We were playing Viticulture World, the subject of today’s blog, on stream last month when The NameFather had a nice quip. “Viticulture World is the cooperative version of Viticulture nobody asked for.”
Ooof, that’s harsh.
Luckily for us, a cooperative version of Viticulture may not have been something people were clamoring for, but thanks to the sincere efforts of the designers, it’s the version every fan of Viticulture and/or cooperative games NEEDS to play.
First, the basics. I reviewed Viticulture: Essential Edition way back in 2016, so I won’t uncork that bottle again. Suffice it to say that the Essential Edition of Viticulture has been in my top three every since, with a combination of thematic game play and a tight worker placement based race that has captured my attention for years. I’ve played the base game live nearly two dozen times, plus another half dozen on the intertrons.
The quick and dirty of the base game is that players have been gifted a struggling vineyard by their familia, and have five or six years to turn it around by scoring at least twenty points. In the base game, points come from everywhere — planting vines, harvesting grapes, turning them into amazing red and white and pink and vaguely yellow wines, and playing overpowered cards to score cheapie points. It’s competitive, sweaty, thrilling fun and deserves its place as one of the best worker placement games ever made.
After a few expansions card decks, and the completely unnecessary Tuscany expansion (kidding, Rob and Mitchell, kidding), I feel like I’ve explored almost everything in Viticulture. Sure, it’s still in my top five games of all time, and I won’t turn down a play, but when Stonemaier Games announced more content, I was excited.
This version turns the competitve tilt on its head. You’ll still need the base game, as this is not quite a stand-alone expansion, but the game has changed. In Viticulture World, players work together to explore seven continents’ history of wine-making. Yes, I said seven, even if Antarctica is not included. Fans of Charterstone will recognize the first continent included, namely the fictional place called “Greengully”.
But the change is not just in the nature of the game. The designers have a few surprises in their wine cellar for us Viticulture fans.
First, we’ve got a new board to explore, and new workers to figure out. (There are more surprises inside, but since part of this game’s appeal is the discovery of what’s inside, although technically a legacy or campaign game, I’m going to be obtuse about some of the contents.)
The board received a face lift in two main ways. I like what they have done with the reimagined wake up order. In the old game, players picked from a hierarchy of special bonuses as they bid for turn order. Going earlier in the turn order meant a less powerful bonus but the ability to get the choicest worker placement spots. Now, we have an interlocking ring comprised of two sets of bonuses that come right before the summer and winter phases.
The other major change is that the worker placement spots on the board are upgradable — for a price. Each spot has a version that can be updated with stronger actions, and you can even chain bonuses. Oh, that makes for some delicious decisions each round. Players instinctively know that upgrading the board is important, because each player has to reach the minimum score required by the scenario if all are to win. But how much of the board should be upgraded? At what cost and by whom? Juicy!
And on top of that, players have a new set of workers. We still have the beloved grande worker, but in addition, we have workers with little rubber hats. These are untrained workers who are limited to working the season matching the color of their hats. We must remove these hats! Again, that creates some juicy decisions to make: How many workers should be upgraded? And, when?
Plus, there’s one more tweak. Not only does every player have to reach that magical score threshold, but the group as a whole has to collectively increase the fame and notoriety of their combined vineyards to meet that goal, too. That’s a separate track just below the points track that will stare at you on every turn, ratcheting up the pressure even more. Well done! I like to think of this track as the designers manifesting their desire for you to raise the prestige of the continent’s output of wine to a level that wine connoisseurs from around the world will have to say something like: “Hey, those Greengullians really know how to make wine, don’t you think?”
I’d be remiss in recommending the game just based on a reworked board and some tweaked mechanics. The real heart in this edition, where we have to give the designers some major props, is the fact that each continent has a history built in that is reflected in the … careful now, no spoilers … different ways each goal of winning is reached.
Generally speaking and without giving anything away that has not been talked about publicly, each continent has a deck of cards that affects the game play or the players themselves. Managing these effects, or using them to your advantage, that is the crux of this game and why it raises the game to ‘must play.’
You don’t have to worry about challenge, either. Even the initial continents you visit are plenty tough enough. I’ve seen lots of posts from the designers on social media letting players know that the difficulty can be scaled down as needed. We’ve had to use plenty of brain power to be successful!
We are halfway through playing all of the continents. I’m ready to play more. And then ready to explore the continents again, because there are tweaks to each deck that make replaying the game easy. If you are a fan of Viticulture but wonder if there is anything left to explore, rest assured, playing Viticulture World will rekindle that spark that made you fall in love with the game the first time.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ from Board Game Gumbo
A complimentary copy of the game (but not the base game) was provided by the publisher for the review.