Battle Sheep is an abstract strategy game from Blue Orange in which players try to fill fields with their herd of sheep. Sounds pretty easy in concept, so I jumped at the chance to play it recently. I grabbed a couple of kids (9, 11, and 12) and we dove right in.
Inside the box, I found 9 unassuming piles. Eight piles were colored discs decorated with sheep in four colors, one for each player. The ninth pile was a stack of modular board pieces. Each piece is made of four hexes, and is lightly decorated.
Upon inspection, I found that there are no words on the board, no numbers, no math, on any piece. They’re only in the (simple) rulebook. Everyone got a color (Black, Blue, Orange, and White), and an equal share of the hex-boards.
Reading the rules took less than a minute. Explaining the rules took almost no time. Each player takes turns placing the hex-boards in any direction, building on the tiles placed before. The boards don’t have to fit perfectly, and holes are easily created, which plays into some strategies.
While we took turns placing the boards, I explained the rest of the rules, which were so straightforward, we were sure we were missing something. After the last board was placed, it was time to actually use the discs.
Each player puts their entire stack of discs on a single hex. They were very tall piles, and one fell right away. Oops! We recovered easily, though. The player must put their herd on a hex touching the outside border, anywhere they like. The nature of the tiles is such that you can be blocked in immediately, which costs the game, so we ruled that you had to be three (3) border hexes away from each other, to begin. See below? The black tiles have already lost this game!
After everyone is placed, the last player to place goes first. The mechanic is super simple. Move any number of your sheep in one (1) direction, and go in that direction until you hit an obstruction. Obstructions include the edge of the board, holes, and other players’ discs. The player may leave any number of tiles behind, but must leave at least one. The goal is to place all of your sheep, without any being trapped. If more than one player places all of their tiles, or two players have the same (highest) number of sheep at the end, then the herd with the most contiguous herd wins.
Most of the strategy is straightforward, as well. Don’t trap in your own pieces. Try to trap in other players’ pieces, while preventing them from traping yours. Get all the tiles out, and go to town! If a tile is “stuck” it’s out of the running, so knock ’em out early, and prevent another player from winning.
Gameplay was anywhere from five minutes to fifteen, unless we had kids under 8 playing, in which case it was a few minutes longer. A finished board will look something like the image to the left (minus the highlighted hexes). The highlights are to show you contiguous herds. Because Blue has the most contiguous pieces, they are the winner!
It’s hard to show in an image, but the two black sheep on the right? They are small piles, which were trapped in by Orange and Blue, which means that Black was eliminated before the game was over, as they had no more moves to make. How sad! But the player was a great sport, and happily dove in for another several games.
Because I can’t help but love them, these are the sixteen sheep that make up each herd. They made gameplay so much fun, because kids love to look at them!
In three days, I played maybe twenty times. We played with all ages, skill levels, and tacticians. With little kids, we adjusted a rule or two (such as the restriction mentioned before). We also played a couple of rounds with no holes, which made the game both easier and trickier, because there were fewer obstructions overall. I’ve played it many times since that marathon, and I’ve enjoyed every one, including when I got slammed by a herd of little ones. (Sorry about the pun, I couldn’t resist).
Final note: The cost is right (under $18!), and the re-play value is astounding. I heartily encourage any, and every, family to get Battle Sheep for their home. It is a favorite for many a GeekMom, and GeekDad alike.
Disclaimer: GeekMom received this item for review purposes.