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?