Full disclosure: A review copy of Sunflower Valley was provided by Hobby World.
Alright, let’s pick up another one. We’re diving back into the wide, wide world of roll-and-write games, starting with Sunflower Valley! This one’s been around the world, and is being localized by Hobby World and UltraPro for US consumption. I did have a soft spot for the original aesthetic, but let’s see what’s going on with the expanded box size and the reportedly “cool dice”.
In Sunflower Valley, you’ve carved out a pretty nice place for yourself and your people, but now you need to make it a home. Plan railroads, build settlements, and beautify the rocky facades with sunflowers in a cute drafting game. Just don’t forget the sheep! Will you be able to build the greatest settlement in Sunflower Valley?
Relatively straightforward. Give each player a player sheet of the same letter:
Place the dice nearby:
Have each player take a random sheet (I guess don’t shuffle them; they can be somewhat random) and check the picture on it. Use the Reference Board, and based on where that picture is, draw a House in the corresponding hex on your board:
You can then flip the Reference Board over to the playing side:
Have each player check off two Villagers on the Villagers section of their player board, and you should be ready to start!
So, in Sunflower Valley, you’re building out a railroad between various houses to help transport sheep and flowers to build vibrant communities! As you do so, you’ll earn points, and the player with the most points wins!
The game happens over a series of rounds. To start a round, the first player will roll the dice, creating a pool for players to pull from.
Now, players draft the dice in turns. On your turn, take one die and place it on one of the color spaces. Add the symbol on that die to a hex space of the same color on your player board. If you cannot, draw a regular Sunflower on any space on the board. Keep in mind there are several types of die faces:
- Sheep: Add a sheep to the hex.
- Curved Railroad: Add a Curved Railroad piece to the hex. You may rotate it as you like, but it cannot curve through adjacent edges of the hex. You may not substitute it for a Straight Railroad.
- Straight Railroad: Add a Straight Railroad piece to the hex. You may not substitute it for a Curved Railroad.
- House: Add a House to the hex. Gain two Villagers.
- Super Sunflower: Add a Super Sunflower to the hex. Denote it with a 😀 instead of a 🙂 so you can tell it apart from a regular Sunflower. Gain one Villager.
- Sunflower: Add a Sunflower to the hex.
You must choose a die on your turn, even if you don’t want to. Such is the way of Sunflower Valley.
Once every space on the board has been filled, the round ends. At fewer than five players, this means that players will not take an even number of turns. End the round by passing the first player token to the left; that player will be the new start player.
End of Game
The game ends after players have completely filled out their board. You then head to scoring.
- Houses: Houses that are paired with sheep score 3 each. A house is paired with a sheep if it’s adjacent to a sheep, or if it’s connected via railroad to a house that’s adjacent to a sheep. Additionally, adjacent groups of 2+ sheep form a flock, and all sheep in a flock are considered adjacent to a house if any sheep in a flock is adjacent to it. Similarly, a group of 2+ adjacent houses form a settlement, and if a sheep could be paired up with a house in a settlement, it could instead be paired up with any other house in the settlement, as well. Keep in mind that every house must still be paired up with a unique sheep, though!
- Unpaired Houses: Any house without a corresponding sheep loses you 5 points. Make sure to get those pairs!
- Sunflower Areas: For each color of hex, if you have the most Sunflowers in that group of hexes, gain 3 points. If you are tied for the most, gain 0 points instead. Rough.
- Mountains: For each mountain, gain 1 point for every Sunflower or Super Sunflower adjacent to it.
- Villagers: If you have the most Villagers, gain 5 points. If you have the second-most, gain 3 points. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the most houses, then the most sunflowers. If players are still tied, nobody gets the points. But you really earned that 0.
- Valley Express: Count the number of houses that are connected to each other by at least 2 railroad hexes in a group. You score points for the size of each group:
- 1 House: 0 points
- 2 Houses: 4 points
- 3 Houses: 9 points
- 4 Houses: 15 points
- 5 Houses: 22 points
- 6 Houses: 30 points
Total your points, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I think the real difference is a bit of amortization. At lower player counts, we’ve had bad enough rolls that nobody wanted the dice. We definitely made a light house rule that once per game both players can make eye contact and say “reroll” and we’d just … do that. No judgement. At higher player counts, those “bad” rolls are split among players so everyone hurts a little bit, as opposed to one player hurting a lot. The problem is, at higher player counts, it’s also really hard to get things that you need in a timely fashion (or at all, honestly), since there are a lot of times that players gain things before you do. It evens out over the game, but when it hurts, it hurts. It also just takes a lot longer to do pretty much anything; even without analysis paralysis, the game isn’t exactly faster with more players having to make decisions that largely depend on what other players before them did. The game even recommends getting experience with four or fewer players before hitting it with five, so, it knows. Either way, I think the sweet spot for me is about three players, but your mileage may vary on that one.
- I usually lay down rail lines early. I like having that in place so that I can slot in houses as needed; plus, it makes it hard to block rail lines if you’ve already done them before other players notice. Just make sure you actually leave yourself enough flexibility that you can place the houses in there without too much trouble. Otherwise, you just have a very pretty and very long absolute waste of points, which is fun.
- Houses are very much risk, but if you can make it work, you can get the pretty hefty reward. You can lose a ton of points if you’re not paying attention, so make sure you’re getting the sheep you need to hook up to the houses you build and the railroads you construct. If you don’t, you’re going to tank yourself. So just, be careful.
- Control the sheep, control the game. This is a particularly salient point if you see other players getting houses. By themselves, sheep aren’t particularly useful, but if you can control the supply of them, then your opponents can’t get any and houses that they construct become massive deficits for them, which is a huge bummer, for them. It’s great for you, so, highly recommend doing that and just letting your opponents stew.
- Don’t undervalue sunflowers. They’re not terribly useful on their own, but if you can place them in the right spots (usually between more than one mountain) you can really ramp up a surprisingly small number of points. It’s not zero, though, so that’s good.
- Settlements and flocks make it easier to move things around. A bunch of sheep next to one house that’s on a rail line are considered adjacent to any of the houses on that rail line. I can’t recommend making an entire region of sheep for practical game reasons, but there’s a reason people do that in real life; it kinda works really well.
- Keep an eye on other players’ boards. There are definitely times where you can take certain items or certain colors just to put the screws to them. That’s hate drafting! It’s a big part of the back half of the game, especially when it sticks them with a sunflower that they can’t exactly use to any particular level of effectiveness. Or leaving them two houses when they can’t place any more sheep, but that’s just cruel.
- Also keep an eye on your own board. A lot of players forget that you choose which color you play on most of the time, so it’s possible to do so unevenly and then have to add a bunch of sunflowers to the empty color space. Try to stay balanced, if you can.
- If you see someone getting away from you on Villagers, just let them. I don’t think it’s often worth the catch-up game on Villagers, especially if you’re taking Houses that you can’t pair with Sheep. Even one of those tanks the bonus you’d get from getting the most Villagers. Remember the end-game impact of your various decisions!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. I mean, who doesn’t want to play a game with sheep and railroads and houses and happy sunflowers? It manages to be an even more pleasant experience than Railroad Ink, already an incredibly pleasant little train game (though the Meteor mini-expansion kind of … isn’t).
- Do enjoy a roll-and-write. I think the genre is kind of getting a bit stale, since so many companies have released so many so recently, but I do still like them. This one has a nice drafting element, which is still pretty common in the space (Tag City being one of my favorite examples), but this is still also a fun entry in the space, I’d say.
- Comes with a ton of player boards. There’s almost too many? I’m being mostly facetious, but there are a positively ridiculous number of boards. That’s nice, though, changes up the layout pretty well. At the very least, it means you can’t approach a new board the same way as the old board, even if you get a good sense of how to play the game, which is cool.
- The dice are nice, as well. I’m always a sucker for etched dice. They’re nice, they have a good weight, and they just … look pleasant. I’d like them more if I could draw those images on my own board, but the game doesn’t imply that it’s going to teach you anything about art, so I’m willing to give it a pass on this particular failing of mine.
- The potential for analysis paralysis is still pretty high. There are a lot of ways to do that, if it’s not drafting it’s the pathing or the trying to plan out long-term placements. I wouldn’t play this with frequent AP hosts; I’d probably recommend going with something a bit closer to real-time (Tangl, also this week, might be a better fit).
- If you’re as bad at drawing as I am, this is going to look even worse than Harvest Dice or Rolling Ranch. My sunflowers look like a cross between a daisy being repeatedly punched and Flowey (or Photoshop Flowey; honestly, I’m not that kind of artist). Rolling Ranch is embarrassing since I can’t draw cows, but this is brutal. On the plus side, it can give players something to do when it’s not their turn, which is often.
- The Valley Express is very often a source of long-term consternation for players who don’t quite get how to score it. A lot of players make the mistake of thinking it’s just one railroad required to connect houses; it’s not. Has to be two. I’d highly recommend emphasizing this point multiple times (and / or providing an example) before players’ first games. Even if they don’t end up needing the example, it’s better safe than sorry.
- The setup time is pretty aggressively inflated by having to shuffle the other player sheets to generate a random starting configuration for one hex for each player. Just have the players roll the die and have the die correspond to the color they have to place the house, or something. This way involves a lot more shuffling, but not to any particular end.
- At the end of the day, if the dice are fickle you’re pretty much screwed. We had a player very effectively poach the entire sheep supply, since keeping sheep locked down was worth a fair amount to him, and blocking us from getting any sheep made
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, yeah, I think Sunflower Valley is pretty good! I guess I might have taken the “random player sheet” a bit too seriously and tried to shuffle it, which made a decently bad first impression, but I quickly got a bit more won over with how delightful the various elements are. I like path-building a lot, and there’s plenty of that. I’m a big fan of drafting, and wouldn’t you know, drafting showed up, too. I’m less a fan of drawing, but that’s really only because I’m pretty bad at it. When other people draw (like my vastly-more-skilled-housemate), the game looks absolutely wonderful! That’s good, too, since the game can slow down a bit during the drafting phase; there’s enough analysis paralysis potential that most players are going to take a bit of time to arrive at a decision, and as the player counts increase, I think that effect is exacerbated pretty significantly. That’s not the worst thing, but I do wish there were a way to allow for a reroll or something of the dice; a particularly bad spread can hurt players, and it’ll wound you pretty deeply if there aren’t enough players to really spread the love around on a bad roll. You’d figure there’d be a way to fix that, but I assume the fix is that the random dice roll should be somewhat amortized over the multiple dice that you roll? It mostly works, except when it doesn’t. Either way, it’s a very pleasant dice drafting roll-and-write, and if you’re into that sort of thing, it might be worth checking out! I thought it was a pleasant experience.