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Company: Starbyte
Year: 1991
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Business
Language: Deutsch
Licence: Commercial
Views: 42154
Review by Mr Creosote (2021-06-05)

The Germans and their business simulations, ah, those were the days! By now, there may even be people looking back at those times with rose-tinted nostalgia glasses. No matter how much the professional press may have sneered at most of those games even then, they had their devoted audience. After all, they weren't just made and published out of sheer idealism, were they?

In fact, such games usually draw their main appeal not so much from game mechanics, but rather thematic considerations. Winzer (wine-grower) relies on the kitsch mental imagery of the reddish last rays of the setting sun beaming over the vineyard, making the ripening grapes shine in this very special way. Or at least that may have been the theoretical plan at conception phase.

This is as much as you'll get

Meanwhile, in virtual reality, it all turns out to be a rather dry affair. The (optional) illustrations may sport a high resolution, but they nevertheless lack details and have been drawn without an eye for artistic aesthetics. They are hardly setting the right mood. The menu structure, which could easily have been modelled as a stroll across the vineyard, doesn't exactly improve things with its cursor key controlled text-based lists.

All this throws the player back to the purely mechanical level. This consists of the usual balancing of income versus expenses. The former resulting from sales, the latter comprising of costs for personnel, materials, advertising, machinery and other recurring items.

The winegrowing itself follows a very rigid pattern in-game: exact times for planting, ripening and harvest have to be respect. Otherwise, bancruptcy is just around the corner. The game takes place in monthly turns, making flexible reaction an impossibility. If one month, the stage of maturity is at 70%, for example, you may very well have lost the complete harvest the month after. In reality, you would probably just check daily to see if things take a turn for the bad and react, wouldn't you? Fortunately, the detailed manual states the rules quite explicitly.

The dry reality of accounting

Conversely, this implies that careful reading of the manual almost guarantees success, at least when a modest profit is considered sufficient. For single players, there is therefore hardly any challenge. It could emerge through competition between several wine-growers (up to four), or you could set a goal for yourself.

Which leads us to another facet of the simulation. As strict as the game may enforce following the core activity rules, it nevertheless at least allows some breadth around it. Six different kinds of grapes can be grown, which are differently suited for the different regions. Ten different types of wine can be produced. Watering down or artificially sweetening is possible. The final products can be thrown on the market legally or illegally and sold domestically or internationally. Just that most of this is simply never necessary in the course of the game.

All this again comes down to the question of the design goal. If all this is essentially an end in itself, i.e. it should just be there, but it's not supposed to contribute to the actual gameplay challenge or increase depth, we come back to the initial question of thematic appreciation which unfortunately is not a major motivational factor due to the game's very mechanical nature. If, on the other hand, all this is supposed to be core parts of the game proper, unfortunately the conclusion isn't all that different effectively: it's a big failure, because many of the implemented mechanics are simply useless.

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by Mr Creosote (2000-04-15)

Meanwhile, german game desginers have adapted to their foreign idols and they only produce 3D-Action and Real-Time-Strategy now. That is a pity, because some really innovative german concepts were lost. But the majority of “german” games was pure mass production. Only a few years ago there were games of which you could both graphically and from the content say that they come from Germany. A very typical example for this is Winzer which means wine-grower.

It is a dusty economy simulation about wine-growing. By text menus you get to different places where you can do more or less important things. You should write down important things manually, because you in the screen “overviews” you loose just that. From planting, harvesting and bottling to selling, you have to do everything alone. There are always several ways and possibilities. You can for example let the grapes ripen some more, but (illegal) sugaring has the same effect. Just like that there are different regions, grapes, wines and international markets. So there are a lot of things to decide and try on the first look.

Until you take a look in the manual. There you discover a well sorted table which says which grape sort grows best in which region and how long. That is a kind of solution for the game. If you stick to these preferences and do not take risks (that means, you just produce low-quality wine), you will win in a short time. Most options therefore end in itself. Unfortunately, nobody will begin a second game after completing it once. And even if somebody does, he will not experiment because the game gets really unclear then. You get lost in endless statistics and menus too fast.

Winzer is here just as an example for huge masses of similar economy simulations which were produced by german companies in the early and mid nineties and never reached other countries for a good reason. It is obvious that new funny concepts like Mad TV definately internationally appreciated, while Winzer and his colleagues disappeared fast even in Germany.

The question which are the typically german games today still remains. The way I see todays sales statistics, it is the so-called “build-you-own-community”-games (like The Settlers) that are a kind of successor to the number-driven-simulations. Again, a basically good genre that is cloned to death...

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