Review: Vinhos: Deluxe Edition (2016 Vintage)

vinhos-5985Designer: Vital Lacerda
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
Category: Economic, Industry/Manufacturing
Players: 1-4
Price: Without Expansions: Amazon $79.99
            With Expansions: Amazon $129.99
Vinhos: Deluxe Edition is a 2016 reprint of the original 2010 edition of Vinhos. Designed by the distinctive, Vital Lacerda (Co2, Kanban Automotive Revolution), the deluxe edition is published through Eagle-Gryphon Games, and wrapped its Kickstarter earlier this year.
Vinhos: Deluxe Edition stays true to its name with a huge box, packed full of content. The game contains both boards and rules for a revised 2010 “reserve” edition of the game, as well as streamlined and simplified rules for the new 2016 “vintage” edition. Additionally, add-ons and expansions were shipped with my version of the box and adds lots of variability.

Author’s Note: For the purposes of this review, I will be splitting our review for Vinhos: Deluxe Edition into two separate reviews: The Vintage ruleset review, and a secondary review that covers the 2010 Reserve edition ruleset, alongside blurbs on each expansion included in the box. This game is far too comprehensive to be fully covered in just a single review, as there is too much offered in the box to ignore or underplay parts of it.

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Content Guide

The game is focused on the business of winemaking. It is an exhaustive title that celebrates the sometimes minute differences in wine, based on location and style of grape. If you personally abstain from alcohol, I’m not sure this game would have any sort of negative impact on your conscience for playing.

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Review

Once upon a time, I lived in my self-titled craft beer capital of the United States: Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ve now come to learn other states have craft beer. Regardless, it was in Michigan where I learned many of the fine subtleties and distinguished flavors of hops, barley, and malts. This stoked my interest towards beverage-themed board games, wherein I learned of Brewcrafters and Viticulture.
One of the many regions in Vinhos.

One of the many regions in Vinhos. Check out those renown cubes!

My wife (girlfriend at the time) had been working at our local winery, St. Julians. This one is actually somewhat world-renowned. While I was beginning to understand the deeper tastes and origins of craft beer composition, Katie was becoming a student of wine, grapes, and barrels. It was this year of our lives where we began to appreciate the labor and behind-the-scenes of what it would take to brew and ferment high-quality alcoholic beverages.
You see, grapes are the foundation of wine… Or so I thought. Grapes will change based on a number of factors: soil, weather, region, how they are tended to while growing, etc. Undergoing the growing process, grapes carry flavor from both their skin and juicy insides. The skin will produce different hints of scents, and of course flavor, or even appearance. Knowledge and physical work are two clear hallmarks of the wine industry.
Enter Vinhos: Deluxe Edition. Vital Lacerda has created and revised a top-down, tabletop representation of the commencement of a Portuguese wine empire. Players will need to carefully decide which regions of Portugal are most critical to their expansion, as each part of the country bears different pros and cons. Players must establish cellars to increase the value of their wines, as well as hire farmers and oenologists to tend to the grapes in the fields and  learn proper science behind the grapes.
Players are given a special ability and choose an initial vineyard in the country of their choice, which gives them a starting location, but also increases the world renown of said region. Walking meeples around a 9-space action chart, players will purchase additional vineyards, wineries, sell barrels of wine to local establishments for money, ship wine globally for points, or hire wine experts for free abilities. Landing on a space occupied by taxes or another player will cost the offender, as they take their action.
Aging is simple. You push all wine tiles once space to the right.

Aging is simple. You push all wine tiles one space to the right.

At the end of each round, players will age their wines, by moving them further along a track in each estate. Additionally, players will also produce new wines based on a number of factors, including: weather, oenologists, farmers, wineries, or vineyards. Players must pay careful attention to weather patterns and plan accordingly, lest they grow no grapes and have pitiful crops.
Finally, at set intervals in the game, players will enter their highest quality wines into an international wine fair. This fair grants victory points to the player with the most consistently delicious wine, as well as grant additional end-game points, extra barrels to sell or ship, and a few bonus opportunities. The fair is critical to success.
The game ends after the third fair, and players score points for leftover money, wine, bonuses, etc. Whoever has amassed the most victory points, sits comfortably atop the throne, and is named the world’s most impressive wine business owner. Fascinating.
In typical Lacerda fashion, Vinhos is decorated by magnificent art style. Pastels and drab illustrations color the Portuguese landscape and pieces. This isn’t a negative. In fact, I insist this artwork is exceptional. Like an auteur in filmmaking, Lacerda leaves a clear mark on his games, from design to iconography.
Seriously. You will find iconography everywhere.

Seriously. You will find iconography everywhere.

On the topic of icons printed on the board, players will need a few games to grasp the totality of their understanding. Lacerda forces players to realize symbology over phrasing. While initially a turn off, players should learn to appreciate these icons, as they allow for focus on gameplay instead of a barrage of wording. Admittedly, this is personal preference, as I only truly appreciate good iconography once I’m invested enough in a game, as opposed to just learning it.
Beautiful illustrations of eccentric experts and magnate actions mark the many tiles of the game. Players will drop round markers on regions, artistically displaying the geographical differences in the land of Portugal. Red or white wine tiles are grown from players’ estates, and transformed into hefty, yet elegant, colored barrels of wine, shipped off to new countries or hopping locales.
The bits and tiles that ship with Vinhos are in the bunches. Though components are top notch, setup time can grow to be abysmal. The included insert is jam-packed with cardboard, wood, tableaus, tokens, chits, three rulebooks, and more! Speaking of rules, these are exceptional. While quite a bit to ingest, one rulebook covers set up for both games, as well as a component overview. The individual rulebooks are beautifully designed, informative, and over-the-top in making sure readers clearly understand which rules apply to which version of the game.
Absolutely lovely component and production quality.

Absolutely lovely component and production quality.

Board design reflects the necessary and tight nature of each mechanism. Players must play Vinhos as a long game, or else be completely dominated by more future-minded opponents. It seems integral to spend close to every bago (money) given at game start in order to compete in the next round. Does this mean one must pay up to travel further, or utilize the same space as two other players? Maybe. Yet, despite the need to spend bagos on building up your estates, bagos are extremely scarce early game, and must be spent wisely.
As each round pours on, players retrieve more and more wine tiles from the supply. A steady flow of wine will be critical to success, but not nearly as important as properly managing which wines need to be sold, which ones need to be shipped, and which one must be entered into the wine fair.
See, if a player refuses to submit a press release (the advantage of doing so earlier will guarantee turn order), they will quickly fall behind and become anything but notable. Their pitiful winery can barely keep up with the ever-changing tide of new wines from different parts of the country. Of course, when selling, shipping, or presenting at the fair, this is where renown cubes can be spent to increase the quality of a wine. Therefore, this introduces multiple players vying for grapes from one region, all waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and grab those precious cubes other players have spent turns and turns gathering.
The farmers gather to discuss how much better they are than the oenologists.

The farmers gather to discuss how much better they are than the oenologists.

Unfortunately, despite this simplified ruleset in the 2016 Vintage Edition of the game, Vinhos refuses to hold your hand. It’s almost like an excited parent dropping off their kid at college. Mom gives you a kiss on the cheek, looks you in the eyes, and says, “Love ya. Bye.” Before you know it, she’s in the car with dad, and they are already back home, meanwhile you have to defend yourself and figure out what in the world you are going to do with your life. (For the record, I bawled my precious childlike eyes out when my parents left me at college, but eh, I digress).
Vinhos is a game of careful, methodical engine building. Now, comprehending every step necessary to smoothly craft your wino-empire is not at all intrinsic up front. That said, the game grants satisfaction for players who hope to learn Vinhos as if it’s an old friend you’ve known for years. A friend that gives you exactly 12 actions over the course of the game.
At times, you will wonder what else there is to do with those spaces. It seems so underwhelming up front, but meticulous planning and timing of those 12 actions will definitively demonstrate a player’s ability to soak up the whimsical, mechanical nature of Vinhos.
Barrels on barrels.

Barrels on barrels.

I have an undergraduate degree in Vinhos with the 2016 Vintage edition ruleset, so I look forward to graduating and experiencing the variances and added complexity from the original 2010 Reserve edition.
A quick visit to the Vinhos Boardgamegeek page will reveal the diehard nature of fans from the old game. This speaks volumes to Vinhos’ staying power, and subsequent demand for a reprint.
While I can’t help but recommend Vinhos to gamers, the glaring caveat is to beware the steep learning curve. My first two games were spent milling over various rules complications through both the 2016 Vintage rulebook and the setup guide (as it holds information on individual tile iconography). This increased the playtime from my first game considerably, and until you can process and watch a few rounds in motion, strategy and mechanisms will seem unattainable.
However, if you take your time through the rulebook, you will find an incredibly well-designed board game with excellent attention to detail and art. A game that can even be played in an hour with two players, and I find that magnificent.

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The Bottom Line

Vinhos speaks to the gamer demanding a heavy gaming experience in less time, all the while being surrounded by outstanding art and graphic design direction. Once mechanisms have been grasped, Vinhos plays quickly and eagerly demands players’ attention to the ‘long game.’

 

8.9