Viticulture review published 2016-18

                                    VITICULTURE by Stonemaier Games. A Review by Mawihtec

1-6 Players
45-90 minutes
13+ Age (Can be played well by younger but might be a little slow paced)

What is Viticulture?

Viticulture puts you in the position of having inherited a rustic vineyard. You have only a few plots of land, an old crush-pad, a tiny cellar, and three workers. Will you achieve your dream of calling your winery a true success first? Viticulture is a worker placement game. Which, for those of you either new to the board game hobby or unsure of the term generally means, players taking turns to place Meeples (pawns) onto a game board space so as to obtain an action, result or resource. These spaces are normally limited in quantity and availability. Often leading to competition or blocking for the desired spaces. Some well known examples of this type of game are, Agricola (2007), Caylus (2005) and Stone Age (2008).
Viticulture follows this trend extremely well, especially at 3 or above players. This is when competition for spaces starts to become quite challenging but not in a combative way. After all what could be more civilized than wine making?

Wine + Thinking?
Right from the start Viticulture will get you thinking. There is so much to do and there never seems like there are enough workers or spaces. Get ready for some relaxed yet polite and cerebral blocking. Picture the scene, there you are on a picture postcard Italian hillside. Glorious sunshine, you are the lord of all you survey.
But you have no wine? Easy grow some.
But you have no grapes? Easy plant some
Oh you have no trellis! OK so I need to build trellis.
Oh and there is no demand for your wine. Or space to store it for that matter either!…….
And all the while you are trying to make wine, from grapes you do not have, growing on trellis that is not there, trying to fulfil orders you don’t have. All the other players are trying to do exactly the same thing, PHEW!
This is the very essence and the very thing that makes Viticulture the exciting brain testing challenge that it is, every decision matters. Using your workers to plant vines, harvest and then crush grapes, age wine and collect and fill orders while trying to improve the vineyard to allow you to do everything in a more efficient way. The whole experience is rich with theme and challenge and so well balanced. You will find yourself jealous of the opponent who has suddenly acquired a lot more workers. They on the other hand will be sat there trying to work out how to get the money to upgrade the cellar before the wine ages and needs to be thrown away due to lack of storage. So much so that when on your turn you are torn between just two options you will breathe a sigh of relief.

What do I get in the box?
Viticulture is in a surprisingly compact box. But do not be fooled there is a heck of a lot of game in there

Dual sided game board English/German
6 Dual sided Vineyard mats English/German
42 Vine Cards.
36 Wine Order Cards.
38 Summer Visitor Cards.
38 Winter Visitor Cards.
30 Worker Meeples (6 colours).
36 Mama and Papa Cards.
24 Automata Cards (for Solo Play)
6 Grande Workers (6 colours).
1 Grey Temporary Worker Meeple.
50 Glass Tokens (wine and grapes).
6 Rooster Wake-up Tokens.
6 Cork Victory Point Tokens.
6 Wine Bottle Residual Payment Trackers.
48 Wooden Structures (8 of each colour).
72 Punch Board Lira Coins (1, 2 & 5 values).
1 Bunch of Grapes First Player Token.
1 Rule Book
1 Quick Reference Guide.

Damn I am confused already?
Yes Viticulture not only a heck of a lot of components in the box. It also has a proper Rulebook none of these 3 or 4 page efforts. If that scares you? Do not be concerned. The gameplay is just so intuitive that by the end of year two (in game not in real life) you will not even look at the Rulebook and just have the player reference guide handy for the odd occasional look.
Each “year” (round) in Viticulture Is played across four “Seasons”

SPRING. Starting with the first player, everyone selects their turn order for the current year. This in of itself presents you with your first challenge. Do you want to have your workers up at the crack of dawn and out in the fields working? Or are you feeling a little more relaxed? Let them get up later and you will be rewarded for your kindness with Cards, Money, Victory Points or even a temporary worker to use that year. Given the tightness for available spaces you may well find yourself swapping back and forth over your decisions.

SUMMER. You will get to place your workers onto the yellow spaces. Improve the Vineyard by building structures that will grant you bonus abilities or even an extra personal action space. Planting Fields with the oh so valuable vines. Giving Tours, tourists love visiting wineries while on holiday and they will gladly pay much needed lire for the privilege. But be warned you do not want to use all of your workers straight away. You need some of your workforce for the winter.

AUTUMN. OK it is referred to as Fall in the rules. The shortest of the “Seasons” with you only collecting either a Summer or Winter Visitor Card.

WINTER. A chance to use your remaining workers on the blue spaces, to fill wine orders earning you valuable victory points and money. Harvest grapes based on what you have already planted Red or White varieties abound. Crush harvested grapes into wine or convert them into Blush or Sparkling varieties depending on the cellar space available. You can even choose to train an extra worker ready to start working for you in the following year.
Clean up ready for the next year and repeat until one player reaches 20 points. At which point everyone finishes the current year and most points at the end wins.

OK so far!

Despite the number of options available to you during the summer and winter seasons. The gameplay is very easy to pick up. Each space is clearly marked with the reward gained or action taken. For example, When you place a worker on the “Tour” space it clearly says “Give a tour collect £2” or the “Summer Visitor” space Says “Play” followed by an icon for the yellow backed cards. At no point did any of the options feel confusing or ambiguous. Planting Vines is again a simple process of placing your worker on the “Plant (green card icon)” There are however restrictions on the fields themselves. Each field has a value of 5, 6 or 7 Lira. And you can only plant vines up to this value on those fields. In the case of the 5 Lira Field this could potentially be, 5 Vines of a 1 value, 2+2+1 or a 3+2 value. Leading to some careful planning of the use of your spaces. The number of spaces available to use is well balanced at approximately ½ the initial available workers due to the scaling mechanism. This can mean that you can quite easily find your perfect move blocked. This is where in my opinion, Viticulture really excels. Whereas in most worker placement games, if the preceding play has used the space you want tough luck. In viticulture however all is not lost. You have Visitor cards that can potentially help you. Or you have your “Grande Worker” This is a guy (or gal) you will grow to love. When a space is blocked by a normal worker the Grande Worker can step up and take the action as well. This can be super helpful but as you only get one use each turn. Use them wisely! In games involving 3 or more players the first player to use a space can claim a bonus. So you could well decide to hold off your master plan to jump onto a space and claim a valuable bonus, thus stopping others from benefiting.

Mamas and Papas!

No I am not talking about a sixties pop group. At the start of Viticulture each player is given a Mama & Papa Card which determines your starting possessions (think of it like your inheritance). This ranges from Cards to Money to Structures. All of which you will need if you are to out-perform your opposition. I did find that in my opinion some of the Mama & Papa cards seemed a little off-balance. Not in a game breaking way but just seemed to give a player a slight starting edge. They still needed to play well to win not once did it feel over the top unfair.

The summer and winter Visitor cards are basically action cards that allow you to gain extra bonuses, some of which can not only grant you additional paths to victory but also impedes your opponents success. This is an area where a little more luck creeps into the game. A player could get a good run of visitor cards which in turn gave them a really big leg up. Fortunately this does not happen too often so is not a game breaking issue but some might find that luck element a little too “lucky” for their taste.

My thoughts.
I really really like Viticulture a lot. It has masterfully created the feeling of “I need to do everything at once” but not being able to. This is a difficult balance to achieve. Varying strategies to play for. Will you build your vineyard up first to get higher value grapes thus higher value wine for the big orders? Or do you train workers early to give you more options? Or do you focus on tasting rooms and windmills to get bonus points from planting wines and having tours?
Viticulture does an excellent job of keeping players neck and neck right throughout the game. There are the gorgeous wooden structures in your windmills, tasting rooms and yokes.
Despite the minor quibbles I have of the “luck of the draw” from the orders and visitors cards this is a game that I will play again and again. It is firmly in my top 10 favourite games list.

Pros and Cons.

Component quality. This is top notch with the structures looking like they are supposed to look, Non generic Meeples.
Theme. Oh my dies this game just drips theme. Every aspect of it just feels right.
Re-playability. Does not outstay its welcome and leaves you thinking I want more.
Non-Definitive round limit. Not having a set number of rounds means you will have the chance to make up for a poor decision in an earlier round.
Challenging. Your decisions matter every time.
Accessibility. Easy to teach, Easy to learn. Just what you want in a worker placement game.
Every game is different thanks to the Mama and Papa Cards and the Visitor Cards.
Solo Play. A very comprehensive solo play using an Automata deck makes the game a worthwhile outing for a solo play to try to discover new strategies.
Scaling. The clever use of multiple action spaces means that Viticulture scales well from 1 all the way to 6 (3-4 is probably the sweetest spot though).
Rewarding. There is very little downtime, lots of options and some good thinking needed.

Balance. Some of the Mamas and Papas cards felt a little off balance. Not a huge negative but worth mentioning.
Luck. The luck of the draw on the Visitors and Wine orders can mean that occasionally one player will just get a “very good run”.
Money. This might sound odd but for me the Punch board coins felt a little off given the quality of everything else. Fortunately upgraded components are available. But straight out of the box a minor gripe.

Engagement 5/5
Re-playability 5/5
Component Quality 4/5
Player Interaction 3/5

Total Score 85%

Authors 2021 Edit: No ratings have been updated As I feel it is better to let the review sit as it was written in 2017. I no longer rate games (out of any number or percentage) preferring now to recommend or not to different groups of players.