Tuscany: Essential Edition
Designed by Jamey Stegmaier & Alan Stone
Art by Beth Sobel
Published by Stonemaier Games - 2016
1-6 Players - 60-180 minutes
Review by Jack Eddy
To understand Tuscany: Essential Edition, you need a little context of how we got here. Tuscany: Essential Edition is an expansion to Viticulture: Essential Edition, which in itself is a sort of “remix” of the original 2013 Viticulture and the original, much larger expansion Tuscany. You see, Viticulture and the subsequent expansion both were favorably received and developed a cult following, but some of the systems and implementation were clunky, flawed, or detracted from the overall experience. Smartly, Stonemaier Games decided to re-release Viticulture with some of the best and, more importantly, most critical elements of Tuscany included in the base set; thus Viticulture: Essential Edition was born. V:EE remains to this date one of the greatest worker placement games ever made.
But the story doesn’t end there. Many elements of Tuscany remained on the cutting room floor, each of which could fall in one of two categories. First were the modules that, for all their promise, just plain didn’t work. This group was retired, doomed to obscurity, never to be printed again. Then there is the other group; the modules that truly expanded on the elegant beauty that is Viticulture, but perhaps deepened the experience too much to include it in the base Essential Edition. It’s the modules in this latter group that make up the now available expansion, Tuscany: Essential Edition.
Tuscany EE contains three new modules to add to your game, Structures, Special Workers, and an Extended Board. The last of these, the Extended board, is probably the most dramatic shift in how the game operates. Unlike the base game where your lazy vintners only had to work during “summer” and “winter” seasons, all action spaces are now broken into a whopping four different seasons in which all players must select actions or pass until the game progresses to the next season. Just like in the base game, workers used in a previous season are not reclaimed until the end of the year, so players are much more considerate about which actions to take and when.
Along with the new seasons, the extended board presents several new actions, a new method of determining turn order, and a small “overworld map” used to show your influence on the surrounding countryside. Turn order is now decided as you pass out of winter, ending your actions for the year. Along with the rest of your upkeep, you select which slot you’d like to take on turn order for the next turn, of course granting better bonuses the further down you go. The regional map is neat though relatively inconsequential; certain actions allow you to place one of your six stars in a region of your choice for a small reward. These stars can be moved later without the reward, but the player with the most influence in each region gets 1 to 2 points at the end of the game, adding a certain area control element to the game.
Structures and Special Workers (each of which can be played with or without the new board), are new cards that expand on concepts that are core to the base game. Two special workers are drawn at the beginning of the game and assigned randomly to the (frankly adorable) male and female meeples. Now whenever you train a new worker, you can choose to pay extra to bring your male or female special worker into play. These specialists have a variety of effects ranging from mildly helpful to “oh-my-god-the-mafioso-is-incredible!”. Fortunately every player has access to the same two specialists so things remain balanced. Structures are drawn through a variety of actions, that can be built just like any other building in the game. These give players exclusive new actions or ongoing effects that are usually quite powerful.
Should you get it?
This is a tough question to answer. The problem is I actually think that Viticulture: Essential Edition is pretty much a perfect package; it’s approachable yet deep, it’s streamlined yet complex, the theme shines through beautifully, and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. It’s hard for me to advocate messing with perfection (Would Sgt. Pepper have been better if the fab-four added a couple more songs?). YET, at the same time, Tuscany transforms the game into a deeper, more nuanced experience, gracefully changing a solidly mid-weight game into a meatier cousin, all-the-while managing to not disrupt the core elegance that is so paramount to Viticulture.
I really enjoy Tuscany, it broadens the game and forces players to be much more deliberate with their actions. Each worker has much more purpose, and the sequence of events creates a tighter, more tense game. If I were to identify my favorite aspect (aside from the amazing male & female specialist meeples), it’s the new board with four seasons and how turn order selection is now handled. It’s such a subtle yet incredibly potent change to the game, heightening the drama as you consider when to play and when to pass. Another thing I love is that each module present new ways of approaching the game, making alternate strategies more viable.
So to answer the question at hand - Yes. If you are someone who likes deeper games, or you love Viticulture and feel like you want more, then this is an incredible expansion. On the other hand, if you like Viticulture but the base game is already reaching your limits of complexity, or you don’t like Viticulture and were hoping that this somehow completely changed the core of the game (is that person out there?) then this expansion isn’t for you. Personally, I tend to think of Viticulture and Tuscany as two separate experiences, each catering to different moods, groups, and occasions; and each well-deserving a place in my collection.
Review copy of Tuscany Essential Edition provided by Stonemaier Games