1-4 Players, Cooperative, Farm Harvesting Friend Making
Designer: Eric Barone, Cole Medeiros
Artwork: Alex Van Der Aa, Gustavo “Goose” Gutierrez, Justin Williams, Luke Aiello
Release Year: 2021
This game literally came out of nowhere! Let me paint you a picture, there I was sitting in my recliner perusing the web when I saw an article about a Stardew Valley board game. Of course my interest was instantly piqued as I am a decently big fan of the videogame of the same name and a MASSIVE fan of board games in general. Luckily the article has a link to order the game, lo and behold it wasn’t a preorder which made it even MORE alluring. I mean this game was available RIGHT NOW! I hesitated only for a moment and then performed the almost sinister act of a “Blind Buy”.
Now, for those unaware of a Blind Buy, this is where one such as myself will just purchase an item without doing a shred of research on it. It’s a risky move for sure BUT I knew that Stardew Valley was a popular title and I also knew that board games are currently, in my opinion, going through their Golden Age. Which means, this one wouldn’t last long and then I would be kicking myself for not getting it. Sure enough, all 20,000 some odd copies that were made for the first printing sold out within the first day.
In any case I finally got the game in and have had a chance to play through it. Read on to garner my thoughts and hopefully these will help you decide if this is a game worthy of your purchase when the second printing releases later!
Overview of Gameplay
This is a game where players will be working together to try and accomplish four particular goals AS WELL AS completing six different collections of goods and resources in order to win. However, the game does have an artificial timer in the form of a seasons deck of cards. If this deck runs out before the players are able to accomplish their set goals then the Joja corp has moved in and players have lost.
To accomplish these goals players will be taking part in a number of activities to collect the resources they need. Now, the four goal cards are just basic ideas to get you moving such as making a certain number of friends (Villagers) or catching a certain number of fish. The six “Bundle” cards are all hidden from view at the beginning so you don’t know what you need to complete those. To reveal each of them you will need heart tokens, from which you gain from gathering friends. At that point you can take a specific location action to spend heart tokens to reveal the next bundle card and then start working towards gathering the required resources to complete it.
A typical round starts with revealing a season card from the season deck (aka: the timer) and following the actions on the card. These range from it raining, which waters the crops to crows eating some of said crops to a new Joja hindrance token coming out to slow you down in some way and more. There are quite a few different things that can happen during the season draw that will have some effect on the state of the board, some bad, some good. There are four seasons to go through and four season cards for each season. At the end of each season there is a card that details the cleanup/setup of the next season which has you removing all the previous seasons tree and foraging tokens from the board and adding the next seasons tokens.
After the season card draw players will place their player token on a specific location on the board after discussing with each other the best plan for attacking the day. After that, players will take turns performing either two actions at their placed location OR 1 action at that location, then move to a new location following the paths and then performing 1 action at the new location. This is important because moving is a way to gain a free foraging or tree token next to those paths. Those tokens can be used for building new buildings later or for other means.
Once a player has finished with their two actions they then place their token on the house spot on the board and then can take one final turn action any number of times (if they can pay for it). These final turn actions are things like removing those pesky Joja tokens from the board or delving deeper into the mines etc. Once finished the next player goes and once all players have finished then the next season card is drawn and play continues in this fashion until either the players win or all the season cards have been drawn.
Now that the basis of the game is explained, let’s discuss the board actions a bit. There are quite a few different board actions giving you an almost sandboxy feel to the game and if not for the direction of the goal cards and bundles it would be a sandbox. Right off the bat there are a few actions you can’t even do such as buying animals or collecting from animals or building buildings. Since you only start with 3 gold you wont have enough materials to build anything and you NEED particular buildings to own animals and you need to own animals to collect from them. So, that removes a few choices right off the bat.
Of the remaining choices though you can go fishing at one of three different fishing spots, go delving into the mine for minerals, stones and artifacts, hit up the shop to buy seeds or sell items, make friends, water your crops, open geodes you find from mining and also donate minerals and artifacts to the museum. Now, obviously you would want to focus of performing some particular tasks more than others depending on what your goals are for that game, which are randomized at the beginning. BUT, ultimately there is a method to this almost sandbox madness. You see, you NEED hearts to reveal the bundle cards and to get hearts you NEED friends and to get friends you NEED gifts (resources) and to get resources you will need gold (sometimes). For what it’s worth it’s always good to try and get friends early on as they also give you special abilities/bonuses that can be activated by a particular icon drawn on a season card.
I would say most of the component quality here is good with a few exceptions. The cardboard tiles are all sturdy and although the building tiles are thinner, these won’t be handled NEARLY as much as the resource tiles so that’s a non-issue for me. The cards are on the thin and slick side but don’t feel TOO thin, they have a decent sturdiness and I don’t foresee any issues with these either. The dice are really nice and have heat printed icons matching the general art style of the game printed directly on them AND have a nice weight to them as well. They are lacking that covering varnish however so I am curious to see just how long the icons will last before starting to flake off. The player boards work fine for what you need them for although I wish they were just a little more colorful to match the overall style of the game board itself, they come off rather bland starting out before you can fill them up with tokens. The game board is very nice with a very sturdy backing to it. Not too big but not too small it fits very easily on most game tables.
Overall, I would say the components are good, not great, from a quality standpoint.
The box is a slight miss. There IS one plastic storage solution for all the resource tiles which is extremely helpful whilst playing and it fits in the box nicely, however, there isn’t a lid for it. You are meant to place the folded up game board on top of it but if you are planning on storing the game on its side, be prepared for some spilled tokens. The rest of the components will need to be bagged up and with the amount of components and cards in the game it would have been nice to have some kind of storage solution in place to keep everything organized.
That said, all the cards have very distinctive backings so even when stored together it’s extremely easy to sort them out, it just takes away time from playing the game when you have to organize everything. Also, the box itself does feel a bit on the cheaper side of the cardboard spectrum. My lid is already starting to bow a little so be careful when opening and closing so as not to accidentally rip any edges.
Overall, the Box/Storage is below average.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Now this is where the game REALLY shines. They took all the great artwork and theme from the videogame and seamlessly crafted a board game from it. The artwork on the box got me giddy with excitement before I even opened it. I love the colors and fonts used throughout. The board itself faithfully recreates the map in the videogame with the different locations you can visit although I wish the “paths” blended in with the map better instead of being basic white lines. Speaking of the board, it has an excellent layout with spots for the season deck and discard, fishing tokens, crop tokens and the mining and museum bits. I especially love the very top where you put the goal cards as these cards blend into the look and feel of the board perfectly and you actually feel tricked into thinking they are part of the board. Those goal cards look just amazing.
I’m sure for those that have played the videogame this board game version will feel right at home for you. They perfectly captured that feeling 100% in all aspects. Watering crops moves them forward a bit on the track, which simulates they are growing faster, and then there may be a season card with a crow that gobbles up a crop to your dismay. They even have a few season cards that celebrate the different events that transpire in the video game with different effects. I mean all around excellent job with the theme transplant and visuals!
Overall, AMAZING job on the Visual Appeal/Theme.
The rulebook is pretty good. I found going through it to learn the game easy enough and it was decently easy to find information that I had questions about thanks to the well laid out areas for each action. I would have preferred the Rules Reference section on the very back of the rulebook instead of the back inside page personally so it would have been easier to set next to me on a cramped table. I didn’t get any value out of the back page symbol reference although I could see that being useful to some. Swapping those pages would have been preferred. Also, there were a few items that probably needed to be explained better such as the marriage option. There is a tiny little spot for it on the 1st to last page even though it’s a pretty big game changer for a player IF it comes into play at all.
Overall, It’s a good rulebook. Easy to understand, just wish it was a tad more accessible.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
This is such an interesting game. This game is LITTERED with randomness with minor mitigation throughout but…IT WORKS somehow. There seems to be SOMETHING hidden in the game for all aspects of its randomness that will help you overcome it in some way and you won’t even realize it till it hits you. At first I thought this game was just WAY too random for anyone to ever hope to accomplish all those goals AND bundles. However, after playing a few times and discovering all these interesting mitigation rule breakers, I can now see the light. Little mitigations hidden in the item cards, BIG mitigations hidden in the epic item cards and all kinds of stuff in between like the abilities on the villager cards and the interesting profession upgrades you receive. This creates a game that IS random but not unfair random.
A prime example of this is what happened during one of my games. One of our goal cards was to catch two legendary fish and let me tell you the bag of fish tokens is VAST. On top of that there are ONLY FOUR legendary fish tokens mixed in that bag with all the chaff. So, already the odds of pulling a legendary fish is against you. On top of that the only time you can recycle fish on the board with new ones from the bag is either when you catch something OR a season card has you recycle two fish off the board. Which means you need to spend a good chunk of time fishing if you hope to ever catch those two legendaries. Ah but the mitigation! Another player specialized in fishing and had a couple choice upgrades and along with their upgraded fishing pole was able to cycle through fish at an alarming rate! On top of that she didn’t even have to spend the entire game fishing to find them and at long last during the last season we finally caught the last of the two legendary fish we needed!
Now, we did end up losing that particular game but only just! If we had just ONE MORE turn we would have won as we had all the required bundled items to fulfill the last two cards, just couldn’t get to the community center in time. That game alone showed me even with all the randomness that is abound in this game, there seems to always be SOME way to mitigate it enough to accomplish what needs to be done.
Player interaction is a pretty big thing here as you will HAVE to work together and discuss what needs to be done in order to succeed. That said I do see “Quarter Backing” being a big issue here as well. It’s far too easy to scan the board state and see what needs to be done and then everyone agreeing and then just following the motions. This is hindered a bit depending on player turn order as some things CAN change, but, everyone places their tokens BEFORE taking their actions so you still basically have to work towards those original goals in some fashion based on your placement.
After all is said and done though, I really enjoyed my time playing this! There is so much that can be done and those upgrades you can get are icing on the cake on how to mitigate several actions. Add in the Joja hindrance tokens to shake things up and the random crow here and there and you have a game that will keep you on your toes!
Overall, Excellent Fun Factor – Average Player Interaction due to possible Quarter Backing.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
The game plays really well at two players depending on what goal cards are used. Most of the cards are variable for player count however some such as the “Reach the bottom of the mine” goal, are not. I would suggest if playing with two players, removing those non-variable goal cards like that from the equation and only use those for higher player counts. Otherwise, one of the two players will be SUPER focused on reaching the bottom of the mine the entire game and will be of little help with EVERY OTHER goal and bundle card.
Replayability is huge as the selection of season cards has a lot to choose from. These are variable and can be shuffled up and then chosen at random so you never know what season actions may appear. You could get the interesting events which may or may not affect you at all or some truly nasty cards with double crows or double Joja tokens. Or perhaps some super helpful cards with gifts and rain for your crops. There is also a bit of variability with the facedown foraging tokens since you never know what is where. But one of the biggest things for me are the profession upgrade cards. When you start the game you choose one of four different professions which allows you to kinda focus on a particular area such as farming or mining. Each season that passes allows you to draw two random upgrade cards for your profession and choose one to keep for the rest of the game. There are a bunch for each profession so no two games will be alike as you “level up”. And these babies are SUPER helpful in mitigating a lot of that luck that you find in the game!
Overall, High Replayabilty – Player Count plays good at 2 with caveats, Best at 4.
Positive Final Thoughts
The theme and artwork along with the colors used in the game are simply stunning. The box drew me in and had me salivating with anticipation (now I need a new box). The gameplay is FUN and not overly simple which is what I feared going in. It has enough depth to keep me hooked but also is not complex to scare off those lighter gamers out there. I love the way the randomness is tempered by all the upgrades and item cards which gives you a big reason to try and go for those.
Negative Final Thoughts
The biggest issue I have with the game is the potential for Quarter Backing where one player will dictate the optimal strategy or path and it seems like that really IS the best path forward. It ruins the player interaction and devolves the game into a solo experience where everyone else is just along for the ride. THAT SAID, that is more a problem with the players than the game personally. It’s just unfortunate that something couldn’t be done to give players more agency of their own turns.
The Bottom Line
Overall, though I really enjoyed my time with the game and have a strong desire to play it again! I want to check out the other professions and their respective upgrade cards to see the variety they offer as well as the different goal cards. These goal cards really dictate how much time and attention players will spend at a particular area of the board. I have yet to try and reach the bottom of the mine for example since we haven’t played with that goal yet. So, who knows how interesting that mine could be! Furthermore, even though there is MUCH randomness throughout the game, I simply love how it is mitigated throughout by different card abilities. This creates a really tight experience for such a random game.
The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction