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Subject: What I do and don't like about Viticulture rss

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Jake Smith
United States
Seattle
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Why did I buy Viticulture?
My fiance and another friend had the chance to try this one out without me, and came back very positive about it. We all enjoy worker placement games, and this one seemed to have an interesting theme and a couple of interesting mechanics, so I picked it up on the next trip out to the store.


What do I like about Viticulture?

It has beautiful production values.
- This is evident from the first opening of the box. In a move that is completely unnecessary but definitely appreciated, the array of little wooden bits for each player are custom cut to represent the various apparatuses on your vineyard. Clear glass markers for denoting each player's store of grapes and wines take on the color of wine they represent when placed on the board. A burlap, draw-string bag holds the money. The player boards bear idyllic artwork and are extremely thick, even including alternate art backs that exclude all of the reminder text.
- About the only thing to complain about here is the hobbit-sized cards, which are still perfectly functional. All in all production is very, very well done.

The turn order mechanism is interesting.
- I realize it is borrowed directly from Fresco (and maybe others I'm not aware of), but it is new to me, and I enjoy it. It both fits the theme and provides an interesting decision to begin each turn.

There are genuinely interesting decisions to make.
- Each action space has a rather limited number of activations, varying with the number of players to maintain approximately the same relative scarcity. As the main avenue for player interaction, this is a basic requirement for such straight forward worker placement games to remain interesting. It's good that it's here.
- Acquiring more workers is often an actual choice. In many games, maxing out your possible number of workers, and thus your available actions, as quickly as possible is not a choice so much as a mandate. In Viticulture, the spaces are limited enough that while training the fourth worker is absolutely required, the fifth is normally just a good idea, and the sixth is often superfluous. I found this refreshing.
- The 'first to place' bonuses for each action tend to be very strong, often leading to tough decisions between taking a much needed action that might not be there next time around the table and claiming a less pressing – but more lucrative – action space.

It teaches you about wine making.
- On my first play, it struck me as odd that making a sparkling wine required two types of red grapes and one type of white until I looked it up and found that that they are actually made that way! The more you know...


What don't I like about Viticulture?

The divide in seasons could be significantly more interesting.
- Of the two mechanics that interested me prior to purchasing the game (the other being the turn order mechanism), this one falls flat. Dividing the worker placement phase in two, requiring you to ration workers between the two, is an interesting idea, but the execution falls flat for me. As implemented, it is far too easy to plan for the second placement phase, so players simply keep the number of workers they will need for the winter.
- One possible solution to this would be free movement from one phase to the next, a la Spyrium. This would provide tension between taking additional summer actions and getting the jump on other players for the winter actions.
- Another interesting option would be redetermining turn order between the two placement phases, with the players placing their roosters upon passing. Similarly, this would give incentive to leave potentially beneficial moves on the table in return for better choice of winter actions.

The late game really bogs down.
- There are a number of ways to get victory points, but at some point every player is going to find themselves having to actually make and sell some wine in order to get to the required 20 points that end the game. This means that while the early game has players running down a variety of different paths (or at least taking the same assortment of paths in a different order) the end game runs directly through harvesting grapes, crushing them into wine, and selling it.
- This leads me to what I see as another design flaw: every action has the same number of available spaces. This gives the board a pleasing symmetry but does not accurately reflect the value of each action which, unlike in more complex worker placement games, tends to vary little between players. A system like the one employed in Archipelago, in which the number of spaces for each action is varied to reflect the value of that action, with some actions guaranteeing players a spot should they want it, would prevent the bottleneck at the crush action that most of the games I played devolved into.

The cards.
- A significant portion of the game runs through four stacks of cards. These break down into essentially three categories.
- First, the vine cards which dictate which types of grapes you can harvest from a given field. These basically function, although it would be far more interesting to me if there was an offer to purchase them from with more variation in vines.
- Second, the wine orders which allow players to convert made wine into victory points and income. Once again, these basically function in that if you draw enough of them you will eventually find one that fits the type of grapes you have access to.
- Finally, there are visitor cards which give you access to actions on the board without having to take their space as well as providing completely unique effects. These are basically broken. A player who draws the card which allows them to train a worker for a couple of victory points in their opening hand has a tremendous advantage over another player who draws the card which allows them to fill a wine order. In the late game, the situation is reversed. Other cards provide some of the most efficient victory point conditions in the game, giving a large advantage to the player that draws them.


Final Thoughts
There is really no other way to say it: the visitor cards take what would otherwise be a pleasant and thematic, if overly light, worker placement game you could use to introduce new players to the genre and make it hinge on who pulls the right cards at the right time. Viticulture quickly wore out its welcome in my group, and by the end of the fifth play we were done completely done with it. I might recommend Viticulture to those looking to dip their toes into the genre for the first time or for groups that play a game once or twice before moving onto to the next. I would not recommend Viticulture to those who prefer heavier games that improve with repeated plays.
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Jamey Stegmaier
United States
St. Louis
Missouri
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Thanks for taking your time to share your thoughts on my game, Jake!
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Kyle
Canada
Toronto
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Show me something that beats a natural 20 and I'll show you hateful lies.
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Thanks for the more critical, less cheery 'omg components' oriented review. The 'draw cards for everything' was a big flag when reading over the flow of the game for me, as it allows a lot of chance to enter the game. If chance is able to be mitigated, that is a different story (and its own game) but in this case it does not appear to be so.
 
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Glaucio Siqueira
Brazil
Rio de Janeiro
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I felt there were not enough cards in the base game. I really enjoyed that the game could include six players, making it an alternative to power grid in my group. Did you take a look at the Tuscany expansion? I saw some great reviews and purchased it. I'm still looking forward to playing it for the first time.
 
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Jake Smith
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I am aware that Viticulture has received revised rules and an expansion aimed directly at two of my criticisms - the log jam at the crush action and the lack of variety as the game progresses - but I have not had the chance to try them as I traded my copy away. If I were to come across a chance to play the new version in the future, I would try it out.
 
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