Battle Sheep

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Battle Sheep is an abstract strategy game by Blue Orange Games that takes things to pastures new! This is a wonderful tactile game about managing your own rival flocks of sheep using grid movement. Games of Battle Sheep are easy to teach, and there’s no dull waiting while someone sets up the game. Setting up is part of playing Battle Sheep, itself!You begin by placing a tile – c…
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Solid, chunky components, that feel like they are built to last.
  • Short play time, making it a perfect filler game.
  • Quick, but with a little bit of tactical pay.

Might Not Like

  • Short game, which can feel a bit whimsical.
  • No variety between games (other than play area set-up).
  • Not too good for two players.
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Description

Battle Sheep is an abstract strategy game by Blue Orange Games that takes things to pastures new! This is a wonderful tactile game about managing your own rival flocks of sheep using grid movement. Games of Battle Sheep are easy to teach, and there’s no dull waiting while someone sets up the game. Setting up is part of playing Battle Sheep, itself!

You begin by placing a tile – consisting of four hexes, interlinked – onto the table. The next player places another tile adjacent to this, and so on and so forth. Meaning you’ll create a unique, giant, wacky modular board layout every time. If you want to create awkward gaps in it, you can. And when you do, it opens up some devilish strategy options!

Each player starts with a stack of 16 sheep, in the form of plastic ‘poker’-sized chips. You stack them on any one of the pasture’s edge hexes. On your turn, you have to split your stack (so leaving at least one sheep behind, or moving at least one sheep from it). You move the split part in any direction leading out of that hex. It has to travel as far as it can go, in that direction. On later turns, you can then split any of your stacks.

As Battle Sheep progresses, the pasture becomes more and more congested with sheep. Sheep chips are literal barriers, meaning your stacks cannot pass through them. It’s all-too easy to get hemmed in, if you’re not careful! The aim is to spread all 16 of your sheep out. Player elimination can – and will – occur if players can no longer move any of their stacks. In the case of a tiebreak, the player who has placed the largest contiguous (touching) flock of sheep wins!

Player Count: 2-4 Players
Time: 15 minutes
Age: 7+

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.

Gameplay

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.

Components

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.

Yes, you read this game’s title correct the first time around. This isn’t Battleship. This is Battle Sheep! The homophone leaning against the 1931 retro title is the solitary link between the two, though. This has nothing to do with aiming missiles at armoured sheep. (Could you imagine? “Hit! You sunk my Battle Sheep!” That’s a very different game…)

Instead, Battle Sheep is an abstract strategy offering by Blue Orange Games. This is a 15-minute thinky filler designed by Francesco Rotta, for 2-4 players aged 7+. But careful, now! Don’t let those traits lure you into a false sense of security. Battle Sheep might look like cute kids’ games, but keep your wits about you. This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing! This game has teeth!

Battle Sheep has enclosure elements and area control contests going on. It’s got grid movement, akin to the manner of Hey, That’s My Fish!. In fact, if you like Hey That’s My Fish!, then you’re going to love Battle Sheep. Let’s learn how to play…

How Do I Win The Game?

It’s always handy, when teaching rules, to start out by stating early on what the win condition is! Nobody wants to sit through the entire rules teach and have no grasp as to what they should be doing. “Er, Tom, that’s great and all… but how do we win?”

Winning a game of Battle Sheep is super-simple. Your aim is to spread out as many of your sheep as possible across the pastures. There’s a valid tie-break scenario, but I’ll explain that at the end. It’ll make more sense once you have a bit more context of the strategy and how the game works. First: let’s set up the game!

Baaa Baaa, Stack Sheep

In many games, setting up the starting components is a chore. Not in Battle Sheep. Here, set-up is the part of the game, itself! It’s a fun feature, and it takes less than 60 seconds. Give everybody 16 sheep chips in their own colour. They’re like green plastic poker chips, but the sheep player colours come in red, black, blue, white.

Also, give everyone four Pasture Tiles. These tiles consist of four connected, tessellating hexagons, sitting in a 1|2|1 pattern. Each one of these hexes are known as ‘pastures’. (So think of it as there being four pastures per tile.)

Prime Lamb Shank? Or Are You Pasture Best?

Pick a start player. How about the person who can do the best sheep impersonation? Or, ahem, you could use a smartphone app such as Chwazi to pick a random player. This player places one of their Pasture Tiles into the middle of the table. Play then proceeds clockwise, with the next player adding a Pasture Tile next to it. One edge of their tile – on at least one hexagon  – must touch another Pasture Tile.

Players continue in this fashion, adding a Pasture Tile into the ever-growing board. You’re guaranteed a modular communal layout every time you play Battle Sheep. It might have corners. It might not be a ‘solid’ sea of green. Some ‘gaps’ or ‘holes’ can – and will – occur, depending on where players place tiles. This can provide a fascinating angle from a strategy point of view, which I’ll explain later.

Once everyone’s placed their Pasture Tiles, you now have a board that’s ready to play. In a four-player game, for example, this board will consist of 64 contiguous hexagons (pastures). In a three-player game, it will be 48 hexes, and it will have 32 in a two-player game. The first player picks somewhere along the outer border of this layout. They stack their 16 sheep there, face-up, on this pasture. Each player does this in turn order. Picking where to place your stack of sheep is a big strategical decision. This can get you off to a great start, or, vice versa, get you into trouble.

Time To Do The Splits

Time for the game-proper, then. On their turn, the first player must split their stack of 16 sheep chips. They can split these in any way they like – providing they create two stacks out of it. The minimum starting split, therefore, is a stack of one, and a stack of 15. Or, it could eight and eight, or anything between. They move one of these stacks in a straight line. They move it as far as it can travel until it reaches a border (or against another stack of sheep). They place this stack into the empty pasture, leaving the other portion of their stack in its starting position.

Then the next player clockwise does the same. They split their stack of 16 sheep, and move one stack of their chips in a straight line. Of course, there are six possible routes leading away from this pasture (it’s a hexagon, after all). Some of these routes are not possible, though – because your stack starts on the outer border. You don’t move your stack off the tile layout. To begin, you might have as many as four paths open to you, with regards to where you can move your sheep.

Stack Attack! Spread Out The Woolpack

When the order returns to the first player again, they now have further options. Again, their turn consists of splitting one of their stacks. Now, though, they have two stacks. One’s remaining in their starting position, and the second is the one they moved on their first turn. The same rules apply. They split one of these stacks, leaving at least one sheep behind, remaining in that pasture. They move that split stack in a straight line until it reaches a border or sits against another sheep.

Play continues clockwise like this, with players continuing to split their chip stacks. When a player can no longer move any of their stacks, they’re eliminated. Fortunately, Battle Sheep is a quick game coming in at around 10-15 minutes. As a result, player elimination never feels like a drawn-out punishment. They’ll only have to wait a matter of minutes, or a turn or two.

Who's The Big, Bad Wolly Bully?

Battle Sheep ends once there are no more legal moves. This might be due to all players being blocked in, or by one or more players having placed their sixteenth sheep. After this, it’s time to count up how many pastures you managed to ‘control’. The player that spread out the most sheep wins!

There can often be a tie for this number at the end. It’s important to explain what the tie-breaker is early on, during the rules, because this can – and will – drive your strategy. The winner, in such a scenario, is the player with the largest contiguous herd of [their own] sheep.

If, say, two players tied for having placed 15 sheep, check their respective herds. One player might have placed 13 sheep on adjacent hexes, with their remaining two sheep separated. Meanwhile, the other player might have a herd of six adjacent sheep. Elsewhere, they might have a separate herd of four, and another herd of three. In this example, the player with the largest connected herd – 13 – wins Battle Sheep.

Herd It On The Grapevine: Tips & Tricks

Stacks cannot ‘jump’ over gaps, nor other sheep. (Not their own, nor one belonging to an opponent.) There’s every possibility that if you’re not careful, your opponents could create a ‘wall’ of sheep that hem you in. As the game progresses, you’ll see that some stacks of sheep might become blocked into corners. Battle Sheep gets competitive and quick! And there’s no use in being a lover, not a fighter. Because there’s no guarantee the other players will be quite so noble!

Due to the nature of the layout, there are the exact number of pasture hexes as there are sheep. Set-up sees each player place 4x four-hex pasture tiles (16 pastures, then), and they have a stack of 16 sheep. It’s unlikely that every player will place all 16 of their sheep, due to the competitive nature of the game! You need to be wary of falling into the trap of getting, erm, trapped. This starts during the very set-up of the game, itself.

Remember, you get to place four tiles, co-designing the layout of the communal board. You could create awkward spots, or private nooks and crannies. You could also place tiles in an arrangement that create a ‘hole’ within the board. These can prove handy because don’t forget: your stack ends at the point where it touches a border or another sheep. Since stacks can’t jump, you could use a hole to position your stack in a more central section of the board. And from there, you could travel off in a wider range of directions.

Games of Battle Sheep are fast and furious and take about 15 minutes (including set-up). It falls into that wonderful category of: “Let’s play that again!” Next time you’ll try a different strategy… Can you place all 16 of your sheep?

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Solid, chunky components, that feel like they are built to last.
  • Short play time, making it a perfect filler game.
  • Quick, but with a little bit of tactical pay.

Might not like

  • Short game, which can feel a bit whimsical.
  • No variety between games (other than play area set-up).
  • Not too good for two players.