Spend enough time with a winemaker and they will inevitably let slip that winemaking is an art. This isn’t necessarily false, but it is kind of a half-truth; in reality, winemaking is the art of mathematics. This is particularly handy when building a video game based around crafting the perfect drop.
Balancing the dozens of factors that go into the creation of any given vintage—even those completely out of the winemaker’s control—takes time, knowledge, and more than a little luck. That’s why every bottle you taste, even from the same vineyard, is slightly different.
Balancing these equations is Hundred Days’—the new winemaking management game from Broken Arms Games—greatest strength. Unfortunately, it is also its greatest weakness.
Hundred Days bills itself as a winemaking simulator, an escapist fantasy in line with the tone of Stardew Valley. Opening up in a drab, cubicle laden office space, a letter from a long lost relative bestows upon you a life changing inheritance. You’re whisked off to a small Italian town, a dilapidated vineyard and a tidy sum of cash waiting for you to begin your viniculture adventure.
You may expect to spend your time managing rows of vines and balancing tank space, but Hundred Days abstracts play out to a more approachable format. In the center of your land lies an expandable 3×3 board, while in your hand sits a variety of cards that can be played in this area. Each card rests in this area for a set number of turns before completing the required task. An in-game year is measured by 20 turns, or 5 per season.
Take the card for fermentation, the process of converting grape sugar to alcohol, as an example. The fermentation card appears in your hand after you have completed the pressing process (squeezing the juice from the grapes). Fermentation takes time to complete—say, 2 or 3 turns depending on the variety and ABV of the wine you’re about to produce. Place the fermentation card down on the board, wait a few turns, then viola – you’ve created wine.
Of course there’s many more steps on the road from grape to bottle, so balancing out work needing to be done and when – alongside placement of cards on the board so they fit together nicely – forms the basis of your strategy. The abstraction with this mechanic helps keep things simple without forcing you to fully understand every minor detail behind wine creation, giving you time to absorb the finer points without hitting a fail state.
It’s an elegant solution that works incredibly well. It’s a soft approach, designed as a relaxing rather than tense experience. In a pre-release interview over on Eurogamer, lead designer Yves Hohler speaks on how he didn’t just want to create a game about making wine, but aimed to also teach players about the process at the same time.
The learning curve is incredibly gentle, intuitive and rewarding all at once. It isn’t necessary to learn the optimal acid/pH balance of the soil or the ideal amount of sugar to leave unfermented in your wine. If you are interested in that detail however, it is all there in the raw numbers—alongside easier to parse translations of information, such as a 10-point scale measuring each major contributing factor that forms the basis of each variety.
It takes a ton of work creating even the most terrible wine, let alone something people want to drink! I’ve spent the better part of almost 15 years in the wine industry and even still, I was pretty vague on the steps between “blank slate of land” and “grapes sent to the crusher” before booting up Hundred Days. Within the first hour or two, thanks to the handful of characters helping you start your winemaking journey in the game’s Story Mode, that blank space was filled in better than any explanation from my manager ever was.
As far as story modes go in management games, Hundred Days’ isn’t necessarily going to win any prestigious narrative awards. Characters are more thin stereotypes than people with real motivations, whose sole purpose is to teach you the ways of the trade. The entire story arc boils down to a narrative wrap over a tutorial, a function to ease you through the basics of creating and selling your first few vintages of Barbera and Chardonnay. Still, it has its charm, while simultaneously setting a homely, welcoming tone.
It’s an achingly familiar story. Protagonist Emma is the newcomer to these parts—fresh from the city, barely knowing the difference between a white and a red. She’s brash and snarky, quick to sarcastically snap back at the genuinely wholesome Teo and the curmudgeonly oenologist Gianni. She’s from the city, and she’s going to make sure you know that.
Rapport is quickly built however, each of the characters lovable in their own ways. The villain of the story is revealed, and the game is set: the established traditionalists don’t like you – the audacity you have at the idea that you can just come from nowhere and start making wine! – and they’re willing to slander you to get what they want. It falls to you and your ragtag collection of newfound idealist friends to prove you can be just as good as them, if not better, by caring about the wine. Not like those suits who only lust after money and power.
That might come off as a little facetious, but I mean it earnestly. Who among us doesn’t derive joy from anti-corporate sentiment? It’s simple, but it adds a little low-stakes drama to the proceedings. A nudge toward caring less about the incoming and outgoing of cash, and more about creating a good bottle of wine that people can genuinely enjoy.
These initial hours spent learning the ropes are easily Hundred Days’ strongest. Aligning with the coziness of the banter and small town intrigue, the little animations of the cards you place down never fail to delight, as upbeat strings play jubilantly in the background. Even the menus are a joy to navigate—clicks have a satisfying pop to them, with a pleasing flutter accompanying every page turn of your journal.
The detail in the finer points won’t mean much to most players, but it’s impressive the lengths Broken Arm Games go to provide an accurate portrayal of the realities of winemaking. Even having spent many a shift as a literal label watcher on a wine production line—not the most glamorous job, but hey, it paid the bills—I still caught myself mesmerized by the tiny bottles making their way through the filler, corker, and labeller in Hundred Days.
The little centrifugal pumps set up next to the tanks during malolactic fermentation (wines undergoing this process need to be mixed periodically via pumping the liquid out and around the tank, ensuring an even ferment) were a personal favorite.
Once your first vintage is complete and you’ve bottled, capped and labeled your 2021 Barbera, you’ll need to spend a little time each turn selling your baby to eager customers through the wine orders menu.
They only appear as portraits next to the number of bottles they wish to buy, but I quickly became accustomed to those who returned for more of my beloved first drop. The disinterested red-head man who’d pick up over two dozen bottles every purchase; the dark haired lady with a slight smirk, who would only buy a bottle or two at a time. Unfortunately, making wine costs money—cash needs to roll back in somehow. These customers keep your business afloat. With a bit of luck and business acumen on your part, they’ll also help you expand it.
A treasure trove of upgrade trees abounds for various technologies, centered around your winery, warehouse and tool shed. By the time you finish up the story mode, you’ll barely have scratched the surface of what’s available. With maybe two of nine vineyards, a few board extensions and a few basic upgrades under your belt, there’s a wealth of expansion yet to be had.
Six different grape varieties. Different tractors built for different purposes. Various yeast strains, casks, tanks. A commercial office and shopfront, opening up new marketing opportunities, alternative income streams and, importantly, new customer bases.
Without giving away too many finer plot points, a body known as The Consortium sits as the power of the region. The head of this collective, Filippo, is far from a lover of viniculture. No, he is a businessman through and through—solely concerned with cornering the market, maintaining a tight grip over profit margins and will happily bend the rules to stay ahead.
During my career within the Australian industry, I worked across a spectrum of different companies—a business with multiple facilities all under one brand, a contract bottler, a local winery with a small cellar door for wine tasting. Each came with lessons about business, what it means to be a part of a larger industry, and what matters most to those with varying degrees of influence.
Being the budding young up-and-comer that I once was at one place of employment, I had negotiated my way into a good position with a decent salary, particularly for my age. Doing the thing that’s expected, I went to a superior and tried to talk about career advancement—I’d pushed to prove I was a model worker, management worthy.
Around the same time, I’d unknowingly committed a cardinal sin of business—pushed for underpaid workers to be compensated fairly. If you guessed I was essentially laughed out of the room when discussing my long term prospects at the company, you hit the nail on the head. Proper wages means less for the bottom line—not the type of person you want having any kind of managerial power in your ranks.
Much like the rest of the characters in Hundred Days’ too short story mode, Filippo is somewhat of a caricature – the boogeyman of Big Business Interests in the industry, diametrically opposed to the idea of making good wine. It’s all profit, zero heart. Yes, it might be stereotypical, but in this case and from my experience, that idea doesn’t come from nowhere.
Once large enough, profit drives business strategy, while the idea of creating the best product withers. We already know this to be true of all sorts of businesses worldwide; the wine industry is most definitely not immune. And while the initial hours of Hundred Days promote a healthier alternative… neither are you.
Post-story, you’re unleashed upon the world with your basic knowledge, free to make wine as you see fit. This is a video game; the systems are there, now is the time to explore them in full.
In typical management game fashion, a few of the upgrades help smooth over some of the busywork you’ve spent a lot of time doing thus far. The aforementioned shop handles the sale of wine to customers for you; employees can be hired to take care of the vineyards. This is particularly handy when you’re juggling a few more plots with multiple wine varieties—you are here to make wine, after all. The before and after are simply less important.
The thing about growth, however, is that the higher-up your perspective and scale gets, the less the details seem to matter. You can micromanage your employees, but you’re much more likely to set and forget, resulting in less-than-stellar harvests. You’ll compensate for this with new technologies—terracing the land for a better slope, or installing an automatic irrigation system to deter the effects of drought.
But those upgrades… there’s a lot of them. And they cost a lot of money. If you’re ever going to get there, you need to start optimizing. Producing award winning wines? Why do that when you could maximize yield at the cost of quality, which you can offset using technology, in order to create a minimum viable product (all while increasing profit margins year on year)?
By the later stages, the loop of wine creation, raking in profit, then purchasing upgrades to make more wine had begun to feel tiresome. I’d lost track of the sales tab, so took a break to check in.
Instead of the return customers I’d come to recognize from the early game, what I found in their place was a long list of faceless brokers—middlemen purchasing in bulk from me in order to make their own tidy profits. At the volume of wine I’d been producing, it made more sense to sell to them—I needed to sell through my stock to keep the cash flowing in.
It was then that I realized I had stopped paying attention to the wonderful animations. The lovely music was muted. I was expanding for the sake of expansion. It felt… lackluster. Like the soul of the game had been left on the vine; its heart and mine long forgotten to barrels of history.
I glanced up at the in-game date, surprised to find that it read “2042”. Several decades had passed since I’d spoken to any of the people who were there with me in the beginning. I’d focused so much on the business that I’d forgotten why I wanted to make wine in the first place.
In the final stages of my time with Hundred Days, I begin encountering the odd bug here and there. Nothing too game breaking, things I could mostly work around. Until I hit one particular snag.
My latest batches of Arneis and Barbera were ready for fermentation, but when I placed the tiles down on my board, the customization menu for how long they were to spend fermenting never materialized. As a result, instead of being on the board for 2 or 3 turns, the tiles simply read, “Turn Variable”.
Saving and reloading my game, I jumped back in to see if the glitch was fixed. In one way, it had. It would now be 2,147,483,646 turns before my wines would be ready. It was entirely unintentional, but it truly felt like the game was screaming at me for so distinctly losing my way.
I’m sure it isn’t deliberate, but it’s impossible to ignore the dichotomy between the joy of the early game versus the monotony of the latter. It’s the age old warning: learn to be better, lest you become one of us. The numbers mattered insofar as using them to create the best wine I could—abusing them left me fatigued, desensitized and alone.
As an accidental commentary on the joyless existence of big business, it turns out Hundred Days has a good acidity.