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.
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.
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.
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