(2014 – Stonemaier Games)
Small publisher, Stonemaier Games is recognized in the community both for the production quality and thematic focus found in their first two releases (Viticulture & Euphoria). Both published with the help of hugely successful Kickstarter campaigns, Viticulture & Euphoria have both seen 2nd editions, are both currently ranked in the top 300 games on boardgamegeek.com. Not a bad start for a small publisher. Today, I’ll be taking a look at Viticulture’s unique expansion, entitled Tuscany.
Tuscany is unique in that it follows the “legacy” format, previously seen in Rob Daviau’s Risk: Legacy, released in 2011, and soon to be used in Plaid Hat’s Seafall and Z-Man Games’ Pandemic: Legacy. For those unfamiliar with how a legacy style game works, the core goal is to create a unique game experience for a group of players through the course of multiple game sessions. When a player wins a game, he will be able to make choices that affects future games, whether it be breaking rules, destroying components, or even revealing new cards and gameplay mechanics not previously seen in the game. All with the understanding that by the end of a certain number of sessions, the group of players will have a completely unique game from anyone else.
While Tuscany doesn’t exactly stick to every characteristic of a legacy game (there’s no destroying of components or permanently writing on the game board), it’s this idea of unveiling the game mechanics and expansion components in tiers, one session at a time, that invokes the legacy aspect. Since the expansion is meant to be explored in this way, I’m going to go about this review a little differently than my normal format. There are three tiers to Tuscany, each will multiple additions to the game. I’m only going to cover the Tier 1 mechanics and additions, leaving the Tier 2 and 3 items for you to explore on your own, if you choose to pick up a copy (though below, I will post pictures of all components that come in the box, so do with that what you will). I think it’s only fair to those interested in how Tuscany works, but no reason to spoil all of the fun. Plus I don’t really fell like throwing up the word “SPOILER” in 48 point font all over the place. It may scare the small children. For those interested in the base game, Viticulture, I’ve previously done a review on its 2nd edition. So I suggest reading that first, or taking a look at some of the other great written reviews and videos on boardgamegeek.
Tier 1 Gameplay:
After players complete their first session of Viticulture, the winner will have the opportunity to “uncork” one of the Tier 1 expansions, thus adding it to the game. Players can then play through multiple sessions of the game with this new expansion, until they decide they are ready to uncork the next expansion (allowing the winner of the latest session the choice). Tuscany comes with a recording sheet that will let players keep track of the dates, scores, winner, and unlocked expansions from the various sessions.
Once all Tier 1 expansions have been opened, players can then begin to add in the Tier 2 items, and then continuing to the Tier 3 expansions. Note that when playing with Tuscany, all unlocked Tier 1 and Tier 2 expansions are used in every game. Using Tier 3 expansions are a bit different however, in that only one Tier 3 expansion is used in each game. So even if all Tier 3 expansions have been unlocked, players will have to choose which one to use for that session. As I mentioned before, I’ll only be taking a look at the four Tier 1 expansions for the purposes of this review. Let’s take a look at how these initial tier additions work:
Mamas & Papas
Patronage cards are treated similarly to Wine Orders, but give players certain end-game objectives that if completed, will earn the player an additional 2 Victory Points. Thematically, you can treat this as performing a specific request from a loyal customer. At the beginning of the game, each player is randomly dealt one of the nine Patronage cards. Each Patronage card has a front side that depicts a generic customer photo and lists a Wine Order calling for a wine bottle with a value of 5 and rewards 3 Victory Points if completed. Patronage cards are completed the same way that Wine Orders are, by taking the “fill 1 Wine Order” action, though they will not reward any residual payments. After completing the Patronage card (removing a wine token with a value of at least 5 from a cellar), the player is awarded 3 Victory Points and the card is placed next to his player board. It is now considered active.
Once active, the player can attempt to complete the objective listed on the back side of the Patronage card. If the player can complete this objective by the end of the game, he will receive another 2 additional Victory Points. Let’s take a look at a few of these objectives and what they include:
– If the player ends up having the fewest built structures in his vineyard, he will be rewarded 2 additional Victory Points.
– If the player is earning at least four residual payments a year by the end of the game, he will be rewarded an additional 2 Victory Points.
While I’m tempted to delve into every detail, component, and mechanic that is included in Tuscany, I really don’t want to spoil the fun of unlocking everything. It is such a clever and intuitive way to not only teach the various expansion modules, but also do it in a way that is streamlined and not overwhelming. Some of the extensions are minor (as with the Mama & Papa start cards), while some are quite large additions to the base game (as with the Tier 2 board extension). But all of the expansion modules work quite well together and seem to flow in a way that seems deliberately organized. The best and more complex additions are saved for the last Tier and it is nice that these are kept separate from each other when used. Players can essentially have three different style games by including one of the three Tier 3 expansions in the game.
As with any Legacy-style game, the biggest stumbling block comes with players that do not have the same consistent gaming group. Tuscany is meant to be played over numerous sessions with the same people, allowing that group to unlock and learn the many expansion parts step by step. Of course, it wouldn’t be incredibly hard to teach some of these modules to new players, but it may be a bit overwhelming to attempt to include them all. Tuscany truly shines when it can be unlocked (or “uncorked”) as intended, therefore it is important to consider this going in.
I’m really interested about how this Legacy-style format could be used in other games and expansions going forward. I would love to see something similar from Stonemaier with an expansion for Euphoria. Tuscany feels as if it includes 2-3 expansions in one box. Each of the Tier 3 modules on their own feel like mini-expansions and that doesn’t include the other eight Tier 1 & 2 modules, plus additional components for solo gameplay. This should be an essential purchase for any fan of Viticulture in that it includes a wealth of replayability and provides new ways to explore the game‘s depth and strategy.