They may look chirpy and fun, but those sheep can be evil. Battle Sheep is a relatively simple game, which can have some real face-palm moments, all in the name of fun.
In Battle Sheep, designed by Francesco Rotta, players are trying to spread their flock as wide as possible into a limited space. However, so are the other players, and at the same time, the other players (shepherds?) are trying to scupper your plans to spread out.
The pasture area is assembled by the players at the start of the game. Each player is given four identical pasture tiles, each made up of four hexes. Players take turns to place one tile on the play area, adjacent to the others - leaving gaps is permissible, as long as the newly-laid tile joins on one side.
Once all pasture tiles have been laid, each player places their stack of 16 sheep into one of the perimeter hexes of the play area. Then the game itself can begin.
Each player, in turn, takes some of the sheep tiles from the stack (they must leave a minimum of one behind) and moves them all as far as possible in one direction. The whole of the stack being moved must be kept together and can only stop once they reach the last unoccupied pasture (hex) in that straight line (without jumping gaps or other sheep!). ON future turns, players can move any number of sheep from any of their stacks.
That sounds pretty simple, right? But Battle Sheep can become very cut-throat, as a player can easily find themselves trapped in a corner of the play area, sometimes inadvertently, though usually by someone else's design.
With four players, Battle Sheep can become very chaotic. It can be difficult to keep an eye on what all three of your opponents are trying to do, whilst also making sure that you are not about to be blocked. With three players, it can be easier to watch other players, but it can also become very easy for two players to “gang up” on an obvious leader.
Whilst Battle Sheep can be a really fun filler game - most games last no more than about 15 minutes - I would not recommend it for two players. It is likely that the outcome of a game with two players becomes very apparent partway through the game. For instance, if one player is completely blocked, so that they can only move their remaining sheep tiles in one third of the play area, whilst their opponent has free reign, there is little point in continuing the game. At this point, the winner of the game can already be determined. This sort of sudden ending can make the two-player game feel very short and unsatisfying.
The quality of the components in Battle Sheep deserves a mention. Whilst this is a simple, quick game with only two components, the quality of those pieces is excellent. The pasture tiles which make up the play area are really solid and thick, fitting together perfectly. The sheep tiles are thick and heavy, making a satisfying sound when clunked together. The game has a certain aesthetic charm - the sheep illustrations on the tiles are a little wacky, a little crazy, yet they seem to fit the name of the game (even without any specific military design).
The whole game has a really nice, solid feel - you wouldn’t worry too much about your three-year-old nephew or niece getting their hands on this one. In fact, you could almost believe that it has been designed with tiny hands in mind, such is the chunkiness of the game.
Final Thoughts on Battle Sheep
In short, Battle Sheep is a fun game. It’s not a game that you will take along to game night proclaiming; “you HAVE to play THIS!” Neither is it one that you will hate, I am sure. It’s a bit of silliness with a bit of tactical play thrown in.
A game for all ages, perhaps, and with a quick play time, it will suit even the shortest of attention spans. And you’ll probably want to play more than once.