Sunday, 15 May 2016

Through the Desert #3 - Viticulture

Skipped a week as I forgot to do this last week! The last two posts have covered a couple of brain burners so let's look at something a bit lighter today, but still very Euro ;) 

Viticulture is a worker placement game about running a little vineyard and making some wine. So far, so blah. But there's a lot of neat ideas that come together to make a pretty darn addictive Euro. A round is split into four seasons - here's a quick summary: 

Spring - Choose turn order. The later you go, the bigger a bonus you get. 

Summer - Place workers on the yellow spaces to build buildings, get money, plant vines... in essence setting up for the winter. Spend your dudes carefully, because you won't get them back until the end of the year!

Autumn - Draw either a Summer or Winter visitor card. These do all sorts of funky actions and give lots of game-to-game variety. 

Winter - Place your remaining workers on the blue spaces to harvest grapes, make wine, sell wine, get new workers etc.

This all sounds well and good, but how do you win? Well, it's a wine-making game, so that seems like a good place to start! 
First you'll need (green) vine cards. Then you'll need to plant them (which might require building a Trellis and/or Irrigation). Then you'll need to harvest their grapes. Then you'll need to turn those grapes into wine. Then you'll need to fulfil a (purple) wine order card, selling (i.e. discarding) the indicated wines and scoring some big victory points. 

That's how you'll get big points-scoring turns in this game, and it's how most people approach the game at first. And you'll still have a fun and satisfying time going full steam in this direction. It's just really satisfying to build up your vineyard, age your stock and score those big points when your wines are finally ready to be sent to the punters. 

But what brings this game up another notch for me is the ability to go off-piste. There are a number of ways to get smaller amounts of victory points here and there, whether from the visitor cards, from bonuses by taking a space first or even the tasting room, which gives you a VP for giving a tour if you've got at least one wine to be showcased. So if things are getting a bit too busy in certain places you can forge your own path to a certain extent, and all those small incremental VP gains can really add up as the game ends at the end of the round if someone has hit 20+ VP.

As someone who is particularly fond of worker placements, I really appreciate the twists they've added to this one. The split between summer and winter workers is great, but the gem in this particular game is the Grande worker:

Everyone has one of these big fellas and they can go in spots that would otherwise be unavailable. So there's always something useful to do so long as you hold onto him. 

Finally, the Essential edition spices things up, in particular by giving everyone a slightly different set of starting resources. Between these and all the different visitor cards, there's a ton of variety from game to game. 

If I had to nitpick, I'd say there's a fair bit more luck than most Eurogamers are used to. There's a fair amount of cards to be drawn, and you can occasionally be stuck e.g. drawing all red grape vines and all white wine orders, which can be irritating. Some folks also go into it with the expectation of it being heavier than it is, and I've seen games run far longer than they really should as a result.

It's mostly positives for this one though. There's just something really pleasing about the way this game all comes together that's difficult to describe to anyone who hasn't played it. Once it's all in your head it's surprisingly easy and breezy to play, and it's very replayable. It's one I'll bring to a number of occasions, unlike most of my heavier offerings... but it still gives me that puzzly Euro feel. And it supports 2-6 players, and seems to work well throughout that range. Definitely one of the better games in my collection. 

Geek rating: 5/6.

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