Updated 3/24/16: We've added four more tips to the list. Get farming!
Fans of Harvest Moon will immediately feel at home playing Stardew Valley. Clearing rocks from your field to make room for crops is intuitive to those who have done it before, and a good way to ease in newcomers. But there are other parts of Stardew Valley's controls and gameplay that don't come quite as naturally—including a few things that are downright perplexing. After toiling away in the hot sun for hours, here are some tips I wish I had known before starting Stardew Valley.
Activate "Always Show Tool Hit Location" immediately
I really like Stardew Valley, but the controls were incredibly confusing for me at first. It felt like I wasn't always watering/chopping/hoeing the square I was aiming at, and I couldn't figure out why. Then I discovered the "Always Show Tool Hit Location" option in the settings menu, which shows a red outline around the tile you are targeting, and immediately understood what was happening. If your mouse is pointed at one of the eight squares adjacent to your character, that's where you'll hit. But if it's farther away in any direction, you'll hit the square directly in front of the direction your character is facing.
It doesn't behave as you'd expect if you are used to playing twin-stick shooters or Terraria, which follows your mouse more accurately. Initially I assumed that if my mouse was in the top-left corner of the screen, I would be aiming at the top-left block adjacent to my character. Activating "Always Show Tool Hit Location" was pretty much the only way I could tell where I was going wrong, and it goes a long way in teaching you how to more accurately control your farmer.
You probably won't need the feature once you get comfortable with the controls, but it's vital at the game's start. And who knows, maybe developer ConcernedApe will change it to be on by default, the same way he did with auto run.
Watch TV every morning
It's easy to pass right by your TV in the mornings, but it's worth clicking through the various channels each time you wake up, especially since the game pauses while you read. The Weather Forecast is straightforward, telling you what you can expect for the next day. While it's not immediately useful information, it can potentially change what you might want to do that day if you know it will be raining the next.
The Fortune Teller is another one that can seem unimportant, but can genuinely shape what you plan for the day is. How "lucky" the Fortune Teller says your day will be directly influences certain RNG events within the game. Two important ones for that are item quality and ore in the mines. Picking crops or doing similar activities on lucky days increases the likelihood of those items being higher quality, thus selling for more.
And finally the irregular shows, Queen of Sauce and Livin' Off The Land, can be incredibly important. Queen of Sauce will teach you a new cooking recipe once a week, which becomes more relevant once you have a kitchen to cook in. On the other hand, Livin' Off The Land has immediately relevant information, telling you things you would otherwise only be able to learn from the game's official wiki page—like which fish are only available to catch during a season and the location and time of day then can be found.
Look out for worms
If you’ve got keen eyes, you may have already noticed the occasional wiggling lines sticking out of the dirt—and if you haven’t seen them yet then make sure to keep your eyes peeled, because these worms aren’t just decoration. If you hit them with your hoe, you’ll dig up an item. This is the only way to find the lost books from the library, which can fill you in with hints and secrets when read. Apart from books, you can dig up artifacts for the museum and occasionally (if you’re unlucky) plain ol’ mud.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t see them as often or abundantly as in the picture above—in fact, that screenshot is definitely the exception rather than the rule. But be on the lookout for movement among the dirt and you’ll start seeing worms more often than you would have guessed. They seem to be more common when it’s raining and potentially on lucky days, so make sure to follow the tip above and always watch TV in the morning!
This tip didn’t make it into the first version of this list, but was hotly suggested in the comments below. Thanks everyone!
Go to bed
Let's just say I learned this the hard way so you don't have to. Staying up past 1 AM isn't much of a problem as long as you don't run entirely out of energy, but you will wake up with slightly less energy the next day. But once the clock strikes 2 AM, your Cinderella dress fades away as you hit the dirt and pass out on the ground, which is a whole lot worse than just going to sleep tired.
You'll have less energy the next day and be charged for a percentage of your total gold for the expense of whoever dragged you home that night. Additionally, and I may be crazy and wrong about this as I couldn't find anyone else who mentioned it, but I'm pretty sure I once lost a whole day after passing out in the woods. Either way, it's not worth the risk. It's good to push your usable hours to the max, but make sure you can still get home in time for a real bed each night.
Fix the bridge to the tide pools early
From the very start of the game, there's a broken plank across the river on the right side of the beach that requires 300 wood to fix. Now, 300 wood is a whole lot, especially early in the game when it may take you a full day or two of chopping trees to get that amount, but it's definitely worth it in the long run. Repairing the bridge gives you access to the tide pools, a small extension to the beach area without much to do. What it does have, however, is Sea Urchins and Coral lying on the ground.
Sea Urchins and Coral, along with a few other things that occasionally show up, can be foraged from this area practically daily and sell for a surprising amount—which can make for an extremely helpful boost of gold in the early game. You make money slowly for your first few seasons, and the tide pools area offers a reliable (and, once opened, free) source of income. You won't miss the wood next season, and you will be thankful for the extra cash.
Bring food into the mines
Food is easy to underestimate when you first start Stardew Valley, primarily because you don’t have a kitchen and raw food just isn’t that impressive. But the ability to regenerate energy and health can be vital, especially when you’re trying to get the most out of each trip into the mines. Some of the community bundles can let you jump ahead a bit by giving you small quantities of high-end foods like chocolate cake, but even just crafting a handful of field snacks (unlocked from getting level one in foraging) can make the difference between passing out breaking rocks and making it to the next elevator.
Plan ahead for Community Center bundles
I'm going to do my best not to spoil anything in this section, as the Community Center begins the game as a bit of a mystery. But pretty early on in the story, the Community Center begins giving you little quest-like challenges, asking you to assemble bundles of items in exchange for rewards. These can range from monster-drops and minerals to crops and fish, and even cold hard cash. While you don't start with every bundle visible, it doesn't take long to unlock a couple dozen of them, and that's when you should start planning ahead for completing each one—specifically when it comes to the crops bundles.
A lot of the items these bundles ask for are seasons specific, and if you don't get them the first time around, you'll have to wait until the next game year. And from my experience so far, it could take anywhere from 30-45 hours of playing the game for spring to roll back around just so you can grow those high quality parsnips. It will pretty much be impossible not to miss some things, but check ahead and you might be able to complete a few bundles earlier than you otherwise would!
Crab pots are totally worth it
The crab pot is an item where you place it into a body of water (most profitably, the ocean), equip it with bait, and the next day you can return to collect your cretaceous catch. They definitely aren’t an early-game item as you have to have level three fishing to craft or buy them, and they are either take three iron bars to craft or 1,500 gold to buy. Definitely not cheap, but they have the potential for a massive return on your investment. They never break or run out, and as long as you keep them baited (which isn’t difficult if you are getting lots of bug meat from the mines) crab pots represent a nearly daily source of endless income.
What’s more, simply using a crab pot will let you complete the crab pot bundle in the community center, which (slight spoilers) will earn you three more crab pots. It’s definitely slow-goings at first, but if you aren’t a fan of fishing you can speed the process up by taking the Trapper profession at fishing level five, which changes the recipe of a crab pot from 40 wood and three iron bars, to 25 wood and two copper bars—a significantly lower cost to pay. Basically, crab pots start out looking expensive and slow, but if properly maintained are essentially an infinite source of free money. Nice, right?
Upgrade your watering can strategically
It’s a natural impulse to want to upgrade your tools as soon as you can, and the watering can should be high on the list of which to upgrade first. You’ll quickly realize that the more your farm grows, the more time and energy you are spending on simply watering every morning—and sprinklers are slow to get. Upgrading your watering can will save you precious energy, as it allows you to hold down the left mouse button and water multiple squares at once.
However, like all tools, upgrading it takes two days, meaning you’ll have one full day without the ability to water your plants. Luckily the sky can do that for you. Watch the weather report everyday (do you believe that watching TV is important yet?) and wait until the forecast for the next day is rain. Then you can water your plants in the morning, give your watering can to Clint to be upgraded, let the rain water your crops the next day, and finally pick up your watering can at 9am the day after. This way your crops won’t miss a single watering.
Build a Silo before a Coop
Pretty early on in your farming career, you are given a quest to build a Chicken Coop. It will probably take a little while after getting the quest to complete it, but there's a big reason not to rush. You will absolutely want to build a Silo first, and maybe even before you are ready for the Coop at all. Chickens start out by producing one normal-sized egg per day, which sell for 25 gold each, but they require one piece of hay per day to eat which, if purchased from Marnie's store, costs 50 gold each. So if you buy a Coop and some chickens as soon as you can, you'll be losing money every day for a long time.
That's where the Silo comes in, and why you want it before the chickens. Simply having a Silo on your farm makes it so whenever you use your sickle to cut down the wild fields of grass occupying your property, hay is automatically collected and put in the Silo. It essentially turns what is otherwise a nuisance into free money, so you should also wait to clear out the patches of grass around your field until you either have a Silo or just need the space. The quicker you are collecting hay, the better.
There are lots more tricks you'll pick up as you play Stardew Valley, but these were the ones that jumped out to me as vital to a new player. We'll look forward to sending more tips your way as we continue to till the earth.