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SHEAR PANIC

Reviewed by Herb Levy

SHEAR PANIC (Fragor Games, 3-4 players, ages 10 and up, about 45 minutes; about $50)

 

I’ve written literally hundreds of reviews of games over the years consisting of a couple of million words. But I’m about to use a word that I have NEVER used in all those reviews over all that time. Adorable. The pieces used in Shear Panic are adorable. Now charm is a good thing in a game but it’s not enough if the game doesn’t work. Fortunately, Shear Panic, a Gordon and Fraser Lamont design, works very nicely.

The game centers around the (strange) behavior of a herd of sheep. Each player controls two sheep (noted by a color dot on their backs) in an attempt to earn the most points due to clever positioning. There are nine adorable sheep (two white sheep for each of the four players plus one black sheep), a ram (named Roger Ram) and the fearsome “Shearer”. Each player gets a control mat and 12 buttons in his color (“mutton buttons”) as well as a scoring counter. Two special dice (a panic die and a “return to flock” die) and a rules booklet complete the package.shearpanicbox

All players place their scoring counter and the timer counter on the dual purpose scoring/timer track at 0. The sheep are set up in a symmetrical pattern with the black sheep at the center but initial positioning changes as each player rolls the panic die.

The six-sided panic die shows all the colors of the sheep in play (blue, red, green and yellow) as well as a white and black face. If a color is rolled, the player must shift a sheep of that color one space in any direction, pushing any other sheep along. If the black turns up, then the black sheep is moved in a similar way. If white appears, then the WHOLE flock makes a “ewe” turn and rotates its facing by 90 degrees. Now, players take turns.

On a turn, a player chooses one move to make from the 12 move menu listed on his control pad. Actions available include moving one of your sheep one space in any direction, a “lamb slam” (moving one space in any direction, pushing any sheep in your way), a horizontal or vertical line move (all sheep in a line move one space in that direction), diagonal line move (all sheep in a line move diagonally), line up (where the flock moves to a side of the player’s choice), jump (enabling one sheep to jump in a straight line over other sheep to the next available space) and “ewe” turn (where the flock rotates 90 degrees). Some of these moves may be done more than once; others are one time use only. A mutton button is placed on the control mat to cover a chosen move so players always know which moves are still available to them.

As the sheep move, they can become separated from the herd. An adjustment is made at once by rolling the “return to flock” die. This die shows two types of icons: a “division” symbol and an “X”. If the division symbol is rolled, the separated sheep (or group of sheep) must rejoin the flock in a horizontal or vertical direction. An X allows the sheep to rejoin the flock in a diagonal direction. (If a diagonal move is not possible, then a horizontal or vertical movement must be done.)shearpanicpcs

Each move has another effect; it advances the timer token along the track 1, 2 or 3 spaces (as stipulated on the move menu). As the timer moves, four different “fields” are entered. Scoring is done differently in each field.

In the first field, the ACTIVE player scores 1 point for his sheep touching diagonally and 2 points if touching orthogonally (horizontally or vertically). In the second field, ALL players score each turn as Roger Ram is placed in the front of the herd and each sheep is scored individually according to how close she is to Roger. 4 points are scored for sheep in the first row, 3 for those in the second, 2 for those in the third and 1 for those in the fourth. (Any sheep further back score nothing.)

The third field rewards sheep close to the black sheep. The ACTIVE player scores 1 point for each sheep diagonally situated from the black sheep and 2 points for each sheep orthogonally connected to the black sheep. In the fourth and final field, the Shearer is placed at the head of the flock. Now the row NEAREST the Shearer is “sheared” and REMOVED from the game! Sheep in the row farthest away from the Shearer score 4 points, second farthest score 3, third farthest 2 and fourth farthest 1.

While the timer is moving along, it may sometimes end up on a space with multiple lines. This indicates a “PANIC”! The active player must now throw the panic die and do a “lamb slam”. (Any scoring to be done is done BEFORE the panic occurs.) When the timer reaches the last pen (space 74 in a four player game), the final shearing takes place. The player with the most points wins! (If tied, the player with the most surviving sheep wins. If still tied, the player who would have gone next wins!)

Although there are four phases of scoring, the impact of scoring changes. All players score on EVERY turn during phases 2 and 4 while only the active player scores in phases 1 and 3. Phases 2 and 4 are where the big points are. Plan accordingly! The menu of moves, limited to one time use, forces you to have some sort of long range plan. You need to keep some of the more powerful moves (such as jumping and ewe turn) in reserve for use at the right moment as the herd can change position in a flash. To be able to react to sudden shifts in position is the key to victory here. In essence, this is an abstract game. But, unlike many abstracts that try to paste on a theme, this theme fits like a glove (or a pair of woolen mittens) and the pieces carry the ambiance to new heights. Puns run rampant here, from the title to components (“mutton buttons”) to names for moves (such as “Ewe Turn”) and add to the charm and fun.

In its small initial release, Shear Panic was and remains difficult to find. Fortunately, plans are in the works for Zoch (and 999 Games) to reissue the game. This should make Shear Panic available to a larger audience – a move I commend and EWE should certainly enjoy.- – Herb Levy


 

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