I had only heard positive reviews about Viticulture and its Tuscany Expansion, but had never had a chance to play. When I saw Stonemaier games released Viticulture The Essential Edition, which combined elements from both games with the help of Uwe Rosenberg, I knew I had to jump on the on the Viticulture grape wagon.
The objective of the game is to get 20+ victory points (there is no limit, but reaching 20 signifies the last round). Victory points can be earned by various Summer and Winter Visitor cards and by fulfilling wine orders. To fulfill a wine order, you must first plant grapes in your field, harvest them, and then convert to wine. You can combine grapes to create new ones in order to fulfill specific needs (e.g. white + red to form a blush, or white + red + red to make a sparkling wine).
Viticulture The Essential Edition is a worker placement game and it comes with its own custom-shaped meeples in the form of wine workers. Each player gets 2 regular workers and 1 Grande Worker, which allows you to use the same action that your opponent has already taken. However, each worker can only be used once per year (round), so you’ll want to use them carefully. If you use up all of your workers in Summer, you won’t be able to do anything in Winter.
One new aspect of the Essential Edition versus the regular version is using the Mamas and Papas cards in order to determine your starting setup. Each mama and papa card provide that player with different starting materials and options. For instance, you may get to choose between starting out with a windmill or taking an extra amount of money. Drawing different cards from the beginning keeps the replay ability high.
A player is chosen at random by shaking each player’s rooster meeples and blindly letting one fall out onto the table. That player receives the 1st player marker for that year. However, having the first player marker only means that you get to place your rooster first during Spring. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get to go first for the rest of that year Summer, Fall, Winter).
Placing your rooster determines your turn order and also the bonus received (e.g. 2nd earns a vine card, 3rd earns a fulfillment card, 4th earns 1 Lira, etc.). From there, each player will go in turn order of their rooster placement.
If you ever find yourself strapped for money, you can sell one of your fields for 5, 6, or 7 Lira. However, you won’t be able to use these fields to plant grape vines, so you may need to buy those fields back later on when you have more money.
The Lira and game boards are made from a nice, thick cardboard. I pre-ordered the Viticulture Lira as well since I figured they’d be a nice addition to the game and could also be used for games like Istanbul. The markers for grapes and wine are made of glass and make the game have a polished, high-end quality to it.
Gameplay starts off kind of slow as everyone is trying to establish money, buildings, and grape fields. Once everyone has structures and flourishing fields in place, the pace really picks up, though. You’ll begin to see people earning 5 victory points at a time towards the end and it becomes a mad dash. In one game we played, I had gotten to 22 points, but before the year ended, my wife earned 7 victory points and ended up winning the game.
If you’re a Tabletop Simulator player, there’s also a copy available on the workshop that you can use to test out before you pick up a physical copy. I actually used this to learn the game in order to be able to teach it to other players.
Overall, Viticulture Essential Edition is a great worker placement game with a lot of replay ability. In our case, it’s definitely a weekend-only game as it take a bit to setup and finish. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves worker placement games….and wine.