Battle Sheep: One Sheep, Two Sheep, Red Sheep, Blue Sheep
I love playing games with my kids that have either a simple setup, a simple cleanup, or simple rules. Battle Sheep, designed by Francesco Rotta and published by Blue Orange Games, has all three. With just a handful of quality components and a very limited set of choices to make each turn, games are breezy fun with your little lambs, but there’s surprising strategic depth when playing with older ones.
Let’s take a look at the game, and I promise to not use too many baa-d puns.
The goal is simple: starting with a single, tall stack of “sheep” chip tokens, spread them out all over the board to control more spaces than your opponents. Each turn, you have two choices – how many sheep to move, and which direction to move them. How far you move them is NOT one of your choices. Sheep travel as far in one straight line as they can until they either hit the edge of the board or run into a space already occupied by other sheep.
The game proceeds like this, with stacks (or even just single chips) ramming back and forth across the board. When there are no more legal moves, the game ends – the fastest way to determine the winner is to count the number of chips still up in stacks, rather than count all the spaces you’ve occupied (usually each player has no more than a handful of sheep left like this – or none at all).
If this were it to the rules, I get the sense that Battle Sheep would come close to something of a solved game, like an advanced version of tic-tac-toe. But replayability and strategic depth are multiplied by two factors. First, every time you play you and your opponents build the pasture battlefield (i.e. the board) out of four-unit hex tiles, taking turns laying down one at a time and choosing their location and orientation. This way there are a large number of potential final shapes for the pasture.
Second, you choose the starting location for your stack of sheep from any hex-unit on the edge of the pasture. So far I’ve found that the best locations seem to be in the middle of longer straight edges – these locations give you the most flexibility to send your sheep in different directions in the early game. You typically want to split up your starting stack into three or more over the first few turns to avoid the very bad, no good, rotten possibility of having a huge pile of sheep hemmed in by your opponents. But send too big of a stack astray into a narrow region of the pasture, and you risk accidentally walling in yourself instead.
I’ve played this game with my family many times, and it takes no more than 15 minutes when everyone is making decisions at a reasonable pace. My eldest child, 10 years old, has mastered an understanding of what it takes to win, if not quite the ability to react well enough to his parents’ moves to do so consistently. Though the game is listed for ages 7 and up, we frequently let our 5-year-old play; while he is no threat to win, his haphazard moves have an uncanny way of wreaking havoc in the pasture and challenging the older players.
At times one player can play the role of sacrificial lamb to stop Mom or Dad from winning, giving a brother or sister the victory (try your best to be good-natured about this turn of events, for the sake of your family relation-sheeps). For the grown-up set, Battle Sheep is a quintessential filler on Game Night, but I mean that in all the best ways. It will take you no more than a few minutes to explain and a few more minutes to play, and so makes for an excellent palate-cleanser between heavier fare. In fact, I suspect you’ll find yourself playing two, three, or four games in quick succession.
Battle Sheep is one of those great family games that allow you to play with all ages. Quality components combine with instant set up, plain rules, and solid depth to result in a game as timeless as Checkers. If you order a copy for your flock, I predict ewe will love it. You can order your own copy of Battle Sheep here.
The Family Gamers received a review copy of Battle Sheep from Blue Orange Games.