Vinhos: An Excellent Vintage
Many popular board games today are praised for being highly accessible and easy to learn, simple yet fun. Vinhos is not one of those games. It seems fitting that such a rich and complex game is about wine; a beverage which is notorious with being connected with elitists and enthusiasts, whose value seems to only really be valued by those who look for more intricacy with their drinks.
Vinhos is a game which intimately draws you into the life of an expert wine maker, or vintner if we want to sound fancy (which, let’s face it, we do). There is a lot going on here, and that’s a good thing. It’s a rich experience, much like sipping on a high quality red. It’s a very immersive game, and oddly unique since it’s a Eurogame that also happens to be dripping with theme.
Vinhos is a game which you are meant to take your time with just as you would with a nice bottle of Merlot. It’s complex, yet smooth, technical yet flavourful. There are many important decisions to make and strategies to keep track of, but you don’t feel like you’re in a pressure cooker or that you’re in a fast-paced race. It’s a more laid-back atmosphere for when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of other board games.
Like a fine wine, the gameplay of Vinhos is rich and layered, with many different aspects interweaving smoothly. I imagine the designer of Vinhos much have had some past experience with wine making, since this game is full of the theme. All aspects feel accurate to the actual art and science of producing and selling wine. Its hard not to appreciate a game which is so intricate and so dedicated to staying true to its topic.
Each player starts off with a vineyard from a wine region of their choice and some money. The great thing about the money is that there is just enough in the game that you don’t feel too restricted (leading to less fun), but not so much that it doesn’t lead to tough decisions about what to do with it.
They are able to then use this money to buy more vineyards, cellars, wineries, and even hire enologists. All of these things help the player produce wine of better quality through the wine’s Production Value and Wine Value. The trick is keeping the two of those straight.
So Vinhos has an excellent business-growing aspect, but what do we do with all this wine we are making? Well, there are a number of things. We can sell it for a quick buck or send it overseas for victory points. What’s cool about doing this is that the higher wine value you have, the more money or points you get. But its also first come first serve, because if the spot for your wine value is taken, you’ll just have to settle for less.
And then there are the fairs. Oh, the fairs. This is the most complicated part of the game for new learners, but also adds a lot of pizazz which breaks up the normal established routine of the game. I won’t go into too much detail, since fairs are like mini-board games themselves which occur three times throughout the course of Vinhos. But the real heart of the game seems to be right here.
But guess what? A wine-makers life isn’t just about producing and distributing wine. He also has to worry about finances, which is why there is a complex banking mechanism in the game which takes into account paying the salaries of your workers and investing, divesting, and collecting interest. Oh, and a wine-maker also has to worry about the weather, which is why weather tiles are drawn each year which will affect the outcome of the wines you produce. Trust me, this is a very thorough and comprehensive game.
The actions of each player are controlled using a 3X3 quadrel in the center of the board, which has its own set of rules for how to move on it and what actions you can take. There are also many other smaller intricacies to many different parts of the game, including the hiring of wine experts, befriending wine fair managers, bonuses from different wine regions, cellars, and so on. I’ve written seven paragraphs on the gameplay already, and believe me, these are the strict basics of the game. So I hope you are getting the picture of Vinhos’ level of complexity.
The components of Vinhos match the style and theme of the game; classy and elegant. The board is very busy. Its almost like a collection of mini-boards all put together. And yet it still looks great while being very functional at the same time. It’s a master work in and of itself.
The bits are also fantastic, from the wooden and slender enologist figures, the colourful wine barrels, the detailed cellar, vineyard, and winery tiles, and chits galore. Everything is polished and beautiful. Everything about this game says “class”.
Since my review is already overlong, I’ll keep my conclusion brief. Vinhos isn’t yet available in North America, and hasn’t been for over a year of its European release. But once I read about it I knew I wanted it. I was tired of waiting so I mailed it in from France. Sure the box was bumped and bruised when it came, and the instructions were in French, but I’m glad I did. This is an excellent game.
Vinhos is not for everyone. There is a lot going on and a lot of rules to keep track of. But that’s part of why its so great. This is an exhaustive look at the wine industry and it really lets you sink into the theme. There is a lot of decision-making but in an optimistic sense and not in a stifling no-room-for-error sense. The content level is high, but so are the look, scent and flavour. If you are up for a challenging, rich, and fulfilling gaming experience, then give Vinhos a taste.