There’s something therapeutic about games where you grow things. In that vein, Viticulture: Essential Edition is a work-placement board game from Stonemaier Games in which players attempt to manage a vineyard in Tuscany, Italy. Each player tries to produce and sell as much wine as possible and accrue more victory points than the others.
Like many of Stonemaier’s games, there is great attention to detail in Viticulture. The different tokens and cards are all well made with no machining errors, as well as beautiful, well-printed artwork. Having said that, there are some clear indications that Viticulture was one of SM’s earlier titles. There are a few storage problems with the box.
While there is space to fit everything inside the box, there can be some difficulty getting things back out when you want to set up a game. Firstly, the box isn’t perfectly sized, meaning that tokens can get mixed up if you store your games sideways or if there’s any sort of jostling in transit. Worse than that are the spaces for storing the standard-sized cards. These two spaces have curved bottoms, meaning that the cards sort of float in place above empty space where you’re supposed to store the coins. What ends up happening is you either risk damaging the cards when you try to dig them out, or the cards at the very bottom end up getting bent at the corners by the curved sides. Why they couldn’t have just used the standard straight card slots with smaller slots beneath is a complete mystery and not the sort of mistake I would have necessarily expected Stonemaier to make.
Luckily, beyond some slight issues with the box, everything else going on in Viticulture is stellar. Each turn in the game accounts for a year’s worth of time on the vineyard. Each player chooses how to spend their limited time and workers in each season. You start out with a certain amount of resources based on which parents you randomly drew from the relevant decks and then busy yourself with the business of wine-making.
Your main goal in Viticulture is to get the most victory points, and you do this by growing grapes, harvesting them and then crushing them into different wines and selling said wine. You also have to try to find time to train new workers, giving you more actions each year, and building structures, which either gives you a useful bonus or actually unlocks different abilities. Each wine and grape you make has a different value, and at the end of each year, they age, getting better and potentially more valuable.
While making money is certainly important in the game, it definitely isn’t the main thing you’re trying to do. The quest for victory points certainly takes precedence over money-making. The strategy comes into play when you have to balance making money to enable your other activities and using your workers to actually create the wine you need to win the game. It can be quite a challenge to not get distracted by the appeal of making lots of money when it won’t necessarily help you to win.
One of the great things about Viticulture is how easy it is to learn. The main process of placing workers to perform actions is conveyed well enough by the full rule book, but it is also easy to remember thanks to the reminders on the board, as well as the reference sheet provided. Not only that, but the game works just as well with two players as it does with four or more. It also comes with some rules for solo play in case you want to play on your own, which also provides a campaign mode for extended gaming.
Overall, Viticulture: Essential Edition is a great game that can be easily picked up by almost anyone and contains pretty impressive depth and strategy. While there are some issues with how the components are stored in the box, there are probably ways around those issues for those more craft-minded people out there. At the end of the day, the actual game and all of the pieces are as well thought out and put together as you can expect from a Stonemaier product. Even when they have problems, these games are stunning to behold.
Designer: Morten Monrad Pedersen, Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone
Artist: Jacqui Davis, David Montgomery, Beth Sobel
Publisher: Stonemaier Games