18 November 2019
Yea or Chardonnay?
The debut release from designer Jose Ramón Palacios, La Viña puts you and your friends in the shoes of workers in a sun-drenched Spanish vineyard. The elderly proprietor has just died, leaving the business in his will to whichever employee can produce the best wines from the land.
It's a tantalising prize. To claim the estate you‘ll need to harvest grapes and fulfil orders from wineries more effciently than your competitors.
While its small box and cheerful artwork might seem to suggest that La Viña is quick and fluffy, it‘s actually a little deeper than its appearance might lead you to believe.
The game unfolds around a central track representing an aisle with vines running along either side. On each round, you and your rivals will all make your way from one end to the other, pausing to pick different varieties of grapes represented by cards laid in pairs along the sides of the board. You'll add each new acquisition to your baskets, and once you reach the end of the row you'll have the chance to sell your crop to one of five wineries, each of which demands different quantities and varieties of grapes.
What's clever, though, is the way the game's turn system forces you to make difficult decisions and react to your opponents' plays. In a touch that will be familiar to anyone who's played competitive quilt-sewing game Patchwork, the player in last position on the track is always the next to move. On your turn you'll be able to move forward to any space that isn't already occupied by an opponent .It means that if there's a particular variety of grape you need, you'll be able to leap all the way to the end of the aisle to grab it before anyone else. But doing so means your opponents will have a chance to take multiple moves before you get another opportunity to act.
The result is that La Viña comes with a huge element of thinking two or three turns ahead. You'll continually weigh up the different cards available and attempt to work out opponents' intentions. Do you need to grab a vital bunch of grapes right away? Or is it safe to wait just one more turn and focus your attention on something equally tantalising elsewhere? On the other side of the equation, it's possible to suss out your rivals' plans and cut them off from the grapes they need to complete a lucrative order – something that feels deliciously mean when you pull it off.
Someone big complaint is that there's nothing in La Viña's mechanical design that feels particularly tied to its theme. There's no reason it couldn't be about obtaining ingredients for cakes or scavenging parts for giant robots. It's also highly analytical in ways that might be a bit dry for some players' tastes, and it might benefit from trimming about ten minutes from its play time. But if none of these are deal-breakers for you, it's a respectably thoughtful game in a deceptively small package.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Designer: Jose Ramón Palacios
Artist: Joan Guardiet
Time: 45 minutes
Purchase the game here
This review originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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