BGG Rank #34 – 5/11/2017
If you like Euro games, then you’ve probably played a few games about agriculture. Farming and worker placement mechanics are just a natural fit, like ketchup and french fries, or peanut butter and jelly. But if you’re like me, you might occasionally appreciate a fresh take on the genre. That’s why I was really excited when I got a chance to try Viticulture, a worker placement game about wine making. Okay… so growing grapes is still a type of agriculture. But at least there are no sheep? Baby steps.
So You Want to Own a Vineyard…
My friends Patrick and Emily recently got a copy of Viticulture and invited me to play it with them. Naturally, I jumped on the opportunity. Viticulture owns the distinction of being one of the few games to appear TWICE on the BoardGameGeek Top 100. The original version currently sits at #90, while the remastered “Essential Edition” is perched high up at #34. Personally, I don’t think that the two versions are different enough to warrant separate entries, but I guess it’s not really up to me.
Our friends had not yet tried Viticulture when they brought it over, so I queued up the Watch it Played video as we sipped on some drinks after dinner.
Anyhow, we watched that 20 minute video, plus the 4 minute add-on video because you know we were rockin’ the Essential Edition. Fancy. As the person in my friend group who inevitably is the person who teaches the rules anytime we play a new game, I really appreciate being able to just turn on a YouTube tutorial. Watch it Played is my personal favorite, but there are a handful of other channels out there in the same game-explanation niche.
I’m going to jump right in to discussing my experience with the game — if you want to know how to play, just watch the videos linked above!
First of all, I’ve come to expect high quality components from Stonemaier Games, and Viticulture did not disappoint in this regard. Everything comes nicely packed in plastic dividers for easy storage, which I’ve somehow become trained to be pleasantly surprised by.
The main board and individual player boards transport you to a scenic vineyard, and they do a great job of identifying where everything goes and what actions can be taken. There are wooden bits galore, including hat-wearing meeples, XL hat-wearing meeples, roosters (which I especially liked), and various wine related buildings (like a trellis, a tasting room, and… a windmill?). It’s a little hard to tell the difference between a few of the different wooden buildings, but that does not really matter since each building has a particular place on the player board when purchased. So if you buy a cottage and actually place a medium cellar in the cottage space, no harm will come, except for perhaps being silently judged by your friends.
My favorite component of all though were the translucent discs to represent grapes and wine. Cleverly, they are placed over the spaces on the player board that represent grapes and wine, magnifying the image underneath that shows the value/color/type. A very nice touch there, whoever came up with that idea.
There were several different types of cards in the game. I liked the ‘Mama and Papa’ starting cards, as each one featured a different person, and when put together they looked like the two halves of a locket. Simple but visually pleasant.
The green and purple cards featured types of grapes and wine orders, respectively. These cards were fine but there was little variability in the art on them. They served their purpose though and were easy to understand.
I was not sure at first how to feel about the yellow ‘Summer Visitor’ and blue ‘Winter Visitor’ cards, because it seemed like some were much better than others. However, I ended up liking how they provide hidden objectives along the way and create opportunities for some really dramatic turns that you wouldn’t normally expect in a worker placement game. In the end, three out of the four players all finished neck and neck in the final turn, so it didn’t seem like the visitor cards caused the game to be too imbalanced (to the extent I can judge that after one playthrough).
In terms of the gameplay itself, there were a few things that stood out to me, in addition to the aforementioned Visitor cards. First of all, I liked how each round featured four ‘season’ phases. It was nicely thematic, and it seemed to facilitate learning and remembering the order of things. Additionally, I enjoyed the turn order bidding that occurred at the start of each round. It feels much more balanced to bid for position rather than just having it rotate. You bid with the wooden roosters — so do you want to wake up early and get first dibs on available jobs, or do you want to sleep in a bit and receive a bonus for being well rested?
Lastly, the “Grande” workers are a smart element that I’ve not seen before, and a nice feature for those who want a non-confrontational Euro game. Each player gets one of the big guys, and he can go on any spot, even if it’s already been taken by another worker. In our playthrough we found that people were still occasionally unable to take an action they wanted, but it definitely felt less cutthroat than other worker placement games. The Grande worker ensures that if there’s one action you really want to take this round, you’ll definitely be able to do it.
Overall, Viticulture is a very nice worker placement game, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes Euro games. I’d particularly recommend the game to wine lovers, and those who prefer a non-confrontational gaming experience. On the other hand, if you’re someone who has one worker placement game on your shelf and doesn’t see the need for another, I don’t think this will be the game to come along and change your mind. Personally though, I’d be eager to play it again, next time with a glass of wine.
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