I am a huge fan of Stardew Valley – the video game and was apprehensive about the concept of turning it into a board game. But, after playing, I can say that the board game is as good, if not better than the original video game.
That isn’t to say that you need to have played the video game before. You don’t have to have any idea what a Junimo or Joja cola is before you can enjoy this brilliant game. It is beautifully designed and can be appreciated with or without any prior knowledge of the Stardew Valley universe.
The best part of getting a new board game for me is opening the box and pushing out all the brand new pieces. If you’re like me, don’t fear because Stardew Valley gives you plenty of them! On your first playthrough, you will need to sort the pieces into the various trays and bags provided. Now you can start to set up the game.
First, place the board in the middle of the table and beside it the Stardew dice, animal dice and spouse pawn. Make sure that you leave plenty of space around the board. Shuffle the villagers, items, epic items, events, and mine events cards.
Place these in separate decks facedown around the board. The rule book suggests placing these in a line down the left-hand side of the board and this works great. Also, shuffle the Joja tiles and place these face down in a deck.
The box comes with a tray to hold all the crop, animal product and geode tiles. Put all the tiles inside the tray, sorted into types, and place the full tray near the board. You will also have two bags, one grey and one black/blue, full of fish and artifacts/minerals. Place those near the board too. There are no hard and fast rules about where these should go, put them somewhere that makes sense to you.
Next, take a parsnip from the tile tray and place it on the field marked with the number “2” next to the cottage on the board. Congratulations – you have planted your first crop! Make sure that the crop tile down has the waterdrop on the bottom left facing upwards. This waterdrop tells players in which field the crop should first be planted. Crop tiles are double sided and start this way up.
Separate the animal tiles by whether they are animals which live in a coop or barn. Place these in two separate stacks, with the respective building tile on top. Randomly select two other building tiles to place beside these stacks. Return the other buildings to the box.
The game starts in spring, so place the 11 spring forgeable tiles and the 4 trees on the board in their corresponding spaces. Draw 5 fish tiles from the bag and place them in The Fish Track. Place the mine level deck on its space on the board, with level 1 faceup.
The rest of the levels are in ascending order underneath so that if the top one was removed the next level is level 2, then 3 etc. The mine map cards are shuffled and one is drawn and placed in the area of the map on the board. The others are placed face down in a deck next to the board.
The game is played through the seasons, starting with spring. At the start of the game, you will build the season deck. In your first game, it is recommended that you use only the standard season cards. For variety in future games, you can select 4 season cards from the available 20 for each season. This deck should be placed face down on the calendar space at the bottom of the board.
At the top of the board is the Community Centre. For each room draw 1 random bundle from the deck of bundle cards. Place the card facedown in the matching room. On the other side of the board is a letter. Shuffle the Grandpa’s Goals deck and draw 4 goals to place faceup in this area. The Community Centre and the Grandpa’s Goals are the goals for this game.
Stardew Valley is a co-op game where players take on different specialised roles. Players choose their profession and take the corresponding player mat. Players then select which tool type they would like to claim and take all the tool cards relating to that tool.
These cards are placed in the space on the player mat with the level 0 faceup on top. Place the four decks of profession upgrade cards facedown near the board. The starting player takes the pet token and the players collectively take 3 gold. All gold and hearts are shared between the players as a collective. You’re ready to play!
To complete the game, all 4 of Grandpa’s Goals must be completed and all 6 of the Community Centre rooms must be restored. The rooms are restored when donations of the items on the cards are made equal to the number of players. The room requirements start off hidden and are unveiled as you play.
Each round has three phases: season phase, planning phase and action phase.
In the season phase, players collectively draw a season card and carry out the instructions on the card. Each normal season card will have a collection of symbols which are carried out in descending order. A handy key is included at the bottom of the game board. The effects of each icon can positively or negatively affect crops, provide bonuses through gifts or events, allow the trading/selling of resources between players and replenish The Fish Track.
Alternatively, the icons can negatively affect the game by introducing Joja tiles. These are tiles which reduce the usefulness of a particular location on the board whilst they are active. They can be removed as an end of turn effect by discarding 1 heart or 5 gold. If you have drawn a festival card during the season phase, it will have one single effect which is written on the card.
At the end of the season, you will draw a Season End card. At this point, replace all forgeable tiles and trees from the board with the tiles for the next season. Seasons are shown by the colours on the back of the tiles. Players each draw 2 profession upgrades from the corresponding deck and choose which one to keep.
If it is double sided, choose which side is up or active. The next season’s card is drawn straightaway, its icons are followed and the game continues as normal.
In the planning phase, players can trade resource tiles or item cards. Although players collectively share hearts and gold, a player’s inventory is theirs individually and can be filled. There is space for 6 resources, 2 items, and 2 upgrades. There is no limit to epic items, friends or kept event cards. A starting tool begins at level 0 and can be upgraded as an end of turn effect. As well as trading, the planning phase allows players to discuss their plans for their next turn.
Once decided, place your pawn on the location in which you want to start. During your action phase you will be able to move 1 space but no further. When all players have placed their pawn the action phase begins.
Starting with the player holding the pet token, players can either take 2 actions at their current location or a combination of 1 action – a move – and 1 action. After each player has completed their action, they move their pawn back to the farmhouse, trigger any end of turn effects, and play proceeds clockwise.
If a player has moved between their two actions, they can take a forgeable item from an area sharing a border with the path that they have walked.
The actions available at each location are marked on the board. At the farm, a player can water crops or collect from animals. At the mountain, a player can explore the mine, buy buildings or go fishing at the lake. And so on. The actions you choose to take are likely to be targeted at completing either the 4 Grandpa’s Goals or the rooms within the Community Centre and will thus differ depending on which items are required.
To reveal a room in the Community Centre, players can spend an action at the Community Centre in Town and spend heart tokens equal to the number of players. They can then reveal the leftmost bundle card, starting with the Crafts Room. Donating to the Community Centre requires players to spend an action at the Community Centre and donate as many of the required resources as they are able. If bundles become impossible during the game, they can be replaced by spending more hearts.
Within the Community Centre are room specific. For example, to restore the fish tank players need to obtain certain types of fish which will require them to spend actions in one of three fishing areas. Some bundle cards require types of fish which can only be found at a specific location and players would then spend more actions in that location. Rolling the Stardew dice determines what combination of fish, trash or treasure chests can be caught.
To obtain hearts, players must make friends with the other villagers in Town. Spend 1 action in Town to turn over a Villager card. Each Villager will tell you what types of gifts they love and hate by the left and right hand sides of their card.
If a resource is not listed, it is a liked gift. If the player is able to do so, they can gift them a resource to make a friend and earn heart tokens. A loved gift will earn 2 hearts whereas a liked gift will earn 1. If the current season matches the villager’s birthday, players can earn an extra bonus heart. If the mermaid’s pendant epic item is obtained players can marry a villager to give a bonus action during the action phase.
Hearts can also be obtained by donating Artifacts or Minerals to the Museum run by Gunther. Filling the slots in the Museum can also earn up to 2 Epic Items.
To obtain gold, players can grow crops or collect from animals. Both of these methods of obtaining gold require preparation. Players would need to water crops to enable them to grow and be sold. Watch out for crows! The game starts with 1 parsnip in the field which can be watered until it grows and can then be sold.
Further seeds can be purchased from Pierre’s store in Town and players start with 3 gold to enable more crops to be planted early in the game. Crops are seasonal and there are four crop types for each season. At the end of the season, crops from the previous season can continue to grow but players can no longer buy more crops of that type.
To collect from animals, players need to create buildings and buy animals. These actions can be taken at locations on the board and are likely to require players to work together to obtain what they need to be able to achieve their goal.
The Boiler Room
The Community Centre requires Mine resources like Minerals, Bug Meat and Ore. Exploring the Mine can be done at the Mountain. Players spend 1 action to roll the Stardew dice and use the Map Card to determine what the outcome of the exploration is.
Rewards include stone, Bug Meat, Ore, Geodes, Items or Mine events. If the outcome is a monster the monster ability on the Mine level card is triggered. Mine levels are changed when staircases are used and a new Map Card is revealed. Ore can be opened by visiting Clint and a roll of the Stardew dice will determine what is inside.
At the end of your turn, place your pawn back on the Farmhouse. You can then choose 1 end-of-turn effect. The effect can be performed as many times as the player is able to. Building a staircase allows players to descend further into the Mine. Petting animals increases the value of their produce. Removing a Joja tile allows actions which may have been blocked to be used again and meeting the requirements to upgrade a starting tool advances it to its next level.
End Of The Game
The game ends with victory when the players complete all 10 of their objectives (4 Grandpa’s Goals and 6 Community Centre rooms) or with defeat when the final season card is drawn.
The rulebook includes various adjustments which can be made to change the difficulty, mode or length of the game. There is also a handy reference guide and a symbol reference sheet included on the back of the book which is very useful. A separate sheet includes strategies and tips for increasing your chances of completing the game.
Finally, there are rules included for a solo game, which is not altogether different from the co-op experience. The only difference is that the player can select from any of the four profession decks when they gain a profession upgrade at the end of the season, rather than being limited to their own profession.
I have to admit that when I was setting Stardew Valley up for the first time I felt slightly intimidated by the number of pieces. I started to get confused when I was reading the instructions and I found myself feeling almost overwhelmed by the openness of the gameplay. Also, I could choose to approach this game however I wanted and take whatever actions I wanted to in whatever order I chose. Where to start then?
However, as I started to play I realised that this is the beauty of the game. In that sense, it is so similar to the video game from which it originated. The goals are set at the beginning of the game but the method in which you approach them is entirely up to you. And I love that!
The seasonal element makes the game feel progressive; it is ever changing and unpredictable – like real-life farming. It makes the victory, when it eventually happens, even more sweet.