Published by: Eagle-Gryphon Games
# of Players: 1 to 4
At it's core, Vinhos is a worker placement game where you are trying to carve out your own wine empire throughout the vineyards of Portugal. Now, I know what you're thinking - "A worker placement game about making wine? Isn't that Viticulture?" But don't be ridiculous. Viticulture takes place in Tuscany while Vinhos takes place in Portugal. Clearly they are different games. (Full disclosure - when I first heard about Vinhos, I actually did say, "Didn't we already play that? Isn't Viticulture the wine making game? But then I felt stupid because Vinhos actually came out first in 2010). Honestly, the two games do share a similar theme and some basic worker placement mechanics, but they are fleshed out very differently to feel like two unique games. The scale of the two games is very different. Viticulture allows you to build your own vineyard from the ground up by growing grapes, aging wine, building structures, buying, selling, and training workers. It's true that Vinhos gives you those same options as your actions, but you go far beyond your single estate and manage a variety of vineyards across Portugal. So even though the core is similar, Vinhos feels grander; more epic in scale. The question remains is this vintage of game worth tasting? Before you start swirling your game box, I invite to read along as I give you my take on Vinhos Deluxe Edition by Eagle-Gryphon Games.
Vinhos was originally released in 2010. In 2016, Eagle Gryphon Games upgraded and reprinted a new Deluxe version of Vinhos. This is the version I played. I am thoroughly impressed by the components in Vinhos Deluxe. Your typical "Deluxe" board game typically comes with higher quality components - thicker cardboard, fancy meeples, unique tokens - things like that. In that respect, Eagle Gryphon Games absolutely delivers - as they should. I am especially fond of the farmer meeples and their little carved scythes (scythes, hoes, plows... Whatever...). However, Eagle goes beyond the standard Deluxe treatment with Vinhos. The main board has the original 2010 version printed on one side and a more streamlined 2016 version on the other side. Having two different versions right out of the box definitely adds replayability, which I believe adds more value to the total package. As if that isn't enough, they also add 4 mini-expansions that can be used with either version, opening up even more possible variations. This really allows you to customize the game to your liking. Want more Vineyard regions? Add the islands. Want more wine experts? Add the extras. More meeples? Add the visitors. The cardboard is thick and the options are plentiful.
At first, Vinhos can seem intimidating. There are three rule books, player aids, and rule sheets for each of the mini Expansions. Once you power through those, then you realize that there are piles and piles of thick, sturdy cardboard tiles - each with a variety of icons to learn. Don't let that scare you into putting everything back in the box and setting it back on the shelf. Once you manage to climb over that steep initial learning curve, you will find that Vinhos is actually pretty intuitive and the game flows rather well. The first rule book covers the 2010 Vintage (remember this game is about wine - the 2010 or 2016 Vintage is the version of the game you are playing) and the second covers the 2016 Vintage. Both rule books do a nice job of explaining what is the same and what is different between the two versions. I felt like the rule book laid out the flow of the game well, explained the different actions, and used ample illustrated examples to show how each action should be played out. The third rule book is actually a reference guide that breaks down how to set up both versions and explains what all of the icons and the different tiles mean. The icons aren't quite as extensive as say, Race for the Galaxy, but it's nice to have the reference guide to look at when you can't remember what the nose with an arrow symbol means.
The general flow of Vinhos will be familiar to anyone who is a semi-experienced Euro gamer. A game takes place over the span of 6 rounds, where each round represents a Year of managing your wine estates. At the end of each year, each of your estates produces wine. The value of your wine is based on the upgrades of that estate, the region it's from and the weather tile revealed at the beginning of that year. However, during each year, you only get to take two main actions before you produce wine. This really impacts the feel of the game and makes every single action very meaningful. Agonizing over how to efficiently use your precious few actions really gives your brain a workout.
Each player has their own board with room for 5 different estates (or 4 in the 2010 version) with each estate having limited space for the assorted vineyards and upgrades you can build. How do you build them? Glad you asked! There is a central grid on the board with the nine main actions you can take. You move your worker to the action you want to take and based on the location of that action compared to your previous action, you determine if there is a fee you need to pay to use that action. Unlike many worker placement games, though, another player's worker does not prevent you from taking an action - but you do have to pay each other player on that action in order to perform it. With so few actions over the course of the game, I appreciate that you can't be completely blocked from an action you want to take. But, It sure increases the importance of keeping cash on hand. Make sure you think ahead about how you will increase your cash flow, because you won't be able to take many actions without some kind of money.
Actions include buying vineyards or other assorted upgrades, picking up wine expert tiles, selling wine for money, exporting wine for victory points, and sending wine to the wine fair. Vineyards are the cornerstone of your estates. Without grapes you can't produce wine (everyone knows wine from any other fruit is an abomination). Wineries and oncologists (Ornithologists? Ophthalmologists? Uhhhhh.... The Wine tasting meeples...) can also be purchased to improve the value of the wine you produce. Cellars allow you to store more wine, which gets more valuable for each year it ages in your cellar. The wine experts can be used to take special mini-actions during your turn or turned in during the wine fair to boost the value of your wine.
A large section of the game board is dedicated to the wine fair, which is what really sets Vinhos apart from other Euro games. Even though there are several ways to score victory points - the value of your wine and your money at the end of the game, through exporting wine, and by claiming various end game bonuses throughout the game - a big part of the game revolves around these Wine fairs. There are three fairs throughout the game; after the third, fifth and sixth years. Before each fair, you offer up one of your fanciest wines to the fair to build up your reputation and collect assorted bonuses. Depending on which weather tile is revealed at the beginning of the year and the spot you pick on the wine fair section of the board, different wine expert tiles can also boost your reputation or affect the bonuses you receive. Your reputation builds up after each fair and each player receives victory points based on their relative position on the reputation track. The wine fair is a fine example of elegant game design. Once you wrap your head around how the wine fair operates, it's very satisfying to see your plan come together. You don't need to focus exclusively on the wine fair to win, but if you ignore it completely, you will most likely lose. In this way, the game gently guides you towards a general goal without forcing you down a scripted path. There are different paths to victory that all seem viable.
Overall, Vinhos is a very well designed game that I really enjoyed. Once I hurdled over the initial learning curve, the mechanics of the game clicked for me. You can pick an overall strategy early on, but you have to be willing to adjust your plans based on what the game gives you. I don't like games with a lot of randomness, but a game with no random elements can become repetitive quickly. Vinhos strikes a nice balance. The vineyards, wine experts, and weather tiles come out randomly and you need to be willing to adjust your plans accordingly, but the results of my actions never felt like they were being determined randomly. As a result, I never felt like I was being cheated by the game.
I felt there was a nice amount of interaction between players, too. At first, it feels like everyone is doing their own thing with their own estates, but as the game progresses, the competition for limited spots on the board really heats up. There are only a few spots where you can export wine for points and where you can claim one of the end game bonuses. There is direct competition to hockey for position on the reputation track at the wine fair. Not to mention the limited vineyards and wine experts that you can choose from. Even the action grid can create some indirect tension between players. You may not intentionally block people from their actions very often, but you can certainly get in their way; which is another factor to take into account.
If you're curious about which version I liked better, I would have to give a slim edge to the 2016 Vintage. The main differences between the two versions are the way the wine fair and the optional mini-actions and end game bonuses are handled. The 2010 version makes those two aspects more complicated to understand, but the mini actions and end game bonuses are available to everyone while they come out in a random order in the 2016 version. I prefer the way the 2010 version handles these choice, but both variations of those two aspects work well.
My only real complaint about either version is that the 2010 Vintage also adds a bank account track to the game board. When you sell wine, instead of getting the cash, the money goes into your bank account, which pays interest based on how much you have invested and deduct wages for your wine tasting meeples. To get your money, you need to take an action to get your money to buy stuff for your estates. Now, if I had unlimited or an abundance of actions, this wouldn't bother me much. But you need money in this game. Five of the other eight action spaces always require money to use them. So when you only have 12 actions over the course of the game, using 2-3 of those actions to get My money is really irritating! Just give me my money already!!! The bank account aspect seems complicated just for the sake of being complicated; not because it adds anything meaningful to the game. Despite that irritation, I still enjoyed the 2010 Vintage. Thankfully, the 2016 Vintage removes the maddening bank account section and streamlined the way you get your money. And by streamlined, I mean they just give you your blasted money. I do enjoy working out the math in an economic game, but actually going to the bank to withdraw your money is too much for me.
Bottom line - if you are looking for a deep, Interactive economic game with a lot of variety, track down a copy of Vinhos Deluxe. Be prepared to blunder through your first game, but stick with it to find a satisfying experience where you can enjoy watching the growth of your own Portuguese wine empire. Vinhos Deluxe is great fit to add to my collection of heavy euro style games.
+ High quality, durable components
+ Lots of variations to try out and lots of replayabilty
+ Good amount of player interaction
+ Multiple viable strategies
+ Two versions in one box!
- Steep initial learning curve
- Pointless bank account action and track in 2010 Vintage
-Fitting all back in the box even with organizer provided