Family Game Night: Stardew Valley

On February 26, 2016, Stardew Valley was released on PC. The game was a huge success, selling over one million copies within its first two months. Over the next 5 years, Stardew Valley found its way onto nearly every platform as it charmed players with its endearing world. Numerous, substantial content updates and the addition of co-op play have given Stardew Valley the kind of long lifespan AAA publishers would close studios for. Now, Stardew Valley comes to the tabletop with Stardew Valley: the Board Game. Can a co-operative board game capture the farm-based magic of the video game?

The first thing I noticed as my wife, Liz, and I unpacked the game for the first time was how numerous and beautiful the components are. There are cardboard tiles for fish, artifacts, forageable items, crops, animal products, and more. Villagers, items, tools, events, objectives, and profession bonuses are all handled via decks of cards. These are all present in sizeable amounts, which makes the high quality of the components all the more impressive. The artwork on the components is also fantastic, and represents the video game source material well without reusing any of the original sprites.

As you can imagine, it can take a while to get a game with that many components set up. Before getting down to business, you’ll have to shuffle the many decks of cards, organize all the cardboard tokens and resources, and set up the game board. The first few times we played Stardew Valley, it took me and my wife around 40 minutes to get everything prepared. Thankfully, experience does smooth out the process, and we can manage to be set up in about 20 minutes now.

Now that all the work is done, it’s time to play! Stardew Valley: the Board Game is about completing your grandfather’s last requests, making friends with the townsfolk, and staving off an invasive corporation. Each game will feature ten different objectives; four “Grandpa Goal” cards and six “Community Center” cards. Grandpa objectives are long-term goals like making money, expanding the farm, or exploring the mine. Community Center cards, like the bundles in the video game, are about collecting specific items or resources. You’ll need to complete all ten within a year to drive Joja Corp out of town and win the game, and it won’t be easy.

Nearly every activity in the video game is represented in Stardew Valley: the Board Game, from farming to socializing to mining. Fishing, mining, and gathering animal products are handled via dice rolls, and everything else is done with cards. Every round, players resolve a season card then discuss what actions they’re going to take before placing their character piece onto a location on the board. Each player is allowed two actions per turn which can be performed in one location or split between two adjacent locations. Moving between locations is what allows for the collection of foraging tiles, which gives players added incentive to move around the board.

The co-operative aspect of Stardew Valley is perhaps my favorite part of playing the game. The large number of objectives usually means there aren’t a lot of “pointless” activities, if any, which keeps everyone feeling important and involved. The different tools and professions reinforce those feelings by making some tasks easier for certain players, gently implying that it would be best for everyone to focus on separate tasks. As the game progresses and the objectives are completed, players are inevitably forced to work on the same tasks, but it feels more like a coming together than everyone getting each other’s way. 

The co-operative nature of Stardew Valley is fantastic, but I wouldn’t advise playing with more than three players. The box says the game can support up to four, but with every player added the requirements for completing objectives increases. Three strikes me as tough but possible, but four is going to require a lot of luck with certain objectives like catching legendary fish. Two players, on the other hand, feels like the sweet spot. My wife and I have played several games, and we always felt like we had a fighting chance to win right up until the final turns.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with modern board games, Stardew Valley could seem daunting. The lengthy setup, combined with a play time of about an hour and a half for two, is a significant time investment. If you can get past those initial feelings, or if you’re a more seasoned board gamer, there’s a lot of fun to be found in Stardew Valley. The game isn’t easy, my wife and I have only won two games so far, but even losing can be a satisfying experience thanks to the great teamwork aspect. Stardew Valley: the Board Game has already become a staple in my home, and I’m sure my family will play it for a long, long time.

Liz’s opinion: Stardew Valley (the video game) has been something that I have picked up several times since being introduced to it. I love that every time you pick it up and start your farm over different things happen and it’s never the same playthrough. So, when I learned there was going to be a board game I was already on board! The first few playthroughs took some getting used to, mostly with the set up. There are a lot of different card stacks and tiles but once you get the hang of setting it up it actually goes fairly smoothly. The game is incredibly fun to play from which crazy villager you may end up with to what your Grandpa goals and Community Center bundles will be. My husband and I have played many times and each game had different obstacles to try and overcome, which makes it exciting and it makes you want to play it again and again because it’s never boring! Hopefully in the next 6 months to a year our 10 year-old son will be able to join us in playing it and we can try to play as a family. I think that will be very entertaining but I am sure it will come with it’s own set of new obstacles to overcome. If you enjoy the video game, like my family, then you will absolutely enjoy the board game! Happy farming! 

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