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Sep 21, 2011

Be a Purple Nosed Tycoon

Wine Tycoon
Game Category: Simulation
Developer / Distributor: Virtual Playground / Got Game Entertainment
Release Date: 14 Aug 2009
Rating: ESRB - Everyone

Oh no, another Tycoon game!

Yes folks, there are so many tycoon games out there that it was inevitable that I review another one again. My last review of a tycoon game was Shrine Circus Tycoon - that was a budget title that did not receive much attention. And since I tend to like giving the underdog a chance, here I am once again with another similar type of game.

Wine Tycoon was released two years ago by Virtual Playground and Got Game Entertainment. It features a highly interesting and unique subject that is seldom heard of in the gaming circles - wine making. Now, don't go thinking that you got to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy this game; the references to alcoholism may be obvious, but the game tends to be more of a business simulation than anything else. With 10 famous wine regions provided in the game, you should find enough to keep you occupied for a while here.

I ain't a vintner nor do I have a purple nose for wine, but Wine Tycoon has certainly taught me some interesting things about the subject. Now just sit back, sip your wine, and enjoy the review.

Here, have a glass of French cabernet sauvignon wine
Game Play
The main menu presents an entrée - the Encyclopaedia, and two main courses known as Career Mode and Freeplay Mode. The former is just a simple encyclopaedic list of close to 80 wine related terms or locations. While the latter two modes will bring you into the main simulation engine.

Since the developers of the game are from Europe, they have chosen to feature the best wines from ten regions of France. They are: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Jura and Savoie, Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence, Southwest France, The Loire Valley, and The Rhône Valley. Both career and freeplay modes take you through the same ten regions, but career mode has very specific objectives while you are free to do anything during free play.

Encyclopaedic entries range from Alcohol to Woody
Career mode objectives include either making a huge bundle of cash or manufacturing thousands of bottles of wine. Coupled with these two broad objectives are hints that direct you to the crux of the problem - there may be indications of poor staffing problems, neglected equipment, fallow fields, and so on. Read the objectives carefully before you proceed to play, that's because you can't see your objectives while playing the region. Let me know if there's a hotkey for that, because the HTML user manual is inadequate.

The game allows you to grow a variety of grapes including Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gamay, Gewürztraminer, Grenache, Muscat, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Savagnin, Sémillon, Trousseau, and many more. From such a wide selection, you will be able to produce close to 45 different types of red and white wines.

Beginning the second region
You begin every region in Spring 2009. The first thing you will always see is a tutorial window. If it's your first time playing Wine Tycoon, I recommend you play through it. The tutorial teaches you to navigate the 3D world, how to quickly zoom in to look at your fields, and how to enter a building. Immediately after that, the tutorial seems to go dormant. Actually, the tutorial immediately continues when you start exploring the menu found at the bottom of the screen.

From bottom left to right, you can see the following menu buttons:
  • The Build button - this is where you can build the five important buildings in the game. They are the Farm Building, the Sorting Building, the Fermentation Building, the Bottling Plant, and the Storage Building. These are shown by the five icons found in the bottom centre of the screen shot below.
  • The Blending button is where you customize the type of wine you wish to produce.
  • At the far right are the Market and Stock buttons where you can check the current demands and the status of your wine making production process respectively.
  • The Exit button is shown as deselected in the screen shot. It is used to exit a building.
  • Finally, there's the Look button to centre the view over a field in your estate.

Constructing the first four important buildings
Once you click on the five important buildings, you are immediately brought inside and shown a top-down view. This is where you buy equipment for your buildings. Don't forget that your purchased equipment need to be maintained in tip-top condition from time to time.

Here's what you can buy:
  • The Farm Building is able to house a vintner tool panel, and a herbicide, pesticide, or fertilizer wagon. If you don't have these, you won't be able to deal with pests, weeds, and other hazards.
  • The Sorting Building is where you can purchase a Sorter and a Press. The sorter is the device used to remove MOGs (material other than grapes) while the press is used to extract grape juice. There are several different types of sorters and presses you can buy.
  • The Fermentation Building is where you install low-tech fermentation vats or high-tech fermenters. Look at your cash situation and purchase the best value for money.
  • The Bottling Plant self-explanatory - if you have the money, go for the best bottling plant setup.
  • The Storage Building is where you seek to mature your wines by placing them in huge barrels or crates.

The purchases for your Farm Building are compulsory.
Another all important aspect of Wine Tycoon is the Blender button. The game freezes when you enter this screen. First, you must select the type of regional wine you wish to produce. Next, you check your grape juice inventory and decide on the quantity of wine you need. You must also decide on whether you want to mature your wine in your Storage Building. Once you are satisfied, you click on the Add button. The last step is to click on Proceed and your workers will start producing your orders.

What shall I make next?
When you are outside roaming your estate, you can select a field and check on it's condition. Let's say the pest infestation level is high, you must then click the treatment button and apply a helping of pesticide. A staff button allows you to decide how many seasonal workers you need while a combo box allows you to select the type of grapes you wish to plant.

There is a similar staff button for the five major buildings. More workers does not necessarily mean better productivity. There is also a sixth building in the game; that would be your Château. A right-click on it will bring up a box that reports your income and expenditure.

How about planting Sauvignon Blanc?
Later on, messages will greet you asking whether you are willing to sell your produced wine. If you answer yes, you will immediately net your first income. You can check the market situation by clicking the Market button to see what the current demand situation is like.

The 3D world looks rather like the landscape I saw when I visited Bordeaux, so at least I can say it looks a bit like the French rural countryside near Saint-Émilion. The textures used for the terrain look reasonable, but the grapes are unrealistic - they look like a 3D pop-up tree made from cardboard. The 3D buildings viewed from the outside look average, no thanks to the blurry wall textures. When you venture inside a building, it is nice to be able to use the Look button to obtain a 3D view of your staff operating the equipment you purchased.

There is a short loop piece of (French?) music that will probably drive you crazy after a minute. Thankfully it can be shut off. This leaves you with only sound effects, which is not very much.

Look at that shiny fermenter - my pride and joy!
  • A rare glimpse of a vintner's life. I am glad that somebody has finally translated wine making into a game.
  • Wine Tycoon is a simulation game that is easy to get into. There are not many complex concepts to concern yourself with here.
  • The game play is adequate considering the subject matter and the fact that it's a business simulation
  • A great number of wines to produce. 
  • Good research by the developers when it comes to the wine regions and the encyclopaedia entries.
Complete a Career region and you get this message
There's almost too many to list, but here goes...
  • The tutorial can't be switched off, so you must manually exit it every time you start a new region. The developers call it "extensive handholding"... at least they could have provided a disable tutorial switch for experienced tycoon players.
  • Managing your vineyard is so dumbed down that you don't need to decide on many other variable factors. To name a few - weather, soil management, proper economics model, and irrigation.
  • There are no competitors to make your life difficult.
  • The equipment choices you are given is pathetic. 
  • Poor menu system that consists of windows opening all over. You can't even move the windows aside.
  • You have to be spot on when manipulating the sliders in the Wine Blending screen.
  • Horrible music - and I mean it sincerely; thank goodness it can be switched off.
  • No clock speed buttons; time flows at one speed only.
  • A mere ten regions and emphasizing on France wine regions only; it's a sad missed opportunity for the rest of the world.
  • I read about the missing save file software bug on another site, but I did not encounter this problem.
  • No Château estate overhead map. Moreover, some of the maps are bigger than the estate grounds - wasted potential.
  • Screams out loud - Budget! 
Don't let your bottled up anger with Wine Tycoon get to you
I can't heartily recommend Wine Tycoon - there's no way I'm giving this underdog a chance. There's so many design problems with the game and the fact that the game play is really quite shallow only hurts the game even further.

You should only consider getting this if you really love the subject (you're purple nosed) or you would like to explore an area that's very different for a change. In that case, add 2 points to the score below. Perhaps you may also consider getting Wine Tycoon to see what not to do when designing games.

It pains me to have to do this, but here's my final score.

Daily PC Game Review Score: 4 / 10
Review Date: 21 Sep 2011


Alexander said...

Interesting review! I can not wait to play it!

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