After spending more than 300 hours in the 8-bit cottagecore bliss that Stardew Valley has so diligently provided in PC/console game format, it was time for me to travel to a new version of the valley. The board game version, that is! A birthday gift from my husband in November 2022, this tabletop version of ConcernedApe’s popular farming/social sim game proved to be a delightful new experience for a veteran Stardew player like myself, but also highly enjoyable to board game lovers who have never played Stardew at all!
Stardew Valley: The Board Game basics
According to the box and official website, Stardew Valley: The Board Game is for 1-4 players ages 13+ and takes around 45 minutes per player to complete in the standard play mode. Per standard mode, you’re tasked with cooperatively completing 4 of Grandpa’s Goals (randomly drawn) as well as all 6 Community Centre bundles (also randomly drawn) before the end of Winter with 4 rounds of play for each season. However, there are a variety of ways to speed up (or lengthen) the game as well as alter difficulty.
As like most board games, the time and age limit is very approximate but I would say it’s generally pretty close. Younger players would benefit greatly from an adult being one of the players just to keep things organised and be a rule checker, if needed!
Allocate a decent chunk of time for a full game if you intend to play the standard mode with 3 or 4 players, as it’s easy to hit 3+ hours with even 3 people, depending on individual play style! I would probably suggest doing a slightly shorter game for your first play, aiming for perhaps only 2 of Grandpa’s Goals instead of 4.
What’s in the box?
I will admit that I was both impressed and slightly overwhelmed by the amount of content in the box upon first opening. Grab a friend (or two!) and get to work popping out the dozens upon dozens of item cards because it will take a while: there are 248 tiles! Be prepared that setup for your very first playthrough will take a bit of time to unpack and organise all the contents, but if you’re already familiar with Stardew Valley as a video game you’ll probably have a ball ogling at the new artwork for some very well-known items and, of course, people.
Item ’tiles’ for 4x different crops, 6x animal products, 4x types of geodes, and several materials stack nicely in one of the two provided organisation trays included with more recent printings of the game. A larger, deeper plastic tray is provided for the player pieces, dice, and bigger tiles/cards like those for the villagers and mines. Everything packs away fairly nicely in the box, though the two provided bags for fish and artifact tiles can get a bit bulky.
The board is not overly huge but is easy for all 4 players to gather around and access without being too crowded. A perfect albeit condensed reproduction of Stardew Valley’s map, the board is well laid out and has numerous places outlined for several of the game’s cards/tiles to be housed. The vast majority are housed off of the board, though, so make sure you have adequate space for player cards as well as game decks.
Besides the game pieces and board, the Stardew Valley board game comes with a very clear and comprehensive instruction manual, as well as a quick start ‘tips and tricks’ 1-page guide. The instructions answered almost every question that arose during two separate playthroughs; questions that did come up seemed to be common ones asked by other players and advice was quick to find online from the game makers themselves.
Gameplay, mechanics, and features
Anyone already versed in the goals of Stardew Valley as a video game will have an excellent grasp on not only the end goals of the board game but also how to get there. You start out the board game in a similar way to the video game, selling foraged goods and quick-growing crops for starter cash before moving up to riskier more valuable crops and purchasing animals. Fishing remains a top source of income (if you’re lucky!) and donating the museum is a worthwhile endeavour.
Overall, the board game is very loyal to the video game and I was pleasantly surprised by this fact. The game makers – Cole Medeiros and Eric Barone aka ConcernedApe himself – have tried to maintain the heart and soul of Stardew game play while simplifying it down to its essence. There is a huge amount to do in the board game – just like the console/PC game – and doing a little bit of everything is necessary for a successful playthrough.
Unlike the video game version, though, making friends is one of the most important aspects of the tabletop game that you cannot ignore. You might be able to go months in the video game without a single ‘good friend’ to your name, but the tabletop version won’t let you be a hermit. Making friends right away is key but can be difficult at the start if you don’t have nice things to offer in exchange for friendship!
Difficulty is never too high and huge obstacles all mostly have a way around. The game makers obviously spent a lot of time contemplating the game’s mechanics to ensure it was always possible to have a satisfying game. Whether a bundle suddenly becomes impossible due to season change or you can’t seem to make friends at the saloon, there are alternatives to the goals you need to accomplish (including a way to complete a bundle without the required goods).
Across two individual playthroughs – one in ‘standard’ mode and the other a shortened game – we nearly lost! It was incredibly close both times and took a lot of strategizing to ensure we were successful. While I really enjoy this sort of ultra-focused strategy, I’m sure others out there who are used to a cozy, relaxing Stardew playthrough might disagree. The board game really forces you to stay focused on end goals, so there isn’t much room for exploration or collecting just because you want to or hope to get something better and this is ultimately my biggest, but only, criticism.
My only complaint…
Younger players in particular might struggle with the tunnel-vision necessary for completing bundles and Grandpa’s goals. Similarly, you don’t have much opportunity to obtain items – especially not Epic Items – until what seems to be too late in the game. We never came across many items in our playthroughs and frequently those we did were at the very end, so they didn’t have much use to us.
Adding more cards to each season (thus extending how many rounds there are) would allow for this, but greatly extends the playtime required to complete the game especially if you have more than 2 players. There are some powerful Epic Items to be found, but they are only obtained from completing all the community centre bundles, reaching the bottom of the mine, or finishing displays in the museum.
A total of 4 epic items can be gained in any one game, but you will probably only be able manage 1 or 2 towards the very end, making the items often rather useless.
It’s like getting the Master Cycle Zero after totally completing Breath of the Wild (a disappointment I try to actively avoid feeling again). This seems to be a bit of a trend in games and it’s one I’d like to see disappear…
Regardless of the lack of items, the gameplay is still very entertaining and there is a lot to keep you busy. Choosing a starting profession and tool will affect your individual play style for that game, but you’re not limited to doing the task your profession assists in. There is great versatility in how you want to go about completing your set goals so you’re never really stuck in one style if you don’t want to be.
One of my absolute favourite features of Stardew Valley: The Board Game is that it can be played by 1 player on their own. This is becoming more and more of a thing when it comes to board games and it is awesome to see! Having the option for someone to enjoy this game totally on their own is wonderful, especially as the video game itself is traditionally single player. Whether you’re on the more introverted side, are stuck at home sick, or just want to play a game on your own, you can take comfort in Stardew Valley just like you might have done with the video game!
Whatever skepticism you might have about board game versions of games past, try to set them aside and give Stardew Valley: The Board Game a go. This isn’t simply a third party’s attempt at capitalising on a popular franchise as the original creator was heavily involved: the tabletop version is a direct reworking of the video game you know and love.
Even if you’ve never even heard of Stardew Valley, it’s still a quality cooperative game that provides entertaining and thoughtful gameplay that is different every time. A knowledge of the video game is totally not required to play the board game and/or enjoy it.
The art is high quality and perfectly executed, the pieces are sturdy, the board is well planned out, and the given organising trays are very helpful. All in all, it had everything I would have hoped for and would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a fun cooperative game!
Playing Stardew Valley: The Board Game for yourself
Stardew Valley: The Board Game is widely available not only in the USA through the official Stardew Valley online shop and other retailers, but also across the UK, EU, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (where I am).
As of 2022, there are sadly no additional translations available besides English, but according to the official Stardew Valley forums and co-creator Cole Medeiros, adding translations and local distribution in other countries is something they are trying to make happen ASAP! I wouldn’t be surprised if French, Spanish, Italian, German and a few other languages get translations of the game in the very near future.
You can also play the game online through several different online board game ‘simulator’ websites. So if you can’t find a physical copy or want to try before you buy, there are a few ways to do so.
What do you think?
Have you already played Stardew Valley: The Board Game? What did you think? I’d love to hear other player’s opinions and experiences! Leave a comment and let me know! 🙂