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As briefly described in Dale Yu's 2010 Origins report, King's Vineyard is "a card game themed around grape growing." Mayday Games' Seth Hiatt has now passed along more details about the game, which I summarize below:
Players in King's Vineyard are trying to produce nice-looking grapes to impress the king and earn points. (While I've never heard of a king who spent time meandering through the vineyards in his kingdom passing out merit badges, I suppose one could have done this at some point.) Players start each turn by drawing to six cards in hand – either from the deck or the top of the discard pile – then discarding as many cards as they want; they then plant 1-2 grape plant cards on the table before them. In the Grow/Wilt phase that follows, each plant gains a vine tile unless it's already reached its peak length (which is noted on the card); these mature plants instead have one tile flipped to the wilted side on each turn. Once a plant is fully wilted, the owner harvests the plant, setting it aside. The deck also includes a number of special action cards: Shovel, Fertilizer, Watering Can.
Players score at the end of a round in which a king card is drawn from the deck, thus the importance of being able to discard as many cards as you want as doing so will hasten the king's arrival. The king awards points only for ripe (i.e., not wilted) grapes with players earning bonuses for having more than one plant bearing grapes of the same color and more than one plant that bears the same number of vines. After the king's third visit, the player with the most points wins the game.
Hiatt notes that Mayday Games will have demo copies of King's Vineyard on hand at Spiel 2010 and possibly even the published game itself if the stars align properly...
Description written by W. Eric Martin and used with permission of BoardgameNews.com
Grape growing doesn't sound like a theme that would make for an intense, bring you back again kind of game, but King's Vineyard is all that. The concept is simple and all done with cards. You're growing grapevines, up to five at a time, and you want to have the sweetest, most colorful vineyard you can get. The king comes to visit three times every game, so you want your vineyard to be at its peak when he comes. Problem is, you don't know exactly when that will be. Like I said, the concept is simple, but the management of a vineyard isn't. There's a lot to think about: getting your vines to the optimum length (some can't grow as long as other) keeping them green until the king comes, maximizing bonus possibilites, and more. A surprising amount of strategy goes into the game, but luck plays a part, too, which means that just about anyone who plays has a chance at doing well at this game.
Play moves along quickly--a game can be completed in 30-45 minutes or so--and it's a pleasure to look at while you're playing. The sturdy cards are so beautifully illustrated you might want to eat them. But don't. You'll want to play this game again.
The only flaw I can see in this game is that the person placing the king cards in the deck might have a tiny advantage over the other players. Directions are given for roughly where to put them, but you still want a bit of randomness.
One more note: our family had the chance to play this game at a launch with the game designers (I'd never met them before and haven't seen them again so know that this review is totally neutral) and were told that we could play this game with five people. Instead of putting three kings in the deck, you can put just two. That way, each player has enough time to grow his or her vineyard before the king comes. We've played that way with five and it works well.
I'd buy this game again in a minute.