Radio Review #69 – Viticulture

 

 

 

viticulture_cover

(2014 – Stonemaier Games)

 

 

“A bottle of white, a bottle of red….maybe a bottle of rose instead….”

 

 

It’s fair to say designers Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone had a pretty good 2013. Their two successful Kickstarter campaigns (for Viticulture and Euphoria) initiated their company’s emergence as a small publisher recognized for their design of Euro-style worker placement games. Both games were highly regarded within the board game community upon release, and in fact both have done so well, they’ve already seen second editions. Earlier this year I took a look at Euphoria and was vastly impressed with how well the game was able to merge its theme and mechanics together. A sort of symbiotic relationship that fueled what I think to be one of the most unique worker placement games on the market. Since then, Viticulture has been one that I’ve been interested in trying, and was finally able to pick up when the second edition released this past month.

In Viticulture (second edition), players partake in the wine-making business, as owners of their own vineyard. Each Round is separated into the four seasons of a year, during which players will send workers out to perform various tasks and jobs, whether it be planting vines in the field, harvesting, crushing grapes, bottling wine, fulfilling wine orders, etc. Visitors may stop by your vineyard during the year and will be able to assist you in various ways. Victory Points are collected mainly through fulfilling wine orders, and these wine orders will also award a player residual payments that he can collect at the end of each year for the rest of the game, helping to increase his income. The player that reaches 20 Victory Points (reputation within the wine-making business) or more by the end of a year, is declared the winner.

 

 

 

Components:

– Viticulture game board

 

– Player boards

 

– Player tokens (various buildings, rooster, cork, and wine bottles)

 

– Worker tokens (regular and grande workers)

 

– Vine cards

 

– Summer & Winter Visitor cards

 

– Wine Order cards

 

– Crush Pad markers

 

– Lira Coins

 

– Start Player marker

 

 

 

Setup:

The top portion of the game board houses the various cards that will be used during the game. Players will shuffle the individual decks of cards and place them in the spaces that correspond with their color. The Vine (green) cards will go in the space farthest on the left, next the Summer Visitor (yellow) cards, then the Wine Order (purple) cards, and finally the Winter Visitor (blue) cards.
The Rooster track determines turn order from year to year. The higher a player’s Rooster token is placed on the track, the earlier that player is requiring his workers to be at work. The lower a player’s Rooster token is placed on the track, the later his workers will start their day, however they will reward that player for his generosity with increased bonuses. Players will need to balance getting an earlier start with the bonuses they will receive for rising later in the day. At the beginning of the game, all players will place their Rooster token near the track to be used during the upcoming Spring phase.
The Cork token represents the player’s progress on the Victory Points track. Player’s will place their Cork on the “start” space on the track. It is possible during the game to spend Victory Points in order to achieve certain actions, therefore even though players begin the game with 0 Victory Points, they are able to go in the negative by 5 Victory Points on the track. Remember, the player that can reach 20 Victory Points wins the game.
Each time a player is able to fulfill a wine order, they may receive residual payments from that customer year after year. At the beginning of the game, players will place their Wine Bottle tokens on the center portion of the residual track. As player’s receive residuals, they will place these tokens on the increased amount. Players can never receive more than 5 lira worth of residual payments from year to year.
Each player has their own Player Board, which contains three fields for planting grape vines, various areas to build different types of buildings, an area containing crush pads, and cellars for storing their final bottled inventory. Each player receives a Pinot grape card (from the green deck), a randomly drawn Summer Visitor card (from the yellow deck), and 3 lira (coins). They will also begin the game with 2 regular Workers and 1 Grande Worker. Their various building tokens can be placed near their player board, but these tokens are not used until they have paid to construct these.

 

 

Finally, the transparent Crush Pad tokens are placed in a general area near the main game board, along with the various lira tokens. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:

 

 

 

Gameplay:

As mentioned before, Viticulture plays over the course of a number of Rounds until a player is able to reach 20 Victory Points. Each Round is divided into the four seasons of a year; Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Each season provides various mechanics that while different from season to season, work together to show how wine-making goes from the planting of a single grape vine, to the ultimate fulfilling of a wine order. Let’s take a look at each of these seasons and what they entail.

 

 

Spring

Each Round beings with the Spring phase, where turn order is determined. Remember that the Start Player is determined at the beginning of the game. At the beginning of each of the subsequent Rounds, this Start Player marker will rotate counter-clockwise. The Start Player will not necessarily go first during each season of the year. He simply has the option of where to place his Rooster token on the turn order track before anyone else. After placing his token, he will take the corresponding reward listed next to that space. Then moving clockwise, each of the opposing players will place their Rooster tokens in the remaining available spaces and immediately take their provided rewards.

After all Rooster tokens have been placed, the established turn order for the rest of the year (Summer, Fall and Winter) will correspond to this track (starting with #1 through #7). While players requiring their workers to get up earlier in the year will have earlier turns throughout the year, players going later will receive better rewards for letting their works sleep in longer. The following bonuses are provided depending on the Rooster position on the track:

 

– The player choosing the 1st space on the track will receive no reward, though they are guaranteed the first turn during the Summer, Fall, and Winter seasons of that year.

– The player choosing the 2nd space on the track will draw a new Vine card from the draw deck.

– The player choosing the 3rd space on the track will draw a new Wine Order card from the draw deck.

– The player choosing the 4th space on the track will receive 1 lira.

– The player choosing the 5th space on the track can either choose to drawn a new Summer Visitor or Winter Visitor card from the draw decks.

– The player choosing the 6th space on the track will receive 1 Victory Point.

– The player choosing the 7th space on the track will receive an additional Worker to use during the year.

 

 

 

Summer

Workers will be available for work during both the Summer and Winter months. As the proprietor of your own vineyard, it will be your job to decide where best to send these workers and what tasks and jobs they should perform. The main section of the game board is split into two halves, represented by yellow actions spaces where workers can be placed on the left side of the board, and blue actions spaces where workers can be placed on the right side of the board. The yellow actions spaces represent the different tasks workers can perform during the summer months, while the blue actions spaces are for the winter months. Each action area has three spaces in which a worker can be placed.

 

– In a 5-6 player game, all three spaces are available to workers.
– In a 3-4 player game, only the 1st and 2nd spaces are available to workers.
– In a 2 player game, only the 1st space is available to workers.

 

 

As is standard with the worker placement mechanic, once a worker is placed on an action space, the player immediately performs that action. What is unique in Viticulture, is that while normal workers will block opposing players from using that action area if all the available spaces are full, the player’s Grande worker can be placed on any action area, regardless of action space availability. This may seem a bit overpowered at first, but take note that for most of the game (until they can train more workers), players will only have two normal workers and one Grande worker to use for both the Summer and Winter months, combined. Workers used in the Summer cannot then be used in the Winter. Apparently, they have pretty powerful unions within the field of wine-making. Therefore, there are plenty of opportunities for blocking opposing players from certain actions, and the use of the Grande worker becomes a major part of preplanning your actions before Summer begins.

For instance, Player C (yellow) may want to Plant a Vine during the Summer and Harvest from that vine during the Winter. However, the action spaces to Plant a Vine have already been filled. He could place his Grande worker there, however doing so will open up the possibility that he could be blocked from performing his desired action of Harvesting during the Winter month.

 

 

Let’s first take a look at the various Summer tasks and then later I’ll go over those available in the Winter.

 

1.) Draw a Vine Card

When the player sends a Worker to this space, he is allowed to draw a new Vine card. You’ll notice that this area (along with every other action area on the game board) contains a bonus for the worker that is sent to the center action space. In this case, that worker would be able to draw 2 Vine cards. There are nine different types of grape vines in the game. Each Vine card references the name of the grape, the color wine that can be produced from that grape, and the overall value of the grape. Some wines also have a building icon located in the top left corner of the card that represents the type of structure that is required in a vineyard before that vine can be grown.
For instance, the Merlot vine card requires an Irrigation structure in the player’s vineyard before it can be planted. Once planted it will produce red grapes with a total value of 3.

 

 

 

2.) Plant a Vine

The main goal of any vineyard entrepreneur is to fill Wine Orders. To do this, one must grow the grapes that will eventually be harvested, crushed, bottled, and sold. By sending a worker to one of the spaces at this action area, that worker can Plant 1 Vine card in one of the three fields on their personal player board (or 2 if using the bonus space), either by placing it in an empty field or attaching it to other vine cards already present in a field. The only stipulation to this is that the total value of the cards in a field can not exceed 6.
For instance, Player A decides to plant the Merlot vine (value of 3) in one of his fields. His vine cards in the 1st field currently have a total value of 5, while his single Trebbiano vine card in his 2nd field has a value of 2. Since the Merlot vine is worth 3, he could not place it in his 1st field (thus exceeding the maximum value of 6), but could add it to the field with the Trebbiano vine, or place it in his empty 3rd field.

 

 

 

3.) Build a Structure

As mentioned, many of the Vine cards will require certain structures before they can be produced in the vineyard, however many other structures are available for construction on the player’s personal board and each of these structures provide various bonuses. By sending a worker to this Summer action area, the worker can construct 1 structure (or 2 if placed on the bonus space). Each structure has a specific token that matches that structure that will be placed on the player’s board to show that it has been built. It’s unique to see a publisher that will go out of its way to make individual components for each building, and is quite refreshing. Let’s take a look at the various structures:
– The Trellis costs 2 lira and will allow players to produce Pinot, Syrah, and Trebbiano vines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines require both a Trellis and an Irrigation structure.

 

– The Windmill costs 5 lira and rewards a player 1 Victory Point every time they plant a new Vine card.

– The Cottage costs 4 lira and rewards a player with an additional Summer of Winter card when drawing cards during the Fall season (we’ll take a look at this phase next).

– The Yoke costs 2 lira and provides an extra space for players to place a worker. By doing so, they can either remove vine cards from a field or can use it as an extra space to take a Harvest action.

 

– The Irrigation structure costs 3 lira and will allow players to produce Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc vines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines require a Trellis and an Irrigation structure.

 

– The Tasting Room costs 6 lira and rewards a player 1 Victory Point each time they send a Worker to the action space to give a tour of the vineyard.

– Finally the player’s Cellar begins as a small structure that can only hold bottled red and white wine that is valued at 3 or less. A player can pay 4 lira to upgrade to a medium cellar (max value of 6 and space for blush wine) and then another 6 lira to upgrade to a large cellar (max value of 9 and space for blush and sparkling wine).

 

 

 

4.) Play a Summer Visitor Card

Summer Visitors can help with constructing building, planting vines, and assisting with the overall preparation that goes into making sure the vineyard has what it needs for a successful Winter harvest. A player can send a worker to this action space in order to play 1 Summer card from their hand, and take the immediate effect listed on the card (or may play 2 Summer cards if using the bonus space). We’ll take a more in depth look at how Visitors work when discussing the Fall phase.

 

 

 

5.) Sell Grapes

As players harvest grapes from the vines in their field, these grapes will be sent to their crush pads. During the Winter phase, these grapes can be converted into bottled wine, however during the Summer phase, players can send workers to this space in order to sell grapes straight from their crush pads. The player will receive a number of lira equal to the value of the grape.
So for instance, selling a bundle of red grapes worth 5 would gain the player 2 lira, while selling a bundle of grapes worth 2 would only gain the player 1 lira. Players taking the bonus space when taking this action is also awarded 1 Victory Point.

 

 

 

6.) Give a Tour

A quick way to earn some extra income is to give a tour of your vineyard to the public. Player’s can send a worker as a tour guide to this space in order to give a tour and immediately gains 2 lira (3 lira if occupying the bonus space).

 

 

 

Fall

Vineyards and wineries are known for being open throughout the year for public visitation. In Viticulture, visitors will arrange weekend trips to the winery in the Summer and Winter seasons. During the Fall, players will collect these visitor cards to use in future Summer/Winter months. Thematically, you can think of the Fall season as a time when visitors make reservations to the vineyard for the upcoming year. There is an action space in the Summer section to play Summer Visitor cards from your hand, as well as an action space in the Winter section to play Winter Visitors. For the most part, Summer Visitors will assist with income collection and the preplanning steps that go along with the actions spaces in the Summer months. The Winter Visitors on the other hand will assist more with the harvesting, bottling, and completion of wine orders. During the Fall phase, each player is allowed to select either 1 Summer Visitor card or 1 Winter Visitor card from the draw decks (2 cards if they’ve built a Cottage), and add it into their hand. Each visitor when played provides a bonus ability that is normally more powerful than the standard actions spaces.

For instance, as seen on the left, when an Architect is played as a Summer visitor, the player may build any structure for 3 lira less than it would normally cost. The Surveyor is another Summer visitor that when played will gain a player 1 Victory Point for each of his fields that have at least 1 Vine card in them. Finally, the Merchant is a Winter Visitor that allows a player to fill a wine order and sell at least one grape as one complete action. If he is able to complete both of these, he gains an extra Victory Point.

 

 

 

Winter

For the most part, workers will be used to harvest, bottle wine, and fulfill wine orders during the Winter season. The Winter phase works exactly as the Summer phase, but with actions spaces available on the right side of the board (blue spaces). Using the same turn order, players will take turns placing their remaining workers on these Winter space and take the corresponding actions. Let’s take a look at each of these action spaces and how they work:

 

 

1.) Play a Winter Visitor Card

As previously mentioned, Winter Visitors can assist with the various jobs and tasks during the Winter season. A player that sends a worker to this space can play 1 Winter Visitor card (or 2 if using the bonus space).

 

 

 

2.) Harvest Grapes

In order to convert grapes to wine, grapes must first be harvested from a player’s fields and placed into his crush pads near the bottom left portion of his player. Players can send workers to this action space to harvest grapes from one of their fields (from 2 different fields is using the bonus space). When choosing a field to harvest, the values of the red and white grapes are added together separately, and then these values are recorded on the Crush Pad space. There are at set of Crush Pads for red grapes, as well as a set for white grapes.
For instance, Player B decides to harvest grapes from his 1st field on his player board. The set of Vine cards planted here will total a Red grape valued at 4 and a White grape valued at 2. Therefore, he would place markers below on the #4 space on his Crush Pad for red grapes, and on the #2 space on his Crush Pad for white grapes.

 

 

 

3.) Make Wine

Once grapes have been placed in the Crush Pad, they can be converted into wine and bottled in the player’s Cellars. A workers can be sent to this action space in order to make up to 2 bottles of wine (an additional bottle if using the bonus space). When doing this, players will take markers from their Crush Pads and place them into their Cellar. There are four types of wine in the game, and each are made using different combinations of red and white grapes from the Crush Pad.

– In order to make a Red wine, the player simply moves one of his markers on his red grape crush pad and places it on the matching red value space in the Cellar. Therefore to make a Red Wine with a value of 4, he would need a marker on the #4 space of his red crush pad.

White wine is made in the same way, except that the marker is taking from the white crush pad and placed on the matching white wine cellar space.

Blush wines are made by adding a Red grape and a White grape from the crush pads together. Their values are totaled, and the added total represents the new value of the Blush wine. For instance, a player can take a #3 red grape from his red crush pad and a #5 white grape from his white crush pad, add them together, and create a Blush Wine with a value of 8. Blush Wines can be made once the player has at least built a medium Cellar.

Sparkling wines are made by adding two red grapes and a white grape together. The totaled value of all three of these grapes from the crush pads equals the new value of the bottled Sparkling Wine. Sparkling Wine can only be made if a player has constructed a large Cellar.

 

 

 

 

4.) Draw a Wine Order Card

Merchants and restaurant owners will place wine orders to the local vineyard. These orders are kept in the purple-colored draw deck on the top of the game board. When sending a worker to this action space, the player will be allowed to draw 1 Wine Order card from the draw deck (draw 2 if using the bonus space). Each Wine Order card references the types and values of wine needed to fulfill the Wine Order, as well as the awarded Victory Points and any residual payments accumulated for completing it.
When a residual payment is earned, the player will increase their bottle marker on the residual track (seen above). The maximum payment a player can ever receive year to year is 5 lira. Taking a look at the card below, we can see that the Wine Order asks for a Red wine valued at 3 and a Blush wine valued at 7. For fulfilling this Wine Order the player would receive 5 Victory Points and increase his yearly residual payments by 2.

 

 

 

5.) Fulfill Wine Orders

Once a player has obtained a wine order and bottled the types of wine and values required, he can send a worker to this action space to fulfill the wine order (he’ll gain an additional Victory Point if using the bonus space). When completing the card, players will remove wine tokens from their cellar that match the listed types and have values at least equal the requested values on the wine order. Wine Orders provide the largest amount of Victory Points in the game, and is a vital path to winning the game.

 

 

 

6.) Train a Worker

As your vineyard continues to grow from season to season, you will have the chance to add more workers to your labor force. By sending a worker to this action space, players can pay 4 lira and start the training of a new worker (they will gain 1 lira back if taking the bonus space). Since the worker is in training, he can not be used during this Winter season. He will be available beginning with the following Summer season.

 

 

 

 

The Year’s End

Before the next Spring phase begins, there are a few items at the end of the Winter phase that need special attention. Make sure that the following steps are taken before beginning a new Round:

 

– Return all workers (including newly trained workers) to their respective player boards.

– All markers on the crush pads and cellars increase by 1. Since wine ferments over time, it only makes sense that at the end of each Round, these harvested and bottled items would increase in value.

– Players cannot begin a new Round will more than 7 cards in their hand. Therefore, if a player’s hand is over this limit after the Winter phase is complete, he must discard down to 7 cards.

– Players receive any residual payments they have accumulated over the course of the game.

– The Start Player marker is passed counter-clockwise to the next player.

 

 

 

End-Game Conditions:

As mentioned before, players continue the game until someone reaches 20 Victory Points. Note that when a player reaches 20 Victory Points, play continues until the Round is over. Therefore it is possible that a player reaches 20 Victory Points in the Summer season, but still lose the game if another player finished with 22 by the end of the Winter season.

 

 

 

Thoughts:

The word “viticulture” is defined as the cultivation of grapevines; grape-growing. It is only fitting then that Viticulture is designed in a way to walk players through a sort of engine-building experience of the wine-making process. Thematically, much like with Euphoria, the theme is interwoven within the mechanics of the game to help bring players into the world itself. Players will take the various steps of making wine, from the planting of the vines, to the harvest, to crushing the grapes, bottling the wine, and ultimately selling it to merchants. As each year passes, it only makes sense that the bottled wine would age, and when doing so would become more valuable. This is a thematic mechanic also included in the game. Also, different jobs need to be done depending on the season of the year. It would thematically make sense then that you wouldn’t harvest grapes in the same season you planted the vines. Each season feels completely different from one another, and even in the two seasons where players send workers out to perform the various actions on the board, the summer actions for the most part are far different than the winter ones.

It’s this unique splitting of the two worker placements seasons that really helps Viticulture stand apart from others within its genre. Players only have so many workers at their disposal, and players must decide at the beginning of the year which tasks they need to complete between the summer and winter seasons. The more summer tasks they complete, the less workers they’ll have available for the winter, and vice versa. I did find it interesting that while players can block other players from certain actions spaces, there are two built-in elements that keep this from being too much of a problem. For one, almost all of the actions spaces in both the summer and winter seasons are very useful. There are times when you find that you are blocked from an action area that you had planned on using, only to find that by taking an alternative action, the reward is almost just as good. This is true especially with the Visitor cards. It wasn’t until a few playthroughs when I realized just how powerful these Visitors can be. They usually contain actions that are much more powerful than the actions spaces themselves, and should not be ignored.

The other element that minimizes the aspect of blocking is the Grande worker. I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant with a worker than can be placed anywhere in a worker placement game, but by the end of the first game it made complete sense, and only added to the overall strategy. Remember than each player only has 1 Grande worker to be used each year. Therefore, players must decide which of the 12 action spaces they’ll want to save their Grande worker for just in case opposing players block that space. It helps to open up the game a bit, but without derailing any of the strategy. As a side note, it is interesting that Euphoria also uses a mechanic to minimize blocking, while not affecting strategy. It’ll be interesting to see if this is a common design element going forward with future Stonemaier titles.

The main takeaway I have for Viticulture is this. Fulfilling wine orders in the game is, well fulfilling. After spending time planting your fields, building structures to help improve the vineyard, harvesting the grapes, crushing the grapes, bottling the wine, and completing an order, you truly feel a sense of accomplishment. The game creates an atmosphere in which you may know nothing about the wine-making process going in, but you sure do feel like an accomplished viticulturist by the end. That in itself makes the game a successful one. Viticulture being a unique, mechanically well designed worker placement game on top of that, only adds to this game’s excellence.

 

 

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