Viticulture Review

Viticulture board game

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!

Rooster track for game of Viticulture
The rooster track
My first pro for Viticulture is that I enjoy the Spring season - or the "Rooster selection", if you will.  (You mark how early you want your workers to wake up by placing a rooster on the corresponding section.)  I like the balance of wanting the first choice of where to place workers, which is amazing, with getting rewarded for waiting.  One of the rewards for waking up early even is a victory point!  As a side note, this review is based on the 2.0 rule set for Viticulture.  More on that later.  Sometimes in the original ruleset, this choice was a bit obvious - you always wanted to have your workers wake up as early as possible.  However, in the 2.0 version, this choice is important, as you will have to balance getting a reward (which is sort of like a free action) with selecting your turn order.

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.

Player board for Viticulture
A player's wine making operation
One of my other favorite aspects of "the VC" (it gets tiring to call something the same thing every time) is that there are a couple of different ways to try to achieve victory.  Essentially, you can try to win by fulfilling a lot of small wine orders, a few large wine orders, or stealing victory points wherever the game allows (on the Rooster selection, as a bonus for certain actions, and a few other places).  I've seen each of these strategies implemented, and each one seems to have a very strong chance for victory - with it coming down to which player can most readily adjust to how the other players are doing and get in their way while also helping themselves.  And, ultimately, that's what I want a game to come down to - how well can I implement my strategy while preventing others from doing the same!

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 mid-play
Viticulture Game board
So, now that I've droned on and on about Viticulture, what didn't I like?  The main complaint that I can find is that the "visitor" cards don't always seem balanced.  Some of the visitors were amazing - and you would always want them.  They basically allow you to do several actions all at once.  Who wouldn't want that?  That is helpful at any point during the game!  However, most of the visitors are very situational.  In the right situation, they can be amazing, but through much of the rest of the game they are worthless.  Or, some of them are good for much of the game, but if you draw them at the wrong time then they literally can not help you (for example, one of them lets you train a worker at a discounted rate - if you have all of your workers, then you just drew a dead card).  This "right time" aspect of the visitors can make them swingy - when everyone draws a visitor, and two people draw immediately useful ones and two other players draw useless cards, then (as you'd imagine) two players just got a nice boost.

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).


  1. I love the idea of having multiple ways to win a game. The HUGE challenge here is in balancing these multiple methods so that you actually have multiple ways to win, and not just unused game mechanics.

    I haven't played this game myself yet, but have been wanting to for some time, so I backed it on the most recent Tuscany Kickstarter Campaign which allows you to get the game with the expansion pack! Can't wait - if anyone in St. Louis want to play let me know!

  2. Solid review - I think you captured many of my thoughts on the game, except that I do drink, and really think the theme is very well integrated and big bonus to Viticulture.