Type: Action Selection/ Euro / Race
Time to play: 60-90 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)
Best played with: 4 Player (2 – 6 Players)
Normally, I would say that I am reviewing the base game and not any expansions. However, with Viticulture I only came to the game after the publishing of the Essential Edition – the edition which is now widely sold and incorporates a part but not all of the first expansion. This is the copy and rules then that I am talking about below.
So onto the actual game – a game where players race to make wine and ship it. Players will need to weave their way through a worker placement board split into two key seasons; summer and winter. You can’t take actions from one season in the other, but you have one set of workers to split as you see fit across them. This is a really clever base to the game – a base that leaves players lots of options with how and when to play.
The summer is the season to find grapes, plant them, play yellow visitor cards, gain money and build structures. The winter is all about harvesting, making wine and fulling contracts that score you points – you can also play blue visitor cards here, train more workers and gain money, but the money on offer is smaller than that of the summer.
You can see the summer as the time to plan, the time to set the board and the winter is the time to score the points. However, there’s a lot more here because each side of the board can be tricky to navigate. In the summer you will need the structures and vines before you plant but the spaces may be taken by the time you have everything! In the winter, you will need to harvest and make win before fulfilling a contract but other players might have grapes ready to turn to wine straight away!
The game adds to this rich base with a spring phase every round – the players choose their turn order for that round. The later you are willing to go in the round, the bigger the bonus you can get including the potential for an extra worker! You choose in clockwise order, and the choices of the players before will leave you with interest options – the last person can maximize their bonus for their turn position.
So, you’ve picked how important it is to go early, and you have a plan to get through the two sets of worker placement. However, there is luck / randomness in this game in the form of sets of cards. Whether it’s the vines you draw, the visitor cards you get or those all important contracts. It can lead to a feeling of fishing for cards, but the skill in this game is in playing tactically and leaning into the opportunity that presents itself. There will be redundant cards for all players but swift and effective changes to your turns can minimize the value of these.
The other important point about this game though is that it’s a race. You need to drive the pace of the game or you will find yourself chasing your opponents with no hope. Set up you vineyard and get going on production. You need to age some grapes, wine and at some point you need to start shifting that wine! This is important because 20 points, which triggers the game end, can come very quickly. It’s entirely reasonable to think a player could score 10 points in a single round if they are playing very well. That means the game accelerates very quickly towards the end. If all players meet the push for pace the scoring will slow and you will inch towards the finish line.
Watch out also that 20 points triggers game end. That means you might be able to drive the exact turn the game ends. Also, when it ends, all players will get a chance to finish the season. It’s no good being first to 20 if the other player can get one point better in the same turn! This can leave for very tense final rounds.
So, I think this is a fun game with lightning quick player turns, plenty of strategy and a need to be flexible / adaptable to random elements. It also scales well with more player spaces in each type of action for the more players. It’s not a perfect scaling but it’s pretty good and whilst the game slightly varies, the core of the game is always the same. Also the addition of “grande” worker that can take the actions others have already fulfilled removes a typical frustration of blocking from key spaces in a worker placement game.
However, to try to find issue you might focus on the high number of cards in this game and hence sometimes a feeling that you have to change plans often while other players get the cards that precisely fit their plans. This can bring frustration – as can the sadly clockwise decision making on turns. To be able to choose player order is really clever, however there are key points in the game where being the person to pick first is vital and this can regularly be the case in that last turn!
- If you like tight worker placement games, this plays well at 2/4/6 and is extremely tight
- If you don’t like random cards and having to change tactics, this might not be the worker placement for you.
- If you win, try again (the mama & papas set up cards will vary your start!)