- Designer: Francesco Rotta
- Publisher: Blue Orange
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 15-20 minutes
- Ages: 7+
- Times Played: 5, with review copy provided by Blue Orange
Battle Sheep is a game that has been on my radar since it was recommended for the Spiel Des Jahres in 2014. Part of the reason why I put this game on the back burner was that it was a remake of an older game, Splits, which I still have. The original game is a 2-player-only wooden game that my brother and I discovered at Essen 2010 after Bruno Cathala literally physically dragged us to the booth in the back corridor of hall 9 to play it.
Battle Sheep is a more flexible version of the game, now playable by up to four players. Each player gets a stack of 16 sheep tokens as well as a 4 board pieces. Each board piece is a diamond shaped affair, made up of four individual hexes. To set up the board, players take turns placing a board piece on the table. Each successive piece has to be adjacent to at least one other piece already on the board. It may be possible to have holes created on the board as players freely choose how to place their pieces. Once each player has placed their four board pieces to the board, then each player places their entire stack of 16 sheep tokens on an exterior hex.
On each turn, you must divide one of your sheep stacks into two portions (each having at least one sheep token). One portion remains on the space on which it started. The other part is moved, along a straight line, until it either hits the edge of the board (could also be an interior hex if there is a hole in the board) or another stack of sheep. The next player then takes their turn, doing the same splitting and moving of a stack. This continues until all players have moved their sheep as much as they can. If your sheep are trapped, and you have no legal moves, you simply pass on your chance to move and await the end of the game.
Once everyone has moved as much as they can, the game is scored. Players count up how many hexes they occupy, and the player with the most wins! In case of a tie, the player with the largest contiguous network of occupied hexes wins.
My thoughts on the game
I loved this game as a 2-player abstract. When I first was introduced to it, I didn’t think much from the game description. But, because Bruno C. had come to find us to show us the game, we gave it a try at the booth. As the 2-player game takes about 5 minutes, we quickly had a winner. And then we played again. And then again. And then we were both shoving money at the guy to get our own copy. We ended up playing the game all the way home from Europe as well.
Like many games, it got a lot of plays in its first year in the house, and then this dropped off as we found other newer games to play. I missed this one at Essen 2013 due to low availability, limited time, and a mistaken belief that the multiplayer game wouldn’t be any different than the two-player game that I already have.
As it turns out, the addition of two other adversaries in the game makes it even more interesting! Now, you have to constantly be watching the safety of your stacks from all angles, and having to wait three turns between each of your plays instead of just one makes your situation all the more precarious.
As the game progresses, you have to be looking at both your offensive and defensive opportunities. You need to ensure that you don’t end up with a tall stack of sheep that gets trapped. As you essentially take control of one additional hex each turn, the player that can continue moving the longest will be the winner (or at least tied for the win). Thus, if you have a stack of sheep that becomes trapped, you lose that many potential extra hexes. You should also be looking for opportunities to control watershed hexes that protect hexes that only you will have access to. As you cannot jump over a stack in this game, if you can occupy a single hex that is at the neck of a peninsula, you have essentially controlled that entire area with the stack at the top.
The components are well done. The board pieces are a nice shiny laminated card stock, and the plastic sheep pieces have a nice heft in the hand. There are a few different illustrations on the sheep pieces which are quite cute. I wish that the plastic pieces were different colors in their bases, not just in the artwork – but I can certainly understand that having four different colored plastic disks may have been a cost issue.
When you open the box, don’t be like me and think that they forgot to include the rules! The game is so simple, the rules are miniscule. I actually thought that the rulebook was just an ad for another game or a phone app!
The game itself is stupendously simple. Split a stack and move it as far as it can go. Repeat. But it has that simple elegance that makes it easy to teach, easy to play, and surprisingly addictive. It’s the sort of game that someone almost always says at the end: “Let’s play again!”
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Karen Miller: (played 5 times) This game is great for all ages. The rules are dead simple; yet it offers good decisions. It can be very cutthroat, but it is easy to impose house rules if playing with kids. This is the kind of game where as soon as you finish a game you go again. As Dale mentions, the components are beautiful and will take a beating.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Eric M
- I like it. Karen M
- Not for me…