Tuscany: Essential Edition Review More Viticulture!

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Viticulture: Essential Edition is one of my favorite worker placement games of all time. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s easy to learn, sleek, and elegantly thematic. The expansion, called Tuscany: Essential Edition (based on the original expansion, merely called Tuscany, which contained content that will never be printed again, content in the expansion, and content in Viticulture: EE proper. It makes sense but it’s too complicated to spend time thinking about) blows the game wide open and creates a completely new, yet familiar, experience.

I’m not going to bury the lede on this one: I enjoy this version of Viticulture by itself and with the expansion roughly the same. They’re very different games, but they’re both extremely fun. Tuscany adds 5 new and different segments to the game, and I’ll go through them one by one.

The Board

Chief among the new additions is the enlarged and expanded game board. Instead of only having action spaces on summer and winter, here we get spaces in all four seasons.

A couple of the spots from the original board have been shifted around and altered, and a few new action spaces have been added. My personal favorite is what I call the utility spot. It shows a wine token, 2 cards of any type, 3 money, and 1 victory point. If you go there you can trade one of those things for any one of the other things. Also, significantly, there is a space that lets you sell wines without needing a wine order.

These two spaces are indicative of the new, more open feeling that Tuscany brings. In my original review I commented that sometimes luck of the draw can sway the outcome a bit too much. In Tuscany this doesn’t seem to be the case because there’s always some alternative course of action you can take. In a sort of uncomfortable way, it’s simultaneously much more complicated to teach and also more friendly.

Wake-Up Chart

Another small complaint I had about the base game was that going first in the last couple of turns could be very, very significant. Tuscany seems to address this issue by, again, complicating the matter and also making it more interesting. Instead of turn order being decided by a selection started by a rotating first player, in Tuscany the turn order chart removes the rotating “first player” entirely, except for the very first turn.

Here’s how it works: as before, you select your wake up spot each round which determines not only the turn order for that round, but also some bonuses you receive. The twist with Tuscany is twofold: 1. You get bonuses throughout the seasons, sometimes in all of them, which means that you can plan your turn with those bonuses (spaced out in time) in mind. 2. You choose your spot for the next round as soon as you pass the current round.

This part is particularly interesting because if you are the first to pass in a given round, not only do you get to choose next, but your workers are removed from the board as part of that cleanup phase, which could open up new spots for the players who still have actions to take. This is another area in which the game becomes a bit more friendly and open.

The final new aspect of the wake up chart is a rule that says that you can’t take the #1 spot unless you, on the previous round, took the #7 spot. And then in that case you MUST take the #1 spot. I think this rule exists mostly to stop people from manipulating the track in more subtle ways to take the #1 spot, and in that sense I suspect it works.

This change is absolutely my favorite part of the Tuscany expansion, even more than the expanded board. I love the additional bonuses you get on the lower tracks, I love the way spots can clear up when someone finishes the round, and I love most of all that your position in the crucial later parts of the game isn’t subject to a randomly determined “first player” marker.

Area Control Mini-Game

And this is my least favorite addition from the expansion. One of the new components in this expansion are 6 stars given to each player. The stars can be placed through a couple of actions, and they’re placed on a small map of Tuscany off to the side of the board. When you place a star, you get a resource (a card, or a VP, or some money) based on the region in which you placed it. You can also shift stars around the map to try to control different regions. At the end of the game you get victory points based on which regions you control outright.

It’s a fine mini-game, but in an expansion that adds a lot of additional content, this piece seems like a bit too far. It makes it a bit too easy to acquire certain resources, and it feels a bit like a nuisance at the end of the game when you need to account for the points given through area control on top of trying to figure out what your opponents might be able to score with their wine production.

It doesn’t create any bad or uninteresting choices, it just feels, both thematically and mechanically, like a step too far. Unfortunately, as it’s connected to the expanded board “module”, the rules say that you shouldn’t remove it from play if you are using that board.

Extra Buildings

The first of the two smaller expansion modules, the building deck adds a bit of spice and flavor to the game. Each player receives an addition to their player board that provides two spots for buildings, and an orange deck of cards full of these buildings is available to acquire. Like the standard buildings, each has a different cost, and they do all sorts of things.

So far I think I’ve only purchased one once in the few games I’ve played with this module, although I suspect that’s due to very bad luck. Looking through the deck, there are some interesting buildings in there. You can avoid them entirely, or you can roll the dice and try to find the right one early in the game to boost you ahead of your opponents. A great addition.

Special Workers

These are two worker types that everyone can purchase with special abilities. The abilities are randomized, and whenever you would acquire a worker you can purchase one of your special workers instead for one Lira more. Again, this is just some more spice to the game that isn’t too complicated to understand or implement, but can change the tone of the game significantly.

For example, last time I played there was a special worker available that provided a power very similar to the grande workers. Everyone jumped on that worker right off the bat which created an extremely open game, since nearly no one was ever blocked from going to the space they wanted to go to. Other times it has made the game more restrictive. I find these both more generally useful and easier to acquire than the buildings, and they give enough flavor to warrant their inclusion.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I very much enjoy Tuscany: Essential Edition. It’s definitely for fans of the original, and I would very much argue with some people who say that the extended board is what makes Viticulture great. I think both games are great, but very different.

The original Viticulture: Essential Edition is a tight, streamlined game that can be very mean. It’s more cutthroat (especially at the even-numbered player counts), and the last couple of rounds can be very intense as you try to out-maneuver your opponents.

Tuscany opens the game up quite a bit and actually, with the exception of the area control mini-game, feels a lot more like a multiplayer solitaire experience. It’s much more difficult to block people out entirely, and there are a couple more viable alternative strategies in this version (such as selling wines without a wine order) that are not present in the base game.

Almost universally, my gaming group thinks that Tuscany should be a standard inclusion for the game. I think this is probably the consensus among gamers generally. But I’m going to argue that both games are equally great. If you want a tight, more streamlined eurogame experience, the base game is the way to go. If you want to add an additional 30 minutes or more to the game, increase the number of options available, and create a more sandbox-like engine building experience, maybe jump in with the Tuscany expansion from the outset.

And I might grant that Tuscany patches up a couple of the criticisms I had for the base game. But I’m still looking forward, after playing with Tuscany the last few games, to jumping back into base Viticulture next time to feel that additional tension.

 

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Score: 8/10
  • Summary
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+Fundamentally changes the feel of the game into a more open, sandbox experience

+Nearly all additions add more interesting decisions

+More viable strategies to pursue

-Lengthens the game by a not insignificant amount

-Sometimes feels like too much clutter added to the streamlined base game experience

1-6 Players

Length: 90-120 minutes

Learning Curve: 3/5

Brain Burn: 3/5

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