Will you prove to be the best vineyard owner or simply end up with sour grapes?
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
Viticulture is the wildly popular worker placement game from Stonemaier Games, brought to us digitally by Digidiced. Players in Viticulture must utilize their workers as efficiently as possible to plant and harvest grapes, then turn that into various types of wine so they may fulfill customer orders to earn points. The game ends on the turn in which somebody crosses the 20 point threshold. A three player game can be played in about 20 minutes if you have the settings adjusted for speedy play, with the length scaling up for more AI opponents.
Viticulture digital is a port of Viticulture Essential Edition. It does not have all of Tuscany, but it does have pieces so it isn’t a port of the original (or second edition) release.
Players in Viticulture are given a few workers, three fields, some money, and some cards to start a game. Players are tasked with overseeing the production of wine and using that wine to fulfill custom orders which generally earns points and recurring revenue. Unless the game ends in a tie, only the points matter, but the revenue is used to make your various tasks a bit easier.
The game plays out over rounds which cover the four seasons. Spring is simply where players select their turn order, with players going earlier receiving lesser, or no, bonus while players going later in the order receiving better bonuses such as a point or an extra worker for the turn. Summer is primarily for planting grapes which is achieved by playing a grape card from your hand into one of your three fields. Summer allows a host of other activities from giving tours to earn money, drawing new grape cards, playing a summer visitor card, building a structure, or selling some grapes or fields.
Fall simply has players deciding to draw a summer or winter visitor card and then winter begins. Winter is all about harvesting those grapes into the crush pad and then turning it into various styles of wine. The payoff also comes in winter when you can fill an order by playing a purple card from your hand and discarding the wine the card required. Other winter actions include training new workers, drawing new order cards, and playing a winter visitor.
The years continue until the first player reaches 20 points. The year in which that happens is the last of the game and the player with the highest point total after that year wins. Ties are broken, in order, by number of lira, value of wine left in the cellar, and highest grape total in the crush pads.
That’s Viticulture in a nutshell. It’s simple at a high level but the devil is certainly in the details. In order to fill an order you need to have wine. In order to have wine you need to have the properly sized cellar and the right grapes. In order to get larger cellars you need to pay to build them. In order to get grapes you must harvest them. In order to harvest grapes you have to plant them. In order to plant them you have to draw grape cards. This isn’t to mention the jockeying for limited action spaces on each turn, getting the order cards in the first place, and letting your wine and grapes age. Point being; there is a lot that goes into fulfilling a single order and it will take you several turns to lay the groundwork to do so.
I even left out a slew of smaller details in which you have to build up certain aspects of your board/supply in order to carry out these larger achievements. This build up is the meat of Viticulture, the game rewards careful, efficient planning over everything else. Some orders can be worth five or more points and games are only played to 20, so it becomes a tight race to that goal. This isn’t to say that orders are the only source of points, as many of the visitor cards provide point opportunities as do a couple of the buildings.
The main aspect I haven’t really touched on yet are the visitor cards which are powerful and cover a very wide range of abilities and are handed out, at the very least, at a rate of one per turn. They are game changers.
Worker placement games don’t tend to be my favorite category. I certainly don’t mind them, and actually quite enjoy a few of them, but it isn’t a genre I tend to actively seek out. I’m not entirely sure why other than there being other mechanics I prefer. My first few plays of Viticulture after learning how to play (more on that below) it felt like “just another WP game.” As I started to put more and more plays under my belt, however, I found myself really enjoying the puzzle. The decisions on whether to try to get the grapes you need to fill the orders you have or the other way around, or to quickly build a tasting room which can provide you a point per turn, or to chase the points your visitor card might provide. The game is much more open than I thought at first glance. The pile of points for completing a big order are the most points you can get in one action (filling the order), but getting to that point is an extensive string of events that takes multiple turns to work through. Maybe you can win with a thousand (or twenty) small cuts rather than a few big ones?
I’m enjoying my time with Viticulture. I buy into why it is so highly rated, it’s an elegant worker placement game with a wide open decision space with enough randomness to make each game play out a bit different from the last.
Mama and Papa
Barrier to Entry
Bluntly stated; the tutorial in the game is the only way to learn and it falls woefully short of helping new players learn. It walks you through the game in four very brief tutorials which essentially spend a single block of text on each action and move on. It is not an interactive tutorial, it is essentially an abbreviated rule book. I play a lot of digital board games and the majority of those are games I haven’t played in physical form. I’ve rarely been so lost in my first game as I was here. I don’t say “never” because there are others which had similarly lacking tutorials, but to compound the issue, Viticulture has almost no in-game help. There is a small question mark you can click to show what each building does, but that’s all. There are no pop-ups to explain why you can’t perform certain actions. If you are unfamiliar with the game, your first game will feel bad not only because you don’t know what you’re doing, but because the game doesn’t help you learn as you play. It’s a double whammy of badness. The triple to that whammy sandwich was the lack of any sort of text rules. Text rules are far less than ideal for digital versions, but they do work as a backup if the tutorial falls flat, as is the case here.
I ended up on YouTube watching videos to find my footing in the game. I recommend The Rules Girl for a five minute overview of the game. It accomplishes what the tutorial attempts to; provides a baseline set of information about how the game works without diving far into the details. For another level of detail, I really got a lot out of The Dragon Table’s rules overview. It was after watching this video that I started to fully grasp the gist of the game. Some details were certainly still fuzzy, but I was able to play and enjoy the game at that point. I eventually had a full understanding of the rules, but it was a significant hurdle that players who are new to the game should definitely be aware of before jumping in.
Look and Feel
The game looks good. The visuals are nice, they carry the shades of red and white from the box cover and game art throughout the entire app and present a nice, cohesive visual experience. Functionally, it mostly works just fine. I’ve already covered my issues with not having any way to get any additional information about the actions, via long press or otherwise. Otherwise, the game lays out the information well with each player’s quick overview available at the top of the screen, the board taking up most of the screen and individual player details such as fields and cellars tucked behind a menu bar across the bottom. There is a lot of information in Viticulture and the app does a good job of allowing easy access to it.
Control wise, everything is click-and-confirm with the familiar green arrows in the bottom right corner for confirming every action. There is an undo button which generally can go back to the start of your turn unless you take specific actions which prevent an undo. My only real issue here is how small some of the tab areas are in the game. The “pass” and “winter” options are crammed in a very tight space on the side of the screen and are difficult for me to hit on the first try. The cellars and grape area are also quite cramped, which makes creating wine and selecting it for order fulfillment a source of potential annoyance.
The game has an option for seasoned players which eliminates the many potential uses of the undo feature by automatically advancing after you select options. This is a very nice touch as it speeds the playtime considerably once you are confident enough that you won’t make a big mistake that needs undoing. The AI isn’t instant, but it doesn’t take all that long either. If you have the seasoned players mode on along with the fast animations setting, games move at a brisk pace.
One minor nitpick here is that at the end of the game, you can’t go back and look at any of the boards to see where things finished. The “I think if I had one more turn I could have pulled off X points” post-game analysis is difficult when you are unable to see how exactly things finished. There are a few visual quirks in the initial version, but Digidiced has already stated that they are aware and I expect those to get fixed in an update rather quickly.
If you’ve played other Digidiced games online before, you are getting the same feature set and experience in Viticulture. If you haven’t, that entails: ranked games (async or real-time), casual games (invite friends and optionally AI opponents), cross platform play, leaderboards, stats, and the nifty ability to request up to five async ranked games at once. Notifications work. My only real issue with Digidiced’s online games continues to be that it takes a while to connect to their servers when you first open the app. This is a minor annoyance, but it sticks out quite a bit in an otherwise strong online experience.
The digital version does not contain the solo automa mode that is included in the physical release. For single player games, you play strictly against AI opponents which can be set to easy, medium, or hard difficulty. I had a few false starts and aborted games, but after clearing things up with YouTube videos, I actually won my very first full game against easy AI. That proved to be a bit of a fluke, however, as my winning percentage against easy AI opponents quickly fell. Easy still provides me with a strong, fun challenge after a bunch of plays. I find myself able to compete with Medium but grabbing a win has proven quite difficult. I’ll leave Hard for experienced players and aspire to be one of those one day.
Fields, Crush Pads, and Cellars
I mentioned it up top, but just to reiterate: the digital game is the equivalent of the physical Essential Edition. It contains some of the expansions from Tuscany (the popular large box expansion for the original game), but not all of them. The app does not currently offer any expansion content.
The Wrap Up
Viticulture is a great or all-time classic game and it has been given a typically strong digital port by Digidiced. The biggest issue with the digital version is how little effort is made to instruct new players on how to play the game, this is a massive hole that resulted in a really frustrating hurdle to jump over. Once I did, however, the app was just fine. There are small nitpicks about some small tap areas, missing automa mode, or other odds and ends, but overall the app is entirely functional, has a nice look, features strong AI, good online play, and makes playing the game a breeze.
If you are new to Viticulture, consider yourself warned and be prepared to do some reading or YouTube watching to learn how to play. If you are a fan of the physical version, proceed into the digital version with confidence, you are getting another strong Digidiced implementation.