I don’t often talk about tycoon games, but that’s largely because of a lack of time rather than a lack of interest. Certainly I enjoy the odd strategy game here and there even if I’m not the best at them, and that’s what a tycoon game really is: a strategy game where your enemy is capitalism. Let’s mix it up a little today and talk about an unusual take on the tycoon genre with Terroir, a winery simulator where you’re trying to produce some of the best beverages the world has ever tasted.
You’re going to run a winery! Yup, time for spending your days sunning, sipping at your latest vintage and raking in the cash as wine snobs hither and yon buy bottle after bottle, right? Well…not so much. Not even close, actually. Making wine is hard work – and, distressingly, a large part of being successful is entirely out of your hands. Being a successful vintner means working with the weather and making plenty of educated guesses; doing your best even when the world isn’t being kind, in other words.
Wine starts with grapes, of course, and the key to good grapes is ripeness. Achieving a nice, median level of ripeness is your goal when working with grapes, and that depends on the weather and on keeping the vines’ leaf canopies properly trimmed. Underripe grapes may develop fungal rot, overripe grapes may suffer overexposure and in either case you end up with a harvest that could vary wildly from what’s ideal for the kind of wine you’re producing. Managing your vines is one of Terroir’s central gameplay loops and it’s something you’ll come to master over time if you want to get anywhere; there’s more to think about as your winery grows, as well, including dealing with pests and placing your vines in strategically advantageous locations.
Once you’ve harvested your crop, for good or ill, it’s time to complete the rest of the winemaking process. This involves crushing the grapes to produce mash – a combination of juice and grape solids. You’ll ferment that, then press it, then age the results. Each of these processes can be performed in several ways, such as determining how much pressed and free-run juice to use in your mixture or how long to age your wine. Your decisions will have an effect on the final quality of your wine based on measures of Acidity, Sweetness, Tannins and Body.
When you’ve got some wine finished and bottled, it’s time to call for a tasting. You can invite reviewers over to sample your vintage and they’ll give it a review out of five stars based on the wine’s stats; each variety of wine, from chardonnay to the treasured pinot noir, has “ideal” stats that you’re trying to meet. The closer you get to this ideal, the better the resulting score, and high-scoring wines can be sold to distributors for more money that you can use to expand your winery. Early on, you’re working with scrub reviewers who like everything – basically the sommelier version of myself – but as you grow in renown you’re able to invite pickier and more prestigious reviewers whose word is worth more to distributors. You’ll then sell your rated wine, building relationships with distributors if you offer them your finest stock and developing perks as a result.
That’s basically how Terroir goes. As you become more wealthy you’re able to buy more plots of land, grow more vines and types of grapes and expand your chateau. You can also try your luck with Chance and Circumstance cards that can offer a much-needed boost or a much-less-needed malus on your winery; along with this, you can submit your best work for consideration for prestigious wine awards. This is a game about trial and error, improving your stock over time as you learn what works and making the best out of the years when the game’s being nice; much like a real winery, a bad year can prove disastrous. This lack of personal control over many aspects of the game may prove frustrating, but I found it to mean that much more when I was able to finally produce a highly-rated wine and sell it for a pretty penny; that feeling when Diet Swill 2024 finally won a wine award was fantastic.
This is a tycoon game, so you’re probably not coming in looking for amazing graphics and sound. Still, Terroir’s presentation is perfectly workable and does what it needs to do. Graphically, the game aims for a minimalist approach that looks good while still giving you all the information you need, and what sound there is supports the game well enough. The focus here is really on the gameplay and on taking calculated risks to get ahead; a tycoon game doesn’t really need a lot more than that.
If you’re willing to deal with the fact that a large part of winemaking is completely out of your hands, then you’ll probably come to love Terroir. Like wine itself, it’s a bit of an acquired taste, and it can be more than a little bitter at times. Still, creating the perfect vintage is as sweet as the finest port, and it’s that experience that might be just the right flavor for some players.