Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of La Viña by Devir Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of La Viña by Devir Games
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Title: La Viña
Designed by: Jose Ramón Palacios
Publisher: Devir Games
Year Published: 2019
MSRP: $25
2-5p | 30-45 min | 8+

A very old viticulturist has passed on to a better place. When his heirs meet at his house, the question of who will become the new owner of the vineyard is brought up. The jewel of all the old man’s property is this small plot of vines, producing grapes of the highest quality, which has sadly fallen into neglect. The various types of grapevines have overgrown the area without any care or supervision. The deceased owner left a will stating that he wanted the vineyard to be brought back to its former glory. In order to avoid splitting up the plot, he declared that the vineyard would be granted to whomever is able to obtain the best yield from it. The grape harvest has just started, and there are many wineries that have offered a good price for the grapes they need.

Taking turns, each player will move his grape picker down the aisle between the vines on the trellises. The player looks at the grape cards and chooses which one he wants to collect, then puts it into one of his baskets. When he comes out of the vineyard at the end of the aisle, the grape picker can deliver the grapes in his baskets to the wineries, so long as he has collected the minimum quantity they require. He then receives the reward that the wineries offer. When a player carries out his last delivery, the game ends. The rest of the players continue to play until they come to the end of the aisle for the last time. The one who has obtained the most prestige is then declared the winner.

—description from the publisher

Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.
  • Outstanding presentation, artwork, and component quality.  I especially love the prestige tokens.
  • I love the mechanic that allows you to move as far forward along the path as you like, but the person at the back moves first.
  • Great balance between gaining resources (grapes) and racing to the end in order to sell for points.
  • I like how the barrels are used to count down to the end of the game, with the last player to sell at a particular winery gaining a bonus and the game ending once someone places their last barrel. It's a nice blend of racing to end the game and timing your sales for maximum benefit.
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 
  • A lot of different Grape and Winery cards mean there will be a different mix every game, making each game play differently.
  • The game scales great from 2 to 5 players, with some minor changes for 2 players (each player controls two workers).
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.
  • The rulebook is pretty poorly translated.  There are a few areas where the description of gameplay is not as clear as it could be and a few other areas where things are missing or just left unexplained.  It took watching the gameplay video and reading forum comments to make sure we had all the rules correct.
  • The basket upgrades felt very unbalanced.  I thought it was a translation error at first, so my second game we played a little different, but then later I learned that the unbalanced feeling rule is correct.
  • Not much gameplay arc.  There's no sense of growth in the game; what you do in the first round is pretty much what you do in the last round, and it feels like it takes too long to get to the end because of this.
Final Thoughts:
There are some things that La Viña does great - incorporating the theme, balancing resource gathering versus racing to sell, etc.  However, there are some areas where La Viña just doesn't quite hit the mark.  The rulebook leaves a lot unclear, and there's not much game arc, however the biggest issue is that the basket upgrades feels very unbalanced.

There are always fewer upgrades available than players and there's no rule against upgrading from a small bucket to the large bin, skipping over the medium basket.  The first time I played we thought this was wrong, so the second time we said you could only upgrade one step at a time.  So you couldn't upgrade your starting 2 card bucket straight to a 4 card bin.  You'd first have to upgrade it to a 3 card basket.  You could upgrade your 3 card basket at the start to a 4 card bin, but then risk getting stuck with a 2 card bucket that can't be upgraded because all the 3 card baskets are taken.  That change felt a lot more balanced.  But then, after watching a gameplay video with the publisher, I saw that it was allowed to upgrade directly from the small basket to the large bin.  It seems like an obvious move to shoot for in the first round, which isn't too hard since the difference is only 7 prestige, and that means the player(s) finishing last have no shot at getting that upgrade.  That feels wrong and unbalanced, but I guess that's correct.

La Viña is very close to being a Bloom game for me.  I think for what it does though, Parks from Keymaster Games scratches the same itch and does it a bit better.  If I hadn't played Parks, I probably would have enjoyed La Viña more.  But the unbalanced feel of the basket upgrades, the poorly translated rulebook, and lack of any game arc are enough to knock it down to a Bud.  It is quite a bit cheaper than Parks though, so if you want this style of game, La Viña is a great affordable alternative.  For me though, since I have both games, I'd choose to play Parks over La Viña pretty much every time.

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Bud!  This game definitely has some
great moments.  It's good for several plays
and should appeal to most gamers, especially
if you enjoy other games like this.

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GJJ Games Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

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