Dale Yu: Review of Sheepy Time

Sheepy Time

  • Designer: Neil Kimball
  • Publisher: AEG
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by AEG

sheepy time

In Sheepy Time, you are the Dream Sheep – the sheep that people count in order to drift off to Dreamland!  You will jump over fences to try to make people sleepy – and avoid the nightmares!  As you succeed, you will collect Winks – and punningly, trying to get 40 Winks is the goal of the game…

The game uses a ten-segment board that looks like a snowflake, the fence is placed between the number 10 and number 1 wedges of the board.  Two Dream tiles are placed above spaces 5 and 10, and a display of 4 face up Dream tiles is put near the board.  The scoreboard is also set up, with a scoring aid matching the number of players.  A nightmare is chosen, and it’s card is placed next to the scoring table.  Finally, the deck of playing cards is constructed – using cards from the Nightmare and the player colors in the game (choosing the cards appropriate for the player count).

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Games will be played in a number of rounds – each comprised of a Racing Phase and then a Resting phase.  The game continues in this manner until someone’s head (scoring marker) reaches their pillow – thus signifying the end of the game.

In the Racing Phase, players start by drawing a hand of 2 cards.  If you draw a Nightmare card, you must resolve it, and then draw a new card.  Continue until all Nightmare cards are resolved and each player has a hand of 2 Sheep cards.  Then, starting with the player with the First Sheep Token, turns are taken in order.

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To start a turn, the player chooses a card from their hand and plays it.  Many of these cards allow you move your sheep clockwise around the board.  If you end your movement on a space with a Nightmare token, you become Scared and must resolve this before doing anything else.  If you end your movement on a space with a Dream Tile, AND that Dream tile has one of you ZZZ markers on it, then you can use that Dream Tile.  Many cards will also let you catch ZZZs, and if so, you place one of your ZZZ markers onto a Dream tile, and this may allow you to use that Dream Tile on a later turn.  

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If you choose to use a Dream tile, you remove one of your ZZZ markers from it and then complete the action.  (Note that the back of the ZZZ tiles is an infinite ZZZ icon, and you may be instructed to put this on a Dream Tile; you do not remove your infinite marker if you take an action in this space… well, because you have an infinite number of ZZZs there!)This action might then allow you to use a different Dream Tile, and this is OK – however, you may never use a single Dream Tile more than once in a particular turn. 

If you have jumped over the fence (that is gone from space 10 to space 1), you now decide whether to keep going this turn or to Call It a Night.  If you Call it A Night, you are out for the rest of this racing phase, but you are now also exempt from a Nightmare.

Unless you have Called It a Night, you draw back up to 2 cards in hand – again, immediately resolving Nightmare cards as you draw them and stopping once you have 2 Sheep Cards in hand.

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So what’s the deal with the Nightmare?  Well, Nightmares are not good for people trying to go to sleep (and for sheep trying to induce sleep).  When you draw a Nightmare card, most of them tell you to move the Nightmare token on the board.  If the Nightmare moves onto a player’s space, that player becomes scared, and turns his marker on its side to show that it is scared.  If the marker was already scared, then that player wakes up, his marker is removed from the board, and all accumulated winks for this turn are lost.  Some cards will tell you to jump the Nightmare (as opposed to moving it) – in this case, only players at the final space of movement will be scared.  When the Nightmare makes it around the board and jumps over the fence, all remaining players immediately Wake Up (lose all Winks), and the Racing Phase ends.

When the round ends, check to see if the game ends.  If any player’s score marker has moved to (or past) their pillow, the game is over and that player wins.  If not, each player moves their pillow token back a number of spaces based on their relative standing in the current round.  Then, the player whose pillow is on the highest number gets the start player marker for the next round and the Resting Phase is played.

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In the Resting Phase, players have the option to place a new Dream Tile onto the board (and this will be seeded with ZZZ tiles) OR players can catch 2 ZZZ tiles and place them on existing Dream Tiles.  Now the game moves back into the Racing Phase again. 

Continue until someone’s score marker has reached the pillow – that player wins!  If multiple players have reached their pillow, ties are broken if favor of the player further ahead of their pillow. 

My thoughts on the Game

Sheepy Time uses a clever theme, and it has a punningly good set of actions that help further that theme.  I really like the concept of trying to get 40 winks at the start of the game, and having your head hit your pillow is a wonderfully thematic game end point.   In some ways, in my first few plays, the theme is the high point of the game.  I have a hard time remembering a game that so cleverly and pervasively incorporated the theme as this.

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Sheepy Time is a tactical action game at its heart, with a lot of push-your-luck thrown in.  You race around the wheel, trying to avoid the Nightmare.  Many cards either allow you to move OR gain winks or ZZZ markers, so if you don’t have the right number of spaces to move on your cards, just choose the winks/ZZZs and wait until you get the right card.  At some point, you might have a to make a risky move to get over the fence one last time and then Call it a Night – but more often than not, you seem to have a lot of latitude in playing it safe.  And, once one or two players drop out, you actually get a bit safer as there are now fewer chances of a Nightmare card being drawn between your opportunities to move; though if your hand is filled with cards that only allow movement, you might be forced into making a move you don’t want to make…  

As the nightmare only moves clockwise, while it’s not easy to predict when it will move, they tend to move in predictable patterns and you can plan for that in your actions.  You could choose to stay safe by staying behind the Nightmare and then waiting to get a card that lets you get far enough in front of it that you can then continue running away even when it moves.  As you stall, you additionally store up the ability to use the special actions, and this will hopefully help you in the future.

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In our games, it feels like we often start the round being scared.  As the Nightmare moves if any cards are drawn in the setup for the racing phase (And in a 4 player game, it seems like there is almost always one or more Nightmare cards in those first 8 cards drawn), so the Nightmare is moving though our starting space at the beginning of most rounds.  While at first I thought this was a negative; honestly, it’s good to start scared, because, man, otherwise some of the rounds could go on forever!  Having the immediate tension of a misstep causing elimination adds tension to the game.  Though the game does not have any permanent elimination, it is a bummer if you get knocked out early (or retiring early) and then have to watch a round play out for awhile and you have nothing to do.  

I do like the way the pillow moves based on results of each round.  Thematically, it fits.  Mechanically, it’s a nice way to get people to see how close they might be to victory each round, and it can promote players in certain situations to push their luck more than they usually would.  The system ensures that the game will play out over a couple of rounds, and it does lead to some exciting stretches when a player gets close to their pillow and then has to decide if they want to lock in gains for next turn or make one more risky circuit around the board to try to win now.

The game does offer three different Nightmares (of varying difficulty) so that can lead to some different game setups.  Each of the nightmares comes with a reference card that helpfully gives you the breakdown of all the possible cards so that players have some idea what to expect from each.  Also, there is a pretty large deck of Dream Tiles, and the different actions on these can certainly give a particular game a different feel.   

The artwork and theme feels like it wants to be geared at kids, though some of the nightmare art could be seen as a bit scary.  However, I’m not sure that the gameplay matches this.  With the different actions on the tiles, hand management and drafting of new tiles at the end of each day, this is maybe a bit more complicated than the child wants.  Though, at its core, play a card and do what it says is pretty simple, no?  The more complicated parts are figuring out whether or not a Dream Tile action is beneficial or not, or how probable it is that a Nightmare is going to move or affect you.

But… this is also not the sort of game that will appeal to hardcore gamers as it is still on the simple side.  So, I’m at a bit of a loss trying to describe who would be the best audience for this game.   For those gamers looking for a lighter game that has a touch of strategy, Sheepy Time could fit the bill..  

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

 

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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