Reviewed by Herb Levy
SHEEP & THIEF (Pegasus Spiele, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 20-40 minutes; € 24.95)
The countryside seems idyllic: lush greenery, flowing waters, frolicking sheep. But, as is often the case, things as not quite as they seem. Fritz the Fox is always on the prowl looking for trouble. And that’s only part of what players have to deal with in this latest game from Pegasus Spiele designed by Yuichi Sakashita: Sheep & Thief.
Each player begins with his own 4 x 4 board with a starting card showing a barn with 1 sheep (meeple) placed upon it. Everyone also gets a fox (meeple) which is placed in its assigned position on the board. Off to the side, everyone has a “paddock” card. The deck of landscape cards is shuffled and five cards dealt to all players.
Players examine their hands and, in typical drafting fashion, keep one and pass the rest along. (Cards are passed to the left in the first and third rounds of play, to the right in the second round.) When the dust settles and all players have chosen their hand of five cards, placement begins.
Landscape cards show landscapes (obviously) including roads and rivers. When placing a card, that card must be adjacent to one previously placed. Roads may be “cut off” to form dead ends; rivers, however, MUST continue. Turning the card upside down to make it “fit” better is not allowed nor may you place a card on the space occupied by the fox. Rivers may only be placed if they can show a starting point off board or extend an already placed river. In addition to roads and rivers, other symbols appear. sheep, dogs, foxes and barns.
A card with a sheep allows you to place a sheep from supply directly onto that space. Dogs allows you to move a sheep (or a herd of sheep on the same card) orthogonally to another card (ignoring any roads or rivers), 1 space per dog symbol. Moving sheep to a barn protects the sheep. Protects? From what? The FOX!!
Each fox symbol on a played card allows you to move the fox on your board one space in any horizontal or vertical direction (again with no regard for roads or rivers). The twist here is that when your fox moves, EVERYBODY’S fox moves in the exact same way on THEIR boards! If your maneuver results in the fox landing on a space with unprotected sheep, you capture them! Captured sheep are removed from opponents’ boards and transported into YOUR paddock.
When everyone has played four of their five cards, the rounds ends. Four more cards are now dealt to everyone and the drafting process begins again for the next round followed by the second round of placement. Again, when these cards have been used, another batch of four cards are dealt to everyone for the third and final round. All cards are not played; only 12 cards over the three rounds will find their way onto the board. Now we score.
Each sheep remaining on a player’s board scores 1 Gold. Each sheep in a player’s paddock also scores 1 Gold. Built roads that connect in an unbroken line to the towns of the community (appropriately named Woolington, Baabourne and Sheepville) found at the edges of the board will add 5 or 10 more Gold to the total. Finally, each river is valued based on its length with a 1 card river worth 1 Gold, a two card river worth 3 and so on. The player with the most Gold wins! (Tie? Then the player with the most sheep on his/her board is the winner!)
In addition to the basic game, two optional additions are provided that may or may not be combined. The “Black Sheep” begins in the upper left corner of the board and will score Gold based on how far he manages to travel down, up to as much as 15! (If the fox lands on him, though, he is not captured like the white sheep but sent back to start where he will score 0!) There are also Mission Cards which reward players for achieving certain goals such as having the longest river or the most sheep in certain areas of the board or positioning your fox in a certain space and so on.
Sheep & Thief is a a redone edition of a game originally released in Japan several years ago. Graphically, the quality has improved significantly with its mounted boards and wooden pieces (particularly the sheep) which helps bring the theme to life. Since a key element in the game is the movement of the fox and players will be sitting across and next to each other, it can be easy to mistakenly move the fox into the wrong space! This potential pitfall could have been easily avoided if someone had thought to add coordinates to the 4 x 4 board (A, B, C, D on the top with 1, 2, 3, 4 on the bottom). You might want to use stickers for this purpose.
The combination of card drafting (brought to popularity with 7 Wonders and utilized so well in games like Sushi-Go and others) and card/tile placement works well. Crafting a hand can be challenging and sometimes frustrating but, since you do not play EVERY card you draft, you have some “wriggle room” when faced with cards that do not allow you to do what you want. If you are in a situation where you have no legal card play, cards must still be played. Those cards are placed face DOWN and are considered landscapes without a road or river on them. You still have some flexibility because only 12 cards are placed throughout the game; some spaces will remain open allowing you to plot and plan several possible routes to get to those towns or extend those rivers.
Sheep & Thief is touted as a family game and that’s right on the money. The Black Sheep and Mission Cards add a little variety but do not ramp up the difficulty level beyond the targeted audience, something very welcome in a family game. In its looks and play value, Sheep & Thief is a game that children and their parents can play and enjoy – and that’s not a BAAAA-d thing! – – – – – Herb Levy
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