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.
In Viticulture, players are given workers to use over the two main seasons of activity, summer and winter. You can decide when to use each worker and could be left without many options in one season if you go big in another. I like this choice. In Viticulture World, players have two workers with a yellow hat that can only work in the Summer, and two workers with blue hats that are restricted to winter work. You will have your grande worker still, that can go anywhere, and there is still the extra temporary worker that you can pick up in the spring that can also be placed in any season. But your four main workers are now limited.
The restriction at the start of the game does balance out bad strategy, but also limits some options later in the game which can be frustrating. As such, one of the new options in Winter is to train a seasonal worker, remove their hat, and give them the flexibility to now work anytime.
This is a simple addition to the game, that looks cool. The hats are very funky. But I am unsure how much it actually adds to the game. Perhaps the designers felt more limitation would aid in better table talk, and restrict one player from doubling down on one season, so that everyone feels involved throughout the entire game? It feels like something that was added during playtesting to avoid issues created by the cooperative mechanic, by adding more tension to each decision and encouraging more debate. I may be wrong, but this is what it feels like. It doesn't add much to the game other than frustration, and in fairness, the chance for some cool insta' pics!
Upgradable Worker Spots
Developing your player board in Viticulture feels great. Adding new buildings to your vineyard and planting more vines so that your wine making process becomes more powerful brings a real sense of satisfaction as the game progresses. One of my favourite additions to Viticulture World is the innovation tiles which adds this feeling to the main board too.
Each round, in spring you will add four innovation tiles to the available spaces. They are not yours yet, just available to purchase. In Summer, if you have the available Lira, you can purchase one of the tiles to place over another space on the board to improve that spaces efficiencies, and/or reduce its cost. This could be the space you place your worker itself, which also frees up the space so that now as many workers as you like can be placed here; or the action spaces above which increases that spaces power to all players for the rest of the game.
This is my favourite addition to the game, but also, my biggest frustration. I love the development on the board these tiles bring and enjoy having increased powers in certain spaces as the game develops. But it does add a huge element of luck as some tiles are obviously used a lot more than others. And of course, some tiles are more important early in the game such as planting, whereas others work harder for you at the end, such as fulfilling an order. As such, the order that the upgrades tiles come out can greatly affect your chances of victory in the game.
It makes a lot of sense to upgrade as many tiles as you can early in the game, but less so if they are not ones you will use at the beginning stages. If planting comes out last or not at all, that will obviously hurt your chances. Being able to harvest every field instead of just one is a massive upgrade. If this doesn't come out in round two or three, then your opportunities to get lots of early grapes is significantly reduced. This is variation that was not needed in my experiences. This affects the game so much that I feel the tiles should be ordered to come out in a set way. A variant could be that you mix them up in a random order for advanced players. But the set way should be in a set order prescribed by the publisher to avoid such a heavy swing in luck.
Mamas and Papas Cards Colour Reversed
The only change is the base colour for each gender is reversed so that all types of parent groups can be created. This is a great example of Stonemaier creating games for all. Being inclusive as a publisher. Listening to feedback from fans. And making positive changes for all. Well done, Stonemaier.
The spring wake up track has a new inner circle that you move into after the summer is over, where each player can then choose to take a card of any colour, two Lira, or age one grape. This is a nice choice to have, whereas with the base game, you are limited to drawing a new visitor card only. This is a nice simple change that brings in more flexibility, and helps you plan for the winter season with more control.
How We Can Learn From History
In making this expansion, the designer made the choice to research the history of Viticulture around the world and include major events and people from history in the new modules. Each continent module brings a key part of each regions main development within the industry to the forefront. The climate, geology, and assistance from French winemakers in Asia, the political turmoil that affected African winemaking, and the prohibition era in North American are all covered. It seems that a lot of work went into understanding each region, and keeping the game linked to the facts. This is not a historical game, but historical elements certainly add to the game enjoyment for me. I learnt as I played.
The issue comes with the South American module where some of the characters chosen to be included in the game were involved in some horrific moments of history. Stonemaier use a cultural consultant in all games now, and these characters inclusion was picked up as a problem, and a disclaimer was included on the cards which states that the people included in the South American module are not being honoured. It's a short disclaimer that does not really say much.
Through early review copies, the inclusion of these people, despite the disclaimer was questioned, due to the fact that you had to work with them to gain a benefit. In a game about War, you cannot avoid certain aspects of life, and history. But in a game about wine, I think some hoped they would not need to encounter this part of the past. And certainly not in a way where you are forced to work with these people from history to do well in the game.
As such, a new module for South America is being made and sent out to replace these cards. I do not have the new one yet and did not play the old one out of respect of those affected and the publishers request to all reviewers.
This is a good lesson for all publishers about how things like this can affect people. And how reliance on a cultural consultant may not always be enough when developing a game. There are real-world consequences to everything we all do. And more needs to be done to understand this.
Personally, I think it is good this change happened. If someone is upset by a game, and you can make the change, then make the change. However, I have since read a lot about the people included in the original module and the history, which is something I would not have done had I not seen them in the game or heard about the issue. I educated myself and bettered my own knowledge from their inclusion.
As such, my recommendation to publishers in the future would be to think more about the stories you are telling, the histories you are exploring, and the characters you are including. Think about how this may upset or offend people. And make your own decisions as to whether they should be included or not. And if they are included explain the reasons why upfront. Explain their part in history. A small disclaimer is not enough. If there was a need for a disclaimer, then there was a need for proper explanation too. Take some time to say why the disclaimer is there and detail the issues. Give links for further reading and help us all educate ourselves better. I don't think history should be ignored. But I also don't want it to be trivialised or wrongfully glamorised. We should learn from it.
Overall, I have loved every game of this expansion. It has made me play the game again multiple times as I travelled around the different modules. That alone has been great for me! I cannot wait to get the new South America module to complete my journey. And when I do, I will go round and do it again. Time and time again. I have already tried a few of the module's multiple times. And not just as we lost some! I enjoy the new twist each one brings. As much as the joy of experiencing each one for the first time can never be replicated, your understanding of the strategy grows each time. There is a joy in becoming a wine making expert in all of the continents, under each modules own unique challenges.
This is an excellent expansion for a brilliant game. I don't see this making anyone who doesn't like the base game fall in love with Viticulture. Unless it is someone who just does not enjoy competitive games, and the cooperative nature of this fixes that. But seeing as most people already really enjoy Viticulture, I can see this being a hit with everyone who gives this a try, without the "hard pass" attitude towards the co-op mature.
I will continue to play Tuscany without this, and I will also play this expansion without Tuscany. The choice really comes down to whether I want to play Viticulture competitively or cooperatively. It is as simple as that. I expect it will be 50/50 between the two, and it will mean I get to play a game I love, more often. I am delighted I have the choice. And I will treasure this expansion for years to come.