Sunday, September 30, 2012

Preview of Viticulture....

Kickstarter has been used to launch some pretty great games like Alien Frontiers and even now big and emerging companies like Queen and Tasty Minstrel Games are using it to fund their projects.  Still, the majority of gaming projects on the crowd-funding website are independently produced labours of love.  And there is always some risk with helping to fund these projects as the games don't necessarily go through the rigorous development and testing that a major company's release would see and often the reviews are quite limited.

Still, I've had some great success with indy games lately - Alien Frontiers which I continue to mention, Vanuatu which I own but have yet to play, and Morels which wasn't crowd-funded but is still wonderfully produced and delightful.  I'm happy to say the upcoming game Viticulture seems like another winner.  We managed to play a 6-player round of a prototype copy after the Blitz yesterday evening and despite a few issues, the overall experience was surprisingly enjoyable.  I've had the prototype all week and had hoped to play it sooner but this just happened to be one of my busiest AND sickest weeks this year.  Yuck.

Drinking wine while playing a wine-making game
In short, Viticulture is a worker-placement game which lightly simulates managing a vineyard and creating and selling wine.  Now I know a ton of wine-making games have cropped up in the past few years, none of which I happen to have played yet as the complexity of many of them sounded high.  Viticulture manages to keep things fairly simple, thanks to easy-to-explain actions and a wealth of cards.  The quirk that keeps this game different from the abundance of other worker-placement games is that there are two distinct rounds of placement, a summer and winter season, and you need to spread your workers over both which requires a bit of planning.

Overall, it presented a relaxing but strategic experience involving planting vines, giving tours, harvesting and crushing grapes, and bottling and selling wines.  Now, there were a few glitches we experienced mostly due to the ruleset but I am certain we did not have the final version (and I will be sending some suggestions to the designers).  As well, some of the cards did seem a bit wildly powerful (note to future players - grab as many visitor cards as possible) but I know the designers have actually modified a few since we were sent a copy.  One other thing came to light while we played was a possible "perfect" strategy but this may or not be a possibility in a game with less than 6 players.  A certain player who designs games himself decided to choose the same action of giving vineyard tours every round.  He upgraded his building to get an extra point every time he did.  Combining that with one other action and repeating this every round, he managed to win the game by a narrow margin.  Now, I suppose a boring strategy like this can often win as well in a game like Dominion, you know just buying coins repeatedly and taking no actions until you can afford to buy everything.  But still this is something to be aware of.

In general, though, Viticulture is a very well put-together and engaging game.  It's got some chaos in the card draws but I kind of like that as I find worker-placement games can often be quite stiff.  There is a definite satisfying story arc and a relaxed pace to the game as you build up your infrastructure and workers over a few years (rounds) until you can finally produce and sell wine.  And considering how well the Kickstarter campaign is going, this game is going to be a gorgeous production.  It's clear the game has been playtested and that they are still fine-tuning it.  Good to see.

Future artwork
If this sounds interesting to you, definitely check out the Kickstarter site - there are 7 days to go and the designers have already hit enough stretch goals to add specially designed pieces, double-sided gameboards, and wooden buildings.  I kickstarted it, perhaps you might want to, too.


  1. I want to back it, but only if I could be part of a group deal. I have found no takers in the Victoria area. Sigh.

  2. Hey Eric, thanks so much for reviewing the game! I really enjoyed this review, and I appreciate your playtesters trying to break them game. That's exactly what I want people to do! I'll consult with you on that one strategy.