Ulrich Blum


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Sometimes the big studios of Hollywood stumble upon a rather interesting scenario for a new movie, only to discover that another studio is doing a rather similar film at the same time. However, such a phenomenon is not limited to the world of movies - it may also happen in the world of boardgames. And so, not less than four different games focusing on the cultivation and bottling of wine were announced to be presented at the SPIEL '10 convention. One game which had not made it because of some last minute production delay was Vinhos by Vital Lacerda, but fortunately for EGGERTSPIELE Grand Cru was ready to be presented and sold at the SPIEL '10.

Although the topic is not totally new (I remember at least one GOLDSIEBER game which had something to do with wine), I nonetheless wanted to join in for a tasting, and so I decided to have a look at Grand Cru since EGGERTSPIELE is rather well known for their lavishly equipped strategy games. Thus, it was no question for me that I would give their interesting looking game a closer examination.

In Grand Cru, each of the players receives his own newcomer vineyard, and as it is common with a new startup-business, the players have to start with a few bank loans which they need to get their business going. It is up to each player how many loans he wants to take out at the beginning of the game, and for each loan a player will receive 7 Francs for his cash box. During the course of the game the players will strive to pay their loans back, and the game ends in the round in which the first player succeeds in paying back his last open loan. Then the value of the vineyards and equipment of all players will be evaluated, remaining loans are substracted, and the most wealthy player will have won the game.

Each round/year of the game starts with the revealing of new vineyard tiles, and these tiles may show either grape-vine or equipment which might be added to a player's vineyard. All new vineyard tiles are openly revealed, and in their turns the players have a chance to make a bid in order to acquire one of these tiles. However, Grand Cru actually works with a somewhat uncommon auctioning mechanism, since an auction is not solved all at once, but instead the placing of an auction bid may be chosen as an action for a player's turn.

During their turn, the players may perform one action out of a broader choice of actions. As indicated, one of these actions may be to put one of the vineyard tiles for auction by placing it at a free auction slot on the gameboard and marking the amount of Francs bid for that tile. However, in order to win this auction the player will need to wait until his next turn, and the vineyard tile only may be taken (another action) if no other player has placed a higher bid on the same tile (another action). Faster and more certain is a direct purchase, but it costs a player the full amount of seven Francs to make such a direct purchase.

When a grape-vine is purchased, the player adds it to his own vineyard display, placing a properly coloured wine-cube on the tile. All grape-vine tiles of the players receive a new wine-cube at the beginning of each round/year of play - but only if the wine-cube from the previous year has been used, since each grape-vine can only hold a maximum of one cube. Wine-cubes may be harvested, and if a player decides to use his turn for a harvest action he may take one of the wine-cubes from one of his grape-vine tiles and place it into the first barrel in his wine cellar. In that barrel all the wine harvested with multiple harvest actions during the same year will be stored for ripening, and at the end of each year all wine cubes in the cellar will be moved forwards for one barrel to simulate the ripening process.

Depending on the sort of the wine (5 different sorts exist in the game), the process for the wine to become ready for sale may take a few years, and when the wine is ready the players can chose another action during their turn - selling wine. With this action all cubes of the same wine sort from one barrel can be sold for a price indicated by the wine market chart on the gameboard. The player will receive the indicated amount of Francs for the wine, and afterwards the price of the wine is lowered for one step. However, a player also may use his turn's action to increase the price of one wine on the wine market chart by one step, thus getting a higher sales price for one of the following turns. On a sideline, it should be noted here that all sold wine cubes are not directly returned to the stockpile, but instead each player places the sold cubes within his own holding area on the main gameboard. Here the cubes are visible for everybody, and the number of wine-cubes sold will have an impact on the player's positioning for the endphase of each year/round - the annual wine festival.

However, before the wine festival can take place, all players have to finish their actions. As indicated, the players take alternate turns with each player performing only one action per turn. A minimum of four actions is guaranteed for each player, but there is a high chance that a player will not be able to do everything necessary with just four actions. Thus, the action-phase continues until either all but one player have declined to perform any more actions for this year, or until one player has harvested his last wine-cube from his grape-vines. Either way, both of these events lead to an end of the action phase, with the remaining active player(s) only getting one more action before the phase is over. This mechanism puts an immense amount of pressure on the players to keep their wineyards organised and to work economically with their actions, since otherwise a fast player might bring a forced ending upon players with longer, inefficient production chains. Although this kind of player interaction is still indirect in a technical sense, it keeps the players strongly focused on the other players' actions, since there will be a lot of speculation whether a player might count on getting some more actions, or whether a nasty competitor with a streamlined production might bring an abrupt, painful end to all further actions for this year.

A possibility to work economically certainly is the planting of several grape-vines of the same wine-sort, since all cubes of the same colour from the same barrel may be sold from the cellar with just one selling action. However, while this certainly makes the whole business more profitable, the wine festival at the end of each year awards players who take the risk to invest in more than one type of grape-wine. As said earlier, all sold wine-cubes from a year are put into a player's holding area, and for the wine festival the player's need to check which player has sold most cubes of each of the five different sorts of wine. The players who have sold most cubes for each kind of wine receive an amount of prestige points, and when all five wine sorts were checked the wine-cubes from the holding areas are finally discarded. However, the players' actions are not really over, since the prestige points awarded at the wine festival can be turned in by the players for special actions - either directly after the wine festival or following a wine festival of a later year. The prestige points give the players access to a range of special actions like an additional grape harvest action or a wine selling action, the selling of a primeur (wine has not yet reached its full ripening), the sale of all grapes remaining on the grape-vine as grape-juice (cheap, but better than wasting the wine-cubes), changing of wine prices or even getting some additional Francs. Here the competition is high, since each action available for prestige points only will be available to one player each year!

Talking about special actions, we had not yet examined the vineyard tiles showing equipment which also are available for auctioning or a direct purchase. Just like grape-vine, a purchased equipment tile is also added to a player's vineyard, and each equipment tile may be used once a year for a special effect. Some of these tiles can be used to enhance the efficiency of a player action (selling more wine from the cellar, harvesting two cubes instead of one etc.), or they might actually give the player access to a new kind of action (e.g. the refinement equipment allows a player to move all cubes of one wine sort from one barrel in the cellar to the next barrel, thus bringing the wine faster towards its ripening point). In comparison to the special actions available from the prestige points, the equipment tiles have the advantage that they may be used each year after they have been purchased, but although the range of actions is somewhat comparable there are some actions which can only be triggered through equipment or prestige. So, you can only become the new start player through the use of prestige, whereas the assemblage (exchanging different kinds of wine cubes) only can be found as an equipment tile.

On first sight Grand Cru compares to quite a few other build-and-development games on the market, since each of the players is concerned with the building and management of his own vineyard. New grape-vine and equipment is acquired through auctions, and everybody strives to purchase the vineyard-tiles which are fitting best into his current strategy. However, as mentioned earlier, Grand Cru offers a higher degree of direct and indirect player interaction, since the competition between the players is fired especially through the varied number of actions available each turn. A player who finishes his harvesting quickly can exert pressure on his competitors, and this leads to all players taking a lively interest in the actions and possible moves of the competition. You actually try to second-guess the other players' actions in order to plan your own turn, and this is done at a very high degree which is uncommon to many other build-and-development games.

In addition, Grand Cru offers some twists and tweaks which incorporate the management of a vineyard quite elegantly, and as examples both the ripening process of the harvested wine (the barrels in the cellar) and the annual wine festival can be mentioned. While the delayed usage of acquired goods is not new (games like Macao or The Circle use a mechanism of delayed availability), the annual shifting of wine cubes from barrel to barrel is both thematically coherent and strategically challenging. The wine festival on the other hand awards players taking risks by investing into different sorts of wine, and in addition the prestige points acquired at the festival offer yet another means of strategic planning, since they must not be used in the same turn but instead can be saved for a grand coup at a later time. Thus Grand Cru makes high demands on the players' timing abilities, but it is especially this challenge which makes the game rather enjoyable!

[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search

Impressum / Contact Info / Disclaimer


Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany