The world of wine is a complicated one, with adjectives, similes and metaphors leading to three minute long appraisals of some swirly red 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 the art of developing your own wine business? Viticulture comes from Stonemaier Games, the designers of Euphoria and the award-winning Scythe.
The version I played, Viticulture Essentials, takes some of the ideas of the previous Tuscany expansion for Viticulture and adds it all together with the second edition for one special offering. Scythe was a huge beast to get to grips with, that took worker placement to higher levels than many had played before.
I must say there was a part of me that was hoping to skip to the cheese course instead and there was a 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 and 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 play continues round until you have played through the seasons. This continues 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 is 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, including 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.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the cards in the game contain the 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 and 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, where you get to 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.
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 them 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, as 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.