It was a bit of a fortunate turn of events when I found the box on my front doorstep last Tuesday afternoon. I opened it up quickly after bringing it in, and therein found a shiny new copy of Viticulture. Normally, I wouldn’t think to take a game to Hypermind that I hadn’t even read the rules for, but since I had played a late prototype when it was on Kickstarter, I felt pretty good about quickly reading the rules and punching out the game once I arrived. And as fate would have it, in fact, as I finished reviewing rules and punching out coins, a group of fellow gamers joined me to plunge the depths of this fresh, new game.
Viticulture is a relatively straightforward worker-placement game, with the one main twist that your placements are divided between a summer and a winter phase. So if you have, say, 5 workers to use in a given year, you can divide them up however you wish between the summer actions and the winter actions. You have to do some definitely forward planning, but then also have to take into account which actions are available and how the other players decide to utilize their workers as well.
But anyway, in our game, people took a few different approaches to the game. Derek went all out using a number of “visitor” cards that let him burn victory points (going well into the negative at one point, in fact) to try and establish a pretty powerful engine of buildings and fields that let him power into a lot of big-VP wine orders near the end of the game. Unfortunately for him, it came online a little too late to overcome all the negatives he took on.
Chip and Steve came on late in the game using basically just a straightforward efficiency strategy of trying to plant good fields, make good wine, and complete good wine orders. I guess they sort of played the game in the “default” method that the game points you towards most naturally.
From the start, I tried something a little different. Rather than built straight into the trellis and irrigation (which combine to let you plant any vine you want), I invested on the second turn in a Windmill, which scored me a point on every turn when I planted a vine. From then on, I made a point of spreading out my vine planting and scored at least 6 or 7 points through the game. In addition, I used a couple of other non-winemaking methods (based on more of the visitor cards) to score another 5 or 6 points, so even though I pulled out a close win, I probably made and sold the least wine of anyone.
Time: 99 minutes
Score: Norton 25, Steve* 23 ,Chip* 22, Derek* 14, Chris* 11
Ratings: Norton 8, Steve 8, Chip 6.5, Derek ?, Chris 6
I had a really good time playing Viticulture. I suppose that I’m a rather big fan of worker placement in general, and I found that choice of “budgeting” your workers between the two seasons to be a cool and significant choice most of the time. The main thing that it has going for it right now is that I can definitely see a few different ways to approach the game strategically. Obviously, the “don’t make wine” strategy that I used worked pretty well, and I could see pushing it even a little further.
I could also see that a number of the other buildings (that we didn’t necessarily explore all that much in this game) would also offer some nice options to tweak how you played. And, of course, that “default” approach of making wine and fulfilling orders is also always going to be solid and fun to execute well.
If there’s anything that gives me a little pause about Viticulture, it’s how powerful the visitor cards seem to be. Some of the effects you get from them are definitely better than the “core” actions available on the board. What I’m not sure of right now, though, is how well this is balanced between the fact that you still have to take an action to use them and that everyone else is also drawing and using these cards. In just one play, it seemed like some were more universally useful than others, but again, I may just not have enough experience with the game to judge that.
Either way, though, I’m certainly up for exploring it more!
No Thanks! [BGG]
We then needed a filler, and No Thanks! is always for right game for that job!
Time: 13 minutes (for 2 hands)
Score: Chip 38, Derek 62, Norton 96, Steve 172
Ratings: Chip 8, Derek 8, Norton 9, Steve 8
From there, though, we tried to make some decisions about the next “real” game we would play. A big game of Federation Commander had just wrapped up, and Kenny stated a desire to play Chip’s copy of Bazaar. I hadn’t ever played before myself, so I joined in as well to give it a try.
Basically, Bazaar is all about trading “gems” to get other ones in order to fulfill certain order cards that are available. The exchange rates are determined by randomly choosing a couple of large tiles that show you what trades you can make. And then once you have the gems required for an order card, the points you score are determined by how many extra gems (left over after you trade in the gems on the card) you have. Therefore, it’s all about being efficient in making trades to get as close to exactly what you need, rather than just accumulating as many as you can and then spending them to claim cards.
There’s not much to say about gameplay, really, other than we all traded a lot of gems back and forth with the supply. Sometimes, we sat quietly and tried to work out what we should trade next to get where we wanted to go, and occasionally we’d look up to see what we thought each other was trying to do. And in the end, by some twist of beginner’s luck, I managed to claim the card that ended the game and gave me an ever-so-slim victory.
Time: 25 minutes
Score: Norton* 18, Chip 16, Kenny 16
Ratings: Norton 7, Chip 8, Kenny 7.5
Despite this being very cerebral and a bit brain-burny, I enjoyed Bazaar quite a bit. I think that my wife would love it, so it went immediately onto my “want in trade” list. It’s not really something that I’d be excited about playing a lot, but as a quick, puzzley little game, it was pretty unique and interesting.
The Agents [BGG]
Then I managed to convince Chip and Kenny to join me in playing The Agents, a new prototype that I just got in. Its theme is something along the lines of competing intelligence agencies that are squaring off to fight for control over a number of “factions”.
The cool mechanical thing about the game is that the Agent cards all basically give both points and have a special ability, but they don’t give both things to the same person. So if you want to use the card’s ability, you orient it with the points directed towards you and the ability towards another player, who then gets to use it. And obviously, if you want the ability of the card, then you’re giving points to someone else.
Overall, I thought that this core choice with every card you play was really great, even if there were still a few rough spots that bogged the gameplay down at one point. But I sent a good number of playtest notes back to the designer (mostly concerning having totally consistent terminology), and I see this game having a lot of potential when it hits Kickstarter and is later released.
Oh, and by the way, the art on the cards is really incredible.
Time: 60 minutes
Score: Chip* – Win; Kenny* & Norton* – Lose
Slide 5 [BGG]
So then to wrap up the evening, we finished with a couple more fillers. I managed to dominate in Slide 5, and then…
Time: 8 minutes
Score: Norton 1, Derek* 4, Kenny 19, Keith 21
Ratings: Norton 7.5, Derek 7, Kenny 7, Keith 7
… did a little less well in Coloretto.
We did try out our little variant to nerf the Joker cards in this play. And while it’s not a huge difference or anything, I think it does what we wanted it to do in at least introducing a smidgen of choice back into facing a Joker card in one of the piles.
Time: 15 minutes
Score: Keith 41, Kenny 31, Norton 30, Derek* 17
Ratings: Keith 8, Kenny 8, Norton 8, Derek 7.5
But that was it. Game night always seems to go so quickly, and then take so long to come back around. But tonight is the night, and I can’t wait to get back to Hypermind to crack open a few more boxes to play more games!
Other Games Played
Ascension: Rise of the Vigil
Time: 41 minutes
Score: Chris 99, Steve* 86, Ken* 36
Ratings: Chris 9, Steve 7
Federation Commander: Klingon Border
Time: 145 minutes
Score: Draw – Federation (Keith* & Scott) & Klingons (Kenny & Dan*)
Ratings: Scott 10, Keith 8, Kenny 8, Dan 8
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Time: 35 minutes
Score: Heroes (Chris – Redeemer Fanatic, Darren – Nightmist, James K – Visionary, & Steve – Wraith) – Win; Citizen Dawn – Lose
Ratings: Chris & James – 10
Through the Desert
Time: 21 minutes
Score: Derek* 65, Chris 64, Steve* 44, Darren* 35, James K* 32
Ratings: Chris 9
* First play for that Person