Viticulture is a great game about running a vineyard. Please note: it’s running a vineyard, not necessarily making wine (though there is plenty of that too).
The game, designed by Morten Monrad Pedersen, Jamey Stegmaier, and Alan Stone with art by Jacqui Davis, David Montgomery, and Beth Sobel and published by Stonemaier Games, is a worker placement game with some interesting mechanics.
Even though it is a game I love, I haven’t actually played it since 2016, when I played it 5 times.
That’s just not cool.
Thankfully, Digidiced has my back, as they have now released the game in a cool new app version for iOS and Android (Steam to come later, apparently).
How does it look?
Let’s take a look.
Since I haven’t reviewed the game itself yet, let’s go into how it works a little bit.
Each player is running a vineyard and you’re going to be placing your workers in various spots to do various things, like play cards from your hand (much more important than you might think), build structures that will enhance your vineyard, get vines to grow grapes, harvest those grapes, and so on.
Players start with a Mama & a Papa (no, not the band) along with some starting money.
One variant has you able to choose from two of each. These will give you some starting resources, maybe a card or two, maybe even a structure (or just more money).
Then the game begins.
Each year (round), players will choose when they’re going to “wake up” in the Spring.
This is basically players choosing start order, and the later you go the cooler the stuff you get.
You can choose to go first and just get to go first. The second spot gets you a free vine to plant. Third gets you a wine order card. Fourth one Lira (money). Fifth gets you a Summer or Winter card for your hand. Sixth gets you a victory point and Seventh gets you an extra worker to use for the year.
Of course, they’re not all going to get used, but turn order goes from 1-7 based on this choice.
Then the Summer begins and players take turns placing a worker on a space to do something.
During the Summer, you can get a vine card, play a Summer visitor card, plant a vine, sell a field, build a structure, take visitors on a tour to earn money, or just get 1 Lira.
Each space will give a bonus to the first player to go there (unless you’re playing 2-player, where only the non-bonus space is in use). Instead of planting one vine, you can plant two! You get a 1-Lira discount for building a building, etc.
Before I go any further, I should probably describe visitor cards because they are very important and come in both the Summer and Winter.
Each season has a space where you can play one (or two if you’re first!) visitor card of the appropriate season. These cards will usually give you some bonuses, maybe allow you to do certain things that will benefit you. Some will even let everybody else do stuff but if they do, you get a victory point (one 6-player game back in 2016, I played one card like that at the beginning of the game and everybody did the action, giving me 5 points to start. I ran away with the game).
You usually start the game with two workers (sometimes the Mamas & Papas give you three) and a Grande worker.
What’s a Grande worker?
You know how in most worker placement games, if there are already workers on a spot, you can’t go there? Grande workers allow you to break that rule.
Your workers have to last the whole year, so if you use them all in the Summer then you can’t do anything in the Winter. Thus, you will most likely be passing before you are out of workers in the Summer.
Once everybody has passed, the Autumn begins and each player gets to draw either a Summer or Winter visitor card. If you have the Cottage built, then you get an additional draw.
Then we get to Winter.
In Winter, you can draw a Wine Order card, harvest a field, play an Winter visitor card, make wine, train a worker, fulfill a Wine Order, or get 1 Lira. Again, going to a space first will give you a bonus.
Harvesting grapes will put them on your crush pad and making wine will use those grapes on your crush pad to put wine in your cellars.
At the end of each year, the grapes on your crush pad and the wine in your cellars will age one step to the right (the wine only to level 3 or 6 unless you have built the medium and large cellar to house them). Unlike another wine-making game, Vinhos, you don’t need to worry about your grapes or your wine going bad. If it reaches the maximum level, it will just stay there until you use it.
One way of getting victory points is to fulfill Wine Orders. Each card will have a certain number and level of wine(s) on it that you must discard in order to fulfill the order. Doing so will give you victory points as well as residuals. Residuals give you money at the beginning of each year.
If anybody reaches 20 points during the year, then you finish out the year and whoever has the most victory points wins!
If not, then you start over with the wake-up call, with the first player to choose passing to the right (not the left, which is kind of interesting).
That’s the basics of the game, though the strategy is a lot more intricate than that.
With all of that being said, how is the app version?
All told it’s pretty good, but beware if you’ve never played Viticulture before.
The tutorial is fairly bare-bones, giving you basically what each space does, how to play cards and fulfill orders, that sort of thing. Once you’re done, you’ll know what you can do!
You just really won’t know why.
I’ve seen friends who are mystified by the game even after playing the tutorial (including my friend at Pixelated Cardboard) and that’s really a shame because the game is great and not that hard when you have it explained to you adequately.
I appreciate that Digidiced took out all of the bad jokes similar to what were in previous tutorials, which basically made them agonizing to sit through again if you ever needed to review something, but it seems they also took out a lot of the valuable information as well!
The app has the usual Digidiced polish, with colours fitting the game. They are kind of muted, though, not really popping off of the screen. The artwork on the visitor cards isn’t the greatest, but they definitely do match the board game so that’s not the app’s fault.
The interface is really nice once you know what each action does and why. I like how the buttons only light up if you can actually do the action. It makes it really obvious what your options are.
The other aspects of the UI are really great as well. The turn order is on the left side of the screen at all times, you can tell how many of which types of cards each player has as well as how many workers they have left (and whether they’ve used their Grande worker or not). The money they have, the residuals they have, it’s all really clear.
You can also see each person’s vineyard by tapping the picture, so you can see what buildings they have, what grapes and what wines.
The “history” button in the top right is helpful except that while it tells you who went to what spot and what cards were played, it doesn’t really give you who played what. You can kind of figure it out, but it’s harder than it needs to be.
It is nice to see what cards have been used, though.
One minor regret that I hope they add into the game at some point is that there is no option for the “friendly” game. In that version, if you can’t do the bonus (like playing 2 cards), you can’t place your worker in the bonus spot.
In “regular” Viticulture you can use up the spot so nobody else can, even if you can’t take advantage of it.
Another small problem is that you can only keep 7 cards at the end of the year.
Thus, at the end of the year, suddenly these cards would start coming on screen and I had no idea why until probably my 4th or 5th game when I remembered the rule and realized that the AI players were discarding their excess cards. I don’t know if I’ve ever had more than seven so I had to discard, so I kind of forgot that rule even after doing the tutorial.
It would have been nice if the game actually said that’s what they were doing.
Speaking of the AIs, the Easy mode is not that easy for those not familiar with the game (or like me, who haven’t played it in 4 years). I like that because it means the AI is presenting a challenge. I finally beat 3 other Easy AI players in a 4-player game over the weekend where we ended 23-22-21-20, so a real nail-biter!
I appreciate that in an AI.
How is the online play?
Sadly, I don’t know because we’ve been trying to set up a 3-player game and keep getting an error. From what I’ve heard, 2-player and 4-player seem to be fine, but I haven’t gone there yet. (Edit: Pixelated Cardboard mentions that he’s been playing 3-player with no problem, so I’m not sure what’s going on. I am now in a 4-player game and will report back once I’ve played more turns)
I’ll update this review when I have played it, but going by the typical Digidiced online play, it will be slightly clunky but otherwise very good.
Thankfully your friends list transfers from other Digidiced games so you don’t have to go find everybody else again.
All in all, Viticulture is a winner of an app. I only noticed one (rather huge) bug that supposedly they are aware of and will be fixing (though when a fix is going to appear, I don’t know). It’s not “huge” in a game-breaking sense, just more in the “what the hell?” sense.
Sometimes cards (or other things) get stuck behind seeing an AI player’s vineyard or crush pad, making things seem very weird. I think this mainly happens at the end of the year when wine and grapes are aging and the AI player is discarding cards.
If you’re reading this a couple of weeks from now, or even later, then this bug will likely be gone.
But it’s there now, so I wanted to comment on it.
The app reminds me of why I like this game so much and it will definitely be entering my app-play rotation.
Especially if we can find a fourth for our online game (or they fix that other damned bug).
Just maybe watch Rodney Smith’s Watch It Played video if you actually need to figure out what you’re doing and why.