The busyness of the modern lifestyle makes us dream of owning an idyllic estate somewhere quiet and turn our business into a hobby. While that is unlikely to happen, Viticulture Essential Edition gives us a very good alternative! Take charge of a small vineyard in old-world Tuscany, develop your estate, and best your competitors by making the finest wine!
Brief Overview of Viticulture Essential Edition
Originally released as Viticulture, Essential Edition combines the second edition with early expansions to create a superior experience. Through the rest of the review, I’ll refer to Viticulture Essential Edition simply as Viticulture to reduce redundancy.
The game can be described as a worker-placement strategy game. If you’ve played Lords of Waterdeep, you’re already familiar with the concept. The game board is split into summer and winter locations, and only a limited number of workers can be placed in the same spot.
Having enough resources to take the desired action while being quick enough to occupy the location is a balancing act that makes the game really fun. Viticulture is a relaxing experience with the initial hurdle of memorizing all of the rules. Sessions last 45-90 minutes and can be played with up to 6 players, making it a great introductory game for new players.
Versions & Expansions
Viticulture: Tuscany Essential Edition
Revamp of the original Tuscany expansion, Tuscany Essential Edition reintroduces the extended board with four seasons, new structure cards, and workers with special abilities. As it adds a lot of content, and marginally increases the difficulty and playing time, I highly recommend picking up this expansion after you’ve had your fill of the base game.
- For 1-6 players
- 60-150 minute playing time
- Features 3 expansions to viticulture
Viticulture: Moor Visitors Expansion
Moor Visitors is a card expansion that adds 40 new visitors. While it doesn’t seem like much, it opens up the game to new strategies without burdening players with new rules or mechanics.
Viticulture: Visit from the Rhine Valley
Visit from the Rhine Valley adds 80 new visitor cards that focus more on the wine-making business, rather than racing for victory points. The new cards have unique backs and are used without visitors from the base game and other expansions.
- You have new visitors!
- This expansion for Viticulture provides you with a new set of...
- These cards have their own unique backs, as they must be played...
Unboxing Viticulture: Essential Edition
The game box contains the following components:
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Quick-Reference Guide
- 1 Game Board
- 6 Vineyard Mats
- 72 Punch Board Lira Coins
- 232 Playing Cards
- 104 Wooden Meeples, Tracker Tokens, and Building
- 48 Glass Grape and Wine Tokens
In terms of table space, Viticulture is a fairly demanding game. Player boards are nearly as large as the dimensions of the box, while the game board is double-folded.
The design team had a lot of room to work with, and they’ve created boards that are very easy to keep track of. Rather than condensing the player boards into a spreadsheet to put tokens on, each action and upgrade has its own illustration. A large windmill, crush pads and massive cellar give a great sense of immersion.
Meeples are color-coded for every player and are made out of wood. Again, the extra effort is obvious, as structure tokens aren’t coins or cubes, but rather very detailed designs. The roosters are by far my favorite, and I sometimes use them to keep track of players in other games.
Card quality is up to standard and I don’t see them wearing out any time soon. The rulebook is 19 pages long with a lot of pictures to make the learning process clearer. The box organizer has individual segments which make storing the game pieces a lot easier.
Overall, I have to say I’m quite impressed with how Viticulture handled its pieces. There’s really nothing I could criticize, and if I really wanted to nitpick, I could say that the boards are a bit washed out, even though it was clearly an intentional choice.
How to Play Viticulture: Essential Edition
Viticulture isn’t a very demanding game in terms of memorizing the rules. Because there are only a few available actions you can take at any point, there’s no confusion about the next move. The main challenge comes from making smart and optimized moves that you will learn naturally by playing.
Follow the rulebook carefully and distribute coins, cards, and workers to each player. At the start of the game, vineyard mats (player boards) are limited to the crush pads, small cellar, and three fields. Rest can be unlocked through in-game actions.
One round is represented by a year’s worth of work, separated into four playable seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
Starting with the first player and proceeding clockwise, players place their roosters on the wake-up chart in the bottom left of the game board. It determines the actual order in which the rest of the year is played. Taking the very first one guarantees you’ll be the first to place your workers, but the rest have increasing rewards as you go down the ladder.
During summer, yellow actions on the game board become available. One worker is placed per turn and immediately performs the action. Players can choose to pass, and save their workers for the winter.
Just like spring, fall is a minor season where players draw either a summer or winter visitor and add them to their hand.
Winter works exactly the same as summer, with winter actions becoming available. The only difference is that players have to spend all of their workers.
End of the Year
The end of the year is the time to reset the board, with players returning their workers, collecting residual payments, removing roosters from the wake-up chart, and passing the first player token counter-clockwise. Wine and grapes are aged by 1 point, if possible.
The number of open slots per location on the game board scales with the number of players. Workers may be placed only on locations matching the current season, so don’t place workers on leftover summer locations during winter, or vice-versa. Grande workers bypass the slots and can be placed even if a space is fully occupied.
Summer and Winter Visitors
A worker can be placed on the Play Visitor location of the respective season. Visitors can be used to get ahead, as long as you’re able to perform all of the actions written on the card. There are many benefits to the visitors, such as planting beyond the field’s limit, placing a worker in a location of the future season, receiving cash, and so on.
Harvesting Fields & Making Wine
Throughout the game, you will place vine plants on your vineyard mat. Vines can be distributed between the fields or stacked on top of each other, as long as the value does not exceed the field’s limit.
To harvest a field, sum up the red and white values of your plants separately. Then place a token on the matching number in the red and white crusher. If the spot is already taken, devalue the grapes until they can be placed.
Up to two grapes can be converted into wine by taking them off the crushers and placing them in cellars. At the start of the game, only the small cellar is available, allowing you to make wine with maximum quality of 3. Medium cellar raises the limit to 6 and lets you make blush wine by combining red and white grapes. With the largest cellar, you can make wine up to 9 quality, and create sparkling by combining 2 red and 1 white grape
Winning the Game
Filling wine orders is not only the key to victory but also to increasing wealth. Orders require different types of wine and their quality. By completing them, you’ll receive victory points and permanent residual income. Whoever gets to 20 victory points first wins, with ties broken up by cash, then the total value of wine in the cellar, and lastly the total value of grapes in the crush pad.
Your First Game of Viticulture: Essential Edition
The first time you’re playing Viticulture, it’s all about grasping as many concepts as you can. I’m certain you’ll figure out some strategies as you go along, which may not work the first time, but if you apply them to your future games and plan from the start, they can lead to victory.
In the early game, focus on getting vine plants or workers from the wake-up track. Being first to play doesn’t matter as much, and you can compensate by acquiring more resources that are going to be used eventually.
All About Balance
Balancing your vineyard can be tricky, but remember how the output of vine plants converts into grapes, and how grapes are turned into wine. If you invest too heavily in one aspect, you’ll create a choke point and miss out on higher revenue. You should get the first cellar upgrade as soon as possible – as crushers can act as your storage until you’ve cellars of matching value.
Quantity over quality is not a bad approach, especially when you consider the investment into infrastructure, and the aging required to get the best wine. By selling more wine towards the mid-game, you’ll expand faster and outperform other players.
Fulfilling wine orders increases your chances of victory. Try to create an economy that can sustain one wine order per year as soon as you can. Tour will get you more money than the winter action, so plan accordingly to grab extra income. These tips might not make a lot of sense now, but once you’ve played through a round or two, you’ll see how useful they can be.
Pros & Cons
- One of the Best Worker Placement Games
- Excellent Game Components
- Refreshing Theme
Balancing a worker placement game is no small feat but the creators of Viticulture have managed to do it well. You won’t be burdened by dozens of choices you can make during your turn — instead, there’s always a few meaningful options you can take.
I’m not a difficult person to satisfy when it comes to game components — as long as they don’t chip or tear. However, I’m a sucker for wooden components and Viticulture has them in dozens. It delivers a complete product with nothing to really criticize.
There’s something about taking on the task of winemaking that is naturally relaxing. You can sit back and go with the flow of the game, not worrying too much about your final score. Getting to higher value wine is really satisfying, especially when you reach sparkling wine.
- Not Optimal for Two Players
- Luck Swings Lessen the Experience
While the game can be played by 1 to 6 players, to be on the safer side, I would say it’s best with 3 to 6. Many players, including myself, have found that a 2-player game is an inferior experience to the rest. The solo mode is a coin flip on whether you’re going to like it or not, as it’s heavily impacted by luck.
Luck or rather lack of luck is what can lessen your experience, occasionally. It primarily involves vine plants and wine orders, as drawing the right combination for a healthy economy isn’t easy. Some visitors are much better than others, but as they mix up strategies and keep the game fresh, I can’t say that they are a problem.
Viticulture Essential Edition Review (TL;DR)
Viticulture: Essential Edition is a charming worker-management game that does a great job of integrating the theme into the gameplay. A moderately difficult game, it can be learned by novices and enjoyed by experts. If you’re already a fan of the genre, Viticulture is a must-buy!
A friend of mine recommended Viticulture to me years back, but at that time, the theme didn’t really interest me. Now my only regret is not picking it up immediately. It’s not the greatest game, nor the most challenging one. My group and I prefer Lords of Waterdeep and Euphoria, but the thing is, when we’re looking for something relaxing and casual by our standards, Viticulture is the first on the list.
The worker management games can all be boiled down to placing workers to get resources, and spending resources to gain victory points. There’s a lot of options available, so what Viticulture stands out the most is not the theme nor the mechanics, but the 6th player.
There’s nothing worse than leaving someone out when it’s game night. We’ve put off so many great games because we always prioritize having everyone at the table. Until I get everyone to play Twilight Imperium 4, Viticulture remains my ace in the pocket whenever there are six of us.
We hope you enjoyed our Viticulture Essential Edition review! Have you tried Viticulture or any of its expansions? We’d love to talk board games with you. Drop a comment below!