Review: Vinhos

Posted by James (admin) on February 22nd, 2011

Vinhos is one of the several games with a wine-making theme that were released last year.  The game lasts 6 game years and the winner is the player with the most victory points (VPs) at the end of the game.  Each year, players take 2 actions and turn order is re-assessed after each round of actions.  In one action, a player can:

  • Buy one or more vineyard (which produce wine)
  • Buy 1 or 2 wineries (which increase wine value)
  • Hire 1 or 2 enologists (which increase wine value but cost money each year)
  • Buy a cellar (increases the time you can keep wine which makes it more valuable)
  • Sell wine for cash
  • Export wine for VPs (some immediately and some later if you dominate that area)
  • Bank (cash in/out and make/sell investments)
  • Hire 1 or 2 wine experts (giving various extra powers and increasing chances at wine fair)
  • Press release (announce your wine fair entry and maybe influence a manager) or Pass

As you can see there’s a lot choice, especially as a player will only take 12 actions in the whole game.   I won’t explain all the rules as that’s too much to cover but will mention a few core gameplay areas.

Taking Actions: In the centre of the board is a 3 x 3 grid and each area is one of the actions.  To take an action, a player moves their action token to the corresponding action space.  A player must pay cash to move their token to a space (a) occupied by another player’s token, (b) occupied by the year marker (as 6 action spaces act as the year track too), or (c) it isn’t adjacent to the token’s current space.  This cost for taking some actions requires extra thought and some of your opponents’ choices can put some options out of reach.

Player Boards: Each player has their own board which has room for 4 estates.  Each estate can only contain red or white vineyards from one region as well as wineries & cellars and the contents of each estate determines the value of the wine it produces.

Wine Fairs: A wine fair takes place at the end of the 3rd, 5th and 6th years.  Players can enter 1 of their wines for which they get fair points based on smell, look, etc.  Fair points accumulate through the game and players score VPs each fair based on their relative totals.  Fair points can be increased by a player’s wine experts and the value of the wine and when you announce which wine you are entering can affect which (and how many) wine experts you can use.  So, thinking is required for the fair.

Managers: One area of the board shows the managers.  Players can give them wine to earn special abilities as well as earn bonus VPs (some of which depend upon what you have bought or attained during the game).  If you secure a manager ability and combine it with something you did well during the game, you can earn lots of bonus VPs.

Barrels and Selling: When you sell wine, you’re not always guaranteed its full value as the prices you can sell for may be occupied by other players.  Also, you need to use barrels to mark your sales and exports, but each player has a limited number of barrels which they also need to mark favours they’ve earned with managers too.  So, players need to manage their use of barrels carefully.

Vinhos is a game of difficult choices – they are difficult because you have very limited resources, the order of your actions makes a big difference to their outcomes, and you only get a total of 12 actions in the whole game.  Whilst it may sound like a ridiculously small amount of actions, Vinhos is a deep, engaging game and takes time to play.

I enjoyed Vinhos because it required a lot of thinking and planning, although our first game was definitely a learning experience.  You need to get the best out of each action and ensure you don’t mess things up for your next actions, so new players to Vinhos are likely to be at a disadvantage to those who have played it once or twice before.

I like that there are multiple routes to scoring VPs – exporting goods, using managers, doing well at the fairs, etc. – but you still need to plan and do well to score these points.  Whilst there is player interaction, I found that the limited number of actions meant we tended to play our own games and affecting other players was a (nice) bi-product.  Planning this interaction may increase with more experience.

The board can look a bit daunting to stat with but it’s well-presented, colourful and the icons used work well once you know the rules.  It has a similar feel to Vasco de Gama which isn’t surprising as Vinhos is by the same publisher.

I felt there were a couple of minor negatives and the main one was that quite a few of the game mechanics felt over-developed, i.e. they were more complicated (or had more layers) than necessary.  The Wine Fair was the biggest example of this as I felt scoring Fair points was rather unconnected to the main gameplay, so it felt a bit like an extra game system added onto to an already large game.  I feel I could have enjoyed Vinhos just as much with a simpler Fair mechanic connected more simply to my estate and experts.  Some other areas felt a bit over-developed too; for example, the action grid was interesting but I’m not sure the extra gameplay it added was worth the extra complexity and extra playing time the different action costs created.  So, I think stripping a few of these extra mechanics out could make the game more accessible without losing any depth or challenge.

The long playing time was a bit of an issue too as it took 3 experienced gamers over 3 hours to play.  Granted it was our first game and there are a lot of rules (even though all relatively simple) but, even still, this was a long game and more players would take longer. Downtime wasn’t too bad but I can imagine it being bigger with more players too.

However, these negatives though do not make Vinhos a bad game at all, just slightly cluttered.  In fact, all 3 of us enjoyed Vinhos a lot and want to play it again as it’s a rich challenging game.  If you want to read the the full rules, visit What’s Your Game’s Vinhos page and read the rules.


[Played with 3 players]

Note: Interestingly, Vinhos and Grand Cru (one of the other wine-making games released around the same time) are very different.  Both  are gamers games (with Grand Cru being slightly simpler) and both require planning plus waiting for those plans to come to fruition; however, the games play very differently indeed

One Response to “Review: Vinhos”

  1. Jacob Says:

    I fully agree with everything you said: tremendous game that could have had those two areas pruned a bit. I tend to not play with the extra costs on the quadrel but I don’t know how I would simply the wine fair.

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