We were kindly gifted Viticulture by Stonemaier Games for review. It is a worker placement strategy game for 1-6 players. You take the role of a wine maker and will setup your winery to harvest the most grapes, make the best wine and fulfil orders to make the most lira. There are a whopping 462 components to this game; a mixture of cards, coins, meeple, wine tokens and structures of colors that match the meeple. While there are a lot of pieces and it may seem daunting, the game is not as complicated as it seems.
In order to setup the game, you shuffle the various types of cards. The cards are easily distinguished by their colored backing that has a unique art piece for colorblind players as well. There are vine, wine order, summer visitor and winter visitor cards that will be placed at the top of the game board once shuffled. Each player will get a mama and papa card that will determine their starting conditions. Some cards may start the player with a building OR lira and a certain number of wine/wine order/visitor cards. Finally, every player will get 3 field cards that will be placed face up on their player mats; the back of the cards will say “SOLD.”
The game is played over a series of rounds which are made up of the 4 seasons. The game ends when a player scores 20 or more points, with every player finishing the round so that all players have taken the same number of turns. On our first playthrough we found that 20 points makes for a long game for 4 players and while it is not listed in the rules, you should be able to lower the score count to end at whichever score you’d like to make a longer or shorter game. During Spring you will choose the order in which each player “wakes up.” Your rooster meeple will determine the turn order for the rest of the round. The earlier your rooster wakes you up, the sooner you will take your turn. Waking up sooner has the benefit of being first to take your actions as almost all of the actions available have a set number of times they can be used per round. Waking up later in the day will get your varying bonuses with better bonuses being later in the day. The first to wakeup has no bonuses followed by drawing a vine card, drawing a wine order, gaining 1 lira, drawing a Summer OR Winter visitor, gaining 1 point or gaining a temporary (extra) worker for the round.
During the first turn, you will randomly select a player to select their wake up order, then select the next player and continue until all players have selected their turn order. We were partial to the place all meeple in hands and shake them out method for the first turn. From then on, the player order is determined by the Spring wakeup time. It is a mechanic that adds nuance to the game and shakes up strategy since your turn order will most likely change from round to round.
The game board is split into two sides, Summer in yellow and Winter in blue. During the Summer phase players will select an available action from Summer and during Winter and available action from Winter. The worker placement rules are very similar to Pendulum. There are a different number of spaces that are used based on the player count 2, 3-4, and 5-6. One meeple can be placed on each space until full. The first player to place their meeple may also gain the bonus if they would like. The bonuses vary based on the location but usually net you an additional card, discount or extra action. After an area is full you may still place your large meeple in order to take a turn but you are limited to only one large meeple. Your workers are only allowed to be placed once during a round and if they are used during the Summer they will be unavailable during Winter, so you must make a decision on where you want your meeple placed. During Summer your available actions are to plant, draw a vine card, build a structure, give a tour, play a summer visitor or sell at least one grape/field.
Drawing a card is self explanatory so we will not elaborate on the drawing of cards spaces since it will just be to take an appropriate colored card. To plant, you will take a vine card from your hand and plant it in a field of your choice. The fields are limited to a certain amount of grapes with 5, 6, and 7 being the limits going from left to right in your player mat. Each vine card will have the color of the grapes, the quantity of each color and any prerequisite structures needed to plant it. Some cards will require a a structure to be built prior to being planted. To build these structures you will simply place your meeple on this action space and then pay the appropriate number of lira (listed on your player mat) and place the structure as a reminder on your mat. Each structure had a different bonus that is granted based on the building itself. The most important are the trellis, irrigation and cellars. The first two are prerequisites for some vines and the cellars allow you to age your wine to get better scoring conditions.
Giving a tour will let you gain money and selling will let you gain money based on what you sell. In order to sell a field, you will simply flip your field card over and gain the listed number of lira. In order to sell a field you must not have anything planted in the field nor will you be able to plant anything in a sold field. It may be purchased again for the same price it was sold on this space as well. This is a good mechanic if you ever need a little cash flow to get you going but is not a great strategy to use throughout the game. Playing a summer visitor card will also allow you to gain various bonuses ranging from cards, lira, points or additional actions.
Once all players have determined they are finished with Summer placement, we move into Fall in which players will draw either a Summer OR Winter visitor card in turn order. Summer and Winter visitors are very similar in terms of potential bonuses. Once players have taken their card we move into Winter in which your available actions are draw a wine order, play a Winter visitor, train a meeple, harvest a field, make up to two wine tokens, fulfil an order or gain 1 lira.
Gaining a lira can be used by any number of players and has no limit on how many meeple may be placed here. Drawing a wine order card and playing a Winter visitor are self explanatory. Training a meeple requires you to pay 4 lira to have an additional meeple available for work NEXT year. It is not immediately available for use. Harvesting a field will allow you to take the number of grapes available in the field. That is to say, if you have a wine card with 1 white and another with 1 white and 2 red you will gain 2 white and 2 red grapes that will be placed in your grape section of your player mat. One grape token will be placed in the white 2 and another in the red 2. These grapes can be sold during Summer for the amount of lira listed at the center of the red/white. They may also be turned into wine during Winter. The grapes will turn into the same number of wine. A red grape 5 will turn into red wine 5 and so forth. The white and red may also be mixed in certain ratios to make blush wine and sparkling wine. These still must meet the number requirements but their numbers may be added. So a blush 7 can be made by mixing a red 3 and a white 4 OR a red 1 and white 6 and so forth. Fulfilling an order is the main way in which you will gain points. In order to complete an order you must have wine that matches or exceeds the number of wine the order is asking for. You will not gain change for any number that is higher than the order requested. So if your order requires a red 5 and you use a red 7 you simply use up your 7 and count your loss.
Once all players have taken their turn the year ends. To end the year any grapes are aged and any wine is aged up to it’s maximum. Grapes will move 1 space higher. A 4 to a 5, a 5 to a 6 etc. Wine will also move up 1 space higher up to the players cellar maximum. Your maximum at player start is 3. Building a medium cellar will allow up to 6 and a large cellar up to 9. They also allow for blush and sparkling wine, respectively. If a wine or grape is already at it’s maximum then it simply remains where it is. A 9 will stay a 9 or if a player only owns a medium cellar a 6 will stay at 6.
Gameplay continues with the new round. Now players will determine their wakeup order based on the previous turn order. Players will continuously try to fulfil orders and continue to play until someone reaches 20 points. The game is a little on the lengthy side but plays relatively smoothly. The game does a great job of immersing you into the game and it becomes exciting to see your wine age and finally have a high enough value to fulfil an order. The lira coins are beautifully made and while we do not own the metal coin set, we are extremely tempted to order them at some point to add an extra kick of polish to an already well crafted game.
Language Barrier Playability: Feasible. The game is almost entirely dependent on symbols but visitor cards require translation. We played this game with a non-english speaker and the game played very well. It did erase some of the strategic elements but knowing what may be coming added an extra layer of anticipation and anxiety that does not exist if the translation element were not there.
Replayability: Good. The game has a lot of variety in setup alone. Starting conditions are different and turn order is different each round. The game can be a little lengthy, especially if you are translating so if you are a fan of longer strategic games it will be an excellent fit. However, if you are expecting to play a “quick” game of Viticulture, it is not a game that can be played and finished right before work.
Artwork: Excellent. The game feels old-timey and like artwork out of a children’s book. It is bright and colorful and transports you to a little winery where you can lounge after a hard day’s work.
Strategy: Moderate to high. While this is a heavier game it does not feel heavy. You can attempt to block people’s actions to further your own agenda but it’s not entirely an appropriate strategy. Playing aggressively in this game is allowed but it most likely won’t benefit you to purposely close off actions to simply close off actions. Since a player can still use their large meeple it doesn’t always help to block off goals. The game really comes down to how efficiently can you use your turns to make wine.
Quality: Excellent. Stonemaier Games never disappoints with the quality of their games. Everything is made of great quality paper and great quality wood.
Instruction Manual: Excellent. The manual does a great job of detailing the rules as quickly and efficiently as possible. It also has a handy reference for all of the visitors.
Organization: Excellent. Every piece had its place AND every type of piece has its baggie. This is a game that is as easy to set up as it is to put away.