Saturday, 29 August 2015

Viticulture and Tuscany expansion

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Viticulture, the well-received debut game from Stonemeier Games, was funded through Kickstarter, and so was the Tuscany expansion. I played Viticulture for the first time recently, with 5 of the expansion modules from Tuscany. I have never played vanilla Viticulture before, so I can't make any comparison. The version I played is probably more a revamped Viticulture than base Viticulture plus some additional rules, because even the board has changed.

Viticulture is about wine-making. You inherit a derelict winery from mum and dad. You need to revive the old family business and make it profitable again. You have to invest in the necessary facilities and equipment, you plant vines, you harvest grapes, you process grapes to make wine, wine takes time to age well, and eventually you sell it for profit and, tadaaa, victory points. Outside of this wine-making lifecycle, there are a few other ways to score points too. You also get to draw various types of cards which give you additional scoring methods and special abilities. There is no fixed number of rounds. Once someone hits 25VP, you complete the current round and the game ends. Whoever scores highest wins.

The Papa and Mama cards are just starting setup cards. They create different starting conditions for each player. Everyone does start with one big worker (the foreman) and two small workers, and $3, but other starting resources differ. I started with, on my Mama card, one purple contract card and two blue winter visitor cards, and on my Papa card, the choice of getting a medium cellar or $4 more.

This is the expansion map, which has four seasons, compared to the base game map which only has two. The worker placement spaces for the four seasons are green, yellow, orange and blue for spring, summer, autumn and winter respectively. One round is one year, and each round is played in four stages, i.e. season by season. You need to plan where to place your workers up front, because you only get your workers back at the end of the year. One special aspect of the worker placement mechanism here is the foreman - the large worker. He cannot be blocked. He can still use any space which is already occupied, just that if that space comes with a bonus, that bonus is already claimed by the first worker and he doesn't get the bonus.

The table on the left is the turn order table. Before a year starts everyone will claim a turn order position. The table shows the goodies you get to claim at every season change. The later you are in turn order, the better the goodies.

The map at the bottom left shows seven different regions to which you can send salesmen. Whenever you send a salesman, you gain a benefit (depending on the region). At the end of the game, if you have the most salesmen in a region, you score some points. This is an area majority subgame.

This is part of the player board. The three big tiles at the top are your fields. At the moment I have only planted vines in one of them. Each field has an upper limit to the total vine value (5, 6 and 7 respectively). Now I have planted a value-1 red grape vine and a value-2 white grape vine. When I harvest I will get a value-1 red grape and a value-2 white grape. If I plant multiple vines of the same type in the same field, their value numbers will add up. E.g. planting two value-2 white grape vines would give me one value-4 white grape, not two value-2 white grapes.

The lower left section are the buckets where I store grapes. There is space for only one grape per grade per type. So if I already have a value-3 red grape, and I harvest another one, I won't get a second value-3 red grape. I will have to settle for a value-2 red grape (assuming the value-2 red grape spot is vacant).

The lower right section are the wine cellars. Different combinations of grapes produce different types of wine. Both grapes and wines improve as they age, i.e. their values go up. The max is value-9.

On the player board you can also see many buildings you can build. Their costs and abilities vary. E.g. you need irrigation to be able to plant some of the higher grade vines, the windmill gives you 1VP every time you plant.

I have planted in two of my fields now, but I've sold the third field. The transparent beads represent grapes if they are in the buckets area, and wines if they are in the cellars area. I only have a medium cellar, so my wine quality can go up to at most value-6.

The Play

The game starts a little slowly, because you need to spend much time and money getting your basic infrastructure ready and setting up the whole production line. Wine-making is not a one- or two-year exercise. As the players get their wineries going, the game accelerates, and the initially daunting 25VP sudden seems imminent. Everyone gets a different starting setup. Throughout the game you keep drawing different types of cards too. Sometimes you are forced to discard some cards due to exceeding the hand limit. This variety in the cards drives players towards different directions. You want to play to the strength of your cards. You need to come up with a general strategy that is aligned with your cards. The cards give character to your winery and your play. You are not playing a generic winery and trying to outdo your opponents by doing the same things more efficiently. You can be running your business in a very different way from your competition. This is what I like about the game.

One of the cards I drew was a restaurant. It gave me a private spot to place a worker. When I placed a worker here, I expended one grape and one bottle of wine to earn 3VP and $3. The quality of the grape and wine didn't matter. 3VP might not seem like much, but it was a steady and reliable way to score points. It was the core of my business. I went for a McDonald's strategy, prioritising quantity over quality. Other than ensuring a steady supply of grapes and wine to my restaurant, I also worked on contracts for cheaper wines.

This is my restaurant. The circle drawn with a dashed line is a worker placement spot.

One of the expansion modules allows players to sell land to raise money. In our game whenever someone sold land, the rest made fun of him for being a useless rich brat, managing family finances so poorly that he had to sell ancestral land to raise money. Eventually every single one of us had to sell land. I guess we were all decadent sons.

The components are nice.

These metal coins are only available in the expansion.

These cards are: a vine card, which can be planted; a contract which can be fulfilled; and a winter visitor card. Visitors usually give you a single-use special ability. There is a lot of variety in the cards in this game.

The grey worker is a temp worker. Only the player last in turn order gets to use him, and only for one round - the current round.

Ivan, Jeff and I all scored 26VP when the game ended. We had to use tiebreaker rules. Ivan won because he had the most money left.

The Thoughts

Ivan says vanilla Viticulture is a family game, and I trust his judgement. It is simpler, has more luck, and the card powers are slightly uneven. Viticulture with the Tuscany expansion, in my opinion, is mainly a gamer's game. It is not very complex, but there are enough rules to intimidate someone who is new to the hobby.

There is nothing particularly outstanding about presenting wine-making via the worker placement mechanism. It works well enough. What I enjoy is the variety in the cards and how they create a different story for each player. The players still need to compete for the same actions, but since different resources and actions have different values to them, the decisions become more interesting.

The game will appeal to those who like wines or have an interest in the wine-making industry.


Paul Owen said...

My wife and I have only played the base Viticulture game and are very fond of it. The Tuscany expansion is very high on my wish list.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Not sure how easy it is to get now, since it was a Kickstarter project. Better start hunting soon!