Superhero Dice With A Difference: A Review of KAPOW!

 

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Since reviewing games in earnest I’ve come to play titles that I would have previously dismissed out-of-hand perhaps, or that possibly wouldn’t of come onto my radar at all. So it’s been very pleasantly surprising that through reviewing I’ve discovered some real gems. And KAPOW! is definitely one of them.

In KAPOW! 2-4 players go head-to-head with the sole mission of beating each other to smithereens, and the winner is the person not to be K.Od first. You each start a set number of trait dice and three player boards of attack, defence and level-up. You also each have two blank action dice, which you can use as the game progresses. Each board depicts a series of traits that when combined perform the desired move. Each turn you roll your dice and assign in secret to your chosen area. As you perform level-ups you will have the opportunity to gain further trait dice, and faces that can be attached to your action dice. The more traits and faces you gain the better moves you can make, and at the end of each turn you reveal your actions and resolve them. Any damage taken by a player is monitored on the health track, and will eventually result in a victory for either the hero or the villain.

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I played the demo copy of this current Kickstarter over last week and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It doesn’t matter that classic comic books aren’t really my cup of tea, or that the theme isn’t one I’d usually go for. This is all about grabbing a fistful of chunky dice and chucking with aplomb, accumulating more good stuff to add to the mix, and building dice to execute the real kick ass combinations. Yes, dice building. So if you think pool building with faces of the die then you’d be right on the money, and the good news is that this isn’t a gimmick, it’s a novel idea works wonderfully.

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The even better news is that it’s just a whole bunch of fun, and the fact that it’s a light theme doesn’t mean that there isn’t some serious thought to be had. A few times I was positively crippled with the agony of decision-making, which I really didn’t expect to be the case with KAPOW! I really like dice assignment games for this reason; there’s a whole lot of action combinations, and a select amount of dice, so how you choose to utilise them is crucial. Some turns leave you in a head-scratching, nail biting predicament and that is no bad thing at all.

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I also enjoyed that despite being a dice game it isn’t too random. You have options to interchange your action die faces, re-roll and reassign and there is rarely a turn when there’s nothing to be done with your dice (the ‘wild’ trait is really perfect for those moments!) All I would say is that because dice assignments are made in secret, sometimes the outcome is a stalemate situation- and this can be a little disappointing. For example, say that you pondered over a potentially amazing defend combination and your opponent matched it with an equal amount of attack- then it’s a case of ‘I guess nothing much happens this turn then’. Luckily it’s so fast paced that a matter of moments later you’re bound to get some real action- which is actually quite in keeping with the theme.

Ah yes, the theme. It’s fun, it’s colourful and isn’t totally crucial to the game mechanics. But it makes sense, and once you add the advanced ‘super boards’ into the mix this becomes all the more apparent. Aesthetically it’s very cool, especially the superboards, which are all illustrated in retro comic book style depicting different genres. Even the rulebook looks like an old fashioned comic, and I love the detail and care that’s gone into the creation of this.

Launched on 1st November, KAPOW! has already met it’s funding goal. I would love to see it reach some stretch goals for component upgrades and further artwork, because I think this game deserves to meet its full potential- it’s innovative, hugely fun and is doing something a little bit different- with successful results. Check it out on Kickstarter here.

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Body War & Nasty Bugs- A Review of Viral.

Viral

Design: Gil d’Orey, Antonio Sousa Lara

Artwork: Mihajlo Dimitrievski

Published: Arcane Wonders

Players: 2-5 players

Duration: 60-90 mins

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I had two misconceptions about Viral: Namely that I thought it was aimed at younger players, and that it was an educational game. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either of those things I might add, but I was surprised at just how wrong I was. It’s not a game of science and creepy cute viruses, but an area control game with an interesting hand management aspect. But yes, Viral is also littered with adorably nasty critters.

In Viral you are the virus and it’s your job to take over and infect the human body (i.e.- the central player board). Armed with basic virus and body cards you play over 6 rounds and 6 simple phases. Every organ has a randomised token that depicts the area and cure value. You use two cards each turn to place tokens and infect your desired organ- this is where you can move, attack another virus or shield yourself by flipping your token over (making it tougher for another player or research to remove.) At the end of each round you score every organ, check if research has cured you, deal with any crisis areas (when a number of players are present in one organ) and resolve the event card- which can have a positive or negative impact depending.

I came to think of Viral as a mini ‘body war-game’, because in terms of mechanics I couldn’t help but to draw comparison to Twilight Struggle. It’s a highly tactical game of conflict, where playing cards at the right time is everything, dominating certain areas is highly important, and executing your multi-use cards is a real brain cruncher. Moving up the research track is like the DEFCON5 of diseases- you want to score without being cured to quickly whilst also scoring the most points. However, as well as the theme being a world apart from Twilight, it plays in around 45-60 minutes (2P) and as isn’t quite as large and complex.

Viral also had a couple of interesting aspects that really strengthen the hand management aspect of the game. As you ascend the score track you are able to gain the more powerful virus cards to build your deck. These provide new abilities- pushing another player out, pulling another in or absorbing another virus and moving it with you. This makes for tactical thinking and playing your cards with caution.

I also liked the way the cards cycle; after you have played two turns the four cards used are unavailable, then after two more turns they go back into your hand. So this really gets you thinking ahead and planning carefully. It’s almost like deck building where you choose which cards to play and when.

I’m also a fan of gaining as you go- it’s very satisfying to climb the score track and keep an eye on how close you are to winning in relation to other players. I like gaining new cards, and I like when score tokens are flipped and organs are levelled up, meaning higher points at stake. That’s what gives Viral the fun factor for me.

It’s also worth mentioning that it plays very well as a two-player game with some fantastic direct conflict. The only difference is you have an AI player who you manage a little, but nothing too strenuous.

I love the packaging and illustrations; The Mico is fast becoming one of my favourite artists. I like that the viruses made me say ‘awww’ and ‘ewww’ simultaneously, kind of reminiscent of Garbage Pail Kids (I’m definitely showing my age now!) And I liked how the abilities of the viruses were reflected in their name and characteristics.

So that’s Viral. Conflict, area control and excellent hand management wrapped up in a big gross bundle. Play it.

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Kickstarter Preview: Dawn of Peacemakers

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All images shown are from a prototype copy of the game.

Dawn of Peacemakers is a big game. It’s big without being messy, it’s involved but not convoluted, and whilst complex it’s extremely straightforward to play. Having dipped into wargames and miniatures games this past year (see my posts from March & August for more on that) and campaign games with evolving story (such as Arkham Horror: The Card Game) Dawn of Peacemakers seemed to fit quite nicely into my exploration.

I was familiar with the work of Sami Laakso, the one-man team behind Snowdale Design. Although I won’t talk too much about his previous work I will say that I loved Dale of Merchants 1 & 2. They are fast paced thinky deck builders with adorable cards that interacted in a wonderful way.

Set in the same fictional universe of Dale, I wondered if Dawn would be able to capture the essence of Sami’s previous games. Well let me begin by saying it’s such a completely different game that it removes itself from Dale of Merchants a fair bit- but the wonderful animal folk and clever multi-use cards remain. What we get instead of deckbuilding is a tactical wargame, with an ever-changing modular board and clever narrative running throughout.

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You can play cooperatively (each with their own set of cards) solo, or as a skirmish, which will pit players against one another. You draw cards each turn from the resource deck, and either use for either their ability or icons. You draw and execute order cards for each side and resolve them using the companion’s attributes. Ultimately you want to lower the motivation on both sides to reach a peaceful conclusion. When the end of scenario is triggered you delve into the manual to find out what happens next.

I tried all three modes, and co-op was especially fun. I forget how good co-op games can be when you play with the right people. Dawn was great for group strategy and to feel a sense of solidarity, and most importantly it made us want to play on to discover what happens next.

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What I really liked was how Dawn turns wargaming on its head- instead of making war we want to keep the peace. Despite the package and premise being fairly soft there’s plenty of battling to be done on the terrain, because sometimes keeping the peace means ‘retreating’ characters (and when I say that I mean permanently) which are standees in the prototype, and will hopefully be fully fledged minis in the final game. You can lower motivation by retreating companions with attacks and striking at the right time, therefore not allowing one side to be victorious over the other. We are also fortifying companions, leading them to safety and managing the order deck to work in our favour. As simple as the gameplay is there’s also a lot to be considered. I think there is enough balancing and strategy in Dawn to satisfy wargame & mini enthusiasts, but enough hand management to appeal to regular tabletop gamers.

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The story aspect works very well, and whilst you can choose to ‘get into it’ or play without reading the narrative it definitely lends to the gaming experience to try the former. Whilst it works as a solo game, it can be slightly lonely with a longer duration, but that really depends on the individual player. It’s a good idea to play the co-op game before attempting the skirmish, as this will teach you the game before going head-to-head with an opponent. Then you can go it alone with for some strategy laden conflict related fun.

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What struck me most about the game was just how much has gone into the development. There are many scenarios (all of which have different outcomes), further pieces to unlock and characters with brilliantly thematic abilities, with lovingly drawn illustrations to match. It really is a very well crafted design.

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The only drawback for me personally is the time factor. With a slightly fiddly set up and fairly lengthy duration it’s not ideal for the time poor. I feel like I only scratched the surface of the game after several plays. But– as with many other games of this nature- it’s worth persisting with if the payoff is worth it. And I believe Dawn of Peacemakers is.

The Kickstarter is now live, so head over to marvel the minis, read the rulebook or watch the play through video! You can read my interview with Sami here.

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An Interview with Sami Laakso

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This week saw the launch of the much-anticipated Dawn of Peacemakers by Sami Laakso of Snowdale Design. Dale of Merchants was a huge hit amongst tabletop fans that were taken with the unique deckbuilding mehanic and the array of adorable animalfolk within the game. Set in the same universe as Dale, Dawn of Peacemakers is a very different type of game, and one that’s been a couple of years in the making. I sat down to have a chat with Sami prior to the launch to talk about his previous Kickstarter success, evolving campaign games, Finnish board game culture and animals!

Hi Sami, so what were you first- an artist, storyteller or game designer?

Depends, if you’re asking generally or regarding my own board game designs. If speaking outside board gaming, I’ve done art in multiple different forms the longest from those three. That’s why it’s natural for me to do my own art when I create and design board games.

Storyteller last for sure. Dawn of Peacemakers kinda required a story to really shine. So it was needed so I had to do it. That’s also my weakest part of those three too in my opinion which is precisely why I have friends helping with story writing. It’s important to be aware of own strengths and weaknesses.

I’ll ask you more about Dawn in a minute but just wanted to go back for a moment to Dale…were you surprised by its success?

I was hoping of course for the first game to fund when I launched it on Kickstarter. It was a mild success with meeting its funding goal during the last week or so. No, that didn’t surprise me. For Dale of Merchants 2 funding and exceeding the first game’s funding in around 10 hours, yes was I surprised!

So how long has Dawn been in the works? Did you always plan to take this direction?

I didn’t have a grand plan. First, it wasn’t as much that I didn’t want to create a grandiose game like Dawn of Peacemakers from the start. I just knew that big game like that needs credibility from the creator, credibility that no first time creator doesn’t have. That’s why I went small with Dale of Merchants. With the success of the series, I believed that now it would be great time to expand the universe of Dale of Merchants and do something way different! ‪It’s also good to spice up the games so people know I can do designs outside deck building.

‪Yeah I think that was a wise choice! Because this is a BIG game, but it’s more accessible now that fans have been introduced to the world and your work. So that actually leads me on to my next question- what challenges do you face when designing a game like this with an evolving story?

 What challenges don’t I face? Haha. There are just so many that we don’t have time to talk about all of them. Let’s pick an example. How to make the game’s story interesting and coherent while making the players feel like they can influence it? If they can’t influence it at all, you become just a spectator. I want the player to feel part of the story.

Was play testing a much longer process as a result?

My aim was that players could tell stories during the game. Why their character does what they do? In order for players to immerse in the story is to give them enough background information about the world and setting. If you feel familiar with it, you can delve in and start telling your own stories. We give background story before each game and let players tell their own story during it. Then we close things off by telling what happens afterwards based on player actions. This way players feel like they’re really part of the story while we still have some control over where it leads. Incorporating story didn’t make play testing that much longer. Having dozens of unique scenarios with varied mechanisms did.

Yes! I can imagine! I haven’t played many games with campaigns so this is different for me. This does sound like a huge challenge in and of itself. So how long did the play testing last? 

For me play testing is a part of the game design that ends only when the game is sent to the printers. That being said there were multiple game groups that actively played the game during roughly a 6 month period.

The challenging thing about play testing a game like Dawn of Peacemakers with surprises is that everyone can truly play test it just once. Yes, the game can be played over and over again even after completing the campaign the first time, but I can play test that with the same people and play it by myself too. I can only get genuine reactions from the surprises when players don’t know what to expect! And by play testing once, I mean playing through the campaign once. That’s why it was really important to constantly get it in front of new people after adjusting things.

Can you tell me at this point about any stretch goals or any other spoilers or is it all top secret? 

I had tough time with the stretch goals as I always want offer a fully complete product, if the game funds. Not, if it overfunds. That’s why most stretch goals are mainly about small enhancements here and there. That being said we have a few bigger ones that I really hope we meet. One of them involves more things for players to open when they play the campaign…

The first thing I wanted to do with the proto was open the containers! But of course I…didn’t. Can you tell me a little about the board game culture in Finland? Is there a big ‘scene’ or many other publishers or designers?

Of course! Board game scene is well and alive in Finland. Not too big yet but growing all the time. We just got our first board game cafe last year. We have a more publishers who mostly create family games and a few that publish hobby games too. Pretty much all Finnish hobby gamers have no problems playing games in English which is great.

Awesome, that’s great to hear. Isn’t Dale in a museum exhibit?

How did you know? It was quite a surprise when I got contacted about having a game which is barely a year old to be placed in a museum! They wanted to create an exhibition with games from different times. Dale of Merchants was the newest in their collection at the time, if I remember correctly. It’s a huge museum with different sections. They created a whole section just for games, both video and cardboard form.

Lastly, everyone seems to have their favourite decks of characters from Dale. Which has been your personal favourite to illustrate and which character type do you relate to the most?

I still have to give a shout-out to the chameleons from Dale. They’re my favourites from those games. As for Dawn of Peacemakers, I gotta love the ocelots. It’s funny to make some goofy looking cats while trying my hardest to make them look believable. Sometimes they’re crazy cute and sometimes terrifying. You wouldn’t want to meet some of them on a dark alley!

And so it was menacing Ocelots concluded my chat with Sami, and I’ll be discussing the game in detail within the next couple of days! Until then please do pay the Kickstarter page a visit to find out a little more about the game, rules and all the lovely bits and pieces that are on offer!

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A Tale of Two Witches- Part 1- Witches of the Revolution

Witches of the Revolution

Design: M. Craig Stockwell

Artwork: James Masingo, Alan Washburn

Publisher: Atlas Games

Players: 1-4 players

Duration: 30-60 mins

IMG_5616I had my eye on Witches of the Revolution for some time. It immediately sparked my interest because I am somewhat the witchy woman. I have dabbled in white magic on and off over the years, and whilst I never fully got into a pagan lifestyle there is something about it that I find fascinating. So witchy themes draw me in- whether it’s books, movies or games. There are a few witchy games out there but I’ve been longing for one that’s just a little bit fuller than filler. So WotR immediately went to the top of my wishlist.

 

IMG_6174Witches is a co-op deckbuilder that allows for solo play, and your coven of witches are freedom fighters during the American civil war. You start with a hand of five cards (six if playing solo) from your starter (Seeker) deck. Each round a new event is spawned, and you must overcome these to sway the Tyranny track in your favour, and meet the objective cards before the event or tyranny track hits game over.

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img_6170.jpgEach turn you may recruit using a card’s pentagram symbol and similar to other deckbuilding games the recruits are far more powerful. But unlike other games of this nature you pay for recruits by permanently discarding the cards spent. The events are overcome when you can match the symbols required with cards from your hand, allowing for the corresponding symbol counter to be removed from an objective. When all objective cards are met then you are victorious!

IMG_6189What I enjoyed about this game, as with most ‘fighting’ deckbuilders (although it’s the events we’re fighting, instead of monsters or each other) is how quickly things can escalate to ‘oh this is going to go well’ to ‘we’re screwed aren’t we?’ As the event cards mount they have knock-on effects to everything else giving the game a great sense of urgency and drive to succeed. In the co-op mode you really have to work together to achieve this and the solo game is equally as challenging in this respect.

I love how the aspects of the game interact, it refreshes those typical deckbuilder traits, and the butterfly effects can shift the game in different directions, keeping you on high alert. The events can represent challenges of their own, e.g.- ‘witches and relics can only be used to overcome this event’, or ‘pay one extra symbol for every event to the left of this card’. But as further events are drawn the moon tracker ascends, and everything becomes more difficult and costly. The event movement will also result in the tyranny tracker teaching inevitable doom and recruiting becoming next to impossible. So you’ve been warned- it’s a tough one!img_6172.jpgI also like the satisfaction of removing markers from the objectives and inching closer toward clearing them, and once you’ve done so you’ll be rewarded with the card’s ability. There’s also a lot to be considered in Witches. You are not just buying ‘bigger’ recruits and going in swinging, you are really contemplating your decisions carefully. Not only for yourself but also with other players in mind. Because if you’re not careful you will over prune your deck to the point of cycling 10 cards continuously. If you get stuck in the position of being unable to recruit, which happened in my solo game, then it’s a tough spot to escape. Witches is like the thinking (wo)man’s deckbuilder and I like it.

The game is also adaptable, in the sense that you can adjust the difficulty level by creating your own event deck, using the glyphs printed on the cards (and the rulebook guidelines) to tailor your game. If you think it’s tough with the achievable events, wait until you play with the unkinder ones. It’s kind of brutal.

The artwork is superb, from the vibrant board and front cover, to the amusingly illustrated objectives and the paired down rustic feel of the coven cards. I’m a sucker for creepy artwork so the coven illustrations are my favourite.

The box insert is decent, and it’s very straightforward to set up and learn. Some people may find the rounds a little too streamlined and formulaic perhaps, however I think the contemplative nature of the game and all that comes with it more than makes up for it.

My only criticism of Witches would be that the theme is perhaps a little lighter than I would of liked, but there’s a chance that further intricacies would have over cooked the broth. However I think this also leaves the game open for future endeavors that could play around with the theme further, and with my former witchcraft experience my brain goes into overdrive thinking about potential expansion packs.

You’ll love Witches if you enjoy co-oping, or are hankering for a new solo game. If you want to be challenged and on high alert at all times then this may be the game for you. And if you love deckbuilding games that get you thinking then WotR is a must have.

I’ll see you soon for part two, where I’ll be delving into a very different witch themed game.

 

 

A Dog’s Life, Christophe Boelinger

A Dog’s Life

 Design: Christophe Boelinger

Artwork: Marek Píza

Publisher: ADC Blackfire Entertainment, BETON GAMES

Players: 2-6

Duration: Approx. 30-60 mins

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A Dog’s Life is a family game about being a dog about town. And y’know what? I think it’s rather good.

This was a bit different for me to review. I play tricky card games, heavy strategy games and thinky brain burners. Sometimes I play fun fillers and sometimes I even play party games. I just really love games and I like all sorts. A Dog’s Life is branded as a family game, so when playing I had to adjust my mindset somewhat. I thought about the kind of games I played as a child, what appeals to my inner child, and what games I would like to play in the future with my daughter.

In A Dog’s Life you play as one of the awesome dog characters. (Daisy the Whippet was my pup of choice!) Your goal is to hunt for bones and bury them at your home turf before the other players. Each turn you navigate around the board with your allotted action allowance and search the local restaurant’s and trash cans for bones. You can pick up newspapers and deliver to various numbered locations, and this will earn you rewards in the form of bones or food. You need to maintain your pet’s health by keeping them fed, drinking from water fountains to fill your bladder, and then empty it on lampposts to mark (and block) a spot. You can hinder other player’s progress by fighting, and also by navigating the dog catcher van in their direction. So it’s pretty simple- move, take actions and draw from your deck to determine the outcome of your chosen action.

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Strategy may be light but there’s some to it. You choose personal objectives when delivering newspapers, choose how to spend your actions, use your character’s ability and navigate the dreaded van in your chosen direction. Players also have the opportunity to block another from a space or to use the ‘fight’ action (I would have preferred the term ‘scrap’ but that’s just me!) So we have a fair bit going on here- light strategy, pickup-and-deliver, action point allowance and minor conflict. On paper this sounds like a lot of things to be, but the good news is that it’s wrapped up in a neat and extremely cute bundle.

I like the way in which A Dog’s Life will introduce modern board gaming to those who don’t play often. For many I’m sure a ‘family game’ is still something that only surfaces during the holidays, and the game of choice will possibly be something familiar or traditional. The good thing with this game is that the theme is friendly enough to generate interest for those outside of the hobby, and is also familiar territory to those who play games often. But it still manages to retain the feel of a ‘traditional’ game in some respects. It works to guide younger players into gaming and is designed in a way that children will understand.

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The bad news for an experienced gamer is the roll-and-move aspect may grate a little when navigating the dog catching van- and going to the pound and (possibly) missing up to two turns in the process is also a slight downfall. When hunting for food or popping into the local eateries there’s an element of luck when drawing cards to determine outcome.

But this is all from my perspective, as someone who has played a lot of games over several years. For those who are new to the hobby and especially for younger players I can’t see the aforementioned points being an issue. I understand why those elements are there, as this is familiar territory to people who haven’t played many modern board games, and younger players will find it the straightforward game play (and minimal text) easier to grasp.

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I really like the feel of the game as a whole, not just because of the cute dogs, but you actually want to look after your character. The artist did such a wonderful job of capturing the various doglike expressions- both in the art and in the figurines- that it makes it impossible not to care about your character. I love how the board is super vibrant and filled with oversized fast food images, reminiscent of how a dog would probably view the local pizza joint or taco stand. A Dog’s Life really has that childlike quality about it, and actually gives you an insight into ‘the doglife’.

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As a child I loved games with adorable themes and I have nice memories are of gaming with my family, sometimes over the festive season, sometimes post-Sunday dinner. If A Dog’s Life had existed back I would have been thrilled, especially as an animal lover who never got to own a dog. I imagine my daughter playing this with her friends in a few years time and my heart feels joyous.  It achieves what I believe is intended and it does a good job at that.

A Dog’s Life was funded on Kickstarter in August, complete with ultra shiny box, round dice ‘ball’ and even more cute pups unlocked. It is due to fulfill in December ’17, so keep your paws crossed for a retail release early next year!

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Some Thoughts On Viticulture: Essential Edition

Viticulture: Essential Edition

 Design: Morten Monrad Pedersen, Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone

Artwork: Jacqui Davis, David Montgomery, Beth Sobel

Publisher: Stonemaier Games

Players: 1-6

Duration: Approx.45- 90 mins

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I must confess that up until a few weeks ago Viticulture was one of my ‘wish list games’ that I never felt motivated to actually buy. It was first released via Kickstarter in 2013 and was given an expansion, Tuscany, the following year. Since the ‘Essential Edition’ reprint in 2015, which comprises of the two, (but with a few changes here and there) it’s generally known as a well-liked and popular worker placement game. So why was I on fence about it for so long?

Partly it was to do with Kickstarter. A few years ago I didn’t really understand what crowdfunding was all about, and it was only when I listened to Jamey Stegmaier’s book A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide that I came to discover the power and joy of board game Kickstarter. Viticulture was one of the first crowdfunded mega hits, whose success paved the way for many (many) campaigns to follow. It was also the game that Stegmaier learned a few mistakes from, as he mentions in the book, and that was very interesting to me. This was actually the point that I put Viticulture on my wishlist.

When the game found me through my colleagues at Board Game Exposure I was pretty psyched to finally play it (and see what all the fuss was about). What I discovered was a well-rigged engine builder with worker placement mechanics, set in the Italian countryside. But as gentle as Viticulture appears, it beats with the ambitious heart of a entrepreneur looking to grow a winemaking empire. Theme wise I was never too fussed, I’m not a big drinker (anymore!) and not a ‘wine person’. So perhaps this was another reason I never took the step to purchasing Viticulture (more on theme later). After my first game I found that it really didn’t matter if wine was my penchant or not, because I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and couldn’t wait to play again. And I can still honestly say that I don’t give much of a damn about the stuff.

So what can I tell you about Viticulture that you don’t already know? I’m not sure. But what I can do is give you my take as to what I believe contributes to it’s success.

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 The Pacing

Like Scythe (the only other Stonemaier game I have played at this point) Viticulture has a certain pace about it, it’s a slow builder. You must get your cogs in the right place and this takes a good few turns to achieve. It is a little faster to get chugging along than Scythe, but it still takes time. Patience is key. But when you do get there it flows very nicely indeed.

 The Tension

Viticulture has an interesting dichotomy to it. For a game with a friendly theme and peaceful setting it’s so completely competitive and tension filled. I actually love that Viticulture hasn’t got any bonus points or end of game objectives to fall back on. Points are only awarded on the score track and it’s basically a one shot deal; you do well you win, you play poorly, you lose. The first player to reach 20 points will trigger the games end, and it’s so completely nail biting as you approach the finish line.

 Healthy Competition

I like that despite being highly competitive Viticulture isn’t a cutthroat game. You ultimately have the power over your vineyards destiny, and the opportunities to make it work for you (without ruining each other in the process). But you have to be strategic to get what you want. There is a level of player interaction that removes it from multi solitaire territory, but with the personal objectives you’re really setting your own goals and challenging yourself.

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Decisions, Decisions

Games with that sweet agony of difficult decision making really do it for me. Not just like: ‘Well I could do X or Y, so I guess I’ll do X, what’s the worst that can happen?’ Every decision counts- which is fun to play with, often tricky to maneuver and actually rather thematic, which brings me on to my next point…

 It’s Thematic!

Theme is quite important to me, it’s not the ultimate factor in a game, but it is a factor. Some games pull off the integration of theme and mechanics very well, some do not. Sometimes it doesn’t matter too much; sometimes it’s painfully obvious it’s not delivering. Viticulture is a game where everything makes total sense. I can’t comment on the original version (with or without Tuscany) but in the Essential Edition it works extremely well. Much like a real life business you must start from the ground up, be patient and reap the benefits later on. As it’s played over summer and winter phases it’s important to utilise your workers the right time, and choose your seasonal cards wisely. I really like these cards for their various characters & thematic abilities, and found that they have the power to turn the game around at the last minute.

 Storytelling

When discussing Scythe on The Five By podcast I spoke of the power of storytelling and world building. Although this is more apparent in Scythe it’s also present in Viticulture. For me this has a lot to do with the quaint artwork and the style of the game. Your individual play area is your domain to love and nurture. It’s satisfying to build your irrigation tower or cellar and putting the corresponding wooden shapes in their place. It feels like your creating a wonderful world of your own and it’s a good feeling.

The Yay Factor

Simple but true- there is something very satisfying about creating stuff to accumulate stuff, and seeing the fruits of your labor, every pun intended. It’s got the ‘yay’ factor when your grape(s) becomes a wine, and you complete a hefty order to grab some healthy points. It’s like ‘hey, I’m making wine! Yay!’

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So yes, I enjoyed Viticulture immensely. Similar to other games that sat on my wishlist for some time, I now regret not getting involved sooner. The actual gameplay is straightforward, but the little complexities and subtle layering make it superbly re-playable. I can see myself wanting to play this on warm summer evenings and cosy winter afternoons and it not becoming stale. Unlike the red wine I kept in direct sunlight for three years and tried to drink the other day. That was horrible.

Viticulture Essential Edition is available on many corners of the Internet and you can also play via Tabletopia or Tabletop Simulator.  Visit the Stonemaier Games website, or the BGG page to delve a little deeper into the game and rules, and keep an eye out on my channel for a future play of the Viticulture solo mode.

 Thanks for reading!