Monday, 18 January 2016

Grapes of Wrath

Wine. It's one of those things that couldn't have had an immediately intuitive value upon its discovery. When the wheel was invented you can picture someone saying "I'm onto something here" The first woozy head, sick stomach and all-day hangover, less so. Nonetheless wine remains very popular and weirdly there are several boardgames about it. Having discovered a friend got 30% off at Forbidden Planet, I leapt in and bought Viticulture, the most highly-thought of one on BGG.

We - myself (Sam), Ian, Chris, Andrew - hadn't planned to play it, or anything come to that. After failing to win at FUSE, Andrew, Ian and I had a better three-player stab at Codenames, where we won 9-3. As Spymaster I was particularly proud, but when Chris arrived I undid all Ian's good spy mastering by inadvertently clueing the assassin, and Andrew and Chris obliterated our first-round lead as a result.  Sorry Ian!


We debated what to do next and with Chris keen and me amenable, there was enough goodwill in the room to break out the newbie - Viticulture it was. It felt very old-school to me: very Euro-y, very fire-fighting. Not as much as In The Year of the Dragon, say, but similar to something like Concordia where you have plenty of plans but never quite enough wiggle room to do them all. 

But maybe my personal experience of it was down to my own struggles. The others got going quicker than I did. The game is a race to 20 points and takes place over a number of years: spring is a bid for turn order, summer is worker placement to get your grape-growing shit together. Autumn is getting a card or two and winter is trying to turn your grape-growing shit into wine/points. Then there's some bobbins going on at the end of the year too.

I sold my field! Don't worry, I'm going to buy it back later

Player order - like Fresco - is important, but - like Tinner's Trail - you can pull some good moves going last too. Basically you're planting vines gathering grapes, then jumping up and down on them to turn them into wine, then (that's one too many thens I fear) completing orders for them.

early summer

Mixed into this chicanery is a load of visitors to your vineyard who do all kinds of nonsense. Chris  never managed to complete an order - in fact his whole approach was all about maximising his visitors, like a lazy-ass vintner who prefers showing people around to rolling his trouser sleeves up and jumping in the press. Ian, despite his fatigue, won convincingly before I could complete a big order.  Or even a small order. Like Chris, I did nothing in the wine market. Unlike Chris, I did nothing anywhere else either. I did have loads of lovely wine though - both in my cellar, and my tummy. Mmmmm.

Ian 22
Andrew 16
Chris 15
Sam 6

Andrew's vineyard

Despite my diabolical score I look forward to trying this again. The alleged 45-90 minutes felt like it had been play-tested by Roy Castle by the time we wound up, but it was a first attempt. Andrew and Ian headed home, but Chris and I stayed up to try a couple more attempts at FUSE. We failed miserably both times.

I awoke with a heavy head. Maybe it was the Viticulture. Or possibly, the viticulture.


  1. The point you made still stands but I did manage to squeak one quite small order out at the end. I over paid and it only added the thinest veneer of gloss to my nailed on third place. Interesting game of familiar mechanics. I'd like to play again to iron out a lot of the inefficient plays I made!

  2. I'm very glad that I'd love Viticulture, since I recently purchased the Essential Edition!

  3. Sorry Chris I totally missed that. I agree with you though nothing in there feels original. And I wonder if what Visitor cards you get can potentially imbalance the game. But I'm intrigued by it nonetheless - originality isn't everything.

  4. Viticulture seemed like a pretty good worker placement game. I was a bit knackered by the end of the initial play through (well, I was knackered at the start), but I'd quite like to play it again. Now that we've got a handle on the game it should be quicker.

    So much of the scoring came near the end of the game the early stages might have seemed slower than they really were.

  5. I enjoyed Viticulture, although when I realised we'd been playing for an hour and the scores were only 1, 1, 1, -1 I thought we'd made a terrible mistake.

  6. I felt like we were all thinking a similar thing at that point. Then suddenly you guys started scoring points!