Over the last few months, I have been running a monthly challenge on Instagram under the hashtag of #anothergameofftheshelf. Each month there is a different challenge. June’s challenge was to play two games from the same designer or publisher. Sibling games as I have affectionately dubbed them. The idea was to use the challenge to reflect on the collection you have, and compare and contrast two games with the same heritage.
For me, I had a few options but eventually settled on two games that were from the same publisher and designer. I picked Jamey Stegmaier games from Stonemaier Games. I wanted to showcase my flavour of the month game at the moment, Red Rising. As my second game, I had in the running both Wingspan and Viticulture. I played both this month, with the idea to think about similarities and differences with Red Rising. Wingspan is an engine building game based around bird cards and is similar weight and length game to Red Rising. Viticulture is a worker placement game, runs significantly longer in play time than Red Rising and it is a lot heavier in difficulty in my opinion. So never one to shy away from a challenge, I decided on Viticulture. Similarities would be more deeper and hopefully more interesting in this more mismatched pairing.
Red Rising is a hand curating game. You are trying to craft the best hand of cards possible to score maximum points. Turns are simple, play a card down from your hand to one of the four locations. If possible you can carry out the deploy action of the card you play down too. These can be powerful. Allowing you to gain extra cards, move up the tracks, or move cards around to benefit you. Once you have played a card and resolved it, you draft a card from one of the remaining three locations. The location you draw from will allow you to get a bonus, either move up the fleet track, gain a helium gem or place an influence cube on the institute. The game finishes when players between them have achieved position 7 on the Fleet Track, collected 7 helium and placed seven cubes on the Institute.
I have played this game around twenty times this month, half solo and half multiplayer. I can safely say I don’t know which I prefer. The solo mode plays differently in that the automa will cycle through likely half the deck, so you see a lot more cards. But in the multiplayer, you have the “will I play this powerful deploy card as my opponent will likely snatch it up first chance and then play it against me” quandary. Now let's take a look at one of its sibling games.
Viticulture is widely considered as one of the best worker placement games and an excellent sibling game to Red Rising. You're vineyard owners, trying to fulfill wine orders by planting and harvesting grapes, crushing them to wine, all whilst trying to secure enough points to be dubbed the master winemaker. This game is interesting in that each year or round of the game is split into winter and summer seasons, and different actions are available during each. You save enough workers to do what you need in the winter months which is an interesting decision making process!
Initially, there's few similarities, each plays one to six plays, and uses an Automa Factory solo mode. Both are designed by Jamey Stegmaier and published by Stonemaier Games. Both have unique card decks, in Viticulture the visitor cards are all unique, and in Red Rising the 110 card character deck is full of unique cards too. More on that later.
Stonemaier are renowned for their high quality components. Both of these have high production factors, but the visual appeal of Red Rising has the edge. The game is a visual delight on the table, with bright colours and striking artwork. Viticulture has an artwork style that is really fitting with the theme. I enjoy the painting style graphics on the board, it's easy to distinguish the different worker placement spots. This is exactly what I would expect from a Stonemaier game.
What is more obvious though are the differences between the games. One is set in the very real true-to-life vineyards in Italy, the role you are playing in the game is heavily based on the reality of running a vineyard. Red Rising however, is set in space in a dystopian future. Quite the polar opposite, though I enjoy both different settings equally.
Mechanics and gameplay wise, these two are very separate. One is a hand crafting game, and the other is a worker placement game. I would say that worker placement is probably one of the most commonly used mechanisms in modern board games, but hand crafting is more of a traditional card play mechanic. The game I think of first is probably rummy or gin rummy, where you are trying to create pairs by drawing a card, then discarding one each turn. Red Rising is of course significantly more complicated than that, but it has the same roots I think. Lengthwise these games are pretty different too. Viticulture plays in 45-120 mins, and Red Rising is a lot quicker, played in under 45 mins.
A hidden similarity between the sibling games is the element of the luck of the cards. Both feature large decks of unique cards, and so it can feel like Lady Luck needs to be shining on you. But I definitely feel like the luck of the draw is an integral part of both of these games, and for me is part of the appeal. I like the drawing of something totally unknown and then the skill of the game being how you deal with the cards dealt to you. One of the key feelings I think I feel in both of these games is jealousy. Having spoken to quite a few friends, lots of people feel like their opponents are always getting the coolest cards, but then of course they feel the same about your play.
What I am saying here is that just like siblings, games with the same or very similar heritage may have more hidden similarities than it may first appear. I tend not to subscribe to the insta-buy phenomenon for a certain designer or publisher. I am a measured researcher in what games I want to add to my collection, although I will try more “wildcards” at friends’ houses and/or at a board game cafe. Take a look at your collection and see what sibling games you have, how do they compare?