Disclosure: I conduct freelance proofreading work for Stonemaier Games, so instead of a traditional review, I have assessed Viticulture’s components and shared my modifications so more colorblind gamers will be able to play.
Viticulture is designed by Jamey Stegmaier, Alan Stone, and Morten Monrad Pedersen, with art by Jacqui Davis, David Montgomery, and Beth Sobel. It is published by Stonemaier Games and plays 1-6 in 45-90 minutes.
Viticulture is a traditional worker placement game that puts players in the roles of Italian vintners who have inherited vineyards they must grow into a successful winery. It was first released in 2013, followed by subsequent expansions and the 2015 Essential Edition. My assessment below is based on Viticulture: Essential Edition and the Viticulture Tuscany: Essential Edition expansion that extends gameplay from two to four “active seasons,” introduces special workers, and adds an area control element for additional scoring.
Colorblind and Low-Vision Accessibility
Following is a breakdown of Viticulture’s components, which vary widely in color vision accessibility. And though I am not low-vision, I will also attempt to identify needs that may affect low-vision players.
Game Board and Tableau
Game Board. The primary board for Viticulture: Tuscany is organized in four columns: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Each has several locations with one or more available worker spaces based on player count. The different spaces’ seasonal colors are faded and semi-transparent, which resulted in me having some trouble differentiating. However, since they line up vertically and don’t interact with each other, I did not find this a barrier to gameplay. I did struggle with the card-draw icons on the board, but more on that later.
Tableau. On each personal tableau, the top area holds different meeples in that player’s color. In this example, there are small white icons referring to the items. The icons differ in color on the other players’ tableaus. I’ve used the “wrong color” tableau before (especially when playing solo) and not noticed until partway through, but it does not affect gameplay.1
At the bottom of the tableau, grapes and wine are signified by glass beads on the crush pads and cellars. Viticulture cleverly uses the same glass beads for all grapes and wine, letting the icons underneath denote the differences as follows:
- Grapes. The grapes are only distinguished by color, but red grapes are represented by light text on a dark background and white grapes are the opposite, so they are easy to tell apart.
- Wine. The different wine types (red, white, rose, and sparkling) are identified by both color and shape, making it easy to distinguish them from each other.
Font size on the player board is large enough for most players to read, but some of the text-on-background is low contrast and could’ve used a drop shadow or outline. That said, the tableau meets the gold standard for color vision accessibility – a greyscale version would be playable.
The Lira currency tokens are excellent for visual accessibility. They are larger than most board game currency, and the denominations are triple-coded by number, color, and size.
The importance of player color in board games varies based on the use of those pieces. Sometimes it is vital to know exactly which other players’ components are on the board, and other times it is not.
I find it most important in Viticulture to distinguish “my workers” from “not my workers,” but not as necessary to know which of the other meeples are on a location. Deeper strategic play could include this knowledge, though, because most information is open to all players.
White and yellow player colors are always my favorite, because they stand out from the others and from the game board. Orange was a better choice than red to help me avoid the red/green issue. At my table, any game of 1-4 players will have a clear set of easily-distinguishable player colors. But at 5 and 6 player counts I will probably have trouble with blue, purple, or green, depending on lighting conditions.
For low-vision players, three of the pieces are very similar to each other: Medium Cellar, Large Cellar, and Cottage. While using the “wrong” piece does not have gameplay ramifications, their similarities can cause confusion and slow down the game.
Cards and Card Icons
The Viticulture cards and associated icons will be the most problematic elements for most colorblind and low-vision gamers. Colors on the cards and game board are used as follows:
- Green: Planting
- Yellow: Summer Visitor
- Blue: Winter Visitor
- Purple: Fill Wine Order
- Orange: Build Structure
The card backs have unique designs that make it easy to distinguish them from each other, draw the card from the right stack, and discard it to the right place.
My biggest visual hurdle with Viticulture is the iconography used for playing or drawing one of the five card colors (and a sixth grey icon used as “wild”). Most often these icons use only color to differentiate, and I confuse them regularly – most notably blue/purple, purple/grey, and yellow/orange.
Wake Up Track and Tuscany Map. Similar to some cards, the Wake Up Track and Tuscany Map on the main game board use the same color-only icons for drawing cards.
Automa Solo Mode Cards. Viticulture’s solo Automa (designed by Morten Monrad Pedersen) uses a deck of cards and a set of workers to replicate an opposing wine maker, listing the actions that player will take in a given season.
While the same issues are present regarding card icons, the other color-based information is easier to work around. The seasons themselves are identified by color alone, but they are also always shown in the order of play (Top to bottom: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), even if every season is not included on that card (see examples below). Using that consistent relative placement (like a traffic signal on the street) and my ability to mostly-distinguish the colors, I’ve been able to navigate solo play without a problem.
I have modified my copy of Viticulture: Essential Edition and Tuscany: Essential Edition to address my particular color vision needs. I started with the following principles:
- Clarity. My purpose is to modify a game so I can play it without asking for color-identification help.
- Minimum Effective Dose. My favorite double-coding is subtle, providing all the information needed for colorblind/low-vision players while minimizing potential distractions for others (see Mariposas and The Isle of Cats for two awesome off-the-shelf examples).
- Inexpensive. I like to use free and cheap solutions to accessibility problems whenever possible, both for my own use and to make it easy for readers to replicate.
Assessment and Planning
I started by assessing which color combinations are the most problematic, and then determining what markings I’ll use to modify.
- Color combos: Yellow/orange, blue/purple, and grey/purple.
- Components: Board, cards, and meeples.
- Coding: Add a dot to purple components, a vertical line to green ones, and an open triangle to orange items. In order to keep things as clean as possible, I did not mark blue, grey, or yellow items.
The game boards include several color-based icons that needed markings to distinguish them from on another. I applied the dots, lines, and triangles as appropriate.
Many of the cards did not include problematic colors, so I separated out only those cards that needed modification, including the pink starting cards and Automa cards.
The pink “Mama” cards used during setup include a starting hand of green, yellow, blue, and/or purple cards, so adding these same markings helps colorblind players draw the right cards.
I made similar markings to the other cards, too. On the small cards, the size of the icons made it difficult to modify the icons themselves, so instead I marked the bottom of each card, lined up with each relevant icon.
Note that context clues such as “Plant” and “Fill” (see the Automa card below) are sufficient to determine the color of the card (only green cards are planted and only purple cards fill orders). However, for the sake of consistency I decided to mark every green, purple, and orange icon regardless of context.
Even though the meeple colors don’t have the same meaning (for example, the green meeples aren’t only used to plant vines), I still used the same coding to mark the green, purple, and orange meeples to maintain consistency for myself. Others might try something different.
Meeple modification provides an easier-to-distinguish group of player pieces, as shown here with the Grande Workers.
Viticulture is a worker placement game I’ve enjoyed for years, but my color vision deficiency has limited how much I’ve played it. I think I’ll get my now-modified version to the table more often, and I hope this assessment and example mod will encourage others to play Viticulture, too!
1 Confession: I re-shot this photo after playing an entire game using white components on the green tableau. 🙂
Top photo: Stonemaier Games. All other photos: Brian Chandler