Ah, the life of a wine magnate. Living in a lovely location, working outdoors, gaining prestige and fame among aficionados, and all the wine you can drink. That’s the fairytale. The reality is hiring and paying workers, dealing with unpredictable weather, and the hassle of sales and reviews. You’ve got to turn a profit, after all, to keep living on your lovely estate. The hassles can make for a tough life. Still, there is that compensation of all the wine you can drink to take the edge off.
How It Plays
I’m not going to break down every rule of this game because that would take forever. There are two versions of the game in the box: The “2010 Reserve” version, which is the original Vinhos, and the “2016 Special Vintage” version which is billed as a more streamlined, and (slightly) simplified version of the game. (There aren’t many differences between the two and the rulebooks do a good job of highlighting what is different. If you know one version already, you can quickly master the other.) Since I have the version with Kickstarter stretch goals included, there are also four small expansions included. Whew, that’s a lot to learn, explain and differentiate. We’d be here until the next grape harvest.
So to keep your eyes from glazing over, the general gist of the game is this: Vinhos is a worker placement game where you are running a Portuguese wine-making operation. Over the course of six harvest years, you will cultivate your vines, choose the best varieties, harvest and produce your wines, buy new vineyards, build wineries, hire the best wine experts and farmers, and take part in trade fairs.
At the beginning of the game, each player gets a special ability that helps them during the game, as well as a starting estate. The region in which your estate is located also gives you special benefits.
Each year begins with a new weather forecast. The weather determines whether or not your wines turn out wonderfully, or are destined to be boxed and sold at Wal-Mart. The weather will guide your actions and strategy for the coming year. Good weather years are great for production and bad weather years are better for expanding your empire so you can use scale to your advantage.
In each year you get two actions and then there is a production phase. Actions include buying vineyards or wineries to expand your empire, hiring experts, building wine cellars in which to age your wine, exporting and selling your wine, or hiring scientists/farmers to increase your yield. You can also pass or issue a press release, which indicates a wine is ready for judging at the trade fair.
During production, you age your wines, reassign employees to different vineyards, and produce your wines. In the 3rd, 5th, and 6th years, players send their wines to the trade fair. Those who do the best at the fair earn additional victory points.
The game ends after the final trade fair and players tally their victory points. Points are awarded for the amount of money you have, half the quality of each of your wines, having the majority in the export area columns, and any end game multiplier tiles you have. The player with the most points is the winner.
That’s a very high level overview of what is a fairly complicated game. Each action and piece of the production phase has specific rules and exceptions that all effect your end result. Vinhos is a game that’s easy to understand at a high level, but the nitty gritty of play takes some time to internalize.
The expansions add:
- More experts to choose from.
- A weather tile that means no wine at all will be produced that year.
- Double sized cellars, wineries, and vineyards which increase wine values and quality.
- Component upgrades (including fun wine bottles to play with)
- Islands that provide extra vineyards for you to buy.
A Rare and Prestigious Vintage, or Booze in a Box?
Once again, I have to make a disclaimer before beginning this review: I never played the original Vinhos, so I cannot compare the older edition to this new one. I have no idea which one is objectively “better,” I can only tell you what I thought of the deluxe edition. Also note that the edition I have is the Limited Edition with all Kickstarter stretch goals. There is a deluxe edition without those goals, as well, if you prefer to go expansion-less.
(It’s also my first Vital Laerda game, so I can’t make comparisons on his other offerings.)
And now, a public service announcement about Vinhos: Don’t drink and play!
While it might be tempting to drink some good wine with this game, you’re going to need your wits about you. An impaired brain isn’t going to be able to handle everything this game requires of you. (Drinking afterward, however, might be necessary.)
There is a lot going on in Vinhos, so much so that at times it can seem like too much. You have to handle every aspect of running a wine empire, but you only have twelve actions in which to do so. What you do and when makes or breaks you. You have to plan ahead, but also have a backup plan in case your opponent gets to something you need first. And you’d better watch your opponents so you can shut them out if necessary and protect your interests.
The good news is that are lots of ways to score points in Vinhos. It’s a point salad (with a side of wine). Some people love having tons of ways to score points, others not so much. Personally, I enjoy it. I like feeling like there are multiple paths I can pursue and that if I get cut off from one strategy, there are still other ways to win. Others prefer a more direct path to victory. This game may not be for you if you don’t like bellying up to the point salad bar.
Yet even though there are multiple ways to score, the limited actions mean that you can’t chase after all of them. And it’s hard to change course if things go sideways during the game. Flying by the seat of your pants will get you killed when you realize you should have been doing something else all along and now you only have one action left. Oops. The tight nature of the game can make Vinhos feel both like a tremendous challenge and a beatdown. Theoretically there are multiple ways to win so it feels open. In practice, if you don’t nail down a strategy pretty early and stick with it, you can end up dead last.
One of the things I like the best is that the player interaction isn’t aggressive (although someone taking what you need can still leave you pinned with no easy way to recover). Taking things away from your opponent is more a matter of making actions more expensive or blocking them from taking an action. You aren’t outright stealing or screwing over your opponent. I appreciate this in a game, particularly a long, thinky game like this that’s simulating an industry. Sure, some industries have high screwage, but most make their competitors work harder by getting to something first rather than actively taking something away from them. The indirect interaction is not only preferable, it feels more thematic to me.
And speaking of theme… I’m not a big wine person. Talk to me about vintages and palate cleansing and watch my eyes glaze over. However, you don’t have to care about wine to appreciate this game. Vinhos is a wine-making simulation, true, (and a very good one) but it’s also a very good economic simulation that could apply to just about any industry. If you like business and running an empire, there’s a place for you in Vinhos.
The presentation of the game is top notch. The art is attractive and the colors come from I would call the, “muted, classy” collection. The pieces are durable and fun to play with (especially the wine bottles). The box sports a very useful insert, although some of the expansion parts have to get put “wherever” as the insert wasn’t designed with them in mind. No matter, there’s plenty of room and if you use baggies or a system that makes sense to you, it’s all organized well.
And there is so much inside that box, it will take you a while to work through all of the options. Having two versions of the game and four expansions which can be used with either version means you’ll be trying new stuff for a long time. Even once you’ve tried all the parts, the game itself is still plenty re-playable. The weather comes out differently each game. Your starting estate and special ability change, too. Plus, there are so many paths to pursue and options to explore that no two games will play out exactly the same. Even if you play it often (and I recommend you do for reasons described below), I doubt you’ll get sick of it anytime soon.
As for which “Vintage” of the game is better… That’s up to you. For me, I prefer the 2016. I do think it’s a bit more streamlined and, while not “easy” by any means, is a little more accessible than the 2010. But that’s just my opinion. Other gamers are likely to feel differently.
No matter which version you play, Vinhos is rules intensive. This is neither a positive nor a negative, just something to be aware of. I highly recommend watching some play-through videos and spending some time studying before attempting to play/teach the game. The good news is, once you “get it,” the game plays very smoothly and isn’t difficult at all.
However, this isn’t a great game to play once in a while. Once you’ve invested the time to learn the game, you need to play regularly to keep it fresh. There are just too many little things that slip away if you don’t and it wouldn’t be fun to have to re-learn the rules every year. If you can’t commit to playing it often (and with the same group so you don’t have to keep teaching it), it might be better to pass.
This isn’t unique to Vinhos, however. The same could be said for any heavy Euro so it’s really a matter of whether or not these games are your cup of tea.
In spite of that, the thing that surprised/impressed me the most about the game was how quickly (relatively speaking) the game plays. Once we understood all the rules, we were finishing in about two hours with two players. At about an hour per player, that’s not too bad. Usually games this heavy take far longer.
The game, though, is disqualified from my much loved “weeknight games” category. While it can play in a timeframe (barely) suitable for a weeknight, the setup time is lengthy (15 – 30 minutes or more, depending on how well you know the game and if you have help). I suppose we could set it up the night before and play the next night, but then we’d have nowhere to eat meals. Why must real life get in the way of gaming?
And speaking of real life, there is the issue of price. This version of the game retails for $129.99. (If you want the deluxe numbered edition, that’s $139.99.) The version without the Kickstarter stretch goals is $79.99. It’s a pretty hefty price tag and only you can say whether or not it’s worth it for you. The presentation is well done and I can’t say that you don’t get your money’s worth there. But whether the game itself is worth that much to you depends on how much you enjoy heavy, brain burning games about wine (and how much room you have to store a very large box).
I doubt I’ll be keeping the game in my collection, but that’s not because it’s a bad game. It certainly is not! However, it’s just not my kind of game. It’s too long for the time we have, too fiddly, and has too many rules and exceptions that make it difficult to pull out and play on the rare occasions we do have that much gaming time. The re-learning curve is too steep for us, given that we’d probably only get to play twice a year or so. I’d rather not store this large of a box for a game that won’t get played often.
However, if I were a different type of gamer, I could certainly see loving it and keeping it forever. If you like long, meaty games and have the opportunity to play them often with the same group (so teaching isn’t such a chore), this should be right in your wheelhouse. The game is deep, challenging, and really does give you the feeling of running a huge wine empire. It’s lovely to look at and offers a ton of replayability. It gets a strong recommendation from me, as long as you’re the right gamer for it.
iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Eagle-Gryphon Games for giving us a copy of Vinhos Deluxe Edition for review.