Session Report: Kraftwagen and Viticulture

The other day, I was able to play Kraftwagen and Viticulture online using Tabletopia. I’ve played Kraftwagen several times, but only 2-player. The pandemic paused my plans to try it 3-player as my game group hasn’t been able to meet up in months.

Kraftwagen is a mid-weight Euro about early car manufacturing by Matthias Cramer using an action rondel that fans of his will have come to know by now from the more popular Glen More. It’s a simple mechanism with the same tension as a good worker-placement game, but where spaces naturally empty over time. It’s just a question of how many turns do you want to “lose” by skipping ahead. My friend and I love the mechanism and plan to try out Glen More. I also really like the market in Kraftwagen which is not only filled with player-driven goods, but players also choose which buyers enter the market which impacts what cars sell.

The only problem we’ve encountered, and not every game, is that the upgrades can sometimes determine who does well. In the game, you begin with low-rank engines and car bodies, and only the upgrade cards can increase your rank in these parts. But each time someone does research, they take one of two available cards, but the other is also discarded. Timing and luck-of-the-draw can sometimes cause one player to get all the good upgrades and one player to be left with whatever remains. It doesn’t completely break the game, but it puts one player at a noticeable disadvantage. And we’re not alone. This is the biggest sticking point for many players. We’ve started playing with some minor tweaks to reduce the luck of the draw.

Viticulture is one we’ve only played online (none of us own it), and we’ve only played 3 times thus far at 2-player.

I feel like anyone reading this might not need an introduction to Viticulture, but in case someone does, it’s a worker-placement game by Jamey Stegmaier about setting up your vineyard, making and selling wine. At its core, it’s a very simple worker-placement game. But the visitor cards elevate it by offering a wealth of unique opportunities. The Essential Edition also includes some of the best modules from the Tuscany Expansion (not to be confused for Tuscany Essential Edition). The Mama and Papa cards give a nice jump-start (that Jamey Stegmaier’s other hit, Scythe, could have used) with asymmetrical starting resources. Tuscany is also available on Tabletopia but isn’t free. We’ll definitely be trying it at some point, as the modules still sound fun and we’re ready to add some more depth to the game. We’re used to Vital Lacerda’s games (such as the heavy wine-making Vinhos), so Viticulture is a nice breezy game for us.

That said, luck-of-the-draw can also impact the game here, similar to Kraftwagen. And it’s honestly a little strange because many Euros have long solved this issue by having a market of cards to choose from rather than a blind draw. The visitors are all unique and powerful, so a blind draw doesn’t feel negative. However, the vine cards and wine order cards are essential (no pun intended) but highly random. My friend, in one game, had drawn vine cards that needed buildings he didn’t have, some of those cards needed both buildings (that can be costly in workers and money at the start of the game), making him slow getting his vineyard up and running. And both of us have, in only 3 games, experienced a dead-end trying to draw wine order cards we can fulfill quickly. The randomness is only made worse by how slow the grapes/wines age. When the game could end in the next round, you don’t have time to wait for your 3s and 4s to age up to 7s or 8s. In the last game we played, I ended with 5 wine order cards in hand, only 1 of which I had the means to complete, but I had used all of my workers drawing cards and had no means of fulfilling it that round (then my friend squeaked to the finish with a winter visitor card).

We haven’t played many times, but it feels like there’s less you can do to get around bad card draw in Viticulture compared to Kraftwagen. All you can do sometimes is just make the best of it, grinding away until you can use what you have. But then the player with better draws will probably run away with the game. I’m curious if the modules in Tuscany can help mitigate this.

We still enjoyed both games, but the luck-of-the-draw is an annoyance in both games.

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