Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Travelling Through Tuscany: A Wine-Tasting Journey in 8 Parts

For 8 of the last 9 sessions at GCOM-Germantown, we have played Viticulture along with it's Expansion set, Tuscany. The Tuscany expansion consists of 11 mini expansions, designed at three tiers. The first two tiers are all designed to be played together, while the three on the third tier are intended to be separate. Rather than playing as the book suggests, by adding one expansion per session and restarting in a different order after you reach the third tier, we added two expansions each week, and then after all 8 tier one and two expansion were in, just played the three tier 3 one ofter the other.

Here are my thoughts on the base game, and each of the expansions.

Viticulture is a worker placement game where each game turn represents a year, and each season of that year (summer and winter) is played separately, but with the same workers (you do not get your workers back until the new year). At the start of the game, you have but three workers. Money and actions are very tight, and it costs money to get more workers and take more actions, so there is a lot of tension in the game right from the start. I thought things were a little too difficult in the base version of the game for players to get an engine going, but I think if I were to go back and play it again now, with the experience I have, I may feel differently. Still, a recommended game and one i would be happy to play again, even now when we have played it 8 times since January 1.

Tier 1 Expansions

Mamas & Papas: In the normal game everyone starts with 3 workers (one of which, the Grande, is special and allows you to go to an action site even if there are no more remaining placement spots available there), one Pinot Grape Vine Card, 3 coins, and 1 Summer Visitor Card. This expansion gives you two Mama cards and 2 Papa cards. You choose one of each type and get the items that your parents have bequeathed to you. Mamas typically give you 2 workers and three cards, often a vine, a visitor, and something else, while the Papas usually give a Grande Worker, some cash, then either more cash or a building. I think, since it takes an action to build a building that the building is almost always the better option on the papa cards, but only if it was one you were going to build soon anyway. The cards are all balanced pretty well and offer a way to guide your strategy in the early game. I rate this expansion a 10 out of 10 and consider it a must-use in future plays.

Property: In the base game, you have three vineyards in which you can plant vines. Even if you find you only use 2 of them, you still have three. With this expansion, you have the option of mortgaging one of them for a quick influx of cash, or, later in the game, you can buy one back when cash is plentiful but you need more room to plant. You have three fields, and their mortgage values are 5, 6, & 7 coins, so you have a choice of how much to get, and how much to pay back later. This is another must-use (10 out of 10) expansion for me, especially as cash is so hard to come by early on.

Patronage: This expansion introduces the Patronage card. Each player is dealt one at the beginning of the game, and it offers a spot to sell any wine worth 5 or more and earn 3 victory points (normally one must acquire an order card and sell the type(s) of wine listed exactly, in the value listed (or greater) to earn victory points. In addition, the card has listed on it an end-game condition that, should you fulfill, is worth 2 victory points. This gives another way to guide your strategy and is a nice benefit in that you can make some victory points without meeting the order cards more exacting requirements. It is not a must-use though, but it is still very good. 8 out of 10.

Advanced Visitors: There are 2 types of Visitor Cards. Summer and Winter. Each can only be played in the appropriate season. In the base game, some are good early, and some are good late in the game. With this expansion, they replace most of the cards like that and give them a choice of benefits, often one that is better early, and one that is better later on. This is a great thing, as there is a hand limit, and it hurts to have to throw away a card that was acquired with some amount of difficulty due to it not being useful yet. Must-use, 10 out of 10.

As you can see, I really liked the Tier One expansions. The next time I play Viticulture, I would rather play with all of them than play the base game alone, so much so that while I would like to play the base game one more time just to compare it mentally, I think the game without the Tier One expansions would be about 2 points lower on the BGG Scale than it would be with them. None of them are so difficult that, on their own, they would make it tough for a new player to add them to the game, though adding all 4 in a game with new players may be a bit much in the rules overload department, or would at least not give them a baseline of experience in which to make good decisions (I'm looking at you, Mamas and Papas).

Tier 2 Expansions

New Visitors: New Visitor cards are added in to the game in addition to the cards from the base game, and the changed cards, giving some new strategies and benefits. I liked all of them, didn't feel that any of them broke the game or anything like that, and if they were in the base game with new players, wouldn't be a problem. It also reduces shuffling and give more variety in what cards you can expect to see. Must-use, 10 out of 10.

Extended Board: Here is where things really get shaken up. The extended board changes the game from two worker placement seasons to four. They shuffle which season some actions are in, add in a spring and fall season, add a new mechanism for turn order, a trading spot to trade around cards/money/points/etc for other items, and a new influence map that can gain victory points at game end as well as cards and/or money during the game. This is really only for people with multiple games under their belt as you need some planning experience to be effective here. I think the added complexity is great, but it does add at least 30 minutes to the game. Recommended with players with 1-2 games under their belts, 7 out of 10 only due to the time addition.

Special Workers: This is really 11 different mini expansions in one. In the base game, and with all but a few combinations of parents you start with 3 workers and can gain only 3 more. With this expansion you can spend an extra coin when gaining a worker to gain one of 2 different special workers (chosen at random for that game) that, when you place them, give an extra ability. This ranges from bumping another worker out of a spot you needed, to getting a card if you place this worker last, to placing in a future season. Some of the powers of these workers were so clearly valuable that everyone took them in the games they were available, while others only had slight or conditional benefits, that favored certain strategic paths. I liked the variety, but wouldn't feel remiss if this were not included in a game. Moderate recommendation, 6 out of 10.

Structures: In the base game, there are buildings you can construct that give you benefits, allowing you to plant more valuable grapes, store and age more valuable wines, collect more visitors, get more money when giving a wine tasting, etc. This expansion adds cards that add even more types of buildings with a wider variety of effects. After playing several games with them, it felt like many of the card costs and benefits simply did not align. Many cards gave great benefits and were easy to build, while some were much harder to build and the benefits were not as readily useful. You must already be using the Extended Board expansion above to use this expansion. Slight recommendation, 4 out of 10.

Tier Two offered a more mixed bag. The New Visitors could easily be used in any game, and should be, I think. The Extended Board is needed for all the Tier 3 Expansions, and I like the Influence Map and the Turn Order Changes offer some variety but the added complexity lengthens the game. The Special Workers and Structures are both just OK.

Tier 3 Expansions

Mafia: The least complex of the Tier Three expansions, it basically involved blind trading of cards hoping to get the highest valued, or at least not the lowest valued, at the end of the game. Didn't do much for me. Not recommended, 2 out of 10

Formaggio: Adds cheese-making to the game. In addition to all the steps in making wine, it adds steps to produce, store, and sell cheeses. The biggest problem I found was that, while it looked like it could be lucrative, it involved a second path to points that required to ignore the wine-making path, at least to some degree. That made it seem to daunting and no one pursued it much in our game. I would like to try it again before rendering final judgement (as if any of my thoughts here were final), but I am in no great hurry to do so. Slight recommendation, 3 out of 10, maybe going higher with more plays.

Arboriculture: Adds apple growing/selling, tomato sauce production, and olive oil to the game. In contrast to the Formaggio Expansion, the path to making these generate Victory Points was integrated into the path to making victory points via Wine Production. That made it seem more viable, and more a true part of the game that everyone would make use of. Highly Recommended, 8 out of 10.

Thanks for reading, and if you are interested in playing Viticulture/Tuscany, please save a seat for me, I really enjoy this game.



W. Randy Hoffman said...

I was one of the regular players during those eight sessions and I consider Dave's review to be spot on. I have very few quibbles with either his impressions or his ratings.

Ipecac said...

Thanks, Dave. That was great.

Leslie said...

I was also one of the regular players during these sessions. I think Dave did a great job of reviewing what was found during play and agree on which I would prefer to play again vs those I can play with or without.