Visit the rolling hills of Tuscany for this “essential” expansion
60 – 120 minutes
Please note: Stonemaier Games sent us a copy of Viticulture: Tuscany so that we could write this unbiased review
A few years ago Jess and I were driving a hire car through the hills of Tuscany on a beautiful summer’s day, wind rushing through Jess’s hair (the air con was on max – we couldn’t afford a convertible, I think it was a Honda Jazz), and we fancied something to eat. We had no signal so we followed signs to a “cantina”, which we assumed must mean some sort of food due to its similarity to the word “canteen”.
It was miles along a dusty track but much to our relief we found a little restaurant overlooking one of Tuscany’s many vineyards. It turned out that not only was the restaurant attached to this vineyard, but it was also one of Tuscany’s most exclusive wineries, full of serious-looking wine buffs swirling and sniffing various reds and whites while dining on some overpriced antipasti. Cue bedraggled and sweaty Sam and Jess in shorts and flip flops arriving in their Honda Jazz and asking for a table. I have never felt so out of place in all my life, compounded by the look of horror on the waiter’s face when we asked for two Cokes (neither of us drink). Imagine coming to this insanely beautiful and exclusive vineyard in the middle of nowehere and ordering a Coke?!
So we don’t really like wine that much BUT we have been to the vineyards of Tuscany, so we are half qualified to play the critically acclaimed Tuscany expansion for one of our favourite worker placement games. Did it live up to the hype? (By hype I mean literally every review has said that this is an essential purchase for Viticulture players)
This is a modular expansion so there are certain elements you can pick and choose to include, but I don’t see why you would choose to omit anything as nothing is especially complex. The modules are
-Brand new construction cards and accompanying player construction boards
-New double-sided board (so you can play with or without the construction cards) including new wake-up chart, Tuscany map and the reworking of the worker placement layout and order
-New special workers with their own abilities
One of the biggest additions in Tuscany is the construction deck, which allows players to add to their vineyard in a whole host of ways. There are various ways of gaining construction cards to your hand, which you can then build on the “construct building” worker locations, playing them onto one of the two slots on your construction board.
Each construction has a monetary cost, gains you 1VP immediately and then some sort of bonus. Some of them are ongoing abilities, some provide new worker locations which have some very interesting benefits, and others give you residual benefits (such as the statue that gives you 1VP at the end of each subsequent round).
The deck is large, so it offers a large array of benefits and some cards can completely change your strategy. Having your own worker locations can be so useful and help negate the need to be higher up in turn order. How much you use the construction cards really is dependent on the ones you pick up, but of course if that’s your strategy you’ll make sure you get enough in your hand that you’ll definitely pick up some useful ones. Moreover, as I’ll come on to with the new board there are ways of utilising any unwanted cards you pick up so that they become useful.
We’ve only been able to play three games of Tuscany before writing this review but we have found the Tavern card to be overpowered, as it allows the player to discard two wine tokens for 3VP each time they play a winter or summer visitor card. So if they have a set up with red and white grapes in two different fields, and a steady flow of visitor cards they can get 6VP per round by harvesting then playing visitor cards. Jess employed this tactic to devastating effect in one game, and whilst we did what we could to try and stop her relentlessly playing visitor cards, all she needed was to be first in turn order twice and that got her so far over the line we couldn’t catch up!
The new board has several notable changes to the original. First and foremost the new wake-up chart makes things even more interesting when deciding what strategy to take. At first sight it looks a little complicated as there is now a grid of benefits rather than the simpler version in the base game. However, it’s pretty simple, you just move your cockerel along into the next season once you pass and gain the benefit (if applicable) shown, so in some cases you’re getting 3 benefits in the year. They’ve also changed it so the only way you can take the first row is by taking the last row in the previous round. So you go last one round and get a tonne of benefits, before being forced to be first next round.
These benefits are much more varied and balanced than the base game too, including the ability to age your grapes an extra one space, add an influence star to the map (I’m about to explain that bit), or a card of your choice.
You also choose your position on the wake-up row when you pass in Winter of the previous round, so playing fewer workers in the last season will give you first dibs on the wake-up track, which is a really interesting change from the base game
All in all the change is an excellent addition to the game.
The next major change is instead of two worker placement regions (summer and winter), there are now four, each with four worker locations. This massively helps with the flow of the game as it slightly simplifies your decision making process. For example you’ll always be able to take vine cards in the season before planting them, rather than weighing up whether to plant the ones in your hand first before taking new ones.
It also gives quite a lot more power to the first player in turn order, since they will have first dibs on worker locations four times instead of twice each year. Don’t underestimate the power of this, or you may be disappointed!
There are new worker locations, such as the ability to convert between 1 grape, 1 VP, 3 Lira or any two cards. This is such a great addition as it serves as a way of getting rid of excess cards, getting extra grapes on the crush pad, sneaking a crucial extra VP, gaining some early extra money or spending leftover money later in the game.
Another new location is the ability to sell wine directly from your cellar. This helps remove some of the luck element of the purple wine order cards. If you’ve only managed to pick up white grapes and you keep picking up red wine orders, you could just sell those white wine bottles for points. 1VP for any bottle of red or white, 2VP for blush and a massive 4VP for any bottle of sparkling.
I also like how they added a second construction location, meaning it’s easier to utilise the new building deck.
Map of Tuscany
Another new element to the board which deserves its own mention is the map of Tuscany in the bottom left of the board. Each player begins the game with 6 influence stars which through various methods (there are two worker locations and a wake-up benefit) can be placed onto different regions of the map. Each region has a benefit associated with it (visitor/construction/vine/order cards or lira) and a VP value. When you place a star on a region you gain the benefit printed, and at the end of the game the player with the most stars on each region gains the VP value. Any ties lead to all players getting nothing. Once all your stars are placed you can use the action to move stars from region to region instead, but with no benefit other than gaining control for game end VP.
It’s a lovely little addition to the game and can provide a late twist as the extra VP can change who the winner is at the last moment! I also like that ties mean 0VP as it stops people just having unspoken agreements not to edge ahead and take the points, its much more cut throat.
The only downside of the map is that in two player games it isn’t recommended to use the VP at game end, so for that reason we didn’t use the map at all in a two player game, as the benefits never seemed worth it. I would say the “Play/Move influence star” space with the bonus is still very useful even in a two player game as you can effectively grab any two cards and/or money. However once all your stars are placed the option is redundant.
I love this element to the Tuscany Expansion as it brings in a whole new level of replayability to the game. In the box there are 11 special workers, each with their own unique abilities, such as the farmer who can take whichever bonus from a location that he/she wants to, even if that bonus spot has been taken already, or the Oracle who draws 2 and discards 1 each time that player draws cards. Of the 11, only two are used each game, drawn at random during set-up. Each player has the option to train each worker (rather than only one player), simply by paying one additional lira whenever they hire a new worker, be that on the worker location or any of the visitor card abilities.
Inevitably some of these workers are more desirable than others, we haven’t had a chance to play all of them yet but looking at them Mafioso (take an action twice at once) and Politico (pay 1 lira to gain the bonus twice on a location) seem like no brainers whilst the Merchant (if you place it after all other players have passed you gain a card) seems like it’s a nice to have rather than a must buy.
These workers really mix up the strategies used by players, and how effectively someone uses their special workers can have a big impact in a game. Playing the Farmer too early may impact you later in the round as it allows you to claim an already-claimed bonus, you want to make sure you get the best one. The Mafioso is really powerful as it allows you to take an action twice, time it right and it could score you big points (e.g. fill two orders, construct two buildings etc).
I loved Tuscany, and I don’t think we’ll ever play Viticulture without it. Viticulture is a very good game in it’s own right, but the Tuscany expansion elevates it to another level. The special workers and the re-worked seasons/wake-up track are what really makes this expansion an essential purchase as they both mix up the gameplay through increased replayability and tighten up the rounds as it’s slightly easier to plan. The map of Tuscany is a nice addition for 3+ player games since you are competing for extra points and it means the winner can switch right after the last round has finished, but it’s nothing much to shout about at 2 players. The construction cards were hit and miss for us, a lovely addition but with a handful of overpowered cards and some that aren’t that useful, some games they didn’t get much use.
For balance, whilst Jess would say the expansion is very good, she would point out that she won our first game using 0 components of the expansion. She didn’t train the special workers, place any stars on the map or construct any building cards! But I’d say she won in spite of that, rather than because of it, I was just rubbish!
If you own Viticulture and you’re unsure whether to buy Tuscany, I would 100% recommend it. Even if you’re planning to buy Viticulture, I would recommend bundling the two together and just learn them at the same time, it’s probably the best expansion to any game I own, except maybe Spirit Island Jagged Earth.
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