Spice it up! with Viticulture, Essential Edition

How many worker placement games do you have in your collection?  How many of them are about wine production? How many of them have been hand-tweaked by Uwe Rosenberg?

If your answer is “none” to all of the above, then take your idea of a regular worker placement game, and Spice it up! with Viticulture, Essential Edition.

Viticulture was a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone of Stonemaier games. That’s the company behind Euphoria, Between Two Cities, and the forthcoming hotness on BGG, Scythe. Viticulture Essential Edition (2)

In Viticulture, the designers crafted a well themed game all about the world of the vintner.  Players take turns using their meeples to buy, plant, harvest, crush and bottle the best wine in their region.   The theme is oozing out of every part of this game. It is one of those rare but fortunate game experiences where you really feel like you are bottling wine. The game was a hit, so much so that it spawned an expansion, Tuscany, that by all accounts made the game even better.

IMG_1760And one famous German designer, Uwe Rosenberg of Agricola and Caverna fame, took a real shine to the Tuscany expansion.  With the game sold out, Jamey decided to put out a new edition, which he dubbed the Essential edition, which contained some of the Tuscany expansion parts that Uwe Rosenberg personally selected. This means that any new person to Viticulture can just start out with the Essential Edition and have a great experience right out of the box.


I think that starts with the components. There are tons of individually designed meeples for all of the different parts of your vineyard. Want to plant a certain grape? Better buy the trellis or get some irrigation, and those are represented by unique meeples.

IMG_1701Then there is the artwork. The board is thick and gorgeous, the artwork is delicious, and the cards are all top notch. I really like the look of the Mamas and Papas cards, which are your random starting resources. I am also really impressed with the different decks, which are all of the highest quality cards. No skimping around from Stonemaier Games.

Moving on to the gameplay, it only takes a few turns for even a newbie to worker placement games to get the concepts, especially if you explain that the game is all about planting, harvesting, bottling and selling wine. Once the player understands that, everything else in the game makes sense because the seasons, the visitors who come each season, and even the additional buildings are all just ways for the player to enhance their vineyard (and earn more victory points).

Viticulture Essential Edition AutomaFirst one to 20 VPs wins, but what if you can’t get your buddies to try the game until next month’s game night? There’s also an Automa, basically a single player game built in. I tried it and it is a lot of fun. There are five different difficulty settings, a campaign mode, and even some alternate ways to play. There is enough in the box that any person who enjoys single play games will have weeks of fun.

Viticulture Essential Edition MeeplesI love worker placement games. I love wine (and lamps.) If you like both (or even if you just like worker placement games), you gotta try Viticulture, and now with the folks at Stonemaier Games bringing out the Essential Edition, you can Spice up! your next game night or solo experience with a well tuned game right from the first play.

I give it four our of five cayenne peppers. Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!


Spice it up! with Castles of Mad King Ludwig

What was the first tile laying game that you played? I remember hearing about Carcassonne, and finally getting my hands on a copy. When I broke out the meeples and the tiles, and taught my family to play, I knew we had a winner.

Dozens and dozens of plays later, I am always on the look out for the next big tile laying experience, the kind of game that changes the strategy a bit but still has the unmistakable pleasure of watching something being built as you lay tiles across the tile.

If your family game night is getting a little stale, then Spice it up! with Castles of Mad King Ludwig.  Castles is a 2014 release from Bezier Games designed by Ted Alspach, who also designed Suburbia and One Night Ultimate Werewolf.castles3

Players compete to win Mad King Ludwig’s favor by building out a castle. You score points by placing rooms near each other (or avoiding certain combinations) that make sense — like putting the Queen’s bedroom next to the King’s. The name comes from King Ludwig II, who spent all of his personal fortune building fairy tale castles in Bavaria in the late 1800s. (The board game’s cover art depicts his most famous castle, Neuschwanstein Castle, which was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in California.)

The randomized bonus cards (which each player secretly builds upon) and randomized King’s favor cards (which give bonuses but are visible to all players during the game) are enough to give this game lots of replay-ability. But the mechanic that really sets Castles apart from other tile laying games is the auction mechanism.

In Castles, the players can’t just pick a random tile out of a stack of cards, like in Carcassonne. Instead, each round a player is designated the “Master Builder”, and that person sets the price of all five to seven tiles that are available for purchase that round. That way, the Master builder can try to influence players into choosing (or not choosing) certain tiles — and the bonus is that the players pay the Master Builder for the privilege of purchasing the tiles instead of the bank.

You even have the option of building into the ground. By purchasing a downstairs tile, the players can take their castle down to the dungeon level. And just as expected, the tiles downstairs can be downright gloomy.

IMG_1768The first time I played, the group I was with just looked at this game like another Euro and tried to maximize points. And of course, that is why some people game. But since then, I have been lucky enough to introduce the game to people that looked at the game as a fun exercise in building their dream castle. There were lots of stories as to why the tiles were being placed in the way they were being placed (even though we know that the bonus cards and King’s favor tiles really generate the purchases and placements). There were lots of laughs when people tried to explain why the castle would have so many outdoor courtyards and just one or two inside buildings.

Don’t get me wrong — the game can be very competitive. The auction-setting mechanism and players purchasing tiles to meet secret objectives both contribute to the competition. But, you can have a lot of fun building out the craziest, goofiest, “mad”-dest castle around.

So if Carcassonne is getting a little stale, and you have the “envie” to construct your very own fairy tale castle, get down to your favorite local game store and pick up a copy of Castles of Mad King Ludwig. I give it three out of five cayenne peppers!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!