Create the friendliest village in Sunflower Valley filled with houses, sheep, sunflowers, and railroad tracks.
What Is Sunflower Valley?
Sunflower Valley is a roll-and-write (or, really, a draft-and-draw) game for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45–60 minutes to play. It was released at Essen this year by Hobby World, and is expected to arrive in the US sometime in December through Ultra Pro with a retail price of $30—CoolStuffInc has it available for preorder now. The game is family-friendly, with nothing inappropriate for kids; the rules are simple but there is a somewhat tricky rule about connecting sheep and houses that may be a little confusing for some players.
(There was a prior version of Sunflower Valley published in 2017 by Fully Analog, though it appears to be sold out.)
Sunflower Valley Components
Note that my photos are of a pre-production copy and final component quality differs slightly—in particular, the finished dice are engraved instead of just stickered. My prototype also didn’t include a first player token, but that was easily substituted. The final version will be a wooden locomotive meeple.
Here’s what’s included:
- Dice board
- 20 double-sided player sheets
- 5 dry-erase markers
- 6 dice
- First Player token
The player sheets are all glossy cardstock, so you can draw on them with the included markers and then erase them. I love this idea for roll-and-write games, which typically include paper sheets (sometimes with tiny golf pencils) because it’s a lot less waste. Not only that, but having reusable sheets means that Sunflower Valley can include 8 different boards to play with: each sheet is double-sided with two different boards, and there are 5 copies of each version. This offers multiple layouts to play with.
Everything about the game is pretty adorable. The dice faces depict houses, sunflowers, sheep, and railroad tracks, and they’re cute little doodles. The boards are colorful hexes with some mountain spaces and sunflowers in the borders. One nice touch is that the sheets have small icons in each of the colored hexes to help color blind players distinguish them (and match them up with the five dice spaces on the dice board), though they are pretty tiny on the player sheets.
Sunflower Valley is GeekDad Approved!
How to Play Sunflower Valley
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by clever placement of your doodles on your player sheet.
Give each player a marker and a player sheet, making sure everyone has the same letter. On the back of the dice board, there’s a starting houses diagram. Refer to the village illustration on the bottom right section of their board, look for the matching village icon on the setup diagram, and draw a house in that hex on your player sheet. Also, check off two villagers at the top left of your player sheet—every house includes two villagers.
Then, flip the dice board back over to its front side. Choose a starting player, and give them the dice and the first player token.
During each round, the current starting player will roll the dice, and then, in turn order, players will take turns drafting dice and drawing symbols on their sheets.
When it’s your turn, choose one of the available dice, and place it onto an available colored space on the dice board. You must then draw that symbol in a free space of the matching color. For instance, if you take a sheep die and place it on the pink square on the dice board, then you draw a sheep in a pink hex on your player sheet.
The six faces of the dice are: house, super sunflower, sunflower, sheep, straight train track, curved train track.
If you draw a house, you also check off two villagers at the top left; a super sunflower (depicted with a small person) gets you one villager. Straight tracks have to go straight across the hex; curved tracks bend so that they skip over one hex side and connect to the other—no hairpin bends here!
If you’re forced to choose a color that you’ve already filled on your sheet, you still place the die there, but instead, you draw a regular sunflower anywhere on your sheet, in any color.
The round continues until all five colored spaces on the die board have been taken; then the dice and the starting player token are passed to the next player clockwise, and the process repeats.
The game ends when all of the spaces on the sheets are filled.
The scoring chart is along the bottom of the sheets.
1. You get 3 points for every house that has a sheep connected to it. This is perhaps the most complicated of the rules, but here’s the gist:
- Each sheep can only be attached to one house
- Sheep can be attached to an adjacent house
- Any sheep in a flock (a contiguous group) can be attached to any house in an adjacent settlement (a contiguous group)
- A sheep adjacent to a house can ride along an attached railroad to another house, assuming the railroads connect to the houses (and can also pass through the house to get onto another railroad track, etc.)
- Sheep cannot get onto railroad tracks without passing through a house
2. For every house that does not have a sheep connected, you lose 5 points.
3. For each color, the player with the most sunflowers in that color gets 3 points. If there’s a tie for most, nobody gets the bonus.
4. Each mountain is worth 1 point per adjacent sunflower. (The same sunflower can be counted twice if it is adjacent to two mountains.)
5. The player with the most villagers gets 5 points; second most gets 3 points. Ties go to the player with the most houses, then the most sunflowers. If there’s still a tie, nobody gets the points.
6. The Valley Express bonus (shown at the bottom of the dice board) gives you points for chains of houses/settlements that are connected by at least 2 railroad tracks between them.
Add up your score—highest total wins, with ties going to the player with the most houses, then the most sunflowers, then the most villagers.
Why You Should Play Sunflower Valley
I feel like the popularity of roll-and-write games has just been steadily increasing lately, at least among the board game community I follow on Twitter. Welcome To… was a big hit (and a bit of a variation because it used cards), but there are a host of other titles that have been popping up. Sunflower Valley adds a couple of its own fun twists to the genre, so I’m calling it a “draft-and-draw.”
In many of these games, all of the players work off the same set of dice (or cards)—somebody rolls, but everyone gets to choose simultaneously and there can be overlap in the choices. In Sunflower Valley, you draft from the pool of dice, so turn order matters quite a lot, and it also allows for some hate-drafting, if you like that sort of thing. For instance, if you’re paying attention and you notice that the player to your left really needs a curved train track in blue, you can take the last curved track or take anything at all and place it in blue just to stymy them for a round. (Just remember that since the first player passes every round, they’ll get their chance at payback.)
And, of course, there’s the drawing. If drawing happy sunflowers and little sheep on a hex board doesn’t appeal to you, I guess I just can’t help you. You don’t have to be able to draw well—as long as you can distinguish your sheep from your houses from your flowers, you’re fine. But it is a lot of fun to decorate your player sheet, and if you’re a compulsive doodler then Sunflower Valley gives you a lot of opportunities to do just that. I’ve had some kids decide that everything was going to be cats instead of sheep, or players who made all their houses really fancy, and I’ve had players who just wrote “S” for sunflowers and left it at that.
In terms of strategy, it’s a bit about playing the odds and a bit about your ability to map things out. The two things that you have to watch for especially are getting sheep to your houses and spacing out the houses and train tracks for the Valley Express. You don’t want houses with just one track between them, because that doesn’t get you any points and just wasted a space. And you definitely don’t want houses that have no sheep connected, because then you’re losing five points—getting the most villagers only zeroes out one house. Of course, in most games I’ve played, sheep are in short supply. I feel like we get sheep less than once per roll (though of course they should be about one per roll, statistically), so usually, it’s the first player who gets a sheep if any show up. We’ve even had players manage to take extra sheep even when they had enough; sheep aren’t worth any points in themselves, but if you can deny sheep to an opponent who has too many houses, that’s effectively an 8-point difference.
The other factors—placing sunflowers next to mountains, and trying to have more sunflowers than other players in each color—are a little easier to grasp, though it’s hard to win on those alone. It can be a strategy to try to fill up some colors as quickly as possible, though, because then any time you choose that color, you get to just draw a sunflower anywhere (potentially filling up yet another color, and so on). It does mean you may not get as many houses and tracks, but at least sunflowers are never negative. (Plus, they’re pretty!)
I do wish the sheep-connection rules were a little easier to explain, because that’s always the longest part of the rules explanation, and sometimes it takes players one playthrough to really understand what’s going on there. I also think the game could use a little more clarification on some of the rules—like what happens if you have a house-track-house-track-house? Does that qualify you for the Valley Express bonus for just two houses, since the first and last house are separated by at least 2 tracks? Or in the tie-breakers for most villagers, if the first and second place tie all the way down and get 0 points, does that mean the third player with even fewer villagers actually wins and scores the points? We ended up just house-ruling these questions, but it may be good to have these things stated up front before you begin playing so everyone is agreed.
Despite those questions, I’ve really enjoyed playing Sunflower Valley and have taught it to a lot of different players. I love the drawing aspect, and I like the dice-drafting because it gives you more player interaction than some roll-and-writes where you’re essentially playing solitaire and then comparing scores at the end. Here, you have an incentive to watch what other people are doing: did somebody just get more villagers than you? Has anyone outpaced you in sunflowers in the blue zone? How many sheep does that player need for their houses?
Whether you’re a long-time fan of roll-and-write games or you’ve never played one before, Sunflower Valley can be a delightful (and delightfully cutthroat) game that’s as cute as you want to make it. Look for it in stores in December (if you weren’t lucky enough to snag a copy from Essen)!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a pre-production copy of this game for review purposes.