Scott Sexton
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In keeping with the subject matter of Viticulture Essential Edition, lets have a brief philosophical chat, the kind of chat that one may enjoy after cracking open your third or fourth box of wine for the evening.

I am a firm believer that the things we (as a society) make speak volumes about who we are as a culture. I would even go so far as to say that the content we create as individuals can speak volumes of who we are as people. The legends and myths of our ancestors speak to their fears and hopes. Their literature serves as both reflection and introspection. Even our modern games can speak of who we are. Intentionally or not, so too does Viticulture. Thematically, Viticulture falls into the class of games I would describe as "idealized agrarianism". Think just about any game from Uwe Rosenberg, Fields of Green, The Colonists, Heartland, and to a lesser degree Settlers of Catan. These are games that idealize and romanticize the ideas of rural living and the independent farmer as "hero". Fans of Faulkner and Steinbeck would surely have a blast deconstructing the elements of these games. I have always found that these types of games (whether intentionally or not) call for the player to embrace a particular philosophical world view. These games call for the player to put themselves in the shoes of a farmer and embrace the joy of producing for ones own benefit. I wouldn't go so far to say that games like Viticulture EE are propaganda, but they do make for a very entertaining arguments in favor of agrarianism as a means of actualization and accomplishment. Something Viticulture EE does a phenomenal job of though, is in leveraging its setting to make for an immersive experience that most players won't recognize for the philosophical discourse that it actually is.

The next time you sit down for a game of this type, try reflecting on the underlying message(s) that lie buried, just below the surface of the game. A game doesn't have to be moralistic or heavy handed (see Freedom) to convey fascinating ideas.

Enough philosophy talk, is the game any good?

There are times when I finish a game and have a strong favorable reaction to it. I know, without question, I like the game, however, at the same time I can't quite figure out why. Viticulture Essential Edition gave me exactly this reaction. On paper, VEE seems like the kind of mess that shouldn't work. Its a worker placement euro game that is filled to the gills with random card draws. With VEE, you have 4 decks of randomness and with the Tuscany EE modules you can add a 5th. You can even add the Moors expansion to the mix which greatly increases the variety of the two visitor decks. Random card draws in worker placement games with with funky player order mechanisms aren't a new thing. The much exaggerated Pillars of the Earth banks on exactly these to elements to much popular acclaim. Viticulture EE fixes the main problem I have with Pillars, namely, that Viticulture empowers players by giving them a sand box full of fun actions buried under an avalanche of several dozen super over powered visitor cards.

Lets be honest, if you aren't buried in visitor cards, you aren't playing Viticulture EE correctly. The true fun and delight to be found in Viticulture lies in accumulating and comboing the visitor cards in order to max out your efficiency. Most worker placement games are exercises in puzzling out the most efficient solution to generate victory points. While VEE has plenty of that, it adds the wondrous chaos afforded by the visitor cards. Just about anything cool you can do at an action location on the game board, can be done even more powerfully on a random visitor card. The use of the visitor cards is extremely empowering for the player, and it is incredibly satisfying when you string together that perfect run of cards to catapult you into the lead during the last round of the game.

Unlike Pillars, I never get the feeling that I've simply run out of cool things to do with my workers. The Grande Worker mechanism goes a LONG way in accomplishing this by freeing up that ability to always have access to any action you need in a given season. Add to this the fact that there is value to be found in pretty much every action on the board (whether you realize it or not). This hasn't been the case for my experience with Pillars (not to mention several other sacred cows in the worker placement genre). Something that is worth noting though is that maxing out your workers isn't an automatic recipe for victory. There comes a point that if you aren't able to skillfully spread out your workers in one season or the other, they generate significantly less benefit for you (and effectively become too expensive to purchase). This makes for yet another brilliant way Viticulture turns worker placement games on their heads.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this review is specific to the Essential Edition of Viticulture. I don't feel that the original version of Viticulture has anywhere near the level of polish and refinement like what you have in the Essential Edition. I don't know if I would blame the design team for having produced an inferior product initially, but I do give them considerable credit for continuing to refine the game to its present state. Perhaps the need to have what is effectively 3 different editions in as many years could have been avoided if a big company had put the game through the development process. I do give the designer considerable credit for having bothered to refine the way so that it was easy for early adopters to upgrade their game over the years. This speaks very highly of the designer's character and my willingness to buy games from his company in the future.

I can never be for sure when looking at a game if some of the things that catch my eye are intentional or not. Viticulture's execution of setting in the game is about as nearly flawless as you can find, especially in a "souless euro". I suppose that the design team wanted to produce a game that looked nice on the table (who doesn't) but the attention paid to the setting through the art, components and even some game elements all hold very true to the setting. Once you have the game spread out on the table, it is hard not to allow yourself to fully embrace the setting, much like how one may day dream about winning the lottery. I will fully admit that there are some elements of the game setting that aren't 100% accurate regarding the wine making process, however, such details don't really break the immersive qualities of the setting. I was lucky enough to tour the Tuscan wine country of Italy for my honeymoon some 14 years ago. The details of Viticulture's setting jive perfectly with my idealized memory of my honeymoon. I think this is a particularly apt comparison because happy memories are what we want our games to feel like (mostly). I want to remember the beauty and smells of the Tuscan countryside without remembering the heat or the sickly hint of sweat and salt. Viticulture delivers the fun of growing a winery without ever having to develop blisters on your hands or dirt under your nails. The most obvious point where Viticulture nails its setting is in the gorgeous board art that perfectly reflects my memories rural Tuscany. I cannot say enough good things about the game art, and others have beaten this point to death long before my review.

Viticulture is escapism gaming at its best. Its setting is executed with a flawless precision. There is a dreamy and idealized quality to this rural playground. I sincerely respect and appreciate the effort that was put into honing and refining the game's design and expansion. I do not say this lightly, but Viticulture is a game with vision and purpose. It provides a thoughtful narrative without ever becoming overbearing. It provides a modern fantasy without ever being fantastical. Without any hesitation, Viticulture EE is my favorite Stonemaier Games' title to date. As an artifact of game design, Viticulture demonstrates that games can serve as expressions of art and philosophy. Such a game gives me great hope for the future development of games. While I'm not ready to give up the city for a life of farming, perhaps a game such as Viticulture can allow me the happiness, as Voltaire might suggest, of tending my own little garden. BGG Rating: 8.0


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Jérôme
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Love your review, and its references to escapism and agricultural philosophy.
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Jon Steggles
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What a fantastic review of the game, thank you for taking the time to submit it.

I bought this at the UKGE, cant wait to play it now.
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Miguel Gonzalez
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Very great read - have you had the chance to put your fingers on Tuscany EE? I truly believe this is where VEE actually shines - when you add Tuscany EE.

I'd be interested in reading your opinion about it.
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Jérôme
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Justicex75 wrote:
Very great read - have you had the chance to put your fingers on Tuscany EE? I truly believe this is where VEE actually shines - when you add Tuscany EE.

I'd be interested in reading your opinion about it.


Also interested!
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Pete Waring
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Great review, thanks!

Also, just FYI, the latest two entries in your geeklist are missing the links to the reviews.
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Scott Sexton
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Justicex75 wrote:
Very great read - have you had the chance to put your fingers on Tuscany EE? I truly believe this is where VEE actually shines - when you add Tuscany EE.

I'd be interested in reading your opinion about it.


I'm still mulling over Tuscany EE. Its definitely in the works.
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Scott Sexton
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pwwaring wrote:
Great review, thanks!

Also, just FYI, the latest two entries in your geeklist are missing the links to the reviews.


They were pending BGG Moderator approval. This has been updated.
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Sam Hillier
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scottatlaw wrote:
Justicex75 wrote:
Very great read - have you had the chance to put your fingers on Tuscany EE? I truly believe this is where VEE actually shines - when you add Tuscany EE.

I'd be interested in reading your opinion about it.


I'm still mulling over Tuscany EE. Its definitely in the works.


I haven't played the EE versions, I have the full deluxe whatever version that has everything, but I can say that the new elements added in Tuscany EE really improve Viticulture.

First, the extended board gives you many more options, opening up new strategies. I'm not the biggest fan of the Star board (area control) but it does give you another option for coins, cards, points, etc. However, that's a minor flaw.

The main benefit, though is the Structures, which really open up new and varied strategies. They do suffer from the unfocused nature of Viticulture's cards in general (so you won't be able to craft a nice, linear strategy like you could in Brew Crafters or Agricola), but you can definitely draw into some interesting options.

For those reasons alone, I would recommend upgrading.
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David Goulette
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Daybreak wrote:
scottatlaw wrote:
Justicex75 wrote:
Very great read - have you had the chance to put your fingers on Tuscany EE? I truly believe this is where VEE actually shines - when you add Tuscany EE.

I'd be interested in reading your opinion about it.


I'm still mulling over Tuscany EE. Its definitely in the works.


I haven't played the EE versions, I have the full deluxe whatever version that has everything, but I can say that the new elements added in Tuscany EE really improve Viticulture.

First, the extended board gives you many more options, opening up new strategies. I'm not the biggest fan of the Star board (area control) but it does give you another option for coins, cards, points, etc. However, that's a minor flaw.

The main benefit, though is the Structures, which really open up new and varied strategies. They do suffer from the unfocused nature of Viticulture's cards in general (so you won't be able to craft a nice, linear strategy like you could in Brew Crafters or Agricola), but you can definitely draw into some interesting options.

For those reasons alone, I would recommend upgrading.


+1

The extended board is great. If that was the only thing in the expansion it would be worth it.
 
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Gregory Braun
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Scott,
I really enjoy your opening paragraphs. I hope you don't mind if I quote you in a course I'm teaching in the spring?
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