Stardew Valley

A pixelated character with purple hair and a red bow standing near fruit trees and a greenhouse

The cliché is "write what you know", and I have several hundred hours in Stardew Valley on Steam. I haven't got every achievement (and probably never will for reasons I will detail shortly), but I'm close as heck. I have grown and sold thousands of blueberries and made a few hundred gallons of void mayonnaise¹. If there's any game I know, it's this one.

Stardew Valley is easy to pick up, even if you're completely new to gaming. If you're looking for a nitpicky resource-management game, vanilla² Stardew Valley will disappoint you. It's low-stakes; the only thing you can functionally kill is your plants, and a lot of the detail you'd find in games like RimWorld is abstracted away. That's not at all a bad thing, but it does make the game more relaxed than some folks might prefer. If you're experienced with games like Harvest Moon, this will probably feel very familiar.

The inside of a chicken coop, with a pixelated character standing and looking at some eggs, one of which is black with red speckles
y'all think i'm lying about the void chickens

There are four seasons (you'll never guess what they are), each 28 days long. Different crops grow in each season; a few crops grow in multiple seasons but most are single-season. The variety and number are entirely up to you; it's a question of which seeds you buy and plant. You can also keep chickens, cows, rabbits, goats, ducks, sheep, and pigs, each of which yield a different resource that you can make into some more refined product. (For example, milk can be made into cheese, eggs into mayonnaise, wool into cloth, so on and so forth.) All of the animals live together in the same barn and/or coop, which we will suspend our disbelief for and pretend that's totally how it works IRL.

There's a loose plot that you can choose to participate in or not. You're taking over your recently-deceased grandfather's farm in Pelican Town, a small village in the eponymous Stardew Valley region, partly as an escape from your miserable, dead-end office job at JojaMart. JojaMart is the stereotypical evil capitalist corporation that's just opened a location in Pelican Town and is threatening the business of the small mom-and-pop grocery store in town. There's an optional questline where you can choose to either support or combat JojaMart's incursion on the town; if you opt not to, nothing happens. This is why I'll never get all the achievements, by the way: I know it's a game, but I can't screw over the town I just moved into for the corporation I'm trying to get away from. It's both incongruent to your motivation and I'm no fan of faceless capitalist conglomerates consuming whatever they choose. My inner completionist weeps.

The player character standing amid fields with sprouting plants and seeds; a noticeable patch of pumpkins is fully grown
a fairy visited overnight and that's how i got pumpkins early – not joking

You can also build relationships with the townsfolk (or not). This is, again, optional, though a number of items and recipes are unlocked via friendship levels with specific characters. Some of them are noted as single, and you can date and marry them if you've jumped through the appropriate hoops and wooed them consistently enough. Gender is irrelevant; any gender player can opt to marry any of the eligible townspeople. Polyamorous folks will be disappointed: attempting to date more than one person at once tends to end poorly. Small village and all. People talk. Ain't no secrets in Pelican Town.

The multiplayer mode is surprisingly smooth, especially for a game largely developed by one guy! The host should have good internet, but my partner and I have played together while 4,500 miles apart and had minimal issues outside of a few minor hiccups. (We have heart-shaped fields. Yes, we're disgusting.) I haven't tried with more than two players, but it's possible to have up to four including the host.

One of the greatest strengths Stardew Valley has is its versatility – you might've noticed that you don't have to do any particular aspect of gameplay that you don't want to. You'll miss out on things, but it won't (conspicuously) detract from your game. You can minmax the hell out of your game for sheer profit and refuse to grow anything but strawberries, or you can bin the idea of profits and go gangbusters on making the prettiest farm possible. You can do both, you can do neither. You can make your entire game centered around going into the mines. You can make your farm into a vineyard. You can make a dairy production racket. You could literally stand around doing nothing – it'd be boring, but hey, you bought the game, play it how you want.

The player character holding a pink fishing rod, fishing in front of a store that says FISH over the door
🎵 sittin on the dock of the bay 🎵

Stardew Valley is easily one of my favourite games to play when I want to unwind – it's unstressful, rarely more than very mildly frustrating, surprisingly deep in places, has tons of replay value, and adorable. Most computers should be able to run it fairly easily, including laptops. There's a lively modding community, and it's also available for Android, PS4, Xbox One, and the Switch – I don't love how it plays on phones, but that's a personal quibble and I'm apparently in the minority. Give it a try if you're looking for something relaxed and cute that lets you grow pumpkins as far as the eye can see. (And check out my farm!)

Game: Stardew Valley // Recommend: Yes // Price: $14.99 on Steam // Developer: ConcernedApe

¹ from void chickens, you see

² out-of-the-box; that is, without any mods



Occasionally reality-prone. Cross-stitch, synthwave, and video games.