- Designer: Mihir Shah and Francesco Testini
- Artist: Andrew Bosley
- Publisher: Stonemaier Games
- Mechanics: Worker Placement, Cooperative
- Release Year: 2022
Viticulture has the privilege of being a top 10 game for one of my most frequent gaming partners (698 individual plays recorded with this person), so when his birthday rolled around this year, we had the opportunity to surprise him with a new expansion to one of his favourite games and pick up the Wine Crate storage solution all at the same time, we just couldn’t say no.
We knew precious little of the expansion, other than it turns the classic Viticulture gameplay into a cooperative experience, which is intriguing in it’s own right.
How to Play
For the purposes of this section, I’ll assume you already know how to play the base game of Viticulture, and it’s worth saying that you’ll need to have the base game to play with this expansion. Viticulture World changes a lot around, but leaves the core of the game intact. You’re still placing your workers on actions spaces to harvest grapes, turning those grapes into wine, and fulfilling wine orders. You’re still building structures on your farm to allow you to access higher quality grapes, store higher quality wines, and collecting and playing visitor cards.
Viticulture World turns Viticulture on it’s head by making the game cooperative (duh, it’s right in the title of the expansion). This means every player needs to earn 25 victory points by the end of the 6th year, and collectively earn 10 influence points. The spaces on the Viticulture World board have been tweaked slightly, and don’t offer rewards simply for being the first person to take a specific action. Instead, there’s only 1 worker spot per action space (or 2 spots if you have 4 – 6 players). During the summer season you can put a worker into the develop action, which will either put an oval tile over the worker placement section of an action spot, allowing any number of workers to take that action and offer a small benefit, or, take a rectangular tile and massively increase the ability of a specific action.
Another change is that all players start the game with 5 workers. Two summer workers with yellow hats, two winter workers with blue hats, and a single grande worker. During the winter season you can spend money to train your workers, popping off their caps which allows them to be placed in either season. You aren’t able to gain any more workers beyond this initial 5 however, but having 5 workers right from the start helps speed up the early parts of the game.
The influence points are tracked along the bottom of the board, and can be bought during the winter for an eye-watering 8 coins each. Each player can also earn one influence point by earning 30 points during the game. Most of the influence points will come from the event cards. Each year a new event is revealed, which may offer a boon or bane, and will generally offer an influence point if a certain threshold is reached during the year.
At the end of the 6th year, if all players have earned 25 victory points and 10 influence points, they win! If not, better luck next time.
All the cool kids have hats now
Viticulture World has me mulling over the definition of Cooperation vs. Collaboration. In cooperative games, all the players are working towards a shared goal. Cooperative games like Burgle Bros has all players trying to break open the 3 safes. Pandemic has all players trying to cure all 4 diseases, and Robinson Crusoe has all players just trying to survive the onslaught of the elements. In all of these games, it doesn’t matter who achieves the objective, just that the objective is achieved. The Rook in Burgle Bros can crack all 3 safes, while The Raven distracts the guard for the whole game. The Medic in Pandemic doesn’t need to discover a single cure, as long as all the cures are discovered before one of the loss objectives are realized.
Viticulture World has every player trying to build their own little farm and achieve the same 25 victory points. There’s little other players can do to throw points at a failing player, other than trading them the resources they need and ensuring they stay out of that player’s way. As I said in my previous Viticulture review, this is an action efficiency game, the best players can hope to do is help that player be efficient with their actions. Viticulture World doesn’t feel like those other cooperative games, but feels like a collaboration. Each player is building their own little farm and trying to earn the same 25 victory points. It doesn’t matter if Bigfoot massively exceeds that threshold if Bear doesn’t reach it at all.
By making the game collaborative, Viticulture World feels different from all those cooperative games. Suddenly I can’t really specialize myself or focus on one aspect of the puzzle. I need to be earning those victory points and not fall behind. I’m lucky in that my regular gaming group mesh super well together. There are no egos, there’s no one demanding that they’re the player who ‘gets the glory’ and we’re all willing to talk and discuss actions we should each do. At the same time, we all trust each other to make the right choices that will lead us to victory.
I’ve read a few accounts of people calling Viticulture World super hard; playing 8 times and only winning the introductory scenario. I can see the game being easier with 4 and more players, considering the number of action spots available on the board doubles. All the players are drawing cards, and the opportunities to trade between each other are plentiful and important. Adding more players, or removing one, would clog up the action spots. At the same time, a player who gets an early lead in points can use some of their later actions to earn influence points while the rest of the group catches up. 4 players seems to be a sweet-spot for this game.
Viticulture World comes with 8 scenarios. Each scenario introduces different mechanics into the game, and each scenario contains 8 or so event cards that can be shuffled to randomize the order they come out in. These event cards are what turn Viticulture World from a puzzle that can be solved, to a game that is played with. Suddenly, your perfect plan of planting grapes is scrapped because a nasty case of phylloxera has made planting grapes more expensive than you can afford. The need to pivot creates interesting decision moments and keeps players from simply doing the same thing over and over again. Some scenarios will nudge players down strategies they may never have considered. In one of my games, I fulfilled only a single wine order (for 6 points). My other 19 points all came from visitor cards, buildings, trading resources, and giving tours. In that particular game, I was far and away the leader in points! Something I never would have expected to work.
My biggest complaint about the base Viticulture game is that luck can play such a strong role in how you preform. If I use an action to draw grape cards, but both cards require a structure I don’t have, I can either spend actions raising money and building the necessary structures to plant those grapes, or I can try to draw again, hoping against hope that I happen to draw the cards that will fit my farm. By turning the game cooperative, that complaint is thrown out the window. If I draw grape cards that I just can’t use, I can coordinate with one of my fellow players and hand off these grape cards to someone who can plant them, and vice versa. Now, there is still luck involved, a game can be trivial or incredibly difficult depending on the order the progress tokens come out. We had one game where the year’s event gave everyone a discount on building structures, and the innovation tile for building structures came out, allowing everyone to build much more structures early in the game than is usually possible. This saved us countless turns and a boatload of money, allowing us to sail to victory.
I did have one experience where I had managed to earn 20 points within the first 4 years of the game. With two whole rounds to go, and knowing that I would get enough points from other players actions, we chose as a group for me to give tours to generate money, then buy the last four influence points we needed. By the end of the game, one player managed to get 30 victory points, earning us an influence point, and we earned another influence point from the final year’s event card, making my whole last year pretty pointless. It begs the question, if you finish your objective early, what should you do? Pass early to stay out of the way? That’s neither interesting nor engaging.
My goals are to train workers and build buildings. Who says a vineyard needs to produce wine?
Luckily, when it comes to cooperative games, I feel invested in other players turns. I can engage in discussion with my friends as we come up with a plan to get the struggling farmer over the 25 point threshold. It doesn’t matter to me that MY game was finished an hour before everyone else, I derive joy from sitting around the table with my friends and coming up with plans to solve the puzzle before us. It also gives me ample opportunity to heckle anyone who happens to have less victory points than I do, which is one of my favourite things about board games.
I quite enjoyed the competitive game, but I really love this cooperative expansion. It actually feels weird to call this an expansion, as this experience elicits a very different feeling from the base Viticulture game. I like the different mechanics hidden in each of the scenarios, giving each game a unique feel. Viticulture is a great game on its own, and adding in this expansion increases the ways you can engage with this excellent system. With this expansion, Viticulture now fills a rare niche of a great Euro game that can be played from 1 to 6 players, competitively and cooperatively. Viticulture World is a high recommendation from me, especially if you already own the base game.