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Viticulture Essential Edition

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It is Pre-modern Tuscany and you have inherited a meager vineyard. It has a few plots of land, an old crushpad, a tiny cellar, and three workers, but the potential is there and you dream of being the first to call your winery a success. Viticulture – Essential Edition comes with components for Viticulture, but adds some of the expansions from Tuscany, including 36 Mama & P…
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Awards

Great For Two
Stunning Artwork
Dice Tower

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Excellent presentation.
  • Easy to learn.
  • Lots of replay-ability.
  • Excellent for those who find Scythe too much.

Might Not Like

  • Theme may put some off.
  • No real direct interaction with other players.
  • Wine tastes rubbish in real life.
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Description

Viticulture EE is the essential version of Stonemaier Games’ first title. Using ‘Euro’ mechanics players compete to score points and become known as the best wine maker. The main mechanic at play is worker placement, as you send out your workers to gather vines, build more storage and buildings for bonuses, and earn money by selling you wine and giving vineyard tours.

The first thing you do is decide when you want your workers to wake up. The earlier you wake up the earlier you act in the turn order, but the later you wake up the more bonuses you will get from the wake up track, at the risk of being blocked out of the space that you need. The placement options are split into summer and winter, with a broadly thematic slant to what’s available in each season. The trick is you don’t get your summer workers back for using in winter, so you must decide which actions are most important for you.

The player boards are great too, allowing you to track your fields and vineyards as well as your all-important grapes and wines. Grapes and wine mature every year so making sure you have the space for them is important. The gameplay is easy to understand and the playtime quick for the type of game it is. The components are excellent throughout and the great efforts have been made to accommodate the theme without taking away from the gameplay.

Viticulture Essential Edition also has an expansion in Tuscany EE which adds a lot of options without adding too much time or complexity. If you enjoy the base game, it is well worth considering Tuscany as it adds even more life into Viticulture. Ultimately, Viticulture EE and, arguably, Tuscany EE belong in every gamer's collection.

Please note: box cover art may differ slightly from image.

Player Count: 1-6
Time: 45-90 Minutes
Age: 13+

Viticulture Essential Edition Review

The world of wine is a complicated one. With adjectives, similes, and metaphors leading to three minute long appraisals of some swirly liquid in a glass. And all for something you’ve picked up for less than a fiver in the supermarket.

So what could you expect from a game that revolves entirely around developing your own wine business? Viticulture comes from Stonemaier Games, the designers of Euphoria and the award-winning Scythe.

Viticulture Essentials takes some of the ideas of the previous Tuscany Expansion for Viticulture and adds it all together with the second edition. It has replaced previous versions of the game completely, as it is so much improved!

I must say there was a part of me that was hoping to skip to the cheese course instead, and there was genuine anxiety that I was about to take a sip into something completely dry and not suited to my palate. I think, instead, that I’ve discovered a rather fine vintage.

Enough of the terrible wine metaphors!!

Viticulture – The Game

The premise behind Viticulture is simple. You’re an Italian vineyard owner who is in charge of a group of workers, with the sole goal of growing grapes that can be harvested and made into various types of wine.

The game follows the seasons of the year. During these seasons, you are afforded as many actions as you have workers. On your turn, you place a worker in the appropriate space for the action you want to take, carry out that action, and continue to play until you have played through the seasons. Keep going like this until you reach the point where one of the players reaches 20 victory points and wins the game.

Playing The Game

The number of places for each action is restricted, so you’ll need to be quick to get the action that you want or go to a backup plan.

Those that do manage to get in first will usually benefit from an additional reward, such as drawing two cards instead of one or collecting more money than normal. If you do miss out on your chance, you can still bring in your grande worker, who can still occupy a place regardless of the number of people on it.

The seasons play a major role in the actions you have available, as well as what side of the board you are playing on. During Spring and Summer, you’ll be playing on the left side of the board, while in Autumn and Winter you’ll be placing your workers on the snow-covered right side.

It helps to keep the board from becoming overcrowded and makes it easier to plan your next action, along with helping to remove some of the analysis paralysis you’ll encounter. But certainly not all of it. Special mention to the artwork by Beth Sobel, which is gentle on the eye but beautifully presented – fitting the theme perfectly.

At the beginning of the game, you’ll be given some Mama and Papa cards that will help to decide your starting resources. This includes your workers and the amount of money you have to play with.

You might start with a green vine card that allows you to plant a particular grape. Or a summer visitor card that allows you to perform additional actions outwith the norm. You might be lucky to draw some additional workers or a Wine order card.

Viticulture Essential Edition Review - Box Contents

The first thing you’ll notice is that the cards in the game contain pictures of real people, who I can only assume are backers of the original Kickstarter. There is a certain charm to this that doesn’t look out of place with the rest of the presentation of the game.

You’ll then move through the seasons, from Spring – where you decide turn order for the year – to placing workers in Summer; planting vines, building structures to give you bonuses, or playing Summer visitor cards.

Onwards to Autumn, where you’ll pick another card for your deck. And finally, Winter. Harvest grapes, make wine, hire more workers, or fulfil those all-important wine orders to generate victory points.

While the worker placement happens on the main board, each player will also have their own play mat where they slowly build up their own vineyard and plant vines in three available fields. These fields can be sold for additional money, which in turn will allow you to invest in buildings or workers. Certain buildings are a requirement to grow certain grapes or unlock additional actions you can take, or give you victory points at certain points in the round.

The player board also controls the growing of the grapes and the transformation into wine, and combinations of wines can create blush and sparkling wines that are worth much more when it comes to orders. You use these charming glass beads to track the progress of the wine as it develops and ages, with little custom meeples representing the buildings.

Compared to the likes of Scythe, it’s a much more gentle pace on the outside. But the deeper systems and analysis will have you planning your moves far in advance, hoping that someone doesn’t get in your space before you.

Final Thoughts

If this all sounds complicated, I assure you that it isn’t. Viticulture is a game that does such a great job of making it easy to play! I feel like I’m trying to describe the experience of something wonderful by using words when you should just be experiencing it directly.

Viticulture Essentials is extremely easy to pick up, to the point you could potentially put it in front of those new to the hobby and within 15 minutes the rule book would be put away. The gameplay is exceptionally accessible.  

Viticulture is a wonderful game in the Stonemaier stable that you should really consider adding to your board game cellar. Easy to learn with excellent quality components, it’s another game that demonstrates Jamey Stegmaier knows his grapes and cardboard.

Editors note: This blog was originally published on October 3rd, 2018. Updated on March 24th, 2022 to improve the information available.

Viticulture has been around for nearly 10 years. It was the game which launched the juggernaut that is Stonemaier Games with their first Kickstarter, something we discussed in our Stonemaier Top 5.

Over the years, Viticulture has been updated with alterations, expansions, and a completely revised edition. With the announcement of the upcoming Viticulture World, a cooperative expansion of a modern-day classic, there’s going to be a shake-up of the winemaking world… or at least the board game version. If you’re wanting to take your first steps into the vats and crush your own grapes, let us give you the low down on how to play Viticulture Essential Edition.

Set-Up

Place the main game board on the table and give each player a vineyard map with the workers, wake up token and structure tokens of their player colour. Place the residual payment token (wine bottle) of each player on the centre space of the residual track in the bottom right of the mainboard and the victory point token (corks) on the Start/Zero spot of the track along the bottom. Give each player the three field cards for their player board, one marked with a 5, one with 6 and one with 7. 

Shuffle each of the four decks of cards: green vine cards; yellow summer visitors; purple wine cards; and blue winter visitors. Place the shuffled decks facedown on the indicated spot on the board. Place the glass grape and wine tokens within reach of everyone, along with the lira tokens. Choose a first player by drawing one of the rooster tokens at random and give that player the bunch of grapes first player token. 

Finally, each player draws a Mama and Papa card from the shuffled decks. These cards provide you with unique starting benefits, including your workers, money, cards and potential structures. For an advanced variant, you can draw two Mama and Papa cards and choose whichever you prefer. Once all players have chosen, each player claims their starting resources and the game is ready to begin. 

Gameplay

Viticulture is played over an unspecified number of rounds, known as years. Throughout each year, players will take actions in the four seasons, placing workers into the different spots in summer and winter, and making choices in spring and autumn. The number of spots available in each summer and winter action is dependent on the player count, with three spaces under each action.

For a solo or two-player game, only the left-most spot is available. A three or four-player game includes the middle of the three, which also has an additional bonus, and the five and six-player game uses all three spots. When players place their workers, they may place them on any of the spots available, depending on player count. For example, in a three-player game, you do not have to place your worker in the left most spot, instead choosing the middle spot. Once all the spots have a worker in them, the action cannot be taken unless a player chooses to place their grande worker. If they choose to do this, they place the grande worker near the spot to take the action. A grande worker may also be placed as a regular worker.

Whenever you place a worker, you must complete the action. You cannot place the worker to block an opponent and not take the action. 

Spring

Starting with the player with the first player marker and going clockwise around the table, players place their rooster on the wake-up chart on the leftmost side of the board, gaining the benefit. This indicated how early players are willing to get up to take action in the game. Getting up early means you get the first choice of action spots, but the bonus is lesser than if you stay in bed until noon. Sleeping in, however, gives you fewer options on the board. The starting player maker is only used to indicate who gets the first choice at the wake-up chart, not who takes the turn. From this point on, follow the order on the wake-up chart. 

Summer

In player order on the wake-up chart, players either place one of their workers on one of the action spots with a yellow circle (on the left side of the board), and take the action stated there, or pass. If a player passes, they take no more actions in this phase and they slide their rooster over the vertical line of the wake-up chart to indicate they have passed. A player must pass if it is their turn, and they have no workers remaining. Once all players have passed, we move into autumn.

All the actions are outlined on the board, but here’s a quick overview of the main action. In brackets is the bonus if the middle spots are in play. Players can:

  • Draw a vine card. (Draw two cards.)
  • Give a tour to gain 2 lira. (Gain an additional lira.)
  • Build any structure and pay the cost. (Gain one lira. You can consider this as building with a one lira discount.) Structures are placed on your player board and provide ongoing benefits.
  • Plant a vine card into one of your fields. (Plant two vine cards.) The total value of the vine cards (stated in the coloured circles at the bottom) in your field cannot exceed the value of the field.
  • Sell at least one grape or buy/sell a field. (Gain a victory point.) When you sell a grape, remove the grape token(s) from your crush pad on your player board and gain the lira value indicated between the two crush pads. Alternatively, if you sell a field, flip it over to reveal the sold side and gain the lira value in the top left. You may not sell a field with vines planted in it, nor can you plant vines on a sold field. You can also buy a sold field back for the value in the top left. 
  • Play a summer visitor card and gain the benefit. (Play additional summer visitor cards.)

Autumn/Fall

Again in player order, players draw a card from the summer or the winter visitor deck. If they have built the Cottage on their player board, they can instead draw an additional card from either deck, meaning they can draw either two summer, two winter or one of each visitor type. 

Winter

If you still have workers remaining after summer, you can take the actions on the right side of the board (blue circles). 

All of the actions are outlined on the board, but here’s a quick overview of the main action. In brackets is the bonus if the middle spots are in play. Players can:

  • Draw a wine order card. (Draw two cards.)
  • Harvest one field. (Harvest and additional field.) Choose a field and add grape tokens to your crush pad based on the grape type and total value. For example, if a field has a value 1 red grape and a vine with 1 red and 1 white, you would gain one value 1 white grape and one value 2 red grape. You cannot gain more than one token of a particular grape value. If you already have a grape value you would gain, you would instead place the grape token in the next available space below it. 
  • Pay four lira to gain an additional worker. (Gain 1 lira.) The newly trained worker is placed on the mainboard and is available to be used in the next year. 
  • Fulfil a wine order. (Gain one victory point.) Remove wine tokens from your board that equal or exceed the values stated on a wine order card. Gain the victory points and advance on the residuals track the number of spaces stated on the card to a maximum of five.
  • Makeup to two wine tokens. (Make an additional wine token.) Move grape tokens from your crush pad to your cellar to an equal or lesser value. The exception is creating blush or sparkling wines, which use the total of multiple grapes used. You cannot make a wine valued higher than a 3 if you do not have the medium cellar built, or a wine valued higher than a 6 if you do not have the large cellar built. You must have the medium cellar built before you can build the large cellar. 
  • Play one winter visitor card and gain the benefit. (Play an additional winter visitor card.)

In addition to the seasonal worker spaces, players can also choose to place their worker on the circle on their player board if they have built the Yoke or on the “gain 1 lira” spot on the board. Uniquely, this spot can hold more than one worker. 

Next Round Set Up

When all players have passed in winter, all players follow these steps:

  1. Age grapes and wine tokens. Move all grapes and wine tokens up the their respective tracks. However, you cannot age a wine token if you do not have the appropriate cellar built, as with making wines. 
  2. Return all workers. Bring all your workers home. They’ve had a hard year. 
  3. Collect residuals. Consult the residual track and gain any lira you are owed. 
  4. Discard down to 7 cards. You can hold any number of cards of any particular type but at the end of the round, you must discard down to 7 total. 
  5. Rotate the first player token. 

Game End

The end of the game is triggered when a player has gained 20 or more victory points. The current year is finished and the player with the highest victory point total wins. Tie-breakers, if there is a tie, the player with the most lira wins. If there’s still a tie, the highest total of wine value in the cellar wins and if there’s still a tie, the highest value of grapes on the crush pad wins. If there’s STILL a tie, spin a bottle or share the victory. Or just play again! It’s up to you.

Finishing Touches

Something to consider. Some players find the random element of the cards as a potential hindrance because there’s very little control over the way your game can play out. If that’s something that causes some issues for you, here’s a handy little house rule. Whenever you draw a card, be it an order card or a visitor card, draw one more and choose which one to keep. It won’t change the Viticulture gameplay, but it will change the experience and that is just as significant. 

You know you want a career change

If you tell me you have never dreamed of being the owner of a vineyard where you would be making and selling your own wine in rural Tuscany, I will believe you, because, to be honest, that sounds like an unnecessary hassle when all I’m interested in is drinking the wine, however, if you tell me that simulating that business in the comfort of your home while possibly enjoying a glass or even a bottle of wine does not speak to you, then we have nothing in common.

Published in 2013, Viticulture is an economic worker placement game that can be played by 1 to 6 people where you will be tasked with managing the entire lifecycle of wine making, from planting and harvesting grapes, to producing and selling wine. In a multiplayer game, the winner is the one with the most Victory Points. In solo mode, you need to score a certain number of points before the end game is triggered.

What to do in between glasses of wine

You start the game with three fields for planting vines, some meagre amount of cash and a variable amount of cards. This is variable because since the original print of Viticulture was discontinued and replaced officially with Viticulture Essential Edition in 2015, the base game incorporated certain things from the Tuscany Expansion that were deemed too good to leave out of any playthrough. One of them being two decks of cards, the Mamas and the Papas, which you draw one of during set up to give you some variety and choice when it comes to what you start with – you might prefer to start off with more financial flexibility, or with vine cards so you can hit the ground running and plant them quickly.

Like all games in the worker placement genre, you get a number of little meeples you can place at eligible spots on the board in order to perform the action you want. These can be: giving a tour of the estate (which gets you money), planting a vine, selling a grape or an unused field, building a structure (which can fulfil requirements for certain types of grapes, allow you to produce and store better wine or streamline your overall production), drawing cards from one of four different decks (vines, wine orders and summer or winter visitors, playing visitor cards, harvesting fields, producing wine and fulfilling a wine order. Visitors are generally some type of specialist that will give you often significant one use advantages, like getting immediate Victory Points or planting vines past a certain field capacity. They are true game changers.

There are a number of ways of gaining Victory Points, but two of them are the main ones: visitors, which have a luck of the draw element as not every visitor grants you that boom, and fulfilling wine orders. Every wine order will invariably net you Victory Points, as well as money and residuals. Residuals are a certain amount of cash you gain at the end of each year, and that amount goes up every time you sell your wine.

Appreciating wine on your own

A usual staple of the worker placement genre is that locations where you can deploy your workers cannot be shared. This is true of Viticulture and it’s one of the more competitive elements of the game. Each location / action has up to three spots that can be taken (each unlocked per pair of players, so if you’re playing with 3 people, for example, you’ll have two open spots at each location, and so on). The way the solo mode approaches that is by providing a deck of Automa cards that tell you where to place meeples of another colour to block that action. Every time you are ready to start placing your workers, you will first draw an Automa card (this happens twice a year) and spread workers as required. Because there are fewer than 3 players, only one spot at each location is available, so if that is blocked by the Automa card, you cannot perform that action this year. The exception to that is the Grande worker. Every player has one. The Grande worker is exactly like the rest of your workers, except it can be placed in a location that is already occupied. A very valuable resource and a shake up to the genre. Use this guy very wisely.

You want some spice in your wine?

The normal difficulty is challenging enough, but the rule book includes suggestions to decrease or increase it as needed. It also goes over a campaign mode, which. If you decide to undertake, will see you flexing your problem solving by rewriting some rules and making you do things a different way. An Aggressive variant is also covered. Whereas usually your solo winning condition is to get a certain number of points (20 at normal difficulty), with the Aggressive Variant, the Automa actually does score Victory Points and you’ll have to end up with more than they do. With the possible combinations of those, you will be spoiled for choice when playing by yourself.

Viticulture is a winner in my group of friends and frankly I think the solo mode is also a banger. It has made me better at the game overall but hasn’t only worked as a learning tool, because I find myself going back to it on my own often. The limited set up time of the game and the remarkably organized box helps too. Pour yourself a glass and get cracking on this, you won’t regret it.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Excellent presentation.
  • Easy to learn.
  • Lots of replay-ability.
  • Excellent for those who find Scythe too much.

Might not like

  • Theme may put some off.
  • No real direct interaction with other players.
  • Wine tastes rubbish in real life.