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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Davidson

Viticulture World and Colonialism: There's No Crying in Board Games!

Viticulture World and Colonialism: There's No Crying in Board Games!

"History is who we are and why the way we are."

Whenever friends, co-workers, well-wishers, or strangers on the street ask me what my "favorite board game of all time" is, my response is entirely scripted—I've taken a page out of Stephen King's playbook as the writer has been asked the same four or five questions for over the past four decades. I've formulated a standard response to questions such as: "What's your favorite game of all time?" My stock answer comes in a set of three: Viticulture, Great Western Trail, and Terraforming Mars. Nine out of ten times, I see their countenance melt; their gaze drops as they reluctantly reply, "I've never heard of any of those."

StoneMaier's Viticulture: Essential Edition (2015) holds a special place in my altruistic yet mostly cynical heart. It introduced me to well-implemented worker placement; the artwork is phenomenal; the multimodal strategies are balanced, viable, and incredibly fun to explore. You see, I had Dungeons & Dragons-themed Lords of Waterdeep (2012) as part of my BGG Stats repertoire, but, unfortunately, the whole game falls flat. Also, I have not touched a game of Dungeons & Dragons since the Reagan administration—so there's that, too. Other worker placement games like Stone Age (2008) or Agricola (2007) were too long to play or didn't offer the same lush experience.

One play and I fell in love with Viticulture like a horny teenager drooling over Wendy Hamelfarb, the too-cool-for-school gorgeous girl who never made an effort to hide her bra-strap while wearing a tank-top on all those steamy summer days. I wanted her. I wanted to touch her. I wanted to sleep with her. And by her, I mean Viticulture. Seriously, the game is that good. Unfortunately, this piece of writing is not a review of Viticulture: Essential Edition. Even worse, I will not discuss the pros and cons of the newly-released expansion, Viticulture World (2022). Instead, I am utilizing them as a jumping-off point for social commentary. For what I am about to tell you, dear friend, is not a game.

------------------- Attention Citizens! Attention Citizens!-------------------

The long, slimy, and poisonous tentacle of the uncanny woke mutant mob has reached into my precious hobby—board games, the last place I would expect woke cancel culture to rear its ugly head. It makes me sad. I run a podcast series titled History & Game. The podcast's theme is to tie many historical people, events, and time periods to board games based on history. As any person with a working brain will tell you, history is full of terrible things. Civilizations conquering civilizations.

The Roman Empire enslaved half the known world for centuries.

Native tribes were fighting other native tribes.

Four long years of Americans shooting the guts out of Americans.

The Holocaust.

The Gulags.

Hamburger Hill.

There is no scholarly prerequisite to knowing about the horrific things in history. Trust me, they are there.

A popular YouTuber released a video a while back where they spent twenty minutes bawling their eyes out over Viticulture World. That's right, friend. A board game. History is unchangeable. And facts don't care about your feelings. Board games should perform their due diligence to edify players about certain aspects of history. But bawling your eyes out and complaining to the internet is futile, shouting into the victimization wind.

I want this blog to remain as tasteful as possible (and it may be too late for that), so I am keeping names and specific issues out. However, for those not privy to the video, the problem (for the YouTuber) circles around putting in Viticulture World, a historical figure known for genocide and exploitive acts. While I agree with the YouTuber that the person should not be presented in a positive light, on the other hand, that line of thinking is a slippery slope. Bad things and evil people happen to make the world what it is today. The world is the sum of its parts—the good and the bad. Sometimes, one must adapt a Machiavellian stance to survive. Not to say that all horrific history is a great thing to be celebrated. But do yourself a favor and take thirty-eight giant steps back and see how very, very, very, very long the world's timeline has become and understand that history cannot be discussed if it is not represented from a historical lens. Presentism and historically based board games do not get along together.

In Tesla vs. Edison: Duel (2017), players take on the role of Thomas Edison, who led a highly unethical and illegal smear campaign against Nikola Tesla. Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery (2007) is about exploring and conquering North America. Tammany Hall (2007) is about the exploitation and wrongful treatment of immigrants during the 1860s. Western Legends (2018) highlights the corrupted and blood-thirsty souls of the American gunslinger such as Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, and Johnny Ringo—which are ALL playable characters. If you or anyone you know has been touched by the sinister and controlling nature of a cult, the game, CULTivate (2021), will perform brilliantly at triggering your sensitive and delicate whiter-than-snow snowflake feelings.

So what's the point? The crass, uncouth point is for everyone to shut up, stop being so damned sensitive about everything, and go back to living their lives. There is no knighthood for social justice warriors who want to eliminate or taint the outcome of history. There are no victory points for those who tear down statues because it makes them feel valid. The more subtle point is that board games are didactic. If they expose us to something or bring up a time in history when people were hurting, we should reflect on them and empathize with their struggles and hurt. Then, and this is very important, move on and talk about the not-so-nice times. Do some research. Share your thoughts and your perspective. Add to the world of knowledge. Educate people that do not share the same background as you. Do not chastise them or their game. You have the right to boycott. You have the right to your feelings. However, in 2022, you do not need to let your subjective reality trigger you into the submission of victimization.


Only when we stop being a victim can we open ourselves to being a victor.

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