I’m a Backer: Viticulture

Today I am starting up a new (and hopefully regular) feature, “I’m a backer,” where I tell you not just about what I think is new or interesting on Kickstarter, but about a project I like enough to actually give it my money. This method of review is the most honest I can think of when it comes to Kickstarter, which, occasionally has problems. I detailed some of these last week, in a previous post “Kickstarter Pitfalls.”

I find a great many posts on the internet of people talking up their own crowd funding projects, and you occasionally large sites take up the cause of particularly successful projects, but I would love to see more conversation and dialogue to go along with all PR.

To quote the creator of this Kickstarter:

Viticulture: The Strategic Game of Winemaking is a 2-6 player game that takes 60-90 minutes to play. In the game, you find yourself in rustic, pre-modern Tuscany, where you’ve inherited a meager vineyard. You’ll have a few plots of land, an old crushpad, a tiny cellar, 4 workers…and the dream of owning the best winery in Italy.

Which is a brief and accurate summation of the game, in my opinion. He goes on to compare it to “Settlers of Catan, Agricola, Stone Age, or Fresco,” which is also apt, though I can see Stone Age and Fresco more in the mechanics than the other two, without doubt. As I love and own both of these games, this is perfect for me.

The purpose of the game is to get the most victory points, and the rules and mechanics I have seen seem to support an appropriately wide amount of strategies for accomplishing this. In fact, after a thorough review of the game, I can find only two issues with it, neither of which is particularly significant. The first one is aesthetic: as much as I love backer supported projects, I do not feel that their names belong on tokens nor their faces in comic books – the product should stay the product – advertisements and recognition, crowdmercials can be very distracting. The other issue I had was a missed opportunity: the designers chose to implement a standard victory point system rather than doing something more interesting with the ‘rebuild the meager vineyard concept.’ They could have added point values to the various parts of the vineyard upgrades (house, basement, vineyards, crush pads, etc) rather than making victory points a totally separate (and standard) mechanic. This is a minor quibble though, and I think some of the other mechanics, particularly the wine aging and the income over time from fulfilling orders are actually quite novel.

I think the product of this Kickstarter is great, but what about the project? I have passed up on interesting projects in the past because I felt they lacked a professional presentation or were promising more than they seemed capable of delivering. If I’m going to give a stranger my money (often for a project that has not even been started in earnest,) I need to feel that they know what they are doing; I need to have confidence in them. When it comes to Viticulture, though, I am believer. Jamey’s presentation is professional and he as an active and engaging manager. All comments are responded to quickly and questions answered promptly.

If you read his Kickstarter page, you will notice that it is not only image dense and information rich (and continually improving) but that halfway down he tells you about a money back guarantee should you be dissatisfied with the game upon receipt. This is the first time I have seen such a thing on Kickstarter, and all of my interactions with him, including this interview, lead me to believe that he would honor it.

The updates for Viticulture are frequent, and content laden, and at the beginning – perhaps too numerous. This enthusiasm for early success is easily forgivable and has calmed down to a much more reasonable level as of update #5, earlier this week. Each has been upbeat and positive in telling backers about the continued progress toward being funded.

After taking the time to write a review of both the product and the project, I had a chance to ask the creator a couple of questions about his game:

So why wine?

I’m not a wine expert—in fact, due to an unfortunate allergy, I drink very little wine. However, there is a certain romanticized appeal to owning a vineyard. It’s something very few get to do in real life, so I’ve created a vineyard in a box, ready to start-up in minutes and complete within an hour. Also, part of the reason I chose to make a game about owning a vineyard is that there’s no stigma about wine. It’s common ground between gamers and non-gamers. I could have made a very similar game about wizards mixing elixirs, but a non-gamer probably wouldn’t even consider playing it. A game about making wine, though? No problem.

Hopefully Viticulture will open the door to strategy games to more non-gamers.

Not counting this game or its influences, what is your favorite board game?

I actually listed my favorite strategy games on my personal blog a few months ago, but since you’re asking for something different, I’d have to look at #3 on the list – Dominion. In case your readers aren’t familiar with the game, it’s the first of a new crop of “deck-building” games in which you draw a hand from a deck that only you control and use the hand to make a few basic choices each turn. One of the most clever aspects of the game is that you draw your hand at the end of your turn, so while everyone is taking their sweet time, you can figure out your strategy. By the time it gets back to you, you’re good to go. It really helps the flow of the game.

Your project is currently just shy of 68% funded. Are you happy with the progress you’ve made?

Great question. I would say for the most part, yes, I’m elated that so many people have trusted me with their pledges (although there’s also no risk to the backers—I’ve offered anyone who doesn’t like the game a refund if they return the game within a month of receiving it). That said, I am endlessly nervous that the pledges will simply come to a grinding halt. I’m actively doing everything I can to prevent that from happening, but the fear is still there.

Were any of the difficulties you encountered to date expected, or we’re they completely off your radar?

Actually, the main difficulty I’ve encountered was completely off my radar: Some people really, really don’t like the project video. I aimed for something whimsical that gave some broad strokes about the game, but some people really want to understand what makes the game unique—the nitty-gritty details. That caught me off guard, because I figured if you don’t like the video, you can scroll down half a page to find the game overview video (and a link to a much longer play-by-play video). So I’ve learned when posting on places like Board Game Geek to tell people to scroll down to watch the second video and just skip the first one unless they’re in the mood for bad acting and a few chuckles.

What’s next for Stonemaier Games after you ship Viticulture?

I like that you wrote this as something that will definitely happen! Everything hinges on the campaign. If it’s not successful, we can’t afford to produce it. However, assuming all goes well, we’ll spend much of October filling shipments for people who purchased the wine glasses (they come with the game, but we’re shipping them separately from the game, which won’t arrive stateside until April). We’re also going to try to find distributors to get the game in-game stores and wineries. In the meantime, we’re going to work on our second game. We’ve given 100% of our time and attention to Viticulture, so all we have are very rough concepts, but Alan has a brilliant idea that we will begin to explore.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat about this process! I’m happy to answer any questions that your readers might have, whether they’re about the game, Kickstarter, or my cats.

This entry was posted by David Winchester.

15 thoughts on “I’m a Backer: Viticulture

  1. Thanks so much for writing this, David. I really like the “I’m a Backer” concept and look forward to future entries of that theme in the future.

    You’re absolutely right that I was overly excited in the early updates–it was hard not to be! Since then I’ve tried to temper that enthusiasm while still showing my backers how much they mean to me.


    • If the greatest failure of your Kickstarter was that you got a little excited in the first few days, I think you can and wordy in the (very successful) opening days of your project, I think we can safely label it a job well done. Now, let’s get this funded, and charge onward to the cheese themed expansion!

  2. Well written David, this covers a lot of ground. I even gave the project another look following this, which is about as successful as you can get for this kind of article.

    You’re right, far too many projects come off unprofessionally. I’m tired of this trend of ‘give me money for my awesome idea!’ At least here you see that he’s got a product and it would appear to have actually been tested. Probably more so then a lot of board games we’ve played back when we did that pretty regular.

    About that video. It is, in fact, a nicely whimsical short. Unfortunately it is also short on details of the project itself. The first thing anyone coming to your kickstarter is going to click is right there, and somehow it comes off a little annoying to get through because you just want to see if you’re interested in this cool looking board game first. Had you moved it down to the second thing people clicked I bet you’d be hearing a lot more about how folks loved it. It’s funny how these little things can matter.

    • Eric–Those are helpful thoughts about the video. I was definitely aiming for whimsical, but I wish that I had incorporated more unique gameplay elements into the trailer. I see now where I could have done it…and you know, perhaps it isn’t too late. I’m allowed to update the video. I’ll see what I can do. 🙂

  3. Some tweaking probably wouldn’t hurt, but I also wouldn’t stress this too much as it’s really just a quibble. The project is trending toward 237% funding this point.

    You’re the one with a successful Kickstarter going, so what do I know? 🙂

    • I confess, it’s a weakness. There’s just something satisfying about the smell of freshly planted field spaces, or the way that new soil-cards feel in your hand.
      Haven’t you ever wanted to (virtually) build something with your own two hands?

      • I had some snark prepared, but lost it all when I saw your were posting to your blog at 4:45 in the morning.

        Drugs are bad, David. Stay good!

      • Ah, but it was 6:45am here. I was up getting ready for work, and saw your comment. I hope you will take my early morning ramblings in the humorous spirit in which they were intended.

  4. Pingback: I’m a Backer: Underground Kingdom « Caffeineforge

  5. Pingback: I’m a Backer: The Wardenclyffe Horror « Caffeineforge

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