Review: Tuscany Essential Edition

Designer: Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone
Artist: Beth Sobel
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Category: Strategy
Players: 1-6
Price: $27.60 Amazon.com

Tuscany is the first expansion for Viticulture. Providing three new modules of play, it expands the strategy, allowing for further exploration and depth without adding much overhead. It excels in larger group settings, and allows for some customization.

Review

If you missed my review of Viticultureallow me to sum it up for you:

It’s awesome. Buy it. Play it. Love it.

With that said, how does it fare with the addition of new play modules? Tuscany is the first expansion for Viticulture, and it introduces new gameplay dynamics that open up the strategic options even more.

Since there are three gameplay modes in Tuscany, I will discuss each individually. However, in doing so, I will be working off of the assumption that the reader already knows the base game. (As mentioned in my earlier review, there are lots of great “how-to-play” videos on YouTube and BoardGameGeek. Check them out if you haven’t played Viticulture. And also, just go play the game—it’s fantastic.)

EXTENDED BOARD

Tuscany comes with a new, longer board that replaces the original. In basic Viticulture, most of the decision-making happens in the Summer and Winter seasons, where all the action spaces are. Spring and Fall are simply drafting turn order and drawing visitor cards, respectively.

The extended board offers four distinct seasons’ worth of actions, providing new worker placement opportunities for Spring and Fall. All the standard Viticulture actions are still there (planting grapes, filling orders, building structures, etc.), but the order of operations becomes more significant with four unique board sections. To give an example, in the original game, drawing green cards and playing yellow cards were both Summer actions, so they could be done in any order. On the Tuscany board, however, drawing green cards is a Spring action and playing yellow cards is a Summer action, so if a player wishes to do both, one must happen before the other (see image below). Thankfully, some actions appear in two different seasons.

The turn order track has been re-designed to be much more dynamic. In the base game, the track offers a one-time, immediate reward on most of its spaces, but in Tuscany, the gifts keep on giving.

As you can see, rewards are often doled out over multiple seasons. When a player passes from, say, Summer to Fall, her rooster piece is moved from the Summer space to the Fall space on her line of the turn track. Depending upon her position, she may then receive another bonus. (And maybe even another one when she passes into Winter!)

As usual, the later a player goes in the turn sequence, the increasingly more awesome her rewards will be. You thought it was great to get a free point on the turn track? How about a free point, a free blue card, and the chance to age your grapes an extra time?

The extended board also introduces an area majority mechanism. Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that the board contains a map of the surrounding old-world regions. Here is a closer look at it:

At the start of the game, players receive six star tokens, in addition to all their standard workers and buildings. Several board spaces allow players to place these stars on the map (note the star icon on the turn track, for instance). As an example of how this might work:

In a four-player game, this player has put a worker on the “Place or Move a Star” action. (Since she is the first one there, she naturally takes the space that grants a bonus star.) She then immediately places two star tokens on the map, in the region(s) of her choice:

I have a much easier time earning six stars in Viticulture than I do in Scythe…

Thematically, this represents the popularity of her wines spreading throughout the countryside. Each region grants an immediate bonus, either lira or a card. (In the example above, Siena yields one lira and Arezzo yields a purple card.) Additionally, at the end of the game, the player with the most stars in each region scores the indicated bonus points.

STRUCTURES

The extended game board is two-sided. Above, I showed the “basic” side, but the backside has some slight differences, namely the orange structure cards and their corresponding spaces.

These new cards allow players to build special locations in their tableaus. The three main types are:

  • Action structures, which provide new action spaces for their owner
  • Enhancement structures, which give their owner a recurring bonus
  • Residual structures, which improve their owner’s end-of-year residuals (interestingly, they provide bonuses other than lira, such as points!)

The main way to acquire structure cards is via on-board bonuses, as found on the turn track, the region map, etc. The “Gain One Lira” action from the original Viticulture has been changed to “Gain One Lira or Draw One Structure,” but since this is a pretty inefficient action anyway, it may not get taken very frequently.

The addition of these new cards, particularly those that grant new actions, may incentivize players to gain all their workers, which I really like. (If you have played a lot of Viticulture before, you have probably learned that collecting all your workers can actually be more trouble than it’s worth.)

This expansion module is simple enough that I would almost always recommend using it. Players certainly won’t be at a disadvantage if they wish to focus their attention elsewhere, but new cards = new options = more strategic choices.

SPECIAL WORKERS

The last module in Tuscany involves workers with unique abilities. At the start of the game, two special worker cards are drawn randomly, and a neutral grey meeple is placed on each card to determine which power goes with which piece. (The special worker meeples have details screen-printed on them to differentiate them from normal workers.) Matching meeples in player colors are placed next to the cards.

On a player’s turn, she may use the “Train a Worker” action to acquire a special worker, but they cost an extra lira each. Special workers can be placed like regular workers, but their bonus can be immensely helpful. Here are a few example abilities:

As you can see, the special powers provide opportunities for clever, tactical plays. With over ten powers to choose from, there are a great many possible combinations. It should be noted, though, that a player may never have more than six workers in total. This means that if a player purchases all of her standard workers, she will not be able to purchase special workers, since doing so would put her over the maximum allowed.


For experienced players, the new mechanics of Tuscany will not be hard to grasp; our group was able to jump right in with all three modules at once. Stonemaier Games has done a great job of adding new content to Viticulture, without bogging gameplay down. Each expansion module deepens the strategy, and does so without adding dead weight.

The expanded board really amplifies the possibilities. With a turn order track that is better than ever and new actions like trading resources, selling wine tokens, and placing influence stars, there is more to consider when planning a turn. That being said, I think the new board works better at higher players counts—with only two, it seems to lose a bit of its tightness. The rules recommend not scoring end-game area majority bonuses with two players, which means the “Place a Star” actions become much less desirable. If four or five are playing, however, the influence race can feel like a knife fight, since there are tons of points at stake.

The structures add some interesting new options. Most likely, players will not acquire more than a couple per game, but having new action spaces and bonus point residuals could be quite significant. I haven’t tried it personally, but I suspect the “buy a bunch of structure cards” strategy could work well. Maybe that’s what I will do in my next game.

The special workers are a nice touch, and they provide a lot of variability. Their powers are all pretty straightforward, and it is fun to experiment with them to see how they change the game.

To be honest, I recommend using all three modules together, since they are all tied in with one another: structures make players want extra workers, special workers add to the game’s nuance, and the extended board makes both possible while providing new objectives.

Happily, despite the introduction of multiple new game systems, the length remains about the same as the original, adding only about five minutes per player. Everything still runs smoothly and feels thematic.

One thing I did not care for in the expansion (and this is entirely a matter of personal taste) is the new rule that when a player passes from the winter season, they remove all their workers from the board. By doing so, they free up their spaces, such that remaining opponents can occupy them. This makes the game a bit friendlier, but I am enough of a jerk that I prefer the nastiness of taking a desirable space before anyone else and reveling in their frustration. (I’m delightful, really.)

My overall recommendation for Tuscany depends on a few factors. First and foremost, all players should play the base game before digging into the expansion. Since the new modules build on existing game concepts, it will really help if everyone already knows the original game. Second, Tuscany works best (in my opinion) with more players. Thus, if most of your gaming is done with just one other person, you may not get as much out of the expansion as you will in a larger group; at two players, I would tend toward the base game. If you have multiple Viticulture fans in your gaming group, however, Tuscany is definitely something you’ll want to check out. It takes everything that is great about the original and gives you even more of it.

A review copy was provided by Stonemaier Games.

The Bottom Line

Tuscany is a strong expansion to an amazing game. It is the perfect example of an expansion enhancing the play experience without bloating the rules.

 

8.7