In Battle Sheep, your flock of sheep is fighting against other sheep for control of the most pastures in the farmer’s field. Your sheep are not pacifists. You want to own those pastures and keep the other sheep off your turf by surrounding them and preventing them from moving in. Why share when you can have it all?
How It Plays
Battle Sheep is a simple to learn abstract strategy game. At the beginning of the game, each player takes four of the identically-shaped field tiles. Each tile consists of four individual “pastures” marked by hexagonal spaces. It is these individual pastures that you are fighting to control.
Players take turns placing the tiles in any formation they choose. The only rule is that newly placed field tiles must touch at least one side of an already-placed tile. No putting tiles in the middle of nowhere! However, you can construct the field so that there are holes in the middle, or you can create small, tight fields or wide open spaces. Every game can have a different field arrangement.
Once the field is set up, each player places their entire “sheep stack” (all 16 of their sheep tokens) on a space of their choosing on the outer edge of the pasture. Players should set their stacks on opposite sides of the field to spread out the sheep stacks.
On your turn you must do two things:
- Split your sheep stack into two stacks. You choose how many sheep you want to have in each stack, but each stack must have at least one sheep.
- Leave your original sheep stack where it was and move your new stack in a straight line as far as it can go in any direction you choose. You cannot move diagonally. Movement stops when you either a) reach the edge of the field or, b) encounter another sheep stack (either your own or that of another player). You may not jump over, combine with, or go around other sheep stacks.
If your sheep stack is blocked in on all sides by other sheep it can no longer be moved, regardless of how many sheep are left in the stack. If you cannot move any more sheep, you are out of the game. Other players may continue, however.
Players continue alternating turns until no one can move any more sheep and the game ends. Players count how many pastures they occupy and the one with the most wins. If there is a tie, the player with the most sheep on connected pastures (pastures that touch on at least one side) wins.
Green Pastures or Toxic Wasteland?
This game was originally released as Splits in 2010. It was the same game, only back then it consisted of plain brown tiles and single-color chips. (It looked much like Othello.) That it plays exactly the same whether the components are plain or decorated with sheep tells you that this is and always will be an abstract game. Cute sheep probably won’t make an abstract-hater love this game.
Although the sheep and pasture tiles don’t change the gameplay, they definitely make it more attractive. I know plenty of people who wouldn’t try something as plain as checkers or Othello, but who can be brought to the table by cute sheep and bright colors. They may not love it in the end, but the cuteness makes them want to at least try it.
And speaking of cuteness, a quick word about the sheep themselves. Each sheep in the stack is presented in a different humorous pose. This is a nice touch. The designers could have just made all the sheep tokens the same (boring) but they went a little further and made them different so you have a little something extra to look at as you play. They’re also just fun to play with. They’re heavy plastic that have a satisfying heft and thunk-y sound when you drop them into place on the board. Think Splendor-type chips with sheep.
Then there’s the draw for kids. This can be a great game to get kids into abstracts. It’s a lot more appealing to them than checkers or chess. And here’s where I think the game either got it brilliantly right or tragically wrong in terms of marketing. Battle Sheep screams, “Kids’ game!” The box, with it’s frolicking sheep on the cover, looks like something that would be in the kids’ section of the game aisle. And it is kid-appropriate. The game is listed for ages seven and up (younger kids could likely play as there is no reading or math involved) and it’s on par with Qwirkle or Ingenious in its appropriateness for a variety of ages. Battle Sheep, however, looks more childish than Qwirkle or Ingenious and may be passed over by adults based on the packaging alone.
Don’t let the cuteness fool you, though. Like Qwirkle and Ingenious, this is not strictly a kids’ game. There is a very thinky, tactical game lurking behind those cute sheep. The ever-changing set up of the tiles means that no two games will play exactly the same. You can create boards with holes for added challenge, or push everything together to make a smaller playing area that forces you to engage your opponents sooner. We found long, narrow fields to be especially challenging as you have to think more laterally and movement is more restricted.
Which brings me to my next point. Battle Sheep can be as cutthroat as you want it to be. We found that it was possible for players to pretty much stay on their own sides of the board (or at least away from other players) until near the end of the game, never getting in each other’s way until there was no other choice. But if you want to put the “Battle” in Battle Sheep, you can go after your opponents from the first turn. You can take your sheep right next to your opponents and try to box them in early and often.
Battle Sheep isn’t likely to thrill hardcore gamers for long. While it does require some thinking, it’s not loaded with options and actions on each turn. “Move sheep” is pretty much it. It’s closer to checkers than chess in terms of strategy, options, and thought required. It would make a good warm up for longer game nights as it’s fast and you can knock out two or three games while waiting for everyone to arrive and settle in. Even though it’s light, it’s still a lot of fun. As fast as it plays, it never overstays it’s welcome and it can be a bit addictive. There’s something about moving and dropping those sheep stacks that scores high on the “one more time” meter.
The game shines is the family setting. This is one that kids and parents can play together. Parents won’t be bored or feel the need to throw the game so that the kids can win. It’s also great for non-gamers and occasions like family reunions, holiday parties, and the like where a mix of ages and gamer skills are likely to come together. I’m also an advocate of games like this for seniors, as the simplicity makes it easy to learn but yet it still forces you to think in unique ways. The components are sturdy and easy to hold, meaning both very young hands and more arthritic hands should have no problem moving the sheep.
One final note about another positive of this game. Although the box and insert are great at keeping things organized, it’s possible to take this game on the road. Everything would fit into a much smaller box or bag and, even with the maximum four players, the board isn’t overly large. That’s a plus for me as I’m always on the lookout for games that can go along on our travels. (And it’s good for those who just don’t have a lot of shelf space and want to ditch unnecessary boxes.)
Battle Sheep is great for kids and families, but there’s also a game for gamers here, too. It may not be the deepest abstract game on the market, but there is enough thinking to be done to challenge just about everyone.