Farming, fishing, foraging, and falling in love are just a sampling of the many activities one can partake in when they play the Stardew Valley video game. Whether you choose to do it all or just focus on the activities that suit you’re interests, there’s no shortage of things in the valley to keep you busy.
Now take everything there is to do in the Stardew Valley video game and cram that into a board game. As daunting of a task as that may be, board game designer Cole Medeiros and creator of Stardew Valley Concerned Ape attempted to do with this board game adaptation. While there’s no doubt that the board game pays homage to its source material, quirks in its design hurt it from reaching its full potential as a board game.
Stardew Valley: The Board Game is a cooperative experience designed for 1-4 players. You must work together to complete grandpa’s goals and rebuild the community center within a year in order to stop the corporate Joja Corporation from taking over. Grandpa will leave you four of eight goals to complete, which include activities such as making a certain number of friends, expanding the farm, catching legendary fish, and delving to the bottom of the mines, among others. Rebuilding the community center will involve players completing resource bundles, just like the video game.
Based on the game’s default ruleset, you’ve got a total of 10 objectives to complete before the end of the game, which is quite the accomplishment to pull off that is, at a minimum, difficult. We did win a few games fair-and-square, but modifying the game to suit your preferences isn’t a bad idea. You can do so by adding fewer objectives to complete or adding more seasons cards to the season deck to give you and your group more time to complete all of the tasks.
The 10 objectives you’ll be tasked with from game-to-game will force your team to partake in most (if not all) activities that Stardew Valley has to offer. Admittedly, the game can be overwhelming to grasp at first because of this. Though the standard turn structure is very simple, players have access to over a dozen different actions they can perform. Understanding how each action works and how it aids your team in reaching the end goal will take some time to grasp.
Adding to the game’s initial hurdles are the hundreds of pieces players must manage, from crop tiles, to villager cards, to 60 fish tiles, and more. Though its certainly not the most complex board game on the market, the Stardew Valley: The Board Game definitely caters towards players with modern board game experience. I have genuine concerns for fans of the video game taking this on as their first modern board game and being completely overwhelmed with what the game demands of its players. If you’ve played board games in the realm of Pandemic or Catan, you’ll be in much better shape to take this one on.
With so much to do, you and your team will have to divide and conquer. While everyone is free to partake in any of the game’s available actions, each player is assigned one-of-four professions: Fishing, Foraging, Mining, and Farming. As the seasons progress, you’ll unlock profession-specific upgrades that make those tasks easier. Generally speaking, you’ll want players to focus on tasks that cater to their specialties.
Once you get rolling, the game magically feels like the Stardew Valley experience. Almost everything about the video game is crammed in here, from many different types of vegetables that one can grow, to giving your chickens attention so that they give you better eggs, to getting married to a local villager and having them help your cause. Its board uses the same map as the game. All of the art on the hundreds of components that come with the game are well drawn and match the style of the game.
Beyond its presentation, its overall mechanics further hammer home the idea that this is a Stardew Valley experience. Pretty much every activity is represented here, from time passing as seasons, to not being able to plant crops in the winter, to having regular interactions with the other villagers. There is no question that this game is true to its source material and I had a great time enjoying life in the valley as a tabletop game.
As much as I want to love this game for feeling like Stardew Valley, its translation to the tabletop undermines its overall success as a board game. With so many tasks to do and so little time to complete them, there’s very little room for error. Unfortunately, it’s oftentimes not up to you whether you’ll ultimately succeed or fail.
Many of the game’s mechanics are driven by randomness. Flipping a bad season card can trigger multiple crows to eat crops you badly needed to sell. A bad dice roll can cause you to come up empty-handed when you need milk from your cows. Revealing a villager that hates everything in your inventory can prevent you from getting hearts, which are a valuable resource for revealing bundles or improving the happiness of your animals. You will find yourself underhanded or wasting away precious turns because of circumstances you just couldn’t plan for or counter.
At its worst, randomness can break the game. It’s possible to reveal bundles that require resources that are out-of-season. You now have to spend even more hearts to reveal new bundles, which in certain cases, can also be out-of-season. This puts you in an even bigger deficit unless you house rule it so that you get one that can be completed rather than randomly drawing one as the rules suggest.
If you start with grandpa’s legendary fish objective, god speed. Not only are legendary fish incredibly tough to catch, but there’s even a chance that you’ll finish the entire game without having even seen enough legendary fish in the first place. With only 4 legendary fish out of 60 tiles in the bag, it’s possible to just never draw enough legendary fish to complete the objective.
The mine probably the single-most maddening objective in the game. In order to progress to the bottom of the mines, you need access to stairs. This can be done by either cashing in two stones at the end of your turn or by successfully accessing the stairs on the map. However, many of the map tiles don’t have stairs and it’s easy to completely whiff on stones thanks to bad rolls. Especially in two-player scenarios where you simply don’t have as many actions as a group of three-or-four, getting to the bottom of the mines can be essentially impossible or cost so many actions that you don’t have enough to complete everything else on your to-do list.
The Stardew Valley: The Board Game clearly set out be a translation of the video game. It largely succeeds on that front. Almost everything you’d expect from a Stardew Valley experience is captured in this game. Even with my maddening gripes with certain aspects of its mechanics, I still enjoyed the experience of being in that world again in a new medium. That fan service alone pushed me to play the game many times in spite of my criticisms of the overall product.
But as a board game, its over-reliance on randomness regularly undermines the experience. Though its fun to venture through the valley and partake in the myriad of activities it has to offer, all of your hard work can prove fruitless when too many factors beyond your control push victory out of reach. Combine that with the game’s upfront complexity and lengthy run-time, its fan service isn’t enough to propel the game past its faults.
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