type of wine. Now, you can only make two total glasses (barrels?) of wine, but they can be of differing types. I also prefer this rule, as it makes the game a bit more straightforward, and gives you some flexibility.
|Viticulture Game board|
Overall, I give Viticulture a 9.0/10. I have really enjoyed it and, though it hasn't quite taken my top worker placement spot (that title goes to Age of Empires 3) it definitely stands out as one of my favorites, and one that I intend to keep bringing to the table.
As a final note - Viticulture's Tuscany expansion is currently on Kickstarter. Check it out here.
If Viticulture sounds interesting, you should also check out Euphoria, Kingdom of Solomon, and Stone Age.
I would like to thank Stonemaier Games for providing me with a review copy of Viticulture (a long time ago).