Fans of mellow, farming sims are probably aware of the indie delight, Stardew Valley. It is a decidedly laid back experience where you work on a farm in a small town. It has received several expansions and updates since its release, all building on this modest foundation. There was even a Stardew Valley board game that did a great job translating all of its source material's elements... except for combat.
In a Designer Diary post on Board Game Geek, lead designer Cole Medeiros pulled the curtain back about the design challenges he faced with the Stardew Valley board game. Medeiros explained all of the collaboration he had with the videogame's creator, Eric Barone, and how they wanted to ensure that this tabletop adaptation would capture the same charm of the source material. To quote Medeiros, "We knew Stardew had all the makings of a great board game experience: lots of resources and items, characters and locations. So much lore just waiting to be put to paper — but despite our excitement at the thought, we still had no idea how to capture all the cool little bits that work so well as a video game."
But one of the biggest absences was combat. In the Stardew Valley video game, there were dungeon crawl sections where you would explore underground passages and fight monsters for precious resources. Considering how much of the game focuses so much on crop management, farm upkeep, and interaction with the town's locals, it's one of those elements that sticks out. It is such a minor element that as Medeiros talked about the long process of prototyping, incorporating feedback, and iteration, it was something that eventually dropped altogether. Elements like fishing, catching insects, the changing of seasons, the various building upgrades that can be applied to the farm and community, all of those were fleshed out and expanded.
But when it came to weaker or too complex elements that just didn't work with the overall design, monster combat was one of the design darlings Medeiros had to kills. "I came up with a lot of things that didn't work at all. Originally there was monster combat involved in the mines, chit pulling involved with fishing, foraging was not a free action, and on and on. Sometimes I came up with excellent ideas, but they were way too complicated. I condensed down the strengths of these ideas and tossed out the weaker parts to arrive at what is currently in the game."
The biggest surprise in this Designer Diary is that Medeiros was encouraged to design the Stardew Valley board game this way by Barone himself. He told Medeiros not to worry about a target audience or checking boxes off a list of must-have elements, but to just make a game you love to play. The entire post is a fascinating look into just how much time and effort goes into designing a tabletop game, even one based on an official license. But above all, it can show that sometimes less is more.