We started the evening with a 3-player game of Biblios (we were a little low on attendees for this meeting, owing to a few regulars being unavoidably committed elsewhere). We’ve played Biblios a few times at MAB before: it’s a fast, light set-collecting card game, where players take on the role of abbots running a Middle-Ages monastery. At the end of the game, the person with the highest total value cards in each of five ecclesiastically-related categories (Monks, Pigments, Holy Books, Manuscripts and Forbidden Tomes) wins the points associated with that category, and those points can be manipulated up and down during the course of the game by the use of “bishop” cards.
Biblios plays quickly but packs some fun and interesting decisions into the time. I’ve also found that the mechanics of the game scale well in terms of player numbers (it accommodates from 2-4) and thus it's equally enjoyable with any number in that range. This is a good thing, since, whilst many games say they work with a wide range of players, it often seems the case that in reality a “sweet-spot” of a particular number works best. I don’t think this’s the case with Biblios, making it a very useful “filler” game indeed.
Towards the end of Biblios, two more players arrived, so we next launched into a 5-player game of “Viticulture”, a game now in its second edition, and recently reprinted in that edition for a second time – the original edition was crowdfunded, and when released on the open market proved very popular indeed, but needed some rules tweaks. These were all included in the second edition, and made it even more popular – I only just managed to grab a copy before they all sold out, when it was recently re-released! When we began to play, I realised why it’s been so sought-after: it’s a very dynamic “worker placement” game, with a nice flow, some exciting and difficult choices, and plenty of scope for different routes to victory – and of course, the theme appeals to me greatly, as wine is typically my booze of choice.
The story is that you’ve inherited a run-down vineyard and winery in Italy, and from its humble beginnings you must build it up to become the most prestigious wine producer in the region. Unfortunately, all the other players have (in a strange twist of fate :-) ) come into the exact same kind of fortune, and will be competing with you. You start off with your own little player board, showing your fields, the “crush pads” where harvested grapes are stored, the cellars where you store your wines, and places for all the structures you can build to enable you to make and store more and better wines. You also get some workers to use for the various winemaking actions, and one “Visitor” card – visitors are specialists that you can activate with a worker for a one-time benefit, such as extra money, harvesting grapes out of season, discounts on building, and the like.
The workers are placed on the main board, to allow players to plant vines, build structures, harvest grapes, make wines, put one of their visitors to work, and so on. The game turn represents a year, and is divided into four seasons, Spring (where you determine the player order for the rest of the year by choosing a "wake up" time for your workers - and players who choose go after others in turn order get a benefit to compensate), Summer (where you plant, build, etc. ), Fall (where you get to acquire an additional visitor card) and Winter (where you harvest, make wine, train extra vineyard workers, etc.). Visitors can be used in Summer and Winter, but each visitor can only be used in one of those seasons, as indicated by their card’s colour.
Then there are vine cards to acquire so you can plant them, and wine order cards which are the main way of getting victory points quickly, and which need wine to fulfil them. On that subject, the process of making the wine in this game seems really well thought-out to me: you plant vines, harvest the grapes, crush them into wines, age the wines in your cellars, and sell them…it just feels right.
After some rules checks, and a slightly shaky start, we got into the swing of it very quickly. At the very end, three players were in realistic contention for the win, but one, who’d focussed on training workers early in the game, managed to get ahead and end the game - which happens at the end of the year during which at least one player achieves 20 victory points – and did it just one turn/year before the other two would have passed him, and would have likely forced a tie-breaker situation.
I really liked this game, and will be bringing it down again soon...