Mayday Games is one of those companies that I am rarely disappointed with. In fact, their name on a game box is a selling point to me. Why is that? Because I can count on them to publish quality games, and King’s Vineyard is another example of that.
This company’s dedication to quality shows from the moment you open the box. King’s Vineyard isn’t a very big game, and it doesn’t come in a gigantic box. When you remove the lid you are greeted by two decks of cards, an instruction book, and a bag of wooden tokens. But they didn’t cheap out, these tokens are not merely wooden cubes, these are custom die cut pieces in the shapes of wine glasses, wine bottles, and kegs; very unique to this game. This fact becomes more impressive when you realize that these tokens are just representative of victory points, there are a hundred cheaper ways the company could have done this, but the custom cut wooden bits bring another level of charm to the game. In addition to the fine wooden pieces, the cards are heavy and thick, clearly printed on a very thick stock. Quality, quality, quality!
While digging into the instructions, it becomes clear that components are not the only thing this company spent money on. The game play is also very elegantly designed. I use the word “elegantly” because the game’s mechanics blend seamlessly into the theme of the game, leaving the player with the notion that this is all happening in a very organic fashion. What in the world am I talking about? Allow me to explain…
This is a game about convincing the King that you are the best at taking care of vineyards. The best vineyard is the most consistent vineyard. After all, one great looking patch of grapes is nice, but not when all of your other grapes look awful. Uniformity is king.
During a round everyone will plant some grapes. The grapes are dual sided cards. One side simply has leaves, while the other side shows bunches of grapes in a variety of different colors. When you plant grapes, you plant them face down, so that only the leafy greens are showing. Each turn your vine will grow a little until it reaches maturity, at which point the vines will start wilting. Once the vines have wilted all the way back to the fruit, it’s time to harvest your grapes. The key is to have beautiful looking grapes with the same length of vine and the same color of grapes when the King arrives. Timing is key. The growing, wilting, and harvesting of grapes is just a complicated timing mechanic. It ensures that a card is available for a given number of rounds, no more no less. However, the feel of growing the vines, wilting, and harvesting is so in tune with the theme, that it took many players several rounds before they realized that subtly.
For all of the praise I have to give this game, there are also two small pieces of criticism. Firstly, this game is far from friendly towards the color blind community. Even us folks who are theoretically not color blind had problems from time to time. You see, the grapes are suppose to be the same color in order to score points. However, some grapes are dual color so they can take advantage of two different grapes bonuses. There were multiple occasions where people could not tell what colors an opponents grapes were from across the table, and even a time or two when the player mistook one color for another.
The second major complaint is with the rules. The first game of this I played we used the rulebook as a reference for scoring. Each bunch of grapes that were ripe were given a score, all of the matching grapes were given a score, and each of the lines of the same length were given a score. We thought we were done.
On the second game that we played, we felt we knew the rules well enough and just used the reference cards for scoring. Nestled at the bottom of the reference card was a single rule that had been forgotten… or had it? The rule said that each player with the most grapes of a color should each receive bonus points. Really? I don’t remember seeing that in the rules. So we went back and looked at the scoring section of the full rule book… nope… no max color bonus there. Hmm…
Playing without the color bonus, the game falls into a category of games that you can play by yourself. I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t care for games with limited player interaction. It’s just not my thing usually. With the color bonus rule, it suddenly makes sense that you might want to keep an eye on what your opponent is planting. This rule that is missing from the full rule book but helps to make the game a little more well rounded instead of just an exercise in doing your personal best.
Ultimately I really enjoyed this game. We have played it several times already, and I can see it being broken out for yet more games, which is saying something in my house! If you get a chance, try to check this game out, I think you’ll like it.