Summary A well-balanced worker placement game, with an interesting season mechanic that guides worker-placement choice and is well-suited to introduce beginners to the genre.
Description Type: Worker Placement
Platform: Board Game
Game Time: 45 - 90 minutes
Developer or Designer: Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone and Morteh Monrad Pederseh
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Worker placement mechanic is limited by the seasons, which makes it easier for inexperienced players to plan a strategy.
Turn order mechanic which changes every year and allows you change your strategy as a result.
Well-realised and intuitive theme that lends itself well to worker placement and gradual progression.
Large variation in the value of some of the same game components that can "swing" the game unexpectedly in a way that can be frustrating to strategic players.
A bad card draw mix can cause you to be completely unable to compete in a game.
You need to remember two different turn orders and the compulsion to just always pass to the left is strong.
Review The problem with worker placement games is that it's often difficult for inexperienced players to compete against the optimised strategies of a more seasoned player. In Village or Agricola, for example, how do you pick a strategy from the many that are available to you? This is often because the mechanic itself is so abstracted from the purpose of the game.
Not so in Viticulture, the seasons limitation to the worker placement make it quite clear what you should be doing in Spring and Summer (planting fields, building new locations, having summer visitors) to get ready for Fall and Winter (harvesting fields, turning grapes into wine, and filling orders), which means it's relatively simple to grasp the mechanics and work on your strategies.
Will you plan to plant a lot of different vines and sell grapes for money, or will you focus on upgrading your cellar so that you can house the most expensive of sparkling wines once you have matured the grapes on the crushpad? The choice is yours.
There's also a neat little turn order picker, along with associated benefits that changes every year. Go first, to get the pick of the placements and you get no benefit, go last, and you get an additional worker with benefits of various use in-between. It's handy because it allows you to flex your strategy based on where you have to come in the turn order (if you happen to be picking last that year), but it also allows you to pick a specific benefit that might make a big difference.
The theme is well realised, with little abstraction in actions and art that can plague some games (what are those cubes in Village even suppose to be?) and that also helps maintain a sense of purpose about the game that can be missing in some worker placement.
The game seems well-balanced, although some other reviews have complained about the Summer and Winter visitor cards being very different in value to the game, I think that's a minor concern. A card that appears "valuable" can sometimes be of no use at all if you get it at the wrong time and a very minor card can sometimes swing the game.
As a group, we also noticed that luck plays a huge part in the game (part of the reason why beginners can compete with seasoned vintners) and your score can be greatly boosted if you are lucky enough to draw components that work well together. Otherwise, you can be left out in the cold a little as the other vineyards produce high-value blush and sparkling wine to fill orders in quick succession.
In between the Kickstarter edition and the second edition, they introduced Grande Workers. These remove the Kickstarter issue of all the worker slots being filled because a Grande Worker (or Don Baggypants, as he became known to us) can use a slot that's already been filled. This frees up the game a bit more and stops you being completely gazumped from being able to do a whole string of points-producing actions because you couldn't do the first one.
The game is quite slow to start as you plant vines and build up to filling orders, but once the trellises are full the game quickly speeds up as you all start filling up orders and racking up points in quick succession.
As to the art direction: the game's theme is well-realised and I like the pastoral style for the Summer and Winter visitor cards and Mamas and Papas which are based, quite sweetly, on Kickstarter backers.