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Board Game: Viticulture
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Subject: Review/Experience after two sessions rss

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Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening

I need to preface this and say this is my first ever post to Board Game Geek.

This is less of a review and more of a sharing of our time with the game. I am not critiquing the game in too much detail though I am trying to portray our overall experience of the game. There are two things that are important to me about this write up. I want to properly convey my perspective coming into this game and also to not rehash what other reviews and the rule book has done, teach the game.

History
My table top gaming started with the usual monopoly and grew to collectible card games including Magic the Gathering and Star Wars CCG. Next was losing many games of Risk to my brother. My brother discovered Settlers of Catan, and I showed him Carcassonne. We bought almost all of the expansions and enjoy playing massive games. We now play Dominion, Ascension, and Le Havre regularly. I may be forgetting some but hopefully that shows you my newness to some of the heavier games and my limited exposure to worker placement games.

I was excited when I saw Viticulture on Kickstarter (full disclosure, I quickly pledged for a copy) and was immediately drawn to the theme. I am no wino but I enjoy the occasional red, Sangiovese or Port and was drawn to the nice art. From the video and the updates you can tell Jamey is enthusiastic about his game, and graciously sent me the PnP version. I cut and pasted the game together in just enough time to hold my grand experiment, teach my mother how to play while she was in town. Her game history includes the usual Parker Brothers collection and she has even sat in for a game or two of Settlers. But watch out!, she will get you in Scrabble. I wanted to play and write this up to test how easy the game could be learned. When we sat down to play, I somehow suckered my wife (excellent Carcassonne player) to play as well. So here I was teaching this game to players completely new to the worker placement genre.
Game
The game started slow as I increasingly added the layers of the game to each season. I tried to give general strategies for everyone but my mother jumped to a quick lead. I believe the theme of Viticulture lends itself to the ease of starting the game. It was pretty easy to explain: use workers to plant vines, harvest those vines, crush the grapes and age the wine. But in later years, we all begin to hash out our own strategies. Though my mother continued to lead, she was not picking up good cards and seemed to have more trouble getting Lira. My wife took the strategy of hoarding the Lira and quickly had her irrigation, trellis, and windmill built. I focused on pulling vine cards and getting them in the ground, in hopes to of course fill the wine orders and create that desirable machine for victory points.

Mid game the "competitiveness" began as we continually stepped on each other’s toes by playing workers where others of wanted to be. I had three fields pretty full of vines but kept on being blocked come harvest time. It was time to change my strategy and wake up a little earlier. It is wonderful to analyze during the spring the risk and rewards of rooster placement. My wife and I were quietly over taking my mother in victory points with some modest wine orders placed on my part and my wife utilizing the windmill and tasting room effectively.

I want to pause here and address a concern that another poster had mentioned a few weeks ago about runaway winners. Granted this was the first game and I was helping everyone, I was playing to win. The lead changed multiple times throughout and at least with this experience I am not concerned with runaway winners. Of course I only speak with experience in a 3 player game but you can tell that the game has been play tested extensively. So much so that Jamey had balanced a card a day after we played that would have changed the end.

It seemed at the end game, that money was not as useful as in the beginning. I was aware that my wife had gathered a barrel load of Lira and I thought, "Hm, ok she can have the money then." We were tied at around 15 or so and I had wine orders ready to be filled, including a nice sparkling wine worth 6 victory points. My wife put a worker on the spot for playing a summer visitor card called ‘Broker’ which allowed her to trade 3 Lira for a victory point. She traded in all of her Lira for victory points and shot above the 20 level and eventually maxed at 25 victory points. This card has since been balanced and only allows a player to gain 5 victory points. She later told me that she had been holding onto that card for awhile and had built a fantastic strategy to most effectively use it. I completed my turn by filling wine orders and rested on 24 victory points. I believe I would have won or tied her if the updated card had been in play.

Experience
I hope you can tell after reading my experience of the first play with two new gamers that this game is enjoyable. My mother and wife both agreed that it was fun, though some issues were identified by them. For instance, the length of the game. Our session took 2 and a half hours while the average time listed on the game is 45-90 minutes. Take into consideration that there was a lot of teaching and that there was three players, but after that long we were all exhausted. My wife agreed that she will play again as long as the other players already know how to play so that the length is shortened. My mom agreed to play a 2 player game with me before she leaves.

I had fun. It stretched the parts of my brain just enough while remaining casual in "feel". I particularly enjoyed the low amount of direct aggression while maintaining the satisfaction of stepping on toes and the frustration of being blocked and constantly changing your next step and future plans.

I admit that I don't know where it ranks with complexity of other worker placement games, but as a whole product Jamey and Alan at Stonemaier Games have put together a well thought, enjoyable game that continues to expand as the Kickstarter grows. I know that Viticulture will remain in my stock of games and get better with age.

Update: My mother and I played one more game before she left, a two player game, I won though she had the lead for more than half the game. We both agreed that Viticulture produced an excellent time and we can't wait to share it with my brother. I highly recommend going and visiting the Kickstarter page and at least looking at what there is to offer. I want the cheese expansion!

Please comment on thoughts of this post and also possible suggestions for the next game I should put on my shelf and experience.
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Jamey Stegmaier
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Thank you so much for writing this! I really appreciate you playing with different levels of gamers/non-gamers, as I'm hoping this game appeals to both groups. And I'm really glad to hear that all of the games you played were nuanced and close.
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Mark Chen
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Thanks for sharing your 2 sessions with us. It's always great fun to introduce a new game successfully to family and friends.

Though I've not played the PnP version yet, I've watched 2 video reviews of the game. With regards to worker placement complexity, I would guess that it's closer to Fresco (with expansions). Not sure if Jamey would agree though!
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George
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Thanks for your thoughts on the game. How long did the second game take?
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I grew up with a family that nick named my brother "game master" because he has always been the only one who knew the rules. So now that we live a few hours apart it is always a delight to bring something new to the table for when we get together. I am so excited to bring this one.

It was an interesting week because my mother was in town to watch my son and somehow I was able to introduce her to two new games, Viticulture and another Kickstarter card game that had just come in Monday, Yams. This week has been a great gaming treat.
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Oh, shoot! I meant to add that too. It was about 60 minutes not counting set up (I had it prepared to play from earlier in the day). It might have been a little less but we were both playing past our bed time.

I have been thinking about what the game would be like longer, maybe ending at 40. It seems as soon as I got a good roll, the game ended.

Or, maybe even if there was an expansion or alternate rule set to provide more narrative about how you are taking over your father's vineyard that has been in a slow decline until his death. His last wish was for his vineyard and the family name back on bottles across Tuscany. But due to drinking a glass of red a day he lived a long time and therefore you are old too and only have a certain number of years to build the name back up....I'm rambling.

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Jamey Stegmaier
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I would agree that the game has some close ties to Fresco. That and Stone Age.

Josh, I'm intrigued by the idea of expanding the goals of the game (perhaps even beyond victory points) in future expansions. I do think that a game is doing it's job if it feels like it ends "early." But not TOO early.
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K S
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Sounds like a similar experience except my friend whom I finally played it with last night found little interest in it since he felt it to much like Stone Age which is in our collection and that it took far longer than Stone Age. We didn't even finish the game. We both thought it was a bit to slow going in the beginning and tried to figure out how to speed it up. Going to give it another go this week with another friend, but he's never been very up on worker placement so I fear this will end up not on my shelf the more I think it matches to many in my group's and my collection's.

Wish I could get my wife to play but ironically she likes incredibly thinky games (Twilight Struggle) or games with direct conflict (which tends to be a big theme when we get a large group together).
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I suppose that it can lead to a "best out of 3" scenario
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