Tuscany Essential Edition
Time: ~70 minutes
Times Played: 10+
Viticulture is one of the best games that we own but I want to make it known now: once you go Tuscany, you won’t go back.
Tuscany offers three additions to the base game that are modular and you can pick and choose which you want to play with. I am going to talk about them in order from my least favorite to my most favorite (saving the best for last and all that jazz).
The Structures Expansion
The Structures Expansion introduces a new deck of cards that correspond with the new addition to the player board (which is placed to the side of the original player board). These structure cards can add a new variety of benefits to the player when they are added to their winery. If there is no room on the additional player mat, players can also build the structures on unused fields.
The Structures Expansion changes the game slightly as you don’t necessarily have to fill wine orders to best utilize gaining Reputation points. This opens up new alternative strategies that in the base game could be attempted with the right visitor cards but was never a viable way to completely manage your collection of Reputation points. These cards add a variable strategy which I greatly appreciate, as it makes getting locked out of areas easier to stomach but I feel like it transitions the game from making wine and filling orders to running a winery, which on the surface doesn’t sound like a big difference but when you’ve been making wine for the past forty games and someone bests you because they’ve been giving tours, it stings a little.
The Special Workers
The Special Workers expansion adds the ability to train workers that have unique skills that may, or may not, prove beneficial in your quest to make wine. The game includes eleven different types of Special Workers however, only two are ever used during a game. Before the game begins, two Special Worker cards are drawn at random and these two Special Workers are available for training throughout the game. The workers have their own unique worker meeple as well so there is no confusion as to who is who. To hire a Special Worker, when players land on a space that allows them to gain a worker, they will spend one additional Lira (money) to hire them. Special Workers can be used like normal workers or they can be used for their special ability.
I have mixed feelings about the Special Workers. I appreciate their abilities but some seem far more resourceful than others and with the randomized nature of selecting the workers, you may be playing a game with some that don’t suit your plans. That being said, they do allow you to change your strategy or at worst case, grant you additional workers to place out on the board. The variability that it adds is nice but since the bonuses are available to all players (as opposed to the structures expansion) that competitive edge is removed somewhat. The additional cost is a nice way to offset the unique bonuses offered by the workers. However, they tend to be more of a mid to late game purchase as players compete for structures (like the trellis and cellar) and by that point, it’s more a luxury than a necessity.
The Extended Board
The Tuscany Essential Edition board replaces the Viticulture Essential Edition board. Whereas the Viticulture board offered only Summer and Winter as seasons (and possible worker placement spots), the Tuscany board offers all four seasons which changes some of the placement areas and adds new actions on the board. With the influx of spaces, there are also more bonus spaces and their layout differs from the previous board. Tuscany also includes a mini-map that tracks your influence around the region that can grant you resources and points at the end of the game. The wake-up spots have had an overhaul as well due to the additional seasons. The board is also double-sided, with one side tailor made for the Structures expansion and the other without it.
The new board is the biggest change and we only play with the Tuscany board now. There’s a lot to unpack for the new board so lets start with the mini-map. This map is a players influence in the region of Tuscany and as a Spring action, players can place a star in a province in the area. When a star is placed, an immediate bonus is granted and at the end of the game, the player with the most stars in a region gains the points for the region. I really enjoy the inclusion of the influence map as it gives players needed benefits in the early and mid-game (especially if they are blocked out of regions or have chosen to go last) as well as offering some competitiveness and tension for the end game as players jockey for those last available points. I personally love this addition but have played a few games where players weren’t keen on the implementation as it didn’t feel thematic with everything else that was going on. I do wish the double-sided board had one side that didn’t feature the map. Since the other expansions are modular and can be added or removed, I thought it was weird that this was a fixture. But then again, it would change a few spots on the board.
Speaking of changes on the board, the move to four seasons seems much more fluid and adds two new actions: trading and selling wine. The trading space is my favorite feature as it helps eliminate an issue found in the base game which was getting cards that aren’t useful. Now you can swap those (or money or points or grapes) for something else that is beneficial. This action seems to have replaced the selling grapes action from the base game that I honestly can’t recall ever using personally or seeing someone use. This is mostly due to the values being off as it was more worthwhile to turn that grape into wine than to sell it. The trading feature fixes that and is a constant spot of contention in our games.
Selling wine is a winter action and works as a way to garner points without having to complete orders. This really ramps up when the game is near the end and players try to maximize their points.
The final change is the wake-up area, which dictates player order and now provides benefits for all four seasons (depending on when you decide to wake up). The biggest change with this is that waking up last (which nets you the free worker) is now a difficult choice as you’ll be going last for four straight seasons as opposed to two.
Tuscany Essential Edition is essential mainly due to the new board. The structures and unique workers are nice if this is a game that you play a lot of and need some variability but I cannot speak highly enough of the decision to implement four seasons. The basis of the game is not changed by any of these expansions. The game also makes end scoring more tense as there are more ways than ever to score points as well as points decided by the Tuscany region, which can swing a close game in someone’s favor. Every choice a player makes feels important but if a mistake is made, it doesn’t feel detrimental and there’s plenty of ways to right a wrong (if there’s time). Teaching Tuscany is a breeze because everything is an extension of something that already existed as opposed to a brand new mechanic (minus the Tuscany region). The components are as high a quality as the original game and everything fits seamlessly thematically and aesthetically. Tuscany took what I thought was a clear ten out of ten game and somehow made it better without fundamentally changing the game.