Sheep & Thief is a 2 to 4 player game about shepherding your sheep to town before the nasty fox can come and steal them away. It is a light drafting game with card placement, sheep movement and route connecting mechanisms. It is played over 3 rounds in which all players will have placed 4 cards per round in a 4 by 4 grid.
The aim of the game is to score the most points by connecting routes with roads, getting as many sheep as possible (even stealing other shepherd's flock), and placing large river sections on your map. The complexity can be increased with modules that come in the box including a black sheep variant which scores depending on where it ends up at the end of the game. The other variant is a deck full of missions which give points if you have the most sheepdogs, cards with foxes etc.
Time To Go Shepherding
The setup of the game is very easy with all players receiving a landscape board, one fox which is placed on the fox shadow space on the board, one starting barn card and one white sheep which is placed on the barn (black sheep for the variant). Players also receive a paddock which sits next to their board and an overview card (only really needed for 1st play). The deck of cards is shuffled and each player is dealt 5.
This is now drafting at its purest form. Look at the cards you have been dealt, choose one and place it face down in front of you and pass the remainder to the player on your left (right in round 2 and left again in round 3). You do this until you have drafted 5 cards. We then go to the placement phase. In this phase, you will place cards on your board one at a time in turn order until each player has placed 4 of their 5 cards.
When placing cards, you have to put them orthogonally next to another card already on the board, cards have to be placed the right way up, rivers can start from any outside space but must then be continuous and not flow into a path or grass, you cannot place a card in the space where the Fox currently resides. If you cannot place a card due to these rules you are allowed to place one of your cards face down on the board ignoring the river rule.
Once all 4 cards have been played everyone is dealt another 4 cards and the drafting starts again including the leftover cards from the previous round. The first player is then the next player in clockwise order.
One Meeple And His Dog
The cards have lovely illustrations on them depicting sheep having fun, foxes sneaking about, safe barns, and sheepdogs giving clear instructions to the sheep. When you place a card with sheep on it you take the same amount of sheep from the general supply and place them on that card.
If you place a card with sheepdogs on it that allows you to move 1 group of sheep per dog (a group is any number of sheep all sharing a card) from one card to another orthogonally. Any sheep placed on a card with a barn on it are safe from any scheming foxes.
For each fox shown on a card you move the fox Meeple one space (either up, down, left or right). All players have to move their foxes at the same time in the same direction. When a fox lands on a card with sheep that are not in a barn they immediately get stolen and taken to the paddock of the person who played the fox card. You can use the fox to block spaces where you know your opponents might want to place their next card.
Some cards have paths on them and if you manage to get a path connected from the starting top left square to any of the other corners then bonus points are awarded.
After 3 rounds final scores are tallied up with points awarded per sheep on your player board and in your paddock, 5 points each for connecting your path to the top right or bottom left corner towns and 10 points for connecting it to the bottom right corner town. River points are awarded depending on how long each of your continuous rivers are.
Shepherding For Two
The rules are slightly different for a 2 player game. 6 cards are dealt before drafting and then each player chooses two and passes 4 to the other player, then another 2 are chosen and the remaining two are once again passed. Out of the 6 cards drafted you still only play 4. Then before a new round begins each player throws away 1 card and then they are dealt 5 more before drafting can commence.
Sheep & Thief is a very good game, especially at the higher player counts. It is a great way of teaching drafting, card placement and movement mechanisms and the complexity can be increased (slightly) by using the extra modules included in the box. Talking of the box, it is another one of those games where the box could have been shrunk with slightly smaller player boards without reducing your enjoyment of the game.
I personally like the Fox movement, blocking and stealing but some people won't like it as it can really get in the way of your plans. The river placement and scoring can be a slight pain to teach but once understood it is not too bad.
I would place this game in the light family category of games but one that can be enjoyed by more serious gamers as a fun filler.