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Month: December 2016

Viticulture: Essential Edition Review

Viticulture: Essential Edition Review

Alright, first off, let me start by stating and admitting that I’m a self-diagnosed Stonemaier games junkie. As I’ve mentioned before, Euphoria is my favorite game and everything they’ve published so far, I’ve liked. Actually, more than liked. I’ll kickstart whatever they want to publish because I know I’m getting a good product. Plus, Jamey Stegmaier is phenomenal at responding to questions and social media posts, and even recommends tweeting him during games if you have rules questions. That’s a company I can get behind. That’s why today’s review is another one of their games. And as an FYI, this review is for the Viticulture Essential Edition, which includes some of the modules from the original Tuscany expansion.


Viticulture: Essential Edition

Designers: Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone

Player Count: 2-6 Players

Play time: 90 minutes


Viticulture is a worker-placement game that is themed around not only producing wine, but also building a thriving winery and vineyard. The game plays in rounds over the course of an in-game year. During spring, players bid for turn order. Summer is the worker placement season where you get grapes, plant vines, build new buildings/structures at the vineyard and can give tours to make a little extra cash. In autumn, you get a visitor card, which is essentially an action card that can be played in either summer or winter.

Examples of Visitor Cards

Finally, in winter, you can harvest your fields, turn crushed grapes into wine, hire new workers or sell your wine to complete orders. There are more options and details than that, but it gives you an idea of what each season holds. At the end of the year, you collect income from the orders you completed, age your crushed grapes and wine, and reset for the next year. The game is played in rounds until one person has scored 20 points. Once someone hits 20, the current year is played out and whoever has the most points is the winner.

Things I like

  • The seasons/board. This could be a thing I love. You have a set number of workers in the game, but two different seasons to use them. Once you use a worker in the summer phase, you don’t get him back until the end of the year. You may have an awesome opportunity to build a structure at a discount during summer, but if you use a worker there, you might not be able to do everything during winter that you need to. It’s a nice change to the typical worker placement formula.

  • Varying player counts. On the board, each place to play workers has the art for 3 different workers to be placed there, but the circles are progressively more faded. This allows for varying player counts, because in a 2-player game, only one of the circles is available, while in a 5 or 6 player game, all 3 spots are available. You get the same good tension regardless of how many people play.

The different play spaces for varying player counts
  • Wine/Grape counters. You track the value of your wines with glass counters, similar to mancala pieces, but there are clear and much smaller. I love them. They do a great job of marking where you are, but you can still see the number underneath. Awesome design idea.
  • More bits. This is a Stonemaier staple. There are eight structures that can be built and each of them has a different wooden bit. Plus, when you bid for turn order, you place a little wooden rooster on the board. It serves no purpose than to be a place holder, but they are so stinking awesome.

Bits and bits and bits

 

Thing I’m not sure I like, but don’t blatantly dislike.

  • In game bonuses. The first bonus occurs when you bid for turn order. The lower you bid, the better bonus you get. The second bonus available is for the first person at each location on the board. I don’t inherently dislike these bonuses, in fact, I really like them when I get them. The problem that I’ve seen with them is that during a game, you don’t really need to worry about the turn order bonus because you can get bonuses at the locations. Most of the time, whoever has the first bid will always try to go first, because they know they’ll still get the location bonus. Having both bonuses in the game feels like they dilute one another.

 

Things I don’t like.

  • Getting grapes. This is the only major problem I have with this game. In the game, there are red grape cards and white grape cards. You draw these cards from the deck. To sell wine, you have to complete orders. Orders are also on cards which you draw from another deck. I’ve had it happen to me personally and have seen it happen to other players where you only draw one color grape from the deck. I had a vineyard full of white grapes and kept getting orders for red wines. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can really decrease the experience. Part of the game is mitigating those draws and aging your wine to compensate, but every once in a while, luck has it out for you and it can get annoying.

Examples of Grape Cards on the left and Order Cards on the right

 

Overall, this is another winner for me. I really like the aesthetic of this game, and it feels like more than just making wine. You can build bigger storehouses, a wine tasting room, irrigations rigs, and so on. It does a good job of making you feel like you’re managing all aspects of a vineyard. If you’re a wine-drinker and a gamer, this would make for the perfect themed game night. It’s full-bodied fun with notes of edging out your opponent and vineyard capitalism. (Terrible jokes, I know, but I had to do it…)

GLG Rating: 8/10

Check it out on the Stonemaier Website Here

Check it out on BGG Here

Shopping Close to Home

Shopping Close to Home

As we near the end holidays, I’m sure most people have spent more time shopping during the last 6 weeks than they have in the 6 months prior. I’m not a big fan of shopping. I love to be out and about during the holiday season, and be out in the bustle of people running around and looking for those last second gifts. There’s just something fun about being in a shopping center around Christmas, especially when there isn’t anything you need to get. It’s one of my favorite things about this time of year.

Before you think I’ve gone down the rabbit hole, hold on. So far I’ve written a lot about shopping, and there’s a reason. That’s what I want to talk about today. As we near the holidays, I’m sure most people reading this have a laundry list of games on their Christmas lists. I know that I had a big list and I was given the go-ahead from my wonderful wife to put in a big order from Cool Stuff Inc. And when buying a whole pile of games, it’s so much more affordable to buy from one of the big online retailers that provide healthy discounts and quick shipping. Even Amazon, who doesn’t specialize in board games, will still have pretty nice discounts on gaming merchandise, if you keep an eye out. And like I mentioned, when buying in bulk, stacking those discounts can save a whole pile of cash.

This year’s Christmas haul

However, as you continue through the year and look ahead to future board game purchases, don’t forget about your FLGS (friendly local game store, for those who don’t know all the gaming lingo). Like any other business, the little guys take a hit with every purchase that’s made online. Now, I don’t want to get preachy. It you read this and you don’t have a game store that you regularly go to, then this may not apply to you as much. I like my money. I like things that allow me to keep my hands on it. That being said, think about what your game store provides for you. Most game stores have table/gaming space. That increases their overhead. I know that a majority of gaming events I go to are held in game stores. While we travel, we don’t always have access to tables that are big enough to play games. Game stores give us a place to enjoy our hobby while we run around the country. A lot of game stores have some form of game library. You may not always be able to check them out and take them home, but there are games available for you to play. That’s another cost that they eat, to provide a service to you. And I may be off base, because I haven’t been to every game store across the globe, but very few that I’ve seen have a cover charge to play. You can walk through the front door, sit down for a few hours in their building, play some games, and walk back out without spending a dime. Some will even offer some form of discount if you’re a regular attendee or game group member.

There are so many entertainment options in today’s society, and game stores provide a service without asking for anything other than your patronage. There needs to be value in that. I’m not saying that every time you buy a game, you need to buy it at a game store, but I really think they deserve some of your money. My wife and I always try to buy some form of soda or snack every time we go to a game store. It’s small, but it’s a way for us to show a little support frequently. We also try to make all game purchases under 15 dollars at game stores. Typical your online discounters aren’t going to give you more than 5 bucks off a $15 game. The last sort of “rule of thumb” we follow, is that we try to make a purchase of a large game in a FLGS at least once every 3-4 months. Sure, we may be able to buy it for $15-$30 cheaper online, but I think local stores are deserving of the money.

Don’t take this as rules that I think everyone should follow. These are just some decisions my wife and I have made. If they inspire you to spend a little more money at your local game store, then I’m glad you took the time to read this. We need to make sure our friendly local game stores feel appreciated. Most of us wouldn’t have the great friends we have if we didn’t have these open places to play games and meet new gamers.

Have an awesome holiday season and enjoy the last week of shopping!!

Royals Review

Royals Review

I’m a big fan of heavy theme. I love when the things I’m doing in a game feel like they’re supposed to be happening. However, every once in a while, I get the itch for a Euro game. Moving cubes around a board, thinking completely strategically, having low levels of luck. All of those things have their place. Today’s review is one of those games. It’s a little lighter on the Euro side, but still very fun.


Royalsroyals-box

Designer: Peter Hawes

Play Time: 60 minutes

Player Count: 2-5 Players


Royals is a game published by Arcane Wonders, where you are trying to influence different royals in different European countries. The board is divided into 4 different countries; Germany, England, Spain, and France. Each country has from 3 to 5 cities, and each city has 1 or 2 different royals that can be influenced, with there being 8 different categories of royals. On your turn you have 1 mandatory action: to draw cards, and an optional action: to influence a “royal.” The main deck of cards (country cards) simply has cards that come in 1 of 4 colors; red, green, blue, and yellow, and 3 of them are face up at the start of your turn. This is very reminiscent of Ticket to Ride. You get to pick 3 cards, from either the deck or the 3 face up, but the face up cards don’t refill mid turn. You can then spend the cards to claim a royal in a city. The other deck that you can draw from is the intrigue deck which has cards with 2 colors on them. You can only draw 1 intrigue card, in addition to 1 country card. These are used to “conquer” another player’s royal, to increase your overall influence in a country.

royals-cards

Intrigue cards on top, Country cards on bottom

Play continues around the table until the country deck runs out and you complete the “end of the era” scoring. This happens 3 times and then the game is finished. You score points many different ways. The first person to “claim” either royal in a city gets that city’s point token. If you claim at least 1 royal in all of the cities in a country, you claim a country’s point token. If you have the highest influence amongst all the players in a country at the end of an era, you get a point token. If you influence each of the different types of royals at least once you get a point token. Lastly, if at the end of the game you have influenced the most of a single type of royal, you get a point token. Most scoring opportunities are best if you complete the objective first, but the second and third players to complete certain objectives will occasionally score points as well.

Things I like:

  • The board. For being a game with virtually no theme, the board is gorgeous. It’s the kind of board that if you were a super geek with waaaaaay too much money, you could hang on your game room wall.

royals-board

  • The arc of the game. I’ve played Royals with different player counts, and the country deck gets smaller with smaller group sizes. This helps to make each game feel similar with great pacing. The first era everyone is trying to get the city point tokens so things get bought up quickly. The second era is when people try to get the country point tokens. The third era is full of intrigue cards with people stealing their opponent’s royals, and influence, out from under them.
  • Points, points, points. There are such a variety of ways to score points, that many different strategies can lead to victory. You can “specialize” in one country, or try for the “variety pack” and spread out, and still get lots of opportunities to score.
  • Game play. Game play is so simple in this game. It can be taught very quickly. Distilled down, it translates to draw some cards, play some cards, get points. The rule book is quick and easy, and you can do a full teach of this game in roughly 5-10 minutes.
  • Scoring in this game is blind. There isn’t a score track, you just hold onto your tokens face down and add them up at the end of the game. It provides good tension, because you never know exactly where you stand.
  • Puzzle piece points. This is small, but if 2 people tie for the most influence of a certain type of royal, the token, which is a portrait, can be split into 2 pieces. It’s not a huge deal, but I love it.

royals-puzzle-pieces

Things I don’t like:

  • Color overload. While the board is beautiful, it gets chaotic in a hurry. The 4 country colors are Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue. That leaves the 5 players colors to be something else, and they chose Orange, Purple, White, Grey, and Black. After the first era, the board is so full of cubes and other colors that it can be difficult to decipher.

royals-colors

  • When you get done with a game of royals, you have a huge pile of different tokens that you have to add up. This is probably whiny of me considering its basic arithmetic, but each time I’ve played, we always have to add up 2 or 3 times, to make sure people actually have the scores they say they do. This is minor though. It would be easier to have a score track, but since I like that the game doesn’t have one, I’ll deal with a little extra adding. Maybe this also goes to show that I need to be more trusting of other people’s math skills…

 

I really like Royals. It’s not a super heavy game, and the theme doesn’t really play a big part in the gameplay, but it’s still fun none-the-less. It’s a game that’s easy to teach and easy to play, but still gives you good decisions to make.

royals-set-up

GLG Rating: 7.5/10

Check it out on the Arcane Wonders website here.