Viticulture Review: Your Own Personal Vineyard
If you’ve ever wanted to grow your own grapes and make your own wine on a beautiful Italian vineyard, you can for as low as $60 USD, should you choose to pick up the fantastically deep, worker placement board game Viticulture from Stonemaier Games. We recently wrote about how to play Viticulture in this great article, so if you are interested in the turn-by-turn mechanics of the game, give that aread first. Here, we will dive into the game itself, examine the strategies involved, and how well it all comes together!
Worker Placement Games
Worker placement games are fairly self explanatory, but I will give you a brief overview here. In worker placement games, you do exactly as the statement suggests: place workers. In Viticulture, you will have multiple locations to put your workers on any given turn, which will allow you specific actions. But once the workers are used, they are gone until your next turn. This is were the strategy lies within these games: what route will you take, and will it be enough to help you win!
So Many Strategies
The biggest issue I have with most worker placement tiles is that often, there are 1 or 2 sure-fire ways to succeed, and if you don’t follow that path, you won’t find victory at the end. Viticulture really moves way from that philosophy, and I’ve always felt there are numerous ways to win. Ultimately, you need to grow grapes and make wine, but how you approach the other aspects of the game is completely up to you. Whether you focus on visitors to your vineyard or shipping out bottles upon bottles of wine, there are numerous things you can do, and the key is focusing on them early.
For those that want to dabble in it all, they will find the game is less favourable to them. There are many different paths you can take in Viticulture, and winning on your first go is fairly difficult, especially when up against veteran players. If you try to perfectly balance the use of visitor cards, with selling wine, and improving all your buildings, you are likely to have fun building up your vineyard, but feel frustrated when the points don’t fall your way. I found the key to this experience is only do what is necessary, and avoid the rest.
Placing Those Workers
Another major hurdle for those playing worker placement games I the inability to take actions that have already been claimed by someone else. While the game does do a good job of allowing players to decide their turn order, without a key mechanic in the game, fortunes could dictate that one or two players at the table never get their first choice of spaces enough keep a good strategy going throughout the game. Enter the Grande Worker, a large meeple character with special abilities not found in many other games of this ilk.
The Grande Worker in Viticulture allows player to – once per year as they only have one of these workers – place their Grande Worker on a location already occupied by other meeples. This allows players to take an action they really want, even if all the other spaces are full. It’s limited in that you get it once per turn, but will allow players to work towards their own personal strategy year in and year out.
Understandably, everything won’t fall into place every time you get a chance to have your turn, but games that continually beat you down by no fault of your own quickly lose their appeal.
Long Lasting Appeal
And ultimately that is where Viticulture shines. Even when playing with friends who traditionally hate worker placement experiences, they are always willing to play another round of Viticulture. Why? The Grande Worker. This single mechanic – which is so simple in concept – really does make the game more enjoyable for everyone at the table. It changes strategy. While you might make moves to limit the abilities of those around you – not usually a good option in this game by the way – you must always recognize that other players have that Grande worker, and your move to limit them might ultimately hurt you more than it hurts them.
And so the focus is on you, not on those around you. While you need to be aware of what others are doing, I quite enjoy that Viticulture really is a personal experience that you share with friends. You’ll meet up on the common board and are likely to jostle for those extra bonus spots on the board, but ultimately your points will be earned in your own vineyard, and that’s something others can’t easily control.
Even if you hate worker placement experiences, taking Viticulture for a spin is definitely something I recommend you do. The game is beautifully illustrated, comes with tons of quality components, and has a number of extra expansions should you desire to extend the life of your game. Even on its own, though, there are few games of this style that perform better game after game after game. This gets one of our highest recommendations yet, and shouldn’t be missed!
Thanks to our good friends at Stonemaier Games who provided us a copy of this for review. We will have a look at an expansion in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes on the site!