Terroir is a bit strange in the same way Niche is. Casual in level of engagement and complexity but modeling one specific thing in detail. And difficult. Not in a constant way but through heavy RNG and the potential for quick, complete collapse.
Playing them puts you in a weird state of constant focus and little activity. And just like in Niche the interface hampers your ability to enjoy the game when it eventually gets complicated enough to be interesting.
Should you buy it?
This isn’t a bad game. It’s just not good enough to spend your time on unless you feel a lot of satisfaction from slowly working towards something and then achieving it without much fanfare or game altering evolution. Or if you happen to really like the subject matter. Otherwise I find it lacks body and a strong finish. It’s not a great tycoon, management or simulation game with stretches of boredom and frustration separating bits of satisfaction.
You start with a small estate and a plot of land ready for the first vine. You spend most of your time managing the foliage of your grapes, controlling exposure by pruning the leaves or letting them grow. Too much sun and the grapes over-ripen, not enough and they rot. Then you adjust a few factors in the process of making your wine, bottle and sell.
Manage your crop and production well and your renown as a winemaker increases along with the price of your bottles. Do it consistently and you’ll earn a profit and expand. New land allows increasingly lucrative and difficult to cultivate varieties of grape.
Until you upgrade there isn’t a whole lot to do. Vine maintenance amounts to clicking a button a bit in the early spring. Likewise processing initially lacks options (but makes you select the only choice anyway). Once you figure out the perfect combination to produce 5-star wines the only skill involved is simple math.
It’s one of those games where you don’t have a lot of agency but you have to be on constant alert. Weather is appropriately random and can ruin an entire crop despite your best efforts. Combine that with the thin margins while your brand is unknown and your bottles are selling for a measly $20 and you can go bankrupt as you wait for the next season’s batch to ripen.
Aside from weather there are pests and disease to contend with. The solutions are locked until you get a number of very expensive upgrades or tied to a countdown timer limiting how quickly you can apply them.
On my first playthrough I expanded too fast not realizing fruit flies appear after you get the 3rd tile of land. I spent 10 years with diminished crops and terrible margins because they never went away and I couldn’t gather the hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade my estate, buy an empty plot, build a workman house and finally research pesticides.
Even when I managed to save up enough I still couldn’t upgrade because my renown was below 50 – an amount that takes a long time to build up.
Doesn’t teach about wine
I’m not a wine guy. The drink occupies the same mental space as chamomile – it’s wet and I’ll drink it if it’s in front of me and no one is offering alternatives. But I’ve been on winery tours and spent enough time with wine drinkers to know there are many fascinating intricacies to the craft that Terroir ignores or abstracts. And what it does model is not really accurate. That’s a shame, it could have taught us a great deal about wine. Avoid ridicule and do not share anything you’ve learned at the next dinner party.
My estate eventually grew enough to require constant attention with 3 varieties spread out over 20 plots of land. The UI struggles to keep up and there’s no real excuse for it – the game has been out for months and the issues are obvious.
Aside from playing with leaves most of the time you’ll be managing sales to 4 distributors, feeding them enough good wine to keep them happy so you can dump vast amounts of terrible, expensive swill when you mess up. Once you hit the mid-game you need to check their stocks constantly but to do so you have to click click click to get to the data. Even when the game pops up a helpful icon telling you one of them (which one??) has sold out you can’t click on the icon to get to the market. You have to go the long way.
Or you can hire workers later on to help with foliage management. But their interface is so click heavy and your ability to program them so limited they are worse than manually cutting the leaves yourself. Except you can’t because the ability is on a timer regardless of how big and rich your estate gets. You get a few new abilities but they’re on timers too. It’s annoying that I lose tons of perfect wine because I can’t just increase my workforce despite being a millionaire estate.
Where’s the fun?
With so little modeled and the interface being annoying, the satisfaction comes from producing good wine. When I eventually produced my first 5-star chardonnay I absolutely felt a sense of satisfaction. There are other small victories along the way – getting your first wine award, upgrading the estate, producing massive perfect harvests and selling thousands of bottles.
When the game opens up you do get a sense of craft out of the experience. My final estate had 3 varieties on 3 different soils with very different flavor profiles. It does feel like some sort of expertise to blast the Syrah with sun while keeping the delicate Pinot grapes in leafy shade. Then to process them differently, the pinot relaxing in white barrels until the vanilla notes develop while harvesting the Syrah as late as possible so it can age slightly without losing the high level of tannin it needs.
It doesn’t matter that that’s not really what winemakers do, you feel like one for chunks of time. I’d stay in that nice zone longer if the interface didn’t interrupt my zen every two seconds.
The game is charming and minimalistic and makes you think its friendly. It’s not. I lost my first estate in an instant right as I was starting to enjoy myself.
I bought massive amounts of land to complete a circumstance (you can choose to draw from a monopoly style deck when you produce enough 5-star wines). It put me in the red for a while but I thought I was fine. My renown was massive and I had 3 huge, perfect batches of wine ready for sale. I was sitting on them until they got their awards (and a 10% retail price boost).
I was not in any financial jeopardy. My renown would have allowed me to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars. The game gave no warning, did not automatically request a loan or even give me 24-hours to sell my massive stocks. I was bankrupt and dumped to the starting menu. There I discovered the game had no autosave and the last manual save was 6 hours old.
There were other examples but the most frustrating is the complete lack of knowledge. It’s like you’re the first winemaker in history. Surely your character could look up whether a pinot should be sweeter than a chardonnay or not.
The game’s central challenge – cultivating perfect wines – is delayed for years as you systematically produce variations until the judges like them. And when they don’t, they only give a single clue – “tannin too high”- which makes narrowing down the 3 flavor variables extremely time consuming. I resisted all urges to just look up the information online because I’m reviewing the game but it’s ridiculous not to present the data in the tutorial.
Even more vexing, when you do nail the perfect combination the game gives the wrong critique (“too acidic”) when the real problem is you used a screw top instead of a cork or the wrong colour bottle. Two requirements the game never mentions. I thought the judging had a random element to it until I discovered this by accident many hours into playing. If someone was foolish enough to buy an estate knowing so little I’m sure one of employees would ask for clarification when you told them to put a $100 pinot in a bright green bottle.
The Score – 65
I kept mentally hovering between low 60’s and low 70’s. It’s not a big spread but 70 should appeal to anyone who likes the overall genre. Once my estate got big I was juggling tasks and it was interesting enough to earn cross the threshold . I was glad I started another estate after the first unfair failure. And I looked forward to playing again. My last pinot earned 4.5 stars. I finally knew the exact formula and weather permitting my next batch was going to win awards.
The interface crushed my bliss. There’s probably a sweet spot with 9 plots of land producing 3 varieties. That’s roughly where things are manageable and you’re not hamstrung by the arbitrary cooldowns on workers. But I have huge profits coming in and it feels wrong not to expand accordingly.
The tedium of constantly checking suppliers, my tavern stocks and pruning the leaves made further progress too slow for fun. I was happy to stop once I researched everything, produced consistently good wines and had $1mil in the bank. It’s an ok game that might be more exciting if you’re a connoisseur (of wines not games). 65.