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Let me preface all that I have to say in this review with a quick statement. When I first saw that there was going to be a Stardew Valley Board Game, I immediately thought to myself; that this would have to be a very special product to capture the magic of the game in question.
It will have to be a board game that does something that is a little unconventional in the space, it will have to be a board game that makes tonnes of nods to the source material, it will have to be stylistically on point, with enough tweaks to make it feel like it’s own entity rather than a soulless copy, and it will need to be a game that offers lots of replayability and strategy.
In short, from the moment I heard that this game would become a reality, I set near impossible standards for this tabletop recreation of one of my favorite games of all time. Yet, despite that, the game is all I could have wished for and more.
Thanks to the input of Eric Barone himself and the talented Cole Medeiros, who was also the creator of GUBS and Web of Spies, this board game version is a love letter to Stardew Fans, but also is accessible enough that even the most casual of board game fans who want a more complex and nuanced board game experience can hop into the action.
It looks the part, it has so many moving parts and gameplay options that one game will never mirror another, and best of all, it’s a board game that can be played alone or played with friends rather than against them. It’s a truly unique project that does the Stardew Valley video game justice and has blown me away in terms of quality.
However, I assume you came here for a little more detail than that, and I am more than happy to feed your curiosity.
In this review, we will be looking at the game setup, how to play, looking at the aesthetics, the finer details, the key features, the areas that need improvement, and much more. So get on the next bus to Stardew Valley; we have lots of work to do! Here is our
How to Play the Stardew Valley Board Game
In terms of setup, this will immediately separate the casual board game fans from the dedicated tabletop players, or at least those that aspire to be tabletop fanatics. The game indicates that setup takes about fifteen minutes, but in truth, this is only the case when you are very familiar with the game and all the moving parts involved.
We would say that your initial setup may take closer to 45 minutes or an hour. However, this is usually the case with a brand new board game of this nature. When you have your board set up as needed, it should look something like this:
The good news is that the instruction manual is incredibly thorough and explains absolutely everything in great detail, so even if you hit a stumbling block, good ol’ ConcernedApe will guide you on your SDV board game journey.
It depends on what level of difficulty you want to play the game at, but in general, you have two main considerations throughout the entire game, and these mirror the actual video game.
You will have four goals set by your Grandpa at the beginning of the game, and you will also have six Community Center bundles as well. If you play on the ‘Honest Farmer’ difficulty, you will be tasked with completing all these goals before the last day of the year.
It sounds simple, but I assure you, you need to be careful with your planning, always have the big picture in mind and be reactive to any unexpected hurdles that pop up—those days in a season pass by real fast.
As I mentioned, the game can be played on different difficulty settings, each offering a different gameplay experience. You can play on any of the following three difficulties:
The player only has to worry about completing 4 of Grandpa’s goals
Honest Farmer: The Default difficulty and where new players should begin. The player will need to complete all of Grandpa’s Goals and will also need to fully complete the Community Center bundles.
Then we have the top difficulty only meant for experienced players that need an added challenge. Here players will need to complete the Community Center and Grandpa’s Goals, and the player will also need to ensure that no Joja corporation tiles remain on the board by the end of the game.
Number of Players
Then lastly, when it comes to the number of players, the game is set up for anywhere between 1-4 players, any more, and the resources become too scarce to complete the goals effectively and within the time limits.
What I personally love about this is that the single-player experience is just as rich as the multiplayer experience, and while this cooperative game emphasizes the need for teamwork, the fact that this game can be just as fun thanks to its keen attention to detail is superb.
Now, I’m going to quickly run through all the components included here. Just a heads-up, I’m going to be very concise here so if you want the full details, buy the game and read the rule book!
These are the tiles that decide your profession at the beginning of the game, and act as your inventory where you can store resources, tools, and items.
Starting Player Token
Decides your chosen pet and starts proceedings after the turn of each season card.
These are the tools that can be upgraded for added bonuses.
These are the dice players will roll for various reasons. Three are animal dice, and the other three are standard dice.
These are markers that are placed on Villager cards to represent a marriage between the player and the Villager. This offers benefits like one extra action per turn, for example.
The in-game currency
Another form of currency that allows players to reveal bundles, remove Joja Tiles, and more
Friends that players can make throughout the game, offering their own unique benefits
These are the cards that mark out the Seasons and set the terms for each turn.
These are split into Mine Levels and Mine Map Layouts. The player must descend down the levels, with a new map being revealed with each new level.
These are Grandpa’s Goals which are revealed at the beginning of the game and set the tone for the game.
These are the bundle goals for each Community Centre room. These are hidden at the beginning of the game and revealed over time with heart tokens.
These are the buildings that players can potentially build each game. Players will be able to build a maximum of four which are chosen at random at the beginning of the game, with the Coop and Barn serving as mandatory choices.
These are the various animals that players can obtain throughout the game
These are events that occur when dictated by the Season cards.
Mine Event Cards
Similar to the above, these are events that occur when dictated by a Mine Map.
These are items that the player can use and discard. They all have varied effects and offer situational benefits.
Epic Item Cards
These are items that have a continuous effect and have a more holistically beneficial benefit.
These are buffs players gain at the end of every season and occasionally through other means. These tend to align with the profession the player chooses at the start of the game.
These are tiles that are added to the gameboard and serve as problems issues that the players must deal with or pay to get rid of.
Tiles that are placed in a blue sack, with five placed on the board at all times. These are a mix of Legendary, River, Lake, and Ocean fish which players can fish to acquire.
These are tiles placed in the Grey Sack. These can be obtained through breaking Geodes or finding worm forage tiles.
These are tiles that are placed on the game board at the beginning of each season. Players can pick these up as they travel between two areas on the board.
These are Crop, resource, ore, geode, and animal product tiles. These are placed in the provided organizer.
So now that you understand how this game works, let’s get into the critical assessment; first off with the overall presentation of this game. It has to be said that, right down to the finest detail, this game looks incredible and captures the magic and the relaxed, small-town feel of the source material.
Beginning with the board, it provides the players with a recreation of the in-game map that players will be all too familiar with and features all of the key areas, some key characters, and gorgeous artwork that recreates the overall aesthetic of the map while still adding some changes that make it a little different, like more detailed illustrations of the characters, for example.
Then as for the assets, you have to hand it to the artist, Gustavo ‘Goose’ Gutierrez, and his team; the attention to detail is clear to see. Whether you are perusing the inventory full of crops and resources, flicking through the deck of items, or rummaging through the fishing or museum sacks to get a fish tile or an artifact, the artwork is stunning.
Each in-game asset is given a glow-up when compared to its pixellated in-game design, and each design blends perfectly together, maintaining the cute overall theme of the game. I mean, even the dice have cute renderings of animals and Junimos on them.
For the sheer beauty of the design alone, this game becomes an immediate must-have for all collectors. However, the good news is that it’s a compelling game as well, so you can take it off the shelf every once in a while. I do have one criticism though. The spouse markers do seem a little out of place and feel a little tacky.
They look like run-of-the-mill Ludo components and considering how detailed the other components are, it’s a little jarring.
An Addictive Agricultural Adventure
Now, let’s talk about the gameplay. We have already touched on the fact that this game is a multi-faceted, nuanced, and addictive cooperative game, but you need more detail. You need to know why. Well, let’s get into it. The game does an incredible job at recreating the video game experience in tabletop form.
The way that every single consideration and decision you make matters mirrors the Stardew valley video game perfectly, to the point that you almost feel like breaking out spreadsheets and holding an official summit with your fellow players to discuss the benefits of heading to town to buy seeds at the Stardew Valley Shop instead of hitting the mines.
Planning your routes every turn becomes as time-consuming as actually carrying out your turn, and every new season card can throw a spanner in the works and have you scrambling to get your plan back on track. These collective goals are the lifeblood of each game and through teamwork, you can achieve anything!
I can perhaps only explain the joy, the elation, and the rollercoaster of emotions that this game can offer through a little anecdote. My wife-to-be and I were playing this game and have been repetitively since we got the game as we share a deep love of all things Stardew.
We had been making steady progress, and going into the Winter season, all we had to do was acquire a mineral somehow and then descend to level 12 of the Mines. It sounds simple, but due to the way the Mine works, you are at the mercy of the dice.
Well, we acquired the mineral, donated it promptly, acquired lots of items and even some epic items along the way, but in the end, it all came down to one dice roll where we needed one stone to descend down the mines and complete all of our goals. The dice hit the table, and one had a heart, half of the criteria we needed; we just needed another.
The other dice rolled off the table and fell to the floor, and after a shared look of anticipation, we both sprang to our feet to see the result.
A smiling Junimo stared back up at us, and that signaled that we had lost the game, but only by a whisker. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’m over it yet, but one thing is for sure, it was exciting and made me want to start a new game there and then.
This perhaps showcases the gripping nature of this game and how much strategy and planning are needed to succeed. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s a captivating experience that, much like the actual game, makes the mundane farmer’s life feel like a high-octane action thriller.
Where This Game Succeeds
Brilliant Alone or With Others
I think the standout thing for me about this game is the fact that the game doesn’t make the typical board game approach here. Where most games might have pinned one player against the other, the creators have understood their audience here.
Stardew is a game that is about teamwork, making friends and building a community, and the addition of couch co-op to the main game has only heightened this sense of comradery between players.
So the decision to make all the goals within this game communal and have players pushing in the same direction and working together in this cooperative board game is an inspired choice. Having a competitive game here would have been completely tone-deaf, and I’m so glad they sidestepped this potential pitfall.
Not only because the current format is great but also because this approach lends itself to a single-player format which is just as compelling as playing with others.
The feeling of playing this game in single-player is akin to starting a new safe file in the video game with the sole purpose of speedrunning the community center, and this head-down, the efficiency-first approach is what makes the single-player experience so enjoyable.
Maybe I say this as I struggle to find other like-minded tabletop game players and, therefore, really appreciate detailed and nuanced single-player experiences, but I doubt I’m the only one out there.
No Game is Ever the Same
The replayability of this game is a real selling point. Much like the video game, even when you have seen all that the game has to offer, you’ll find yourself going back time and time again. Perhaps it is the familiarity with the subject matter, perhaps it is the challenge that the game offers, or perhaps it is the nuanced gameplay that offers new problems to solve with every new game.
Regardless of what draws you back to this game, what cannot be denied is that this game never feels stale, and that is down to the sheer volume of moving parts involved.
Sure, it can take a while to understand how everything works, but when you do, everything becomes second nature, and your skill and experience as a board game farmer will lead to victory more times than not.
The Ability to Mix Things Up
In the video game, when you have played the game as intended, many players may start again and set impossible tasks for themselves like remixed bundles or 100% completion within a certain time limit.
Or alternatively, players may play with a much more relaxed approach, focusing on decorating their farmhouse, making friends, and taking time to stop to smell the roses. Well, the beauty of the SDV Board Game is that you can do this too.
By adding Season Cards to extend the game or flipping hidden goals at the beginning of games to offer some early game clarity, you can alter the gaming experience as you like and find a satisfying setup that offers the appropriate amount of challenge.
After all, the last thing you want when playing anything related to Stardew Valley is to walk away feeling anything less than calm and serene.
Components are Gorgeous
Then we must stress again that the components within this game board are worth the price of the board game alone. They are staggeringly detailed and offer lots of nods to the in-game components. All of the effects and buffs are contextually appropriate, and the way they all tie together makes for a very attractive gameboard.
The standout components for me were the dice, the counter that showcases either a pet dog or cat, the Villager Cards, which offer unique illustrations of each character, the forage tiles as I love the way they marry up with the board, and then lastly, the board itself which is fantastically eye-catching and makes me smile every time I unfold it to play.
Lacks Balance In Areas
The game sadly isn’t perfect, and while I will try to defend it as best I can, being a keen Stardew Valley fan, the professional and critical writer brain cannot be completely silenced.
Firstly, the game has some clear balance issues, to the point that some dedicated fans have already started to make unofficial pieces, rules, and workarounds to quell these issues. Here are just a few that I encountered:
- If you do not flip the Crafts Room and Pantry bundles early, this can lead to gameplay situations where it is almost impossible to get your hands on the required items.
- Some items are generally quite hard to find through natural play—things like Bug Meat which is needed to get Crab Pot fish. So expect to have those in the fishing selection for the entire game.
- There are some game setups that, with the standard 32 season tiles, are simply not possible to achieve within the allotted turns unless you are very lucky and perceptive.
- Some of the items and different resources are generally unhelpful. Fiber is a fine example of this and only serves a purpose if you have a specific building at the beginning of the game.
Requires Relentless Efficiency
While the game famously offers the player with an open-ended experience where the player can do things at their own pace, prioritize what they deem to be important and fun, and allow players to have an experience that is largely decided by them, the SDV Board game takes a much more rigid approach.
While very true to the game’s overall goals and the means of completing these, the game forces the player to attack the game with relentless efficiency, planning each turn very carefully and only interacting with the aspects of the game that will further their goals.
So players may have to play several times before they fully get acquainted with a certain part of the experience. For example, if you don’t have a goal that asks you to build buildings or collect animal products, you will avoid interacting with these aspects of the game, as this would waste your precious time.
This will suit players that adore strategy and planning down to the ground, but for players that like a more player-led experience, this isn’t a game that accommodates that approach.
Quite RNG Heavy
There are some aspects of the game that are overly based on luck, and before you come after me, I fully appreciate that board games need to have some level of luck involved for that inherent sense of surprise and wonder that only board games can offer.
However, some parts of the game rely on this too much, leading to situations where all of your careful planning and strategizing boils down to a few dice rolls, much like the anecdote I told above. Now, while I personally like this added layer of jeopardy, not every player will, and many will get frustrated.
The biggest offenders are the mining section which relies purely on unlikely dice rolls to succeed and catching legendary fish, which is very unlikely to the point that it would be ill-advised for players to even attempt to reel one in.
Somewhat Reliant on SDV Knowledge
Then lastly, while the game instructions do a very good job of explaining the rules and getting all newbies acquainted with the world of Stardew Valley, it does assume that the player understands the core gameplay and mechanics of the video game.
I reckon the setup would have taken twice as long if I hadn’t been so attuned with the Stardew Valley game format, and the first game my partner and I played would have been twice as long to boot, and it was already super long.
Question: Who is Concerned Ape?
Answer: Concerned Ape is the developer name for Eric Barone, the creator of Stardew Valley and the upcoming video game, The Haunted Chocolatier.
He is best known for his kind and generous demeanor and the fact that he has given back to SDV fans on many occasions, offering lots of regular updates to Stardew Valley at no added cost to the player.
Question: How Much Does the Stardew Valley Board Game Cost?
Answer: The Stardew Valley Board Game, at the time of writing, costs £54.99 from the official Stardew Valley Online Store. However, you can get it for slightly less from 3rd party retailers.
Thankfully, the game is now more internationally available, and those outside the US are not at the mercy of scalpers who were selling the game or double or sometimes triple the price.
Question: Is the SDV Board Game Suitable for Kids?
Answer: Honestly, no. The game is a very complex game, even for adults, and while kids will undoubtedly enjoy the stunning components and the overall appeal of the game.
We have to say that unless you want to teach a very intelligent older child to play this game, there are far too many moving parts and aspects of this game that make it inaccessible for the average child.
The Verdict – A Love Letter to the SDV Community
Overall, the Stardew Valley Board Game is a love letter to the SDV community, which wears its love and adoration for the source material on its sleeve. The presentation of this game is eye-catching and visually striking, tieing the video game and board game entities together seamlessly.
The gameplay is varied and caters to all levels of player through varied difficulty settings.
It offers a brilliant solitary experience along with a game format that encourages working together rather than against one another, and whether you love or loathe the video game, you can see that this game has been made by Stardew fans, for Stardew Fans, and they have left no stone unturned in their efforts to recreate the Stardew experience in the form of a board game.
That being said, it isn’t a game for casual board game players, it isn’t a game that invites non-Stardew Valley fans in with open arms, it is a game that has some balance and RNG related issues, and it’s a game that misses the mark in terms of the player-led experience of the video game.
However, all things considered, this is a game that is a must-play for Stardew fans and even for tabletop fans that have no interest in Stardew Valley; I would wager even these players would see the appeal of this charming adaption.