Battle Sheep is now a decade old board game, which has just been re-released by publisher Blue Orange. Designed by Francesco Rotta, featuring artwork from Andrea Femerstrand, the game sees 2 – 4 players spend around 5 – 10 minutes moving sheep and blocking each other in this abstract strategy experience. Each game the field will be different, with plenty of sheep to battle. However, would this be an entertaining experience for ewe? Let’s find out!
Constructing the field of play is the first task for players. Each takes from the box four identical tiles – which are made up of four hexagons. Taking it in turns players place one of these titles into the middle of the table, connecting to at least one side of another tile. This creates a new board every game, plus one that grows with the player count. Taking a stack of 16 sheep, in one player colour, each player then in turn picks a starting location. This can be on any hexagon that is on the outer edge of the constructed board. Note, there may be gaps in the middle of the constructed board. These do not count as an edge for the starting positions.
On a players turn they must make a movement from one of their stacks of sheep. Making sure to leave at least one sheep behind, the player selects as many sheep from one of their stacks as they wish. These are then moved in any straight line as far as possible onto a new empty hexagon. Stacks of sheep cannot jump over field tile gaps or any other stacks of sheep – regardless of height – so can get blocked in. Play then continues with the next clockwise player. This continues with players able to move from any stack of their own sheep, until no one is able to go. At this point it is time to score with players gaining one point per field hexagon they occupy. The winner is whomever has the most points, with ties split via the largest grouping of sheep.
The grid movement is for the most part very intuitive for players of any experience level. The only mistake that can take players a couple of turns to get is the full movement must be made. For example, if a stack of sheep can move four spaces in one direction it must move the full four. It isn’t possible for the stack to move only 1 – 3 spaces, even if it would be beneficial. Get past this and Battle Sheep offers an incredibly easy game to play. Players know exactly what their options are, allowing the game to be entirely “what should I do” rather than “what can I do”.
Battle Sheep certainly has a cute theme. If you pardon the incredible pun, this cuteness pulls the wool over the players’ eyes. Battle Sheep is a super fun, but super mean, game. There is one central board and the objective becomes as much about stopping opponents, as it is to spread out. This creates a blocking heavy experience, which some will find almost too aggressive. This isn’t to the extent it isn’t family friendly, though it may be worth going easy on younger players who cannot see opportunities as easily.
Stacked up the tower of 16 sheep discs is almost too big for some to pick up with their hand. More than just tokens the sheep themselves are chunky poker chips. This gives the game a premium feel and a sense of robustness. Undoubtedly at some point the tower of sheep will be knocked over and send the sheep flying, yet players don’t have to worry about scuffed cardboard.
Making up the board the tiles themselves are also of great thickness. The only issue being when placed on a shinier surface the tiles can move a bit – like with any other game with tiles. For the majority of the time though these help create a dynamic board that changes from game to game. Aimed at families it is understandable why each is an identical shape. Nit picking, a couple of different shapes of field tiles, to add the ability to make more peculiar maps, could have been an interesting, but not entirely needed, addition.
Regardless of player count if you have a spare 10 minutes Battle Sheep can be taken off the shelf, played, enjoyed and even packed away. Yet, back to back games can fill well over half an hour with ease. Scaling well, the only thing to note is at 2 player the game feels more cutthroat as you actively are gunning for one opponent – rather than plans being crushed equally by all at the slightly more hilarious 4 player end of the spectrum. Blue Orange are known for making their games look good and they have succeeded yet again, with top quality components. If you don’t mind a spot of meanness, it is time for you to Battle Sheep!
(Editor’s Note: Battle Sheep was provided to us by Coiledspring Games for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores.)