Updated: May 10
WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count: 1-6
Published by: Stonemaier Games
There is a lot to go through here, so strap in!
A cooperative worker placement game is not something that comes around very often. We will certainly cover that.
Viticulture is a hugely popular and successful game that has been around since 2013. How this expansion builds on what is often regarded as one of the best worker placement games, especially when including the brilliant Tuscany expansion, is something we will get into too.
This game has launched with some controversy around the use of controversial figures from history, which we will give our thoughts on.
But first, lets talk about the actual game. Let's step away from the hype and online chatter and talk about the core mechanics, rules, and flow of this game, which is good. Very good in fact.
Viticulture World brings in several new ideas to the Viticulture world. In this review, I will focus on the Viticulture Essential edition as a comparison, as this is the only one available at retail now and the edition the publisher refers too when the talk about the core game. I will not focus on Tuscany as I appreciate not everyone has that expansion. Although what I would say, is if you are looking for an expansion for Viticulture, and you don't have Tuscany yet, unless you are looking for a cooperative version, then Tuscany is what you want to get first. It's phenomenal. But, if you have Tuscany already, and still want more Viticulture variety in your life, then read on.
The main new things brought to the table with Viticulture World are as follows:
Seven Continent modules
Upgradable worker spots
New Mamas and Papas cards, with the colours reversed giving the opportunity for two male parents, two female parents, or a mix.
First up, lets cover the cooperative gameplay. It is one of the major changes to the game and seems to have created a lot of online chatter. It's a polarising addition to the game to say the least. Perhaps as there are so few cooperative worker placement games? Perhaps because this is such a beloved game as a competitive experience? Perhaps because some have had bad experiences with cooperative games in the past?
By their very nature, worker placement games are often about putting a worker down onto a space that now cannot be used by others. Your worker being there has blocked a space for other players. As you play, you are not only choosing what to do, but thinking how you can affect other players. Creating scarcity in your options and making turn order crucial, this is how many worker placement games work. The Viticulture base game does this very well. Can this translate to a co-op version?
Making the game cooperative does on the surface level, seemingly make this redundant. But the reality in the game, is the scarcity is still there. Nothing changes with the rules about how many players can go into each space, (well, not much anyway, we will come onto that). It's just that now, you need to debate with the other players about what you want/need to do, so that you don't inadvertently block another player with a move you don't really need to do. Stopping another player being able to do something crucial to the groups success by doing something you didn't have to do this turn is a new skill you can only master through good communication. The scarcity is still there, it is just now a shared group decision.
This difference in the game, the requirement to discuss your moves, is the reason why this game will either work or bomb for you. I love worker placement games it is one of my favourite mechanics. But it does often create a relatively quiet table experience. With just the odd cry of "Ah! I really wanted to go there!" breaking the otherwise silent room. This is fine, and sometimes exactly what I want. I love other worker placement games such as Le Harve, Everdell, Underwater Cities, Architects of the West Kingdom, Raiders of The North Sea, and Tzolk'in to name just a few. But I currently do not own any other cooperative worker placement games. The chance to now have this mechanism and play Viticulture in this way feels great. I enjoy discussing with my family and friends about what we are going to do and plan accordingly across multiple workers, how as a group we can best achieve our goals. It is unique to my collection and works well for me.
With so many great worker placement games out there in many of our collections, surely there is a place for a cooperative worker placement game too? The complaints around the announcements for this baffle me I have to say. But, if this doesn't sound for you, then I understand that. Cooperative games are not for everyone. But I don't quite get the vitriol the announcement of this game was met with. Simply down to the fact it was a cooperative variant. "Hard Pass!" Was a common reaction. If you want a competitive game of Viticulture then you have had access to that since 2013! If you want a great expansion for it, then that already exists too.
The way you win each game is by all players achieving at least 25 points, and as a group, the influence track reaching the final stage. Which does vary based on each continent you play. One issue with a co-op version of this is that it can be frustrating if you lose as a group, when the final space on the influence track was met and you achieved over 25, but one other player did not quite get to 25 points. But this is the very nature of cooperative games. And perhaps you got to where you are by not playing as a team? If it was because one player just made bad decisions, then this is where the debate and group planning come in? Could you of helped the other players more in your thoughts and actions? But this does lead to a major issue with cooperative games, quarter backing. The main reason many people don't like this mechanic.
When one player leads the charge and tries to make decisions for everyone, this can take away the fun for others. If this is a problem with your group, you could always play with closed hands so you are semi-coop. Not knowing other players cards is an option in this game and would reduce another players opportunity to boss you about! Players are still working together, but you don't have to share everything with all players, giving you the chance to make your own decisions.
I found the cooperative nature of this game has allowed me to get it to the table more. It makes playing it with other people new to the game so much easier. I can just start playing with zero teach and explain to people as we go the options and strategy. Players less familiar with the game are not as daunted or worried about losing to player more familiar with the strategy in cooperative mode, as they are now playing with that person, not against them. And when tired, I find I can encourage my wife to try this more than a competitive game, late in the evening, when working together can assist our sleepy minds!
Seven Continent Modules
The second major addition to this expansion is the inclusion of different modules. The first of which, Greengully, is set in the land made popular from a previous Stonemaier Game release, Charterstone. The other six are based on real-world continents, and the history within each one is very much real. Each one feels like a separate and new version of the game. It felt to me like being at an Italian restaurant when I opened the box. I knew I wanted pasta, but which type?
Each continent brings its own set of unique rules, some new components, and required strategy. I don't want to go into this in full here, as I think there is some element of surprise as you play the game that I don't want to ruin. It would not be a full spoiler as such for me to reveal them, but I certainly enjoyed experiencing them for myself as I played and seeing them here before you play would affect your own enjoyment.
So, all I will say here is they all feel very different. There is a real sense of progression as you move through each continent. The difficulty ramps up if you play in the recommended order. And there is a strong sense of satisfaction to be gained from developing your skills, strategy, and understanding of the game as you play through each continent. As you experience the full world of Viticulture in your first play through, it will feel like a campaign game of sorts. I am surprised it is not marketed and scored in this way. Rather they are looked at as individual modules you can pick from to tailor your experience based on which challenge you enjoyed the most or what difficulty of game you are looking for.
The opening module is very much a training exercise and may not be used by everyone, but I certainly enjoyed the nods to Charterstone, and easy entry to the game. Especially as it had been a few months since my last game of Viticulture. It was nice to start with an easy win and remind myself of the strategies in the game. Also, the completist in me wanted to try them all, so I wasn't about to miss this first one. Jamey spoke about wanting everyone to start with an easier experience in his design diary. You get some real concessions to the normal rules with this addition, which almost guarantee a victory. This was why this was included.