In Viticulture, the players find themselves in the roles of people in rustic, pre-modern Tuscany who have inherited meager vineyards. They have a few plots of land, an old crushpad, a tiny cellar, and three workers. They each have a dream of being the first to call their winery a true success.
The players are in the position of determining how they want to allocate their workers throughout the year. Every 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 get to the job has an advantage over subsequent workers.
Fortunately for the players, people love to visit wineries, and it just so happens that many of those visitors are willing to help out around the vineyard when they visit as long as you assign a worker to take care of them. Their visits (in the form of cards) are brief but can be very helpful.
Using those workers and visitors, players can expand their vineyards by building structures and planting vines (vine cards) and filling wine orders (wine order cards), players work towards the goal of running the most successful winery in Tuscany.
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Unique Aspects of Viticulture as Compared to Stone Age, Fresco, Agricola, and other Euro Games
Please note that I mean no disrespect to the games I mention below. For every flaw in great games like the ones I name here, there are dozens of upsides. But we’ve tried to try to make Viticulture only have upsides, as any game designers would. Here’s why Viticulture is a worthy addition to your game collection:
1. Balances, no checks: In almost every game I know, there are checks and balances. For example, in Stone Age and Agricola you have to feed your family. In other games, there are ways to “attack” other players–this happens all the time in Dominion, and the robber baron does this in Settlers. I think balances are good, but I’ve removed the checks, because checks can be really frustrating and antagonistic. In Viticulture, you’re always moving forward, and your job is to manage all of that forward momentum. Someone might choose an action that you were hoping for, but in doing so, you still have other options to choose, and if you’re the first player to choose those options, you get a bonus. I want players to walk away from the game feeling elated, not frustrated.
2. Scaleability: I wanted Viticulture to be almost the same game with any number of players. Dominion is best with 3 players. Fresco is best with 3-4. You can only play up to a 5-player game in Agricola. Stone Age only goes up to 4, and the game changes quite a bit with fewer players because you can’t choose things that you can choose with 4 players. I don’t like any of that. With Viticulture, the worker slots available scale based on the number of players. The UI for the scaling system is simple and intuitive–you can understand it with a quick glance. It’s almost exactly the same game with 2 players as it is with 6, and even a 6 player game shouldn’t take longer than 60 minutes. I think the 6-player threshold is key so that three couples can play the game on a game night.
3. Replayability: Agricola is endlessly replayable, I’ll give you that. But Stone Age and Fresco, the other two games this game is similar to? I love them both, but each has about 3 specific paths to victory, and you really have to put them in the closet for a year after a long game night with either one so that it feels fresh the next time you play. Viticulture has tons of paths to victory, most by choice, but some are affected by luck and the choices other players make. I’m sure every game wants to brand itself as “replayable,” but everything I’ve done for the last 8 months of testing has been with replayability in mind, and I think we accomplished that goal.
4. Production: In Stone Age and Agricola, you’re not really making anything. Sure, you build huts in Stone Age and you cook carrots in Agricola, but production is a one-stop shop. In Viticulture, you’re strategically choosing exactly what types of vines you’re going to grow (there are tons of combinations), when to harvest those vines, when to crush your grapes to turn them into wine, and what type of wine you want to turn them into. You’re truly producing something. We’ve honed the process so it’s intuitive, but it’s enough so that you get to feel like you’ve put yourself into each barrel of wine you produce.
5. Turn order: We borrowed the best element from Fresco and put it in our game: Determining what time your workers wake up compared to other workers to determine who goes first. This ensures that player order is a choice, not determined by rotation (like in Stone Age) or whoever happened to pick the first player marker in Agricola (for that person it’s a choice, but not for everyone else). There’s no kingbuilding in Viticulture.
6. Duration: I think the ideal board game is one in which you get to build something new and incredible in 45-60 minutes, several times in the same night. Agricola is a great game, but it takes 3 hours. You can usually only play once a night even though the first game leaves you hungry for more.
7. Counting Victory Points vs. Ending the Game at a Certain Threshold: As gamers, I think we’ve gotten used to the inevitable “counting of victory points” stage at the end of the game. We don’t even consider it a chore by this point. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I prefer the Settlers method of “everyone is in the game until someone reaches a certain number of victory points” level, so Viticulture uses that to trigger the end of the game.
How is Viticulture different/better than other wine-related strategy games like Grand Cru, Vinhos, Vintage, etc?
Viticulture isn’t the only wine-themed strategy game out there. But it captures the romanticism of owning a winery better than the others—it’s not even close, really (compare the Viticulture board to the Vinhos board, for example). There is a difference between being overly complicated and cleverly complex, and we believe that Viticulture is the only game in this category that falls into the latter category.
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