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Viticulture Essential Edition – Solo Review


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.