From amid the massive pile of indie games I get asked to cover, Terroir – a winemaking tycoon game – stands alone in its style, approach and overall appeal. While not exactly groundbreaking – I’ve played my share of tycoon games – I can safely say I’ve never played a game quite like this. General Interactive Co. seems to have accomplished what few developers can: They’ve made a premiere title that is both polished and thoroughly enjoyable.

First look at Terroir

In Terroir, players manage their own wine estate. They are in control of the entire winemaking process, from choosing the grape, to choosing the bottle, to choosing the distributors. The challenge comes from carefully tending vines and budgets in the face of random, realistic weather patterned after France’s Bordeaux region. Players trim their vines to balance fungal rot (too much foliage+too much rain) and overexposure (too much sun+not enough foliage) to make optimally-ripened grapes and perfectly-balanced wines.

After harvesting the grapes, the player’s wine is rated for a number of values, including sweetness, acidity and tannin levels. The choices the player makes during crushing, pressing, fermentation and ageing will influence the wine’s character and it is up to the player to find the perfect balance. While this sounds very complicated, the game includes short explanations for each step of the process.

As the player continues to produce quality wines year after year, the chateau’s renown rises, and they can demand higher and higher bottle prices. As funds add up, players can upgrade their chateau, buy new equipment, hire help and of course, buy more land for planting more grapes.

Land tiles come in a variety of types. Loam is the typical tile for planting grapes, but sandy and clay tiles exist as well. As do lake and forest tiles, which provide various benefits to adjacent vines.

Graphics

Terroir's hex-style

Land tiles are represented as low-poly hexes, stylishly rendered.

Land in Terroir exists in the form of hexagons with stylish low-poly 3D graphics. Real-time lighting creates robust shadows and the change of seasons brings clouds, rain, snow and falling leaves. All of this is accomplished in a way that is artful and restrained, yet still makes the game board feel fully populated. It also should run very well on low-end machines.

Throughout the game, players can buy cheap little decorations to add to their grounds. Picnic benches, bonfires, canoes and rustic wine equipment don’t seem to impact gameplay, but they look nice and give the player another way to make their vineyard their own. Their low cost allows players to tinker and get the chateau’s rustic appearance just right.v

Gameplay

stylish rendering of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

Different grapes each come with their own quirks and challenges

While the controls are easy and intuitive, some in-game tooltips would be helpful. I played several hours before I realized the purpose of the shears and wondered why every crop was overcome with fungal rot (keep ‘em trimmed!) However, once I learned the winemaking process I was able to enjoy the game more fully.

The years go by relatively quickly, and there’s a double-speed option that makes them go even faster. Just so, players still have time between harvests (December through March) to tinker with their property, buy decorations and make decisions about land purchases and upgrades.

Each year, players get a financial report to see where their money went. This was handy, but I found myself wishing for more financial information. Through the months, my funds would trickle away – often faster than I thought they should. But I couldn’t find a real-time accounting tool. If you want to know how many bottles your vendors have in stock, you must go to the selling menu to do it. Real-time accounting info would help players feel more in control

The biggest frustration came from miscalculating the cost of bottling and finding myself a few dollars short of being able to bottle a particularly big harvest. The game doesn’t offer a way to bottle just part of a harvest. It’s all or nothing. So if you’re too broke to bottle and entire batch, you lose. An option to discard part or bottle part of your batch would ease this.

Challenge

Terroir doesn’t seem to be too difficult. Casual players should have plenty of fun watching their vineyards grow. More demanding players can challenge themselves to grow faster or try new grapes and tiles.

A full game goes through one hundred years of winemaking. Players can continue beyond that, but it won’t contribute to their final score.

Casual players and competitive ones should each have a good time in Terroir.

Conclusion

Like any good tycoon game, Terroir left me feeling entertained, a little smarter, and with a greater appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes at a vineyard. I can recommend this and I’ll go ahead and recommend whatever General Interactive does next. These folks really seem to have their heads in the game. Pun intended. Too many devs put out a game before it is ready and – even though Terroir is still in Early Release – it offers a fun and fully-playable experience for the wine-minded gamer. Cheers!