One of the big Kickstarter successes from 2013 was Viticulture, by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone. This worker placement game for 2-6 players is themed around growing grapes and producing wine, an art that's more glamorously known as viticulture. The game plays in around 60-90 minutes, and has proved to be very popular. Its Kickstarter project was also a big success, being widely considered as one of the most outstandingly run Kickstarters for a board game in recent memory.
While Viticulture is an excellent euro game in its own right, and was generally very well received and lauded for its components and game-play, it is no real surprise that the first edition has paved the way for a second edition and expansions. The original game did have a few small wrinkles that needed to be improved (e.g. by the addition of grande workers, which give players more flexibility in worker placement). At the same time the first edition of Viticulture was certainly good enough to make enthusiastic fans salivate at the prospect of being able to add more elements to the game by way of a new expansion. And that brings us to 2014, with a Kickstarter for a new expansion (Viticulture: Tuscany – Expand the World of Viticulture), as well as for the second edition of the game.
This second edition and the expansion should come as welcome news to gamers for a number of reasons. Firstly, the release of a new edition and an expansion says something about the game's success, and this is a great opportunity for those who haven't yet bought a copy of the game to pick one up, in its new-and-improved form. Secondly, those who did find themselves somewhat frustrated by the niggles of the first edition, can be confident that this new edition is a more polished and improved version of the game, to the point that it may even cause them to revise their opinion of it. And finally, those who already do enjoy the game will appreciate the possibility of being able to add some new twists to the game-play.
I don't (yet) own the second edition, but the publisher has provided errata for the first edition, and disclosed all the changes that the second edition implements. I was somewhat late to the Viticulture party, but for me the advantage of this was that I could play with the second edition rules from the outset, because the changes aren't difficult to implement. As such, my only experience with the game is effectively with the second edition rules, and that puts me in a good position to review the game from that perspective. The components pictured in this review are of my first edition copy, but I'll explain the game completely from the perspective of the second edition, including how this new printing improves on the original. So if you're looking to find out how the game-play has changed with the second edition, or if you're completely new to the game and wondering what the fuss is all about, then this is review is for you. So let's press onward, and let's begin picking and pressing grapes in our quest for wine! Cheers!
Let's begin with our game-box; it's somewhat of an unusual and non-standard size with a larger depth than we typically see in game boxes, but it's sturdy and solid, and first impressions are positive. I particularly love the muted colours of the artwork. Euro games tend to be somewhat garish and typically rely extensively on primary colours, so by contrast the artwork throughout this game immediately feels somewhat fresh and unique. The second edition box cover will look the same, but will include the names of the two designers, along with a seal proclaiming "now with 6 grande workers".
The back of the game shows something of what the game looks like in play, and tells you that you'll be doing things like "Determine Worker Wake-Up", "Allocate Worker Actions", "Plant Vines", and "Earn Victory Points". There's also a complete list of the components, along with the following helpful overview of the game:
"Viticulture is a worker-placement strategy game that allows players to create their own Tuscan vineyard anywhere a table and a friend can be found. You find yourself in rustic, pre-modern Tuscany, where you've inherited a meagre vineyard. You own a few plots of land, an old crush pad, a tiny cellar, 3 workers... and the dream of owning the best winery in Italy. Your job is to allocate your workers and helpful visitors to complete various tasks throughout the year. Each season is different on a vineyard, so the workers have different tasks they can take care of in the summer and winter. There's competition over those tasks, and often the first worker to arrive at each one has an advantage over the rest. Using those workers and visitors, you can expand your vineyard by building structures, planting vines, and filling wine orders as you work towards the goal of owning the most successful winery in Tuscany. "
It's worth mentioning that the game also comes with a very sturdy and tidy box insert, that houses all the components nicely.
Here's what we'll get inside the box with the second edition base game:
● 1 main game board
● 6 player vineyard mats
● 42 vine cards (green deck)
● 36 wine order cards (purple deck)
● 20 summer visitor cards (yellow deck)
● 20 winter visitor cards (blue deck)
● 50 grape & wine tokens (clear glass)
● 36 worker meeples (in 6 different colours) and 1 grey temporary worker
● 48 wooden structure tokens (8 unique tokens for each colour)
● 6 wake-up tokens (roosters)
● 6 victory point tokens (corks)
● 6 residual payment tracker tokens (wine bottles)
● 72 cardboard coins (52x bronze £1, 12x silver £2 coins, 8x gold £5 coins)
● 1 first-player token (grapes)
● rule book
All the components (1st edition)
The main board is double-sided. One side features the artwork alone, but most people will find themselves using the side that has text explaining what each location does.
Card decks: At the top of the board are marked areas for the four decks of cards
Victory point track: This is located at the bottom of the board. The game end is triggered when a player reaches 20 VPs.
Action spaces: Across the board are various areas where players can place their workers, with spaces for up to three workers at each location. The spaces on the left half of the board are marked in yellow and represent summer actions, while the spaces on the right half of the board are marked in blue and represent winter actions.
Wake-up track: This is on the lower left, and is where players will place roosters to determine turn order each round.
Residual payment tracker: This is on the lower right, and will keep track of money to be awarded at the end of each round to players who have fulfilled wine order contracts.
Game-play overview: The flow of play is included on the right hand side of the board, which makes it easy to keep track of each round.
Player vineyard mats
There is a vineyard mat for each player. Like the main board these are double-sided, one side with just the artwork and the other side with text explaining each part of the board.
Fields: Three fields on the top of your vineyard mat are where you'll be planting your grape vines.
Crush pads: On the bottom left are two crush pads for storing white and red grapes after they've been harvested; they will be aged according to the values 1 through 9.
Cellars: On the bottom right are three cellars for storing wine. Players begin with a small cellar, and can pay to gain a medium cellar and then a large cellar. Like the grapes on the crush pads, wine will age from round to round. Four types of wine can be made: red, white, blush (second lowest row), and sparkling (lowest row).
Structures: You can gain the benefit of different structures by paying their cost. These are pictured above the crush pads and cellars, and are as follows: Trellis, Windmill, Cottage, Yoke, Tasting Room, and Irrigation.
Decks of cards
The game comes with four small decks of cards that play a key role in how the game plays out. They're smaller than standard sized playing cards, but are attractive and do the job nicely.
● Vine cards
These 42 green-backed cards feature the vines you'll plant in your vineyard, in one of nine different varieties, e.g. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, or Pinot. Each card has a white or red circle with a number in it, and this indicates the colour and value of the grapes that will be produced when this vine is harvested. The top left of the card indicates what structure is required before you can plant that vine. So for example, planting a Merlot requires having Irrigation structure, but this will produce a red grape of value 3 when harvested.
● Summer Visitor cards
These 20 yellow-backed cards represent useful visitors to your vineyard, and they will often give you opportunity to perform strong and powerful effects during the summer season. Each visitor is unique, and can help you in things like planting or building, and will also give alternative ways of generating points.
● Winter Visitor cards
These 20 blue-backed cards work just like the summer visitors, but will especially give you benefits that relate to the winter season.
● Wine Order cards
These 36 purple-backed cards feature the "contracts" that you're trying to fulfil in order to earn points. At the top left is the value of the wines you need to produce to fulfil the order, while the bottom of the card lists the points you'll earn immediately, along with the residual value (in lira) you'll earn each year after fulfilling this contract.
Grape & wine tokens
These 60 clear glass tokens are what you'll use to represent the grapes you've harvested from your vines, and the wine you've produced when you crush grapes into wine. These are used on the player vineyard mats, where harvested white and red grapes will go on the crush pads, and age each year they are stored. Through the "make wine" action, these grapes can then be turned into wine, with white and red grapes producing wine of the equivalent value, or a mixture of grapes (1 white & 1 red = 1 blush; 1 white & 2 reds = 1 sparkling) producing wine of a cumulative value. In the first edition these tokens come in a nice rustic looking storage bag.
The player workers come in six different player colours: orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and white. I like the choice of colours, because they are somewhat non-standard for a euro, and help give the game its own unique flavour.
Additionally there's also a seventh gray worker, who is an extra temporary worker that can be hired by one player each round by means of the wake-up track.
Each player gets six workers in their colour, which we'll be using for the worker placement part of the game. One of these six workers is a grande worker (he's the big guy pictured below), who has a special ability to be placed on an action space that is full. "Grande workers" were originally only included with the Arboriculture expansion, but were deemed to improve the game significantly, to the point that most people considered them essential, and so with the second edition they are now a standard part of the base game.
As the game progresses, players will be able to spend money to build structures in their player colour, that they'll place on their vineyard mat to give them special abilities and opportunities. The structures pictured here are Trellis, Windmill, Yoke, Irrigation, Tasting Room, Medium Cellar, Large Cellar, and Cottage. We'll explain the benefits of each different structure later.
Tokens & trackers
Various tokens in each player colour are used to keep track of other elements that are part of the game.
Wake-up tokens: These roosters are what players will place on the `wake-up chart' at the start of every round, to determine player order, and to get one other special benefit as indicated by that chart.
Victory point tokens: These corks are what players will use to keep track of their points on the victory point track.
Residual payment tracker tokens: These wine bottles are what players will use to keep track of how much money they'll earn at the end of each round from residual payments as a result of completing wine orders.
Start player token: Appropriately, the start player token is a bunch of grapes. This will rotate counter-clockwise at the end of each round.
The currency used in the game is lira, and comes in three denominations: gold, silver, and bronze. The coins made out of sturdy cardboard, and prove to be a dream to punch out!
Stonemaeier Games has all their current rules (in multiple languages) available on their website, so that's the place to find the most updated information. The first edition rulebook consists of 16 pages, and can be downloaded here. The second edition rulebook expands and clarifies some things, as well as implements a few small changes which will be discussed below, and can be downloaded here. I did expect some more pictures of the game in play, but overall the rules are quite straight forward and well done. An excellent reference sheet (which incorporates the updated rules for the second edition) is also available here.
Be sure to also read the official FAQ and the official page about the second edition changes, which lists the errata for the first edition and all the changes implemented in the second edition.
Viticulture takes place over the course of several rounds, each corresponding to a year. Your aim is to be the first to earn 20 points, which will trigger the game end. Points are primarily earned by placing workers to grow grapes, which are then crushed into wine, in order to fulfil contracts that earn points and generate income. Along the way you can do many other things to earn points or help you in this process, such as by hiring summer and winter visitors or by building various structures.
Starting items for a player
Everyone gets their own personal vineyard mat, and all the components in their colour. Players begin the game with three workers (with the second edition rules, one of these is a grande worker), 3 lira, a Pinot vine card, and random summer visitor card.
The decks are shuffled and placed face down on the top of the main playing board. Each player puts the following tokens in their colour on the main board: a rooster token besides the wake-up chart, a cork token on the scoring track, and a wine bottle token in the middle of the residual payment tracker. The starting player is given the first-player `grapes' token.
Complete set-up for a three player game
Flow of Play
Game-play occurs over four seasons, as listed in a handy chart on the right hand side of the main playing board, and can be briefly summarized as follows:
Spring: Players put their roosters on their wake-up chart to get a reward and determine the player order for that round.
Summer: Players take turns to place workers in summer action spaces and take the corresponding actions.
Fall: Players draw one summer or one winter visitor card.
Winter: Players take turns to place workers in winter action spaces and take the corresponding actions.
Year End: Players age their grape and wine tokens by one in value, take back their workers, and get residual payments if applicable.
So now that we've got an overall sense of how the game works, let's look more closely at the specifics.
Spring (Waking up)
In Spring, starting with the first player who has the grapes token, everyone will in turns put their rooster on the wake-up chart. This is a mechanic shamelessly borrowed from Fresco, and will determine the order in which players take turns that round. The higher on the track you are, the earlier in turn order you'll be. When placing your rooster, however, you are also entitled to immediately get a bonus of some sort, depending on where you place your rooster. These are as follows: 1. no bonus; 2. vine card; 3. wine order card; 4. one lira; 5. visitor card; 6. victory point; 7. extra worker for that year. The further down on the chart you are, the better the rewards are, but this comes at the disadvantage of being later in the turn order. It's a neat mechanic!
Summer (Placing Workers)
The different Summer action spaces
Now comes the first of two worker placement phases, and the neat thing is that you'll be placing workers in one area of the board during summer, and in another area of the board during winter, so you'll have to ensure that you save some workers for winter activities as needed. So what are the different action spaces available to you in the summer? The main thing you'll be trying to do is plant vines in order to start growing grapes, but you'll also be trying to earn money, build structures, and use visitors to assist you in this. There are seven summer action spaces to choose from. Note that if action spaces are free, you can place more than one of your workers at a location in a future turn.
Draw vine card: Draw a vine card from the face-down deck (first player bonus: draw 1 extra card).
Plant vines: Plant one vine card into a field in your vineyard (first player bonus: play an extra vine card). You can have multiple cards in a field, but the total grape value for a field can't exceed 6.
Sell grapes: Sell any number of grapes for the money indicated beside the crushpads (first player bonus: gain a victory point).
Play visitor card: Play a summer visitor card (first player bonus: play an extra summer visitor card).
Give a tour: Earn 2 lira (first player bonus: 1 extra lira).
Build structures: Pay the cost to build one of the eight structures (first player bonus: build at a 1 lira discount). The benefits of the different structures are explained below.
Hire out worker: Gain 1 lira (available as summer or winter action). There's no limit to the number of workers that can be placed here.
How placement works
There are a few important things to note about how the worker placement functions in Viticulture:
Number of available spaces: The amount of workers that can be placed in each location is scaled to the number of players. Each location on the board has three spaces for placing workers, but only one of these is available in a 2 player game, two of these are available in a 3-4 player game, and all three are only available in a 5-6 player game. This ensures that the options available to you are similarly `tight' regardless of the number of players.
Bonus space: For games with more than two players, the "bonus space" is used in each location. Basically this space gives a special bonus to the first player placing on that space, e.g. an extra card, more money, or an extra victory point. The bonus space is essentially a "first player bonus" awarded to whoever places their worker at that location first.
Grande workers: The official grande worker is an oversized worker, but since the first edition didn't have grande workers, we designated one worker as the grande worker by giving him a hat using a black permanent marker. The grande worker which is standard in the second edition can be placed at a location where all the action spaces are filled (although then you don't get the "first player bonus"). This prevents your options from being too limited and gives you some extra flexibility to ensure you're never totally locked out of a key action space. People familiar with the original Arboriculture expansion which first premiered the grande worker will already be familiar with its benefits, although it should be noted that in Arboriculture the grande worker also had a second special ability of entitling you get the "first player bonus" even if placed in another action space, and this ability has not been carried over into the second edition base game.
When built, the structures that players can purchase will give them various benefits:
Trellis: Required for planting certain types of vines.
Windmill: Earns a point when planting vines.
Yoke: Lets you uproot a vine or harvest a field.
Irrigation: Required for planting certain types of vines.
Tasting Room: Earns a point when giving vineyard tours.
Medium Cellar: Enables you to store higher valued wines.
Large Cellar: Enables you to store the highest valued wines.
Cottage: Lets you draw an extra visitor card during the Fall.
Fall (Inviting Visitors)
During the Fall season, players invite visitors to the vineyard: in turns, you draw either one summer visitor card or one winter visitor card. Players who have built the Cottage structure get to draw a second card for free.
Winter (Placing Workers)
The different Winter action spaces
Players will already have placed some of their workers during the summer phase, so at this point they can in turns place their remaining workers - but only in the winter action spaces. As well as training workers and using visitors, the key thing you'll be doing during winter is harvesting your grapes, then turning them into wine, and fulfilling wine orders to earn points. We'll explain how harvesting and making wine for wine order works in more detail below, but here's an overview of all seven different winter actions:
Harvest field: Harvest all grapes from one field (first player bonus: harvest a second field).
Make wine: Make two wine tokens from the grapes on your crush pad (first player bonus: make a third wine token).
Fill wine order: Discard wine tokens to fulfil a wine order card for points (first player bonus: gain an extra point).
Draw wine order card: Draw a wine order card from the face-down deck (first player bonus: draw an extra card).
Play visitor card: Play a winter visitor card (first player bonus: play an extra winter visitor card).
Train a worker: Pay 4 lira to gain an extra worker that you can use from the next round onwards (first player bonus: pay only 3 lira).
Hire out worker: Gain 1 lira (available as summer or winter action). There's no limit to the number of workers that can be placed here.
When taking the Harvest action, you harvest all the grapes from a single field. You simply add together the value of the grapes in that field, and then place a token corresponding to that value on your crush pad.
For example, if you had a field with several vines that had white grapes totaling 2 and red grapes totaling 4, you would place one glass token on the 2 of your crush pad for white grapes, and one glass token on the 4 of your crush pad for red grapes.
When taking the Make Wine action (note that the rules about this have changed slightly from the first edition), you may make up to two wine tokens by crushing grapes from your crush pads.
Red/white wine: To make a red or white wine, you simply take the token from the crush pad and move it to the cellar space of the same value, e.g. a white grape of value 3 would make a white wine of value 3.
Blush wine: Blush wine is made by blending one red grape with one white grape. You take one red grape token and one white grape token, add their values together, and place one token on the cellar space for the total value, e.g. a white grape of value 3 and a red grape of value 4 could be blended to make a single blush wine token of value 7.
Sparkling wine: Sparkling wine is made by blending two red grapes with one white grape, and again you use the cumulative total. For example, a white grape of value 3 and a red grape of value 4 and a red grape of value 2 would make a single sparkling wine token of value 9.
Note that you need to have room in your cellar to make wine tokens, and that's where building a medium and a large cellar can be important. For example, if you don't yet have a large cellar, then a blush wine token of 7 value has to be devalued and becomes a blush wine token of 6. Using the "first player bonus" space (or your grande worker) lets you make up to three wine tokens as an action, instead of just two.
Fulfilling wine orders
When taking the action to fulfil a wine order, you play a wine order card from your hand, and discard the required wine tokens from your cellar, which must equal or exceed the requirements of the card. For example, in the picture below a player can discard a white wine token of value 3 or more and a sparkling wine of value 8 or more, and gets 6 victory points.
Fulfilling a wine order also entitles you to advance your token on the residual payment track by the amount of lira shown on the wine order card. This basically entitles you to a small amount of income at the end of every round, and the idea is that someone has bought wine for you, and is paying for it over several years.
Year End (Upkeep)
At the end of a round, you round off your year by performing the following actions:
Aging: All grape and wine tokens are "aged", by advancing them one value on your crush pads and cellars.
Return workers: Collect all your workers from the main board.
Residual payments: If applicable, collect the amount of lira indicated by your token on the residual payment track.
Discard: You can only have a maximum hand size of 7 cards at the end of a round, discarding cards if necessary.
First player: The first player grapes token rotates counter clockwise, and roosters are removed from wake-up chart in order to be placed during the next Spring.
End of Game
The game end is triggered when one player reaches 20 points. This marks the final year/round, which is played out in its entirety, and at that point the player with the most points wins, with the most money serving as the first tiebreaker. The tiebreaker will come into play on occasion! Note also that the scoring is deliberately capped at a maximum of 25 points.
SECOND EDITION CHANGES
The explanation given above is for the rules of the second edition, which are now considered to be the standard way of playing the game, and it's recommended that owners of the first edition also play in this way. But for the benefit of owners of the first edition, let's just summarize the changes implemented by the second edition.
You'll find the official list of rule changes here, but this is an overview of the key rule changes in the new edition:
Grande worker: The grande worker wasn't part of the first edition, but only part of the Arboriculture expansion. All players now start with a grande worker, who has the ability to be placed on an already full action to perform that action. This ensures that players don't get totally blocked out from an essential action, and removes some of the brutal tightness that some people complained about with the first edition rules. As mentioned already, the Aboriculture expansion also gives the grande worker an additional ability to get the `first player bonus' when it's placed on an empty action space; this ability was originally going to be part of the second edition rules too (as discussed here) and that's the way we played many of our games. However given that the forthcoming expansion will feature new workers that each have one unique ability, it was decided to slim down the grande worker to one ability in the base game as well.
Making wine: The "make wine" action was previously known as "crush grapes", and instead of allowing players to make two wine tokens, it enabled players to make certain types of wines only. The original rule was confusing, and also overly restrictive, and that's why this change is a good one.
Visitor cards: Three visitor cards (Entertainer, Handyman, Horticulturalist) were considered to be unbalanced to the point of being unfun, and their abilities have been changed to the following:
● Entertainer: Pay $4 to draw 3 winter visitor cards OR discard 1 wine token and 3 visitor cards to gain 3 VP.
● Handyman: All players may build 1 structure at a $2 discount. You gain 1 VP for each other player who does this.
● Horticulturist: Plant any 1 vine even if you don’t have the structure(s) required OR uproot and discard 2 vine cards to gain 3 VP.
Minor edits only were made to several other visitor cards (Vendor, Mentor, Crush Expert, Jack of All Trades, Crusher, Uncertified Oenologist, Tour Guide, Novice Guide).
Friendly variant: In the first edition, players couldn't put a worker on the "first player bonus" space unless they could actually use the bonus. The intent was to keep the game "friendly", but this rule is confusing to explain and somewhat counter intuitive, so in the second edition this "be nice" rule has become a variant. I like the revised rule more than the variant, because it makes good sense to assign the first player bonus only to the first player placing a worker in a location. Note with both the first and second edition rules, you still can't block other players by place a worker at an action space where you can't perform the ability at all.
Minor changes: The starting player is now to be selected randomly (in the first edition this was awarded to the previous loser), and the yoke's abilities (uproot one vine or harvest one field) can be used in either season (in the first edition uprooting was a summer only action and harvesting a winter only action).
Here's the list of component changes that the publisher has announced:
● 6 grande workers added (1 per player)
● 10 visitor cards revised
● vineyard mat: small edits and a wine-making key, as well as color coding for each player
● board: wine-making action changed in line with revised rules
● smaller sized glass tokens (10mm) for wine and grapes so they fit better on the crush pad, no rustic bag for storage
● reduced number of glass tokens and coin tokens (not as many are needed)
● linen-embossed box, player mats, board, and tokens
● quick reference guide added
As explained here, the Tuscany expansion from Kickstarter will contain everything needed (e.g. grande meeples, rule updates, revised cards) to effectively upgrade copies of the first edition Viticulture to the second edition.
The Arboriculture expansion was released together with the original Kickstarter for the game. It adds an extension that players add to their vineyard mats, which enables them to grow additional crops: olives, apples, and tomatoes. The expansion includes a deck of arbor cards corresponding to these new crops. The grande worker of second edition Viticulture also first appeared in the Arboriculture expansion, although it had two abilities rather than just one. There is also a morale track that players need to worth with. This expansion was generally received favourably, and added some extra complexity and length to the base game.
The Tuscany expansion has not yet been released yet, and is coming out on Kickstarter on March 12. From what I've been able to learn about it so far, it sounds fantastic! It will contain various modules that are unlocked and added to the game in stages, with the order in which this happens being determined by the outcome of the games you play. To quote designer Jamey Stegmaier: "Tuscany will unravel in tiers--that is, when you open to box, you'll see the first tier of stuff, and you have to play with that stuff before you open the next tier." It sounds almost a bit like Risk Legacy, and is sure to attract real interest! The official materials for this expansion also include the following: "These expansions add asymmetric starting resources, new and advanced visitor cards, an extended game board for actions in all four seasons, special types of worker meeples, and more." Wow - bring on that Kickstarter Jamey!
What do I think?
● The Mediocre: Things I'm lukewarm about
Let me tell you up front that I love Viticulture! And I'm going to make a lot of positive comments about it! But that doesn't mean it is without some weaknesses, so I'll start with those:
Cottage versus Windmill/Tasting Room: I wonder whether the Cottage is overpowered in comparison to the Windmill and Tasting Room (see extensive discussion here). In our games, the Cottage has often been an attractive and almost essential early option because it only costs 4 lira, and gets you extra Visitor cards throughout the game. Given the importance of Visitor cards, and how strong and useful some of them can be, it seems hard to overlook this strategy in favour of something else. Buying a Windmill/Tasting Room late in the game is usually not worthwhile, because you won't get opportunity to exploit their abilities to generate points; but they're expensive to buy early in the game, and I still need to be convinced that you can win with them instead of the Cottage, and I wonder if their cost need to be lowered to make them more viable. As a counterpoint to this, it should be mentioned that this apparent weakness does depend on the number players; for example, in our two player games, which typically lasted more rounds given the absence of the bonus spaces, the Windmill and Tasting Room both proved quite viable.
Random card draw: I'll be including the cards in my list of positives shortly, so consider this criticism with a grain of salt. I don't mind the randomness of the draw that is usually inevitable in games that rely on cards, and for the most part it's acceptable and even desirable in Viticulture. But there are going to be situations where you just don't draw cards that are useful, and you may feel a little hosed by luck. For example the Visitor cards are usually quite situational, and it can be somewhat painful if at the end of the game you keep drawing cards that are only useful for the early stages, or if you draw wine order cards that are quite useless to you. To me this isn't as big an issue as some people think it is, and it wasn't a big factor in our games, but it shows the importance of finding ways to draw cards, and try to maximize what is in your hand.
Late game money: The residual payment track seems like an unnecessary part of the game, and leads players to have an excess of money in the closing stages that can't readily be converted to points or used profitably in any way. I like the way in which fulfilling wine orders gives players an income, but players will rarely have a use for this money in the final few rounds. For more discussion on this point, see this thread. Rumour has it that the Tuscany expansion will give new opportunities to use late game cash. Meanwhile, one can always use a suggested variant where players can earn 1VP for every 10 lira at game end.
Minor issues: There are a few other minor niggles that I've also noticed, for example the fact that that scoring is capped at 25 points. This limit seems to be an artificial constraint (perhaps dictated by the space available for the score track on the game board) that unnecessarily forces some games to be decided by the tiebreaker, the result being that it can happen that the player who could have got the most VPs won't end up winning simply because of a limited scoring track (see discussion here). However I concede that it's not often that two or more players will reach 25 points in the same game, so in the scheme of things this is quite minor.
The rough edges of the first edition: My biggest complaint about the second edition of Viticulture is that's not the first edition! By that I mean that it's a pity that the first edition of the game had some rough edges, and that this isn't how the game came out to begin with. While the first edition did get a lot of praise, there were also some reviews that expressed disappointment over areas where it felt unrefined or fell short, and the reality is that the first edition did need some polishing. This is an issue that afflicts more Kickstarter games, and in some instances it's a weakness that can prove fatal. In the case of Viticulture, we've seen several rule changes and adjustments being made in an effort to `patch' and improve the game further. The most notable issue identified by many folks was that the original form of the game didn't scale well, and felt too tight with even numbers due to the greater likelihood of being locked out of action spaces that you needed during the worker placement phase. Most Kickstarter supporters could solve this by playing with the Arboriculture expansion, which included the grande worker, but owners of the retail copy of the game needed to find some other solution to get grande workers into their game (although all it really takes is a permanent marker). With Viticulture 2.0 on the horizon, I can appreciate that owners of Viticulture 1.0 might feel somewhat miffed that the game even needed fixes to begin with. Some will happily be purchasing the expansion anyway, and in the process get the official patch to upgrade their game. But others will rightly wish that the game was completely on target from the outset, and I feel bad for them that they effectively need to buy an expansion to make the game what it should have been to begin with.
Having said that, the key rule adjustments, particularly the addition of the grande worker, are easy enough for first edition owners to incorporate. I've been playing my first edition copy of Viticulture with the second edition rules, and I'm pleased to say that with this ruleset, the vast majority of concerns with the first edition are adequately addressed. However, we will have to wait until Tuscany to get the full `patch' to upgrade our copy of the game, which will not only include grande workers, but also some revised cards, and a new rulebook.
● The Good: Things I'm excited about
Now I love Viticulture. I really enjoy worker placement games, and Viticulture brings enough things to the table to make it particularly interesting and enjoyable for me. While it's not without flaws, it really is an excellent, excellent game, and easily one of my favourite worker placement games, and even one of my all time favourite euros. Here are some of the things that I love about it, especially when played with the second edition rules:
I love the theme: Viticulture isn't the first wine-making game to enter euro land, but it's certainly a very good one with this theme! You're planting grapes, harvesting them, crushing them to make wine, fulfilling wine orders, building structures on your vineyard, giving vineyard tours - all of these things make good sense on the level of both theme and mechanics. I don't know a lot about wine-making, but this is a theme that you can readily understand and get on board with, and it's really implemented nicely, and the theme is also interwoven well with the game-play and mechanics. It's a fine example of a theme done really well.
I love the components: We tend to rave about euro-games that have attractive components, and Viticulture certainly belongs in that category. It's particularly noteworthy given the Kickstarter origins of the game. Sadly all too many crowdfunded games come with substandard components or amateurish and garish graphic design, and the production quality of Viticulture stands head and shoulders above many games I've seen. What I really like about the components isn't just their quality (although I certainly appreciate that too!), but the fact that they feel unique, and really add to the flavour of the game. The colour choices avoid the traditional stark primary colours like the red, yellow, blue and green cubes we've seen in so many euros. Instead there's purples and maroons and oranges of a muted sort, which somehow fit the character and mood of the game perfectly. This is complemented by beautiful artwork on the main game board and individual player mats, which helps lend a sense of realism to the game by depicting the vineyard and its associated activities that we're busy with the game, thus strengthening the theme, and is also painted in tones that feel oddly and appropriately agricultural. It's functional and beautiful, and when you add in the unique wooden structures, the glass tokens and rustic storage bag, it all adds up to a wonderfully produced package that I loved from the moment I first saw it.
I love the cards: Some folks dislike the cards because they consider some to be over-powered, and make the game feel too luck-dependent. It's true, for example, that you could draw some order cards near the end of the game that you just can't use at that point of the game, and that can be frustrating. It's also true that you can draw visitor cards that are more or less useful depending on what stage of the game you're at, but I don't mind that too much. For me the fact that there's some imbalance and randomness in the cards keeps us from being under the illusion that Viticulture is a heavy-weight and dry calculating game that's all work and no play; it reminds us that it tends to the lighter side of medium. The element of card-draw seems appropriate for a game of this weight, and it also ensures that each game plays out differently. I enjoy the fact that the cards you draw force you to take different paths, because you can't just decide in advance what strategy you'll adopt and play the same way each time. Instead, you have to make the best of the cards you draw, and while you do need to make good choices as part of that, it doesn't turn into a dry exercise of bean-counting and brain cells. There's quite a bit of diversity in the cards, and they help keep the game interesting. One of their strengths is that they also ensure that your options are flexible; many of the visitor cards for example give you alternate ways of doing actions that you might otherwise be struggling to perform. Yes they can be powerful and situational, but for me that's part of the fun. In rare instances the cards in Viticulture might hurt me, but mostly I love them, and think they strengthen the game.
I love the flexibility: Viticulture truly does offer multiple strategies. While growing grapes, making wine, and fulfilling contracts is often part of a winning strategy, it's certainly not the only way to earn points (see an excellent list of different ways to earn points here). What I particularly found interesting is that getting more workers isn't necessarily a winning strategy or essential as it is in many other worker placement games. The different paths you can take seem quite well balanced in that regard (although as mentioned already I still have questions about the viability of a strategy that relies on buying an early Windmill to earn points through planting vines, or an early Tasting Room to earn points through giving vineyard tours). The grande worker is also an excellent addition to the game to keep you from getting stuck or completely blocked out of an essential action space. Visitor cards can often help you accomplish actions that you might otherwise not have access to, so there's often a lot of different ways to get things done, and to earn points. This is really, really nice, and ensures the game is a pleasant rather than a cut-throat and vicious experience.
I love the mechanics: The game has a lot of very interesting mechanics that one can really appreciate. The wake-up track to determine turn order isn't a new concept (it's borrowed from Fresco), but it's still an excellent mechanic and is very well implemented here. Similarly I really like the way that you need to allocate some of your workers to summer actions and others to winter actions - that's another nice concept. The whole way that worker placement works, including the use of bonuses and grande worker, is also very satisfying. Also, the manner in which you earn victory points through planting vines, harvesting grapes, making wine, and then fulfilling orders does require a chain of actions, but it feels very natural, thematic and doesn't at all feel convoluted as VP generation can feel in some euros. I also liked the way the game has you store grapes on crush pads and wine in cellars of different sizes; and although the idea of aging grapes isn't that thematic (it's done for game-play reasons instead, as explained here), certainly the idea of aging wines is highly thematic and also serves as a useful mechanic. So overall, some very nice mechanics!
I love the structures: The different structures available for purchase during the Summer not only look pretty, but give you different options for long-term strategy. I'm still not entirely sure whether they are all equally balanced, but they certainly give you different strategic paths. Will you go for a Tasting Room and try to generate points through giving vineyard tours? Will you opt for a Windmill and try to rack up a score by planting vines in conjunction with making wine and fulfilling orders? Or will you build a Cottage to try to improve your luck with the Visitor cards? Or will you instead save your money for Winter to get another worker? The decision is yours, and what you decide will affect how you have to play the rest of the game!
I love the tension: One thing I really appreciate about Viticulture is how the different ways of scoring points means that a player's position in the game isn't always measurable. This keeps games tense, because while one player might be racking up points gradually with a Windmill, Tasting Room, and on the Wake-up Track, another player might be working on a longer term wine-making plan, and might have visitor cards or wine order cards in hand that could give them a bucket-load of points in the last couple of rounds. As a result, the runaway leader syndrome that afflicts some games isn't present here; in fact in one game I triggered the game end with 20 points when my two opponents only had 11 points, and they passed me before the game ended! This keeps games tense and exciting until the very end.
I love the length: A game of Viticulture typically takes around 30 minutes a person to play, which is exactly what I look for in a medium weight game. A two player game can be polished off in little more than an hour, a three player game in 90 minutes (typically lasting exactly 7 rounds), while games with 4-5 players take a bit longer; I'd avoid a 6 player game for this reason. This means that especially for 2-4 players, a game can be completed in a reasonable time frame, and doesn't at all feel like it overstays its welcome.
I love the weight: I'm a big fan of medium weight games that tend to the lighter side, similar to Stone Age in weight, and that's exactly the category that Viticulture falls into. I'd concur with Jamey Stegmaier's assessment: "I would put it on par with Stone Age...maybe slightly more complex due to long-term planning" (see similar sentiments expressed in this thread: How light is this game?). It's certainly a strategy game that wouldn't be my first choice to introduce to non-gamers, but it isn't a heavy weight game that burns my brain either. It's that "next step" kind of game that you'd readily choose if someone was looking for something to progress to after Settlers of Catan, for example.
I love how it plays with two: Like many other people, while I enjoy multi-player games, I'm always on the lookout for a good game that I can also enjoy on occasions when it's just me and my wife at the gaming table. While the majority of my plays of Viticulture have been with 3 players, I'm especially pleased that it also works very well as a two player game. The ability to access the bonus spaces in games with 3+ players leads to tactical choices that I really enjoy, so unless you're playing with the full abilities of the original Arboriculture grande worker, you may miss this option in the 2 player game. But overall the two player doesn't feel like it's lacking; one advantage is that it tends to go for more rounds, making strategies like the Windmill and Tasting Room more viable to explore. The fact that we can polish a game with just the two of us in about an hour is an ideal length of time, and the fact that it doesn't really feel much less satisfying than a three player game is a real strength.
I love how it's not nasty: One of the designer's acknowledged aims was to create a game that featured competition without too much conflict, nastiness, or hostility. I think it's safe to say that this aim has been achieved; Viticulture has interaction, but it's of a competitive and friendly sort. The worker placement part of the game ensures that there is competition, but not to the point where it becomes cut-throat or frustrating, and the grande worker also assists in ensuring this. In my home, games with pleasant interaction of this nature tend to be very well received, and that was also the case here.
I love how it was crowdfunded: I'm not the world's biggest Kickstarter fan, but if ever there was a publisher that really did a sterling effort on this crowdfunding platform, Jamey Stegmeier certainly qualifies in view of the incredible effort and passion he put behind running the campaign that led to the original publication of Viticulture. Jamey would be the first to admit that he's learned from the experience and would make some changes second time around, but his legion of backers would quickly testify that he did a fantastic job in running this campaign. This was certainly a case of gold standard crowd-funding, and gives good confidence for supporting Jamey in his future efforts. Jamey also does a herculean job in supporting his game, including going above and beyond in his support for the game here in the BGG forums - major kudos Jamey! Additionally, I really like how the final form of the game reflected its crowdfunding origins. Some of the supporters are represented in the artwork in the game, and others are acknowledged on various cards or on the back of the coins. This is a really nice personal touch that didn't feel overdone, but somehow adds to the appeal of the game, and makes it feel truly special, and tastefully reflects that it's truly the product of a supportive gaming community.
I love how it is unique: Few games are truly unique, or come with mechanics that we've never seen before. Viticulture is no real exception as such. But when considered as a package, taking together the theme, the components, and the mechanics, it does feel quite different from any of the other worker placement games I own. It's a euro game that doesn't really look like a traditional euro, and has enough elements that set it apart from the "been there, seen that" mediocre game that we so often see. I really like what this offers when taking all the parts together, and for me anyway, it's going to be a keeper for that reason.
The second edition
The changes to the cards also make good sense, especially the change to the Handyman, which didn't always work thematically and caused some confusion. Other cards like the Horticulturalist did seem overpowered in their original form, so it's good to see this being revised too. Simplifying how the wine-making action worked also was a good move. As for the component changes, they mainly seem to be a matter of cosmetic polishing and as such can only be welcomed.
Overall, I'm convinced that the second edition of Viticulture turns a very good game into a great game. Viticulture is an outstanding worker placement game for its class, and while the first edition did have some wrinkles that need to be ironed out, it would seem that what we have in the second edition is a highly polished game that is the very best it can be. And when you add in the exciting promise of the Tuscany expansion, then it only gets better! While it's a pity that the original game wasn't without flaws, the good news is that now Viticulture is the game we all want it to be. Many of the initial haters of Viticulture may well revise their opinion if they play the second edition of the game, and if you've been considering the game, then the second edition is definitely the one to get. Meanwhile fans of the first edition who already enjoy the game a lot, will undoubtedly be excited about the possibility of expanding their Viticulture with the help of the Tuscany expansion, and effectively upgrading to the second edition in the process.
What do others think?
Although it's a popular game, Viticulture does have its share of critics. Some of the more major criticisms that the game has received include the following:
● The cards are imbalanced and this makes the game subject to lucky card draws. Response: It's true that some cards are situational, some being more useful in the early rather than the late game, for example, or depending on what strategy you've been pursuing. This can cause some swings of fortune, but personally I like some randomness from card draw in a game, because it keeps things interesting and variable, and I think it's appropriate for a game of this weight. Had Viticulture been a more heavy-weight game, it would be a game-breaker, for sure, but given that it is a medium weight game on the lighter side that plays in 60-90 minutes, I don't mind this. Just be aware that some people do find the situational cards and amount of luck unacceptable.
● Essential action spaces are unavailable to some players (especially in 4 and 6 player games, so it scales poorly), and it becomes a frustrating exercise when key actions are blocked. Response: This was a flaw with the first edition of the game, but in my view incorporating the more flexible grande worker into the game has effectively solved this issue. Games with even numbers of players are certainly tighter than games with odd numbers of player, but the grande worker prevents the game becoming infuriating. I'd still avoid the 6 player game though, but for reasons of time; it probably runs on just a little too long.
● It's under-developed and unpolished; too many modifications and house rules are needed to patch the game. Response: This has some merit as far as the original game is concerned, but it's good reason to be satisfied with the second edition (or the Tuscany expansion, which includes a `patch' to upgrade first edition copies). Fortunately the game an excellent one, making the effort needed to iron out the initial wrinkles well worthwhile.
● The game rewards successful players by giving them money in the closing stages (e.g. via the residual track), but doesn't provide a satisfactory way to spend this money. Response: I share this concern too, although apparently it will be addressed in the Tuscany expansion. As the game stands, the residual track seems largely unnecessary and could have been trimmed. For now I like using Sky Zero's suggested variant where players get 1VP for every 10 lira at the game end.
Even the critics do laud the game for its excellent theme and aesthetics, and its mechanics (e.g. the wake up mechanic), but in general they are in agreement that the game had some holes that needed patching. I have to concede that some of the concerns are valid as far as the first edition is concerned, but I think the game holds enough promise to make it worth making the necessary fixes. And the good news is that this is exactly what the second edition offers: it's the polished form of the game that is everything we'd hoped from Viticulture, and especially with the addition of the grande worker this latest form of the game really does remove most of the concerns (aside perhaps from the concern about card randomness, which is a matter of taste).
Fortunately the majority of gamers do see the promise that Viticulture offers, and there's a lot of positive buzz about it, including comments like the following:
"Just when you thought worker placement was over and done with, along comes a highly thematic WP game that has lots of tension. This is a good one." - candoo
"This is a solid worker placement game with a lovely theme!" - Manary Corte
"Solid worker placement game by a designer who clearly has some passion for his chosen subject (wine, of course.)" - James Deignan
"This is a great semi-light euro with fantastic theme." - Dan Kobayashi
"Another consistently good worker placement game, and at last a decent KS release!" - Adam Deverell
"Worker placement that stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Agricola and Dungeon Lords. Wonderful theme, and is one game I would be happy to host a dinner party around." - James Butler
"A beautiful game with great components. Some rough edges but an absolute keeper in my collection." - PzVIE
"We really enjoy this unique game and it's quickly becoming one of our favorite go-to games." - Denise Van Peursem
"Surprisingly very good game with excellent artwork from a new designer. I'm not a wine person, but it seems better than many worker-placement style games." - Chris R.
"This game has "legs" - excellent replayability." - Dave Dyer
"Everything about the game flows very smoothly and overall has great production value." - Nick M
"A very well produced and streamlined worker placement game." - Dimitris Vasiadis
"It's a medium-light Euro with a surprising amount of depth." - Vinson H
"If Belfort hadn't already killed Agricola all the way, Viticulture comes along with a pillow to smother it to death." - Kolby Reddish
"This is in my top 10 games and is easily in the running for new game of 2013 IMO." - Julia Ziobro
"Despite not being a fan of wine, this is well designed and is great fun to play as my first in the 'worker placement' genre." - Chris Smith
"Extremely good game, steeped in theme." - Mark O'Reilly
"Its so easy to explain but has a lot of depth. Plus, everything about its design is gorgeous." - Josh Lozano
"Strong theme, multiple strategic options, numerous high quality components, engaging gameplay. It's hard to imagine a better designed game." - Craig M
The second edition rules
Comments about the second edition rules are especially favourable, particularly in relation to the addition of the grande worker:
"Second edition rules fixes the confusion with "Crushing Grapes" action, and the addition of Grande Worker makes the game a lot less crowded as this special worker allows you to take the action even if there is no available spaces for the action." - Dan Kobayashi
"Highly recommended to play with the 2nd Edition rules." - Joel Eddy
"It's pretty tight with even players, but we modified a little bit by using a "Grande" worker in even player games to loosen the game up a bit. This became an official change in August 2013." - Josh Lacey
"Finally played second edition. Rating it up a few points. Should have come with the second edition rules from the start. Insanely better." - David Turczi
"Especially playing with the 2nd edition changes, I think this game is a perfect 10." - Kolby Reddish
"Great worker placement game made even better with latest rules ... Many plays in now with latest rules, Grande worker is awesome, as is clarification to simply make two wine." - Mark O'Reilly
"The Grande Worker is a stroke of genius and really adds another layer of depth to the game without changing the rules ... I will always play the game with the Grande Worker under all circumstances." - Sky Zero
"If you play with an even number of players, the Grande Worker is a must as it loosens up the game." - Sarah Reed
"We decided to use the Grande Worker, and it was universally well received. I'm definitely using it from now on." - Matt Smith
"Nothing is "broken" with the original rules, but the Grande worker makes a very nice, and easy to implement addition ... once you go Grande you never go back, so you may as well start off using it." - Jeff Smith
"I have played 5 times always with a Grande worker and I can't imagine this game without it. It would be a much different and in my opinion less strategic (and less fun) game without the Grande worker." - Scott O'Dell
So is the second edition of Viticulture for you? If you already own the first edition of the game and enjoy it, you're almost certain to want to get the Tuscany expansion, including the official `patch' to upgrade the components of your game in line with the second edition of the game. And if you own the first edition of the game but don't like it, then the rule changes are such that it might just cause you to revise your opinion of the game, and make you view it more favourably, particularly if your primary concern related to scalability and the potential for being blocked out of action spaces; certainly you should try designating workers as grande workers and see for yourself how this changes the game. And if you don't yet own a copy of Viticulture at all, and have been holding off because of some of the naysayers or critical comments, then the forthcoming Kickstarter on 12 March means that now is the time to pull the trigger, given the improvements that have been incorporated into this latest edition.
If you're looking for a pleasant worker placement game for 2-6 players in the light-medium weight category, one that features solid mechanics, a strong and convincing theme, wonderful components, and can be played in 60-90 minutes, then Viticulture is a must-buy. This is easily one of my favorite worker placement games, and really evokes something of being on a vineyard, growing grapes in a quest to make and sell wine. The first edition showed great promise, and was already a good game, and with the second edition it's now becoming a great game. Perhaps this should come as no surprise; Viticulture ages like a fine wine, and as time passes the better it becomes. For me, Viticulture is easily one of my favourite new games from the last year or two, and I highly recommend it.
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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Finally! You have been teasing the review via image uploads for, like, forever! Excellent review, as always
Just a minor tip - IIRC, Jamey stated that the rationale behind capping the score at 25 is to avoid somebody completing two high-score orders at the very end of the game (or pulling off some similar stunt). That way there's a motivation to finish as soon as you can reach 25 from where you are.
Thanks again for a brilliant review. Expect this to be visited very often once Tuscany launches
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- Cory YatesUnited States
- Wow man! I wish I had the time you have to dedicate to writing reviews, but even if I did they wouldn't come close to yours! Really AMAZING JOB!!!
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- Epic review is epic!
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- Thanks for the outstandingly comprehensive review! As an owner of the first edition, I appreciate the nuanced approached to calling out the mostly positive aspects of the game.
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- Ender--Wow. I'm speechless. This is a stunningly comprehensive overview of Viticulture. While I love video reviews, I think this is a reminder of the true power of words and photos to describe, depict, and analyze a game. I can tell you put so much time and energy to play Viticulture a number of times and put together this piece, and I'm truly grateful for it. Now to go find the best place on my Tuscany Kickstarter project page to link to this.
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- I seriously can't think of a more professionally developed review as this one here on BGG. I know it's early '14, but I can't see another review beating this one out for an end of year geek award. Outstanding work.
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- M. S.(Braz)Germany
- Awesome review. Seems to be an outstanding game! Where can I back....?
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- A power of work here mate...bravo!
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- Jamie BirdUnited Kingdom
- Wonderful. Thank you.
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An excellent review as usual. I am really looking forward to getting this having played it once under the Mk I rules. I enjoyed playing immensely and put this straight in at '1' on my wishlist. Viticulture and Russian Railroads were the standout games of 2013 for me.
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Ender, this is a review to Ender all reviews!!
Amazing work of art.
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One comment on the Residual Income track and the excess of money at the end of the game; it rewards players who sell wine earlier than other players. Since running a successful winery means selling wine and making money, it makes sense the game includes a mechanic that rewards that objective.
And having a pile of money at the end of the game just represents the fruits of several years of hard labor! (see what I did there?)
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- (kumasawa)United States
This review is incredible! I love how it incorporates the history of the 2nd edition design process by linking to forum threads from the last few months.
Ender's review of Fantastiqa convinced me to back the current Games of Art kickstarter so I could get the Rucksack edition and expansions. If I wasn't already a big fan of Viticulture, this review would definitely get me on board for the Tuscany ks. Can't wait for March 12th!
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Amazingly thorough review, balanced and insightful. I must buy this game!
Oh wait, I already own it.
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- Drinky DrinkyUnited States
IndianaMr. Cat. Hold on I think I know my next move, just give me another minute....NO!!!!!!!
Sadly no "The enemies vineyard is down" variant.
Great review Ender and great game Jamey.
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- Josh Lozano(Smandero)United States
- Incredibly comprehensive review that is just excellent. I don't typically read reviews for games I already own, but this is great. I appreciate you talking about the flaws in the game and bringing in how they are fixed in the second edition! This really is one of my favorite games, and I can't wait for Tuscany!
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- Alter Ego(anto)Germany
Can anyone comment on how is this different from
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krechevskoy wrote:Sadly no "The enemies vineyard is down" variant.And no 'Ahab and Naboth' variant, either - kill your neighbour and take his vinyard, sort of Viticulture, the War Game.
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anto wrote:Outstanding review!I've got a video review of Grand Cru you can watch that walks through the gameplay. Grand Cru and Viticulture are two very different games. Grand Cru is a game of economics and bidding whereas Viticulture is more about resource management and worker placement. I personally wouldn't part with either and rate them equally for different reasons. Love both and aside from the theme play entirely differently.
Can anyone comment on how is this different from
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- Impressive work.
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- I can safely pledge for the collector's edition, now...
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- I just ran across this review and HOLY COW, this is the best game review I have ever read about any game. Its so thorough, and detailed yet very simple and straight forward, and easy to understand. GREAT JOB!
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- This review alone has made me desperately want this game. Such is the power of Ender! I'll be grabbing this when the new edition is released.
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- Thanks Greg! It's almost here.
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