- Designers: Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone
- Artist: Jacqui Davis, David Montgomery, and Beth Sobel
- Release Year: 2015
- Mechanics: Worker placement
- Players: 1-6
Viticulture has a storied past. It started out as a project on Kickstarter way back in 2012, long before the platform hosted a deluge of tabletop games that now makes up almost a third of the platform’s revenue.
Once Viticulture was successfully funded and released into the public, the revisions began. The second edition introduced Grande workers and other mechanics are hard to imagine the game without now. The 2014 expansion, Tuscany, ballooned the game by including several new mechanics such as Mamas and Papas that give players asymmetric starting positions, unique buildings that you could build on your farm that provided a unique action only you could use, an extended game board, special workers, arboriculture where you could plant and harvest tomatoes, apples, and olives, a cheese expansion, and even a module that has you offering gifts to a retired Capo. Needless to say, it was a lot.
Not all workers are created equal
In 2015 Viticulture Essential Edition (EE) came out, incorporating some of the most popular modules from the Tuscany expansion into the base game, and throwing the rest away. In 2016 Viticulture: Tuscany Essential Edition was released, featuring 3 more modules from the original Tuscany expansion (Extended boards, structure cards, and special workers). This is the version I’ve played the most, and will be focusing on today.
How to Play
Viticulture is a worker placement game where you’re competing against your fellow vintners as you each grow your meagre vineyards into bustling and prosperous farms. The game begins with an inheritance, your Mama and Papa bequeath you the resources that will lay the foundation for your farm. Each player places their rooster pawn on the turn order track, and then in player order, you can either place a meeple on a space to take the corresponding action, or pass.
It’s not uncommon for people to pass entire seasons, on the Extended board there are 4 seasons, and you only start with 3 meeples. When you pass, you’re unable to place any more meeples in the current season. All those who haven’t passed can continue to play. Once all players have passed, you progress to the next season, and resume taking actions in player order.
As players pass during winter, they recover their workers, age their grapes and their wines, collect any royalties they may have accrued, and choose their spot on the turn order track for the next year. On and on, players take their actions throughout the years until someone hits 25 victory points. At that point, the end of the game is triggered. Players finish the current year, and the player with the highest score is the winner.
Viticulture: Essentials Edition begins by asking its players what actions they want to ignore. Players start with 3 workers, half their maximum capacity, and the main board contains 16 action spots. With only 3 actions available to you in the first year, you need to assess what your Mama and Papa left you to make the best start. Your inheritance may have included some grapes that you can plant on the very first turn, while other farms feature a nice set of trellis, allowing you to spend more time drawing grape cards, hoping you’ll find a variety that can take advantage of your existing infrastructure. No matter what you choose, the race is on!
Viticulture feels like it should be an engine building game. You need money to build up your farm to be more efficient. Money will allow you to train workers, build more supporting structures and bigger cellars, so you can age and produce wine at iridium quality (Cough I’ve been playing too much Stardew Valley cough) and sell it for a huge profit. Because Money is so constraining at the beginning, players may be fooled into prioritizing coin generating actions, thinking their early investments will pay off in dividends, it’s a trap! Excess money isn’t worth anything in the end, and before long you’ll have more money in your coffers than you can reasonably use. Because Viticulture ends the year someone achieves their 25th victory point, good players should approach this as an action efficiency game. There’s no need to plant vines that you’ll never harvest, or build a windmill after all your fields are sown. Each action should be in service of furthering your goal of getting those 25 victory points.
Unfortunately, this is where the luck comes in. Viticulture features 4 decks of cards. Grapes, Orders, and Spring and Summer visitors. The grape and order cards work together, dictating the value of the grape as they come off the vine and goes into the mash tub. You use grapes in the mash tub to create wine. The higher quality the grape, the better the resulting wine will be. The order cards simply request 1 – 3 wines of varying types and qualities to be delivered to the docks in winter, and offer between 1 and 6 victory points, along with some persistent royalties which will generate some coins every year thereafter.
Making a few bottles of very good wine should work out, right?
Should you happen to draw grapes that require a support structure (the trellis and the irrigation tower), you’ll need to choose if it’s worth building that structure before you can plant that grape, or if you should take another draw from the deck. The difficulty is, other players will be drawing from that deck too, making that action space coveted at the beginning of the game, and if you happen to draw another grape card that has the same restrictions, then 2 turns have now been wasted instead of just one. Thankfully, Viticulture features the Grande worker, who can take any spot, even if all the action spaces are full. This feature really helps alleviate the pain of having the other players take the action spot that you desperately wanted to take
The wine order cards are similar, in that luck can swing the game. It’s unfortunate if you happen to have a very strong red wine production farm, and you find yourself continually drawing white and sparkling wine orders. You can continue to draw cards to mitigate this luck, but in an action efficiency game, every wasted action hurts. It’s difficult to keep up with players who are blessed with lucky draws.
The visitor cards are a different kind of luck. Many will offer benefits and bonuses that can propel your farm higher and faster if used correctly. A great visitor can save you a whole year of actions, allowing you to convert resources that would normally take two or three whole actions to do so, or providing a discount on a structure that you desperately needed, but were one or two coins short. Some visitors are great early in the game, and it stinks when you draw them when you’re approaching the end of the game.
Hope I don’t need to make a rose or sparkling wine any time soon…
I’m not always against randomness in games. The amount of cards available does make Viticulutre feel more varied and replayable. I just end up with a bitter taste in my mouth when I see lady luck bless my opponents while I’m stuck with a handful of useless cards. Milling the deck is not optimal play here.
I’m perpetually fascinated by iterative board game designs. I find it hard to consider a specific edition of a game in a vacuum without considering all the previous versions that came before it. It’s also interesting to consider how the wider board game playing audience reacts to these changes. When two people talk about their experiences playing Viticulture, their experience might not be the same. Once you find your favourite way to play, it can be hard to deviate.
I ran into this ‘problem’ after playing Viticulture: Essential Edition with Tuscany Essential Edition half a dozen times with my friends, but then tried playing the classic version of Viticulture on BoardGameArena and was struck by how significantly the game has changed since its original release. Without going into the nitty-gritty details of all the differences, Viticulture Essential Edition with Tuscany Essential Edition is my favourite way to play. It feels smoother, more varied, and I’ve had a better experience overall. While you don’t need the expansion content to enjoy Viticulture, there may be some modules that sing for you specifically, and it’s easy enough to introduce new players to any amount of the available expansion content. It all integrates seamlessly, to the point where I was surprised to discover all the things that weren’t included in the original game.
I enjoy Viticulture. The setting of making wine in a Tuscan farm feels relaxing and unique. Aside from blocking action spaces, a few of the visitor cards offer ways to interact with your opponents. Either tasking them with giving you something (like 2 cards each), or offering a small benefit to each other player and rewarding you with points for each player who takes advantage. I like this kind of interaction, and I’m glad there’s no way for players to steal wine from each other, or destroy things they’ve built. In a race game, it’s more fun to go faster than your opponents rather than win by dragging them all down into the mud.
Viticulture: Essentials Edition with Tuscany: Essentials Edition is a great medium weight euro worker placement game. There’s mild interaction and luck, which may or may not detract from the experience. It’s smooth, inoffensive, and the setting is great for introducing new adults into the hobby. While this isn’t a MUST-HAVE game for me, I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad someone in my gaming group is quite keen on playing it, as I generally have a good and relaxing time while playing this game.