1-6 players, Competitive, Worker Placement Wine Crafter
Designer: Morten Monrad Pedersen, Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone
Artwork: Jacqui Davis, David Montgomery, Beth Sobel
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Overview of Gameplay
In Viticulture players will be managing their very own Winery. You will be placing worker meeples on the main game board taking a variety of actions to meet these ends. HOWEVER what sets this game apart from other typical worker placements is the intriguing mechanic of not only player order, but when to save meeples and not place them.
A full round in the game consists of a single year broken up into four seasons. In the spring players will choose where on the player order track they will place their small rooster meeple (which I adore btw). Placing later on the turn order will grant you increasingly better rewards such as victory points or special cards, however placing earlier on the turn order track will grant you first pick of where to place on the board, which usually comes with its own benefits. After everyone has chosen a turn order placement spot the game then moves into summer.
During summer players will takes turns in the turn order chosen placing their worker meeples on spots on the board BUT only in the summer spots. You see the board is broken into the left side having the yellow summer spots and the right half containing the blue winter spots, which I’ll explain more in a bit. So, in the summer months players will be planting their grape fields, giving tours, building structures and hiring summer workers. This all equates to drawing and playing different values of grape cards on your player board, gaining money, acquiring different benefits from placed structures and extra worker cards respectively. So yeah at the beginning of the game most players will probably be placing during the summer months just to get those luscious fields planted to start up their wine making engine. Of course you can choose to pass at any time which basically ends your turns during summer. Once every player has passed the game moves into autumn.
Autumn is a very simple time. Players will each get to draw either a summer or winter worker card. These cards will having varying benefits but can only be played during the specific season they correspond to. If you happened to build the Cottage structure during the summer you can take an additional card during this phase.
And then finally we move into winter. This opens up the right half of the board to place and if there are any players with meeples remaining that they chose not to place during summer, they now take turns placing those. In winter players will be harvesting those grapes that they planted in summer, creating wine from grapes that they already have from previous rounds, selling wine for victory points and income. This is the time to also play those winter worker cards and draw up some more wine order cards. Also there is a spot to train more worker meeples, for a price of course. Once every one has played all their meeples the end of round clean up happens.
Now during the end of round players will be collecting all their meeples back from the board but also aging all their placed grapes and wine as well. This is very important as usually aged wine will sell for more than non-aged. If you have sold any wine already in previous rounds then you might also have some income to collect as well. After that the first player marker will be passed and then players will start at spring again choosing player order. The first player to 20 victory points activates the endgame where players will finish out the current year and then whoever has the most vp’s wins!
Overall I like the components. The little wooden structure meeples are each unique and interesting looking and all the wooden components are colored different for each of the 6 players. The money tokens are cardboard but such varying sizes that it’s super easy to differentiate. There are also these neat little globe looking things that are meant to represent the grapes/wine amounts you collect/age. These play a cool part when placed on your player board as they actually enhance and magnify the number they are sitting on. That said, they are pretty hard to pick up due to their rounded shape but are super easy to slide across your player board. The miniature cards that are placed on the main board are of the slick variety but otherwise they have a nice thickness to them.
The main game board is much smaller than I was expecting and can easily fit on most tables. I have a 4 x 6 foot table and EASILY got all 6 players with their own boards on there with lots of room to spare. The only real issue I found was with the player boards themselves as they seemed a bit awkward, particularly the field sections. You see at the onset of the game players are each supposed to place three field cards over the top of the field sections at the top of their player boards. However these cards will not only cover up sections you need to see on the board such as a couple of the prices of structures and their placement but also the top half of the cards will over hang off the top of the board. As you start placing grape cards on these field cards this will usually cause the top of the field cards to weigh down and tip off the top of the board. It’s a bit messy and fiddly and I found myself always straightening those field cards up. Perhaps increasing the size of the player boards to fully hold the field cards would be helpful to alleviate this.
Nothing special about the box although it is very compact! This little guy will easily fit into a Kallax shelf with mucho room to spare. There is no insert or holders for the various tokens and meeples so expect to bag up everything. Luckily the setup is super easy with only the grape globe tokens and the money tokens each in a bag. The rest of the stuff is each player’s tokens and the few decks of cards that will be shuffled and used. I could for sure see an insert being beneficial for this game BUT I don’t think its needed based on how easy it is to set up without.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Visually the game looks very nice with the board displaying all the colors you would expect from a winery. I love the different wooden mini structures that can be built and how they work with the theme of the game. Speaking on the theme a bit, even though this isn’t a theme that I am particularly excited about as I’m not a massive wine connoisseur, I still think the theme translates well into some interesting game play mechanics. Also this is yet another game that I resisted for the longest time JUST because I wasn’t thrilled by the theme. However after playing another game called Wingspan, I quickly learned that the theme of a game isn’t everything.
I had little trouble understanding how to play the game from this rulebook although I do wish the setup section was a little more immersive. Spread out a little more and with more picture examples would have been nice rather than the lines of text. This game is super easy to get the gist down and playing in no time however I will say that this particular worker placement can be tricky, primarily the grape and wine creating sections. Luckily the rulebook does have entire pages dedicated to explaining those sections in particular and even a full 2 page spread explaining some of the more complicated cards.
Also, at first I was dismayed to see no round reference cards in the box……….that is until I saw that the round reference was printed directly on the game board! That is really nice and easy to read by all players and really helps when first playing the game.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
The game is balance based on how many players are playing which is awesome. On the board there are three spaces for placement for each location, however this changes the lower the player count. For example if playing a two player game, you will only have access to the very first space for each location. A 3-4 player game gives players access to the first two spaces and at 5 and 6 players you get access to all three spots per location. This ties into the spring section of the game where picking player order is very important as well.
So player interaction is primarily based around snatching up location bonuses first or preventing players from placing at a location but really even if all spaces are taken up at a location, each player has a single meeple that can place anywhere even at full locations. Other than that there are a few worker cards that utilize the other players as well such as one card that allows players to pay you money otherwise that player will gain victory points. Talk about a win-win. There are a few other cards like that as well that try to bring in more player interaction but for the most part players will be minding their own wine production trying to get the most vp’s.
Now all that said, I had a ton of fun with the strategy on whether to play meeples during the summer or to save them for the winter and when to use the worker cards to gain the most benefit. Also I like how the purple wine order cards kind of steer you in a direction on what kind of wine to plant and make.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I do love how the game has options from one to six players. On top of that there is a very nice Automa single player game that is built in complete with its own set of A.I. cards that control the artificial player if playing solo. The single player mode is excellent and since the game balances itself out the more players you add, it always seems to flow smoothly. Granted the more players you have, the more downtime you will encounter so to that I would say that 4 or 5 players would be my pick of play count. Four players will be more engaging plus opens up the second placement spot with those bonuses but at the same time make the game still feel tight for placement. Whereas five players opens up the third placement option for each location but also brings with it more downtime.
As far as replayability goes I would say this game has quite a bit of it. Not in the form of varying locations or different player powers, stuff like that, but in the form of different strategies. There are many different ways to try and get ahead in this game, not from just selling wine, although that may seem the most obvious at first. In one game I saw a player jump up 10 victory points before anyone else had even left the starting spot. That’s halfway to the end game and they did that through clever use of summer and winter worker cards. On top of that everyone is dealt a random “mama and papa” card at the beginning of the setup which details what they each start with. So every game will start a tad bit different and give players different options on how exactly they want to try and gain points.
The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence
Positive Final Thoughts
I love the strategy built in with when to place meeples and all the options on how you want to go about gaining victory points. Also I like that the game isn’t tied to a certain number of rounds before the game ends. It instead ties it to whenever a player reaches 20 points so it feels like you have more time to play even though it’s just a different way of doing it.
Negative Final Thoughts
However I have seen player scores vary wildly. With some scores being much closer to 20 and others falling behind quite a bit. This could be a fluke of the few games I’ve played but it always seems to make the players left behind feeling like there is no possible way to win. This particular issue isn’t a “negative” to experienced players but for new players this could kill the desire to want to play again. Also the player boards field cards just felt “off” and somewhat fiddly when trying to position them on the boards.