Vinhos Deluxe (2016) Review - I Need To Get Me Some Porto!

Always excited to try a game that's on my wishlist! I have a keen interest in wines and feel it's a great theme for a board game. Stonemaier has already blown me away with how good Viticulture was with its Tuscany expansion (it took a game I ranked in my 40's to my #2 game of all time) so others using this theme have a huge hill to climb to match it. However if there is one designer I know who has a chance of doing that, it's Vital Lacerda.

I'm not making this a fanboy squeal post, but when it comes to Euro games as you know, I gravitate towards those with a strong thematic connection. The mechanics need to be tied in to what you do, not just thrown in for the sake of it and bolted on. Uwe Rosenberg has designed many games I enjoy for that reason, but my recent venture into Lacerda's designs such as Kanban and The Gallerist have already shown great promise for a string of games that feel designed with my needs in mind! I'm already keen to see what the 2nd Edition of CO2 can bring later this year, but I was so keen to try Vinhos out on account of theme and designer alone.

Finding anyone with a copy of the original was hard going though so the recent release of Vinhos Deluxe with a new graphical overhaul, improved production quality and an entire new set of rules was my perfect entry point. Now I'm going to stress that I've only played the new 2016 ruleset known as "Special Vintage" and so my review is based solely on that. The 2010 version I would like to try at some stage and do a separate review for it, but currently it looks insanely complex so that will have to wait. I'll just grab one of my Sauvignon Blanc's from the rack and get started on this beast of a box!




Designer: Vital Lacerda
Publisher: Eagle Gryphon Games
Age: 12+
Players: 1-4
Time: 150-210 Minutes
RRP: £119.99


From Board Game Geek (images credited to BGG and Tabletopia)

Vinhos (the Portuguese word for "wines") is a trading and economic game about wine making. Despite its small size, Portugal is one of the world's leading wine producers. Over six years of harvests, cultivate your vines, choose the best varieties, hire the best oenologists, take part in trade fairs, and show your opponents you are the best winemaker in the game.
As winemakers in Portugal, the players develop their vineyards and produce wine to achieve maximum profit. The object of the game is to produce quality wines that can be exchanged for money or victory points.
The Vinhos Deluxe Edition features new art from Ian O'Toole, all components and improved rules of the original game of Vinhos, and a new simplified version of the game. The board is double-sided and features both versions of the game. Here are the main differences from the first edition of Vinhos:
  • Double-sided player boards can be used in both game versions
  • A ninth region has been added
  • A new estate has been added
  • The Farmer (a new character) has been added
  • The Fair has been streamlined with new mechanisms
  • 18 actions tiles to replace the manager's actions
  • 22 multiplier tiles to final scoring
  • The bank action has been removed
  • The zero initial Vintage tile has been removed
  • The exportation action has been optimized for 2 players
  • A few small rules like the limit on experts was removed and the action replaced for another vineyards action
  • No exceptions on a number of things you can do in your turn, now you can buy, hire, sell, export 1 or 2 things in every action
  • Explanation of gameplay was reduced a lot
  • New solo rules designed for the new game version

COULD ALMOST FIT A WINE BOTTLE


The price tag is going to give some of you a heart attack and it's completely understandable. I would go as far to say that expensive board games is a typical feature from Eagle Gryphon. However it is good to see that you do get a ton of physical content in the box, which in itself is a heavy beast and one which will need careful storage on your shelf. There's a ton of ultra-thick tiles in this box, even the money is like this. You hearing this all you publishers with tokens or paper money? Metal coins or giant thick card-stud money is the way forward!

The insert itself will hold everything although you have to be a little creative with the stretch goal inclusions as there is no "specific" location for them. And they're very pimped up - for example instead of purple square tokens you have actual mini wine bottles on a rack and they're purely for use with one single vineyard out of nine! Or perhaps you want the giant white wineries that either replace or support the tiles you normally use. All these little additions are nice though perhaps it's going beyond the realms of being "over-produced" at this point - I actually find the giant wineries more annoying than useful.

And unfortunately yet again they don't bother to give you a section in the rulebook with a suggested storage setup in it. Queen Games have done this recently with some of their Big Boxes and believe me, it's a god-send to have that information. Here you just have to pick and choose and run with it.

The artwork is nice and pleasant and colourful, but it gets mixed responses from players. I personally think it's fine, even though it's not perfect. It's got its own unique style. However whether that bothers you or not, the graphic design is definitely an improvement from what I've seen on the original Vinhos. This is a complex game, but the rules become surprisingly easy to interpret when reading the rulebook and following the multiple step diagrams on the board.






TAKE NOTE OTHER EURO GAME DESIGNERS


Vinhos is complex, yes it's a brain burner, but it also seems streamlined compared to a lot of other heavy Euro's out there. The Gallerist also was complex, yet felt like a clean design. Granted Kanban wasn't as "clean" but all three of these games have one thing in common that for me personally sets these Euro games apart from many others that get more buzz. They have a strong thematic connection to the setting they are based on and that sells a Euro game to me.

When I play Kanban, I feel like I'm running that car factory and trying to be employee of the month. I know nothing about art, but even I love how the art gallery theme of buying/selling art and publicizing artists comes out. And in Vinhos the theme is just as strong with running a collection of wine estates, producing a wide variety of wines and aiming to be the best at the Fair. The rules make sense to what you're doing. How wines age over time and spoil, how different judges prefer different aspects to wine, how regions gain reputation and differ in their quality of wine, everything just........works, I can't put it any more plainly than that. You can make a game as complicated as you like if you can ensure the theme is so strong that the rules keep the game flowing smoothly. It's essential (for me personally) for an extended length Euro to keep this in mind. You don't need pointless deck building mechanics stapled on or over-complicated ways of trying to simulate economics and customer needs.

So while you play Vinhos, you actually care about what you're doing and enjoy seeing your estates build up and your wines improve. With only 12 actions to use, Vinhos rewards careful planning and you certainly won't be able to do everything in one game, thus allowing for good replay value and multiple paths to victory. But note that Vinhos is a bit more punishing than some of Vital's other designs if you make wrong moves and even in general you feel like the game isn't holding your hand at any point. If you've played The Gallerist or Kanban you'll remember you frequently got given little bonuses when you achieved stuff, especially in the former example. I find this helps to make players feel better about how they're coping, we enjoy getting rewards more than we enjoy being punished, that much is obvious to (mostly) anyone. Here you don't get such things. You're on your own. You don't want to be poor and money is already scarce and you better have some other strategy for gaining points in place if you're going to ignore the Fair entirely.

Speaking of points, scores so far have generally been very tight, but don't be disheartened with a bad score, there's a lot of depth here to take in and we're not even using the 2010 ruleset, which looks even more complicated to the point of almost scaring me off. But the strong theme draws me in to try it some day and even if I played and hated it, I'd still believe I got plenty of plays in the 2016 rules.


AS LONG AS AN ACTUAL HARVEST


As with pretty much all Vital's games, you have to expect a fair degree of time investment in enjoying Vinhos. At bare minimum you're looking at a 90 minute game with 2 players and for every additional player you're adding at least another 30 minutes, and more so if you have new players. A 4 player game will easily set you back 3 hours, 3 players can be done in 2 and a half. That's a lot of time per action when you consider you actually only have 12 actions in the game, but every single one of them counts. Especially if you play the solo mode, which proceeded to beat me down relentlessly with the array of perks the AI gets over you. It felt a little unbalanced, but I was new to the game at that point.

And I haven't even included teaching the rules, which will take you a fair while as well. That's understandable when it's a heavy Euro, but once you've played a couple games you'll be surprised how well you remember them all and I feel I've gotten teaching nailed. I do wish though that the stretch goals were more incorporated into the rulebook and not done on lots of separate reference cards, it just makes things a bit fiddly especially when you're checking what each wine expert does which is going to be your main reason you refer back to the rulebook over and over.

The biggest hurdle to cross however is the extended length of the setup time. Objective tiles, vineyards separated by location, cellars, wineries, weather tiles, player pieces, wine experts, you've got a lot to set up before you even figure out which vineyard and special action you want to start with. Vinhos is a game you want to set up in advance and not at the last minute on a game night.


YOU PAY THE PRICE FOR A DECENT WINE


Is it worth the £100+ you're going to be spending on this game though? There's the big question. I really enjoy it and will be hanging on to my copy, but even with all the high quality components, that's a lot of money to sink into a game. If you enjoyed the original or enjoy Vital's designs, then you should be pretty safe, but otherwise maybe consider getting a first play of someone else's copy if you can to be sure you enjoy it.

I'm a new lover of wine, but I'm a novice and I admit, I haven't tried any Portuguese wines, but I want one now. You don't get in depth into the actual wine-making itself though, that's done better in Viticulture and if you held me hostage to decide which I like better, I really, REALLY enjoy Viticulture with Tuscany so it has to be that one, but Vinhos so far has proved to be an engaging and fun experience just like The Gallerist and Kanban were.



VERDICT ON VINHOS DELUXE (2016 RULES)


I've never played the original 2010 rules, maybe one day I'll get round to that. But even if I never do, I'm perfectly happy with the new 2016 version. The revised production quality is excellent from the Kickstarter and I approve of the more intuitive graphic design and art work. Fans of Lacerda's other games will instantly recognise the styling used, in how theme is closely tied to the mechanics so that everything you do makes sense. Nothing feels bolted on and this is a perfect example of why I love thematic Euro's over dry ones.

It's a lengthy affair especially with 4 players as you would expect and your brain is going to need a rest after, but game play flows smoothly and you're always thinking about your future moves. Setup and teaching will require some practice to get down quickly, but it's worth the effort. The solo mode feels a little one-sided, but in fairness I'll be playing with others more often anyway.

Vinhos Deluxe (2016) is an excellent game all-round, but the extremely high price tag is going to hinder it for many. I still prefer my adored Viticulture Tuscany and I'm on the fence about where this sits with The Gallerist and Kanban, but this continues the growing trend that is my love for Lacerda's Euro designs.

   

BROKEN RATING - 9 VINTAGE PORTO WINES




YOU WILL LIKE VINHOS DELUXE (2016) IF:



You want a strong theme of wine-making - Lacerda's designs have always been thematically strong.


You enjoyed Viticulture, but want something heavier for the brain that flows smoothly.


You're a fan of Lacerda's other games - you will find the style familiar.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE VINHOS DELUXE (2016) IF:



You enjoyed the intricate nature of the original 2010 rules and feel this is too streamlined.


You aren't a fan of brain burner games - it's a lengthy affair and you'll need a break after.


You find the setup takes too long.

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