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WAR & SHEEP

Reviewed by Herb Levy

WAR & SHEEP (Eurogames/Descartes USA, Inc.; 2 players, about 15 minutes; $14.95)

 

Mutton mayhem in the meadow sets the scene for War & Sheep, one of the initial releases in the new 2 player series of games recently unveiled by Eurogames. War & Sheep is designed by Bruno Cathala and comes in a small box which holds a game board, 38 tokens, 21 Action cards and a rules folder.

Each player begins with a set of six identical sheep tokens. The sheep are placed on the game board in one of two initial set up positions (as shown in the rules) so that the sheep are basically in “mirror image” positions. The board is basically a 6 x 6 grid of circles and it is filled by placing the grass tokens plus the 2 wolf tokens (all face down) on the remaining empty spaces.warsheepThere are three kinds of grass tokens. “Lush Grass” valued at 5, “Common Grass” worth 3 and “Fermented Grass” worth only 1. However, these values are neatly counterbalanced by what happens (or doesn’t happen) when one of your sheep eats the grass.

On a turn, a player MUST perform two actions from a menu of five possibilities: “go on recon”, move a sheep, move a wolf, camouflage a sheep or play an Action Card. (And yes, the same action may be done twice.)

“Going on recon” means a player may look at 1 or 2 face down tokens adjacent to one of his sheep. The examined tokens are returned face down or, if the examined token turns out to be a wolf, may be returned face down OR placed face up. And, of course, a sheep can move.

Sheep movement is done in a straight line, horizontally or vertically but not diagonally. An interesting byproduct of sheep movement is a “draft” effect. As in many race car games, the lead sheep acts like a lead race car and will “drag along” other sheep directly behind it (regardless of color). A sheep cannot stop unless it meets an obstacle of some kind: another sheep of either color, a camouflaged sheep, a wolf or a grass token. If bumping another sheep, movement stops. If bumping into a wolf, the sheep is immediately eaten and removed from the board. If a grass token is the obstacle, the sheep eats the grass. Should the token be a Lush Grass token, the player removes the token and places it in his stash. However, the sheep, completely satiated on this exquisite meal, is removed from the board! If it’s Common Grass, the token is revealed, taken but, this time, the sheep remains on the board. If Fermented Grass makes the meal, again the token is claimed, the sheep remains on the board but the player now draws an Action Card.

Action cards add a chaotic element and a bit of zaniness to game play. The play of an Action card can cause varied results from changing one of your sheep to a “Mad Sheep” (enabling that creature to move horizontally, vertically and DIAGONALLY!), allowing you to move an enemy sheep, removing sheep (or a wolf) from the game, returning sheep to the game, even ending the game (a good play if you think you’re ahead) with the play of the “Truce” card. To prevent hoarding cards, three “Binge” cards force the unlucky player who draws them to discard ALL Action Cards currently held!

Also, a player may move the wolf which moves like a normal sheep (horizontally or vertically until meeting an obstacle). But a sheep is not completely helpless when endangered by a wolf as it may be camouflaged. To camouflage a sheep, a player merely flips a sheep token to its other side. When camouflaged, a sheep cannot be eaten by a wolf! On the other hand, In that position, a sheep cannot move!

Play continues until one of these things happens. Should a player lose all his sheep, his opponent automatically wins! Barring that, the game ends when the Truce card is played, no more grass tokens are on the board OR if, for four consecutive turns, no sheep are eaten by wolves or grass tokens eaten by sheep. At that point, Victory Points are totaled.

Grass values (those 1, 3 and 5 tokens) held by each player are added. Any bonus points resulting from played Action cards are added too. The player with the highest total wins. If there is a tie, the game is a draw.

When planning your moves, keep in mind that board edges can be dangerous. A hungry wolf can easily “ricochet” off an edge and snatch up your sheep. Sometimes, camouflaging a sheep to keep it safe from attack until the wolf moves away is a prudent move. Remember: lose all your sheep and you lose the game! Action cards should be judiciously used as they can parlayed with another action to strengthen a position or eliminate an opponent’s sheep. But again, don’t hoard. Those Binge cards can ruin the best plans.

War & Sheep is a game of immense charm. The motif, helped a great deal by the delightful box, token and card artwork of Cyril Saint-Blancat, transforms what is, in essence, a simple abstract game, into an enjoyable 15 minutes of play. As a bonus, it gives the game an appeal for non-gamers who might shy away from something with a more serious theme. Don’t let the light topic fool you. It’s not rocket science but the game packs plenty of fun. – – – – – Herb Levy


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