Viticulture: Visit from the Rhine Valley
Time: ~80 minutes
Times Played: 6
It is no secret that Viticulture is one of our favorite games and easily the most reviewed product on my blog. I’ve looked at the base game, the Tuscany expansion, the Moor Visitors expansion, and the metal coins that replace the cardboard currency. It should come as no surprise that it was only a matter of time before Visit from Rhine Valley appeared on this page.
What Rhine Valley adds is a brand new set of 40 Summer and 40 Winter visitor cards that replace the cards from the base game. In replacing the original deck, this expansion provides a brand new influx of visitors to play with instead of diluting and expanding the already robust deck from base Viticulture and the expansion’s Moor Visitors and Tuscany.
Going into my initial playthroughs with this new deck, I had mixed feelings. This expansion isn’t necessarily an expansion of the game but more a variant set of cards to provide a different experience. I liked that I would be able to see all new cards when playing but felt weird replacing the original cards, especially since so much was already invested in the other expansions.
I feel like each expansion has been created to alter or fix a supposed problem that a previous version had. The Viticulture workers could net large swings in points from arbitrary requirements. Tuscany moved away from that by offering more ways to score points on the physical game board, thus reducing the need to grab Visitor cards. Moor Visitors adds more visitors which helps balance the deck as players can’t as easily cycle through cards hoping to grab one of the few they’re aiming for.
The artwork seen on the Rhine Valley cards is the same as that found on the base cards.
I definitely understand the business decision for this but I am disappointed in the recycled images. This is a small factor but as someone who has played Viticulture a lot, some images are seared into your brain and when you see them, you immediately think of the card that existed in the base game. This won’t be an issue for some players but for diehards, it’s an annoyance.
I should be grateful that this decision keeps the cost down for what is essentially a set of cards but it’s uninspiring and a letdown compared to the rest of the art and design utilized in previous game and expansions.
The card backs are different from the original deck which helps keep the two entities separate. There are also several cards that are made to directly interact with the Tuscany expansion and have Tuscany imprinted on the top half of the card to alert players.
I greatly appreciate this inclusion as it makes set-up, clean-up, and storage easy as we don’t have to go cycling through cards looking for a symbol or watermark (a la Clank!) that lets us know what goes where.
The feel of Rhine Valley differs from the other deck(s) due to the importance on creating and sustaining the engine to make wine as opposed to aiming for and grabbing victory points. This new deck provides a more thematic approach to the game and rewards players for proper grape and wine cultivation as opposed to random victory points for tours and selling of grapes.
This change in scoring impacts the game as the scoring is more gradual as opposed to all at once. There were rarely huge swings in points as opposed to playthroughs without this expansion.
Even with the emphasis being placed on the development and building of your wine engine, the Visitor cards can play a huge role for a player. For instance, if everyone has a finely-tuned machine churning out wine, a player that lucks into (because card draw is random) a Visitor that provides a needed wine could sprint ahead to the winner just due to the card draw (As there are more cards that offer the ability to add a grape or a wine to your production queue than in the base set). While they’re not getting points the traditional way (planting, harvesting, smashing grapes), they’re still fulfilling orders. Since the other routes to victory points have been neutered, this phenomenon appeared more often than not. To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, this play style is heavily influenced by luck of the draw and a player does have to spend a worker to grab these cards so the risk is there are they’re ignoring doing something to better benefit their engine but the reward can be victory.
Prior to this expansion, grabbing Visitor cards was a sure way to score points in Viticulture. That focus has changed and while it doesn’t seem like a lot when first mentioned, those three to seven points you were grabbing from Visitor cards will now require you to further develop your engine. When a game would typically end after four or five wine orders might now ask for six or seven or eight orders due to the change of the cards.
Our first game was frustrating as we were so used to being able to grab ‘easy’ points that when they were not coming up, it meant we had further neglected our engine and those that had strictly focused on making wine were so far ahead that catching up wasn’t an option. Once this realization came about (and we played again), it made the expansion much better and it really sets the tone for the entire game.
I hadn’t realized just how dependent we had become on visitor cards until this expansion removed that small benefit.
There are four “Tuscany-only” cards that are compatible with the expansion. Of those four, three of them deal directly with the Influence Map by moving or removing three stars from opponents.
I have mixed feelings regarding these cards. On one hand, the Influence Map could be too influential with final scoring as a player can rack up some serious points if they’re not kept in check. These cards are designed to keep a player in check. On the other, I only ever see such star power on that map in lower player count games. As such, these cards can be absolutely debilitating in a two- or three-player game. Moving or removing three stars at that count would completely alter the board and could swing the point tally wildly in someone’s favor.
In a higher player count game, say five- or six-players, the decks for both Summer and Winter would probably be cycled through which would result in all of these cards being played. Due to the sheer number of players and stars, the map would be more chaotic after a card is played but I don’t think it would help or hinder one player too greatly unless a perfect storm was presented. There would just be too many players to interact with.
Can the decks from Rhine Valley be combined with any combination of the base game and expansions? Yes, you can physically mash the decks together to create two mega decks; that is a thing that can happen. However, that will create an imbalanced game. Here’s a quote directly from Jamey Stegmaier himself: “The cards are designed to be their own unique set, not a combined set to be shuffled together with existing cards. Both sets of cards are viable to play with, and they each offer different experiences (one geared more towards VP; the other focused more on the wine business. If they’re all combined together, you will likely create an imbalance, as some people might end up drawing VP cards and others may draw the wine business cards.”
TL;DR: Don’t mix and match.
The novelty of having new cards for a game that we’ve played almost one hundred times hasn’t worn off for me yet so I’ve been trying to keep my biases in check. Rhine Valley seems to have taken its course from the common Viticulture complaints that have occurred over the years, namely that engine building wasn’t important enough and the Influence Map was too important. The expansion definitely increases the value of engine building and the threat of those Tuscany cards keeps the Influence Map from becoming too populated, especially in lower player count games.
Would I recommend Rhine Valley? If you play Viticulture a lot and want something different, this is a great way to add variety for a low price. It would probably be the last expansion (after Tuscany and Moors) that I would suggest buying just because it deals with circumstances that players only become truly aware of after multiple playthroughs. Couple that with the fact that it replaces the original decks as opposed to adding on to them and this is something you want when you’re desiring a change of pace as opposed to more content. Being last in the lineage is nothing to be down about either as each expansion has been a delight (in my opinion) and choosing between the three is like choosing your favorite dog (which we know that Tuscany is the best, so that’s Luna and Moor/Rhine Valley are just a fraction behind, which makes them Miles).
That being said, if you want the theme to shine even brighter, I would recommend Rhine Valley as it forces players to make wine as opposed to offer tours and sell grapes.
For the price point, I can’t really give a reason not to invest in Rhine Valley.