Basic details: 2-4 players; 30 minutes; competitive
Date played: April 29, 2021
Gist of the game: Players take on the role of shepherd, placing tiles to create villages, forests, and safe pens for their sheep. The player with the largest safe enclosure at the end of the game wins.
To begin the game, the village fountain is placed in the middle of the table. Each player randomly receives a question mark tile without the color being revealed to anyone. Once the player has the tile, they may look at their designated color, but this information should not be shared with any other player. Each player then draws a hand of 4 double-sided landscape tiles.
On the first turn, the first player places a tile with a village edge next to the village fountain and then draws one tile back into their hand. If they do not have a tile with a village edge, they do not take a turn and play passes to the next player. Tiles must orthogonally match the tiles they are being placed next to, so that only sheep are placed only next to like-colored sheep, woods are placed next to woods, etc.) On future turns, players take a number of tiles equal to the number of adjacent edges they match with their tile (i.e., if a tile borders 1 tile, the player takes 1 replacement tile; if they place a tile touching 2 other tiles, they draw 2 replacement tiles; etc.).
At any point in the game, a player may choose to reveal their secret color. They then place their question mark tile sheep side up on the table and draws new tiles accordingly. Also at any point in the game, players may announce that they are placing a wolf and/or a hunter. They announce the number and type and play them in that order. Wolves are placed in wooded areas and threaten sheep until a hunter tile is placed on top of them, negating their effect. Hunters may also be placed in the woods preemptively, to protect against wolves.
When there are no more tiles available to draw, players continue placing tiles until they can no longer do so or they choose to stop. The first 3 players who, during their turn, opt to place no more tiles receive bonus points for their tactical decision. When all players are done placing tiles, the game ends. Players score 1 point for each sheep in the biggest enclosed field of their color that is not being menaced by a wolf. The player with the highest score wins.
Color commentary: This is like Carcassonne with sheep and a twist, and I love it. Tile-laying, color-matching, and adorable animals in sweaters. That checks three boxes right there.
We made the game semi-cooperative by trading tiles a couple of times, including me trading away a hunter that was ultimately my downfall, as it allowed M to play the only tile left that could have closed his pen (and that also happened to have a hunter on its opposite side) while also having the opportunity to neutralize a wolf I may or may not have previously placed there to menace his sheep.
There’s an interesting strategy trade-off between building your own pen and trying to interfere with someone else’s probable pen, especially before you know their color. The wolves also add a take-that element beyond closing off other players’ pens, as the wolves have the potential to completely negate even the largest pen if there’s no hunter to keep them at bay.
The double-sided tiles also make it interesting and add more choices, and I find myself wishing that Carcassonne had double-sided tiles. I didn’t realize that there was something that could make Carcassonne more perfect, but if there’s anything, it would be this. It just creates more possible combinations and keeps the game more dynamic.
Thoughts from M: Given the amount of geometry in this game, I was shocked how much I like it. There’s some definite spatial reckoning as you try to construct your pens, so it was a challenge, but a pleasant one. There’s also some interesting potential for misdirection, because in order to protect the identity of your color, and thus prevent other players from actively seeking to thwart you, you have to be very intentional about appearing erratic and maximizing your potential enclosures before you reveal your color.
Petra rating: 9/10
M rating: 6/10