Full disclosure: A review copy of this game was provided by Ninja Star Games.
So remember how I’ve been talking about game theme for a while and how I’m a bit tired of doing the same themes over and over again? Well, prep yourselves for something totally different. We leave behind generic fantasy for a spot in the French Alps, where two pairs of shepherds are trying to keep track of their flock as they do whatever shepherds do. Unfortunately, they have a bit of a wolf problem, as wolves keep chasing their sheep into the nearby dark forest. You’ll have to use your trusty sheepdog to bring them back, provided you can get the hound to actually focus on you. Can you protect your pasture and keep your sheep locked down?
So take the center board and the four pastures out, first, along with the fences:
You’re going to have to build a fence around your pasture (otherwise all your sheep will run away!), but I believe you can do it, so I omitted the step-by-step. Next, take out the sheep and standees, and put three sheep in every player’s pasture (if you are playing with 4 players):
Try to stop being mesmerized by how cute the sheep are so you can set up the rest of the game. You’ll find 32 number cards:
Some are black and some are white; just make sure that none of them look like this:
Those are for one of the (many) expansions / variants included in this game box, known as the Meat and Bone expansion. Put those cards back in the box, and shuffle the 32 number cards and deal each player 4 cards.
You’ll also have Wolf, Hound, and Sheep cards:
You’ll need to get the Shepherd cards as well:
For your first game, you’ll really want to use Wolf Card 01 and Hound Card 01 (and no Sheep Cards):
Give each player a Shepherd card so that the player order goes 1 -> 2 -> 3 ->4, clockwise, and set the Wolf and Hound in front of Player 1. Once your play area looks like this, you’re ready to begin:
Note that for games of two or three players, you have to use an alternate game setup with a Dummy player. I’ll note the gameplay differences in Gameplay, but for Setup:
- With three players, use this configuration:
- Player 1 gets 2 Sheep tokens.
- Player 2 gets 4 Sheep tokens.
- Player 3 gets 3 Sheep tokens.
- Player 4 (Dummy) gets 3 Sheep tokens.
- With two players, use this configuration:
- Player 1 gets 2 Sheep tokens.
- Player 2 gets 3 Sheep tokens.
- Player 3 (Dummy) gets 3 Sheep tokens.
- Player 4 (Dummy) gets 3 Sheep tokens.
All Dummy players get dealt four Number cards as well; this comprises the Dummy Deck. More on that later.
So Gameplay here is actually pretty simple, at least, with the very base game. I’ll just split it into sections for Base Game, Dummy Players, and Advanced Play.
In the base game, you’re trying to use the Wolf to scare off your opponent’s Sheep and use the Hound to retrieve your sheep that your opponents have scared off. If at any point one team has lost all of their sheep, that team loses. So keep your sheep together.
Your turn proceeds as follows:
- Activate Animal Cards. You should use the effect of any and all animal cards in front of you. They activate in the following order: Pink, Black, White. This means on the first player’s turn with Wolf and Hound 01, they will lose a Sheep to the Wolf and immediately gain a Sheep back via the Hound.
- Check for end of game. If any player has 0 Sheep Tokens in their pasture, that team loses.
- Play a Number Card. Play a number card from your hand. Generally, Black cards move the Wolf and White cards move the Hound. The Sheep cards (Pink cards) are generally moved by both Black and White cards. These are only general rules — see Advanced Play for exceptions.
- Draw a Number Card. Draw a card from the center deck and add it to your hand. If any player is out of cards, the game ends on Step 2 of Player 1’s turn.
- Your turn ends.
Play continues until the game ends. Pretty simple, no?
Good. Now let’s talk Dummy Players.
Honestly, the game plays pretty similarly, except that one player (or two) doesn’t get to have a teammate.
Instead of playing from the Dummy player’s “hand” (the Dummy deck), you simply flip the top card of the deck on their “turn”. You do this unless there are no cards left in the center deck. If that happens, flip the top card of the dummy deck.
If you do not like the card that’s flipped, you can do what’s called Exchange Call to add it to the bottom of the Dummy deck and flip the top card of the Dummy deck. That is now the card that will affect movement. You can only do this once per turn.
That’s about it. Still think it seems too easy? Let’s add some complications.
So this is where the game starts to get a bit weird. As you might guess from the Wolf 01 and Hound 01, there are more wolves:
There are more Hounds:
There are even Sheep Cards:
And they can get a bit crazy. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the blanket + Wolf combo (Designer’s Card 02 set). It adds in two blankets that act as a Wolf and a Hound, as well as a Wolf that wants to sleep in the blankets. If he can’t find any, he’ll move one space counterclockwise around the board each turn. If he finds a blanket, he’ll stop (and can’t be moved), but still scare away your sheep.
But wait, there’s more! There are also Sheep cards, which either prevent you from playing 3s or skip your turn. The thing is, if your turn gets skipped, then the Wolf doesn’t activate and you don’t lose any Sheep. So it might be to your advantage to get that Sheep in front of you…
There are a ton of different combinations, from a Wolf that moves 3x speed to a Hound that changes directions every so often, to a Wolf that changes to a Hound (and vice-versa!). There are even Wolves and Hounds that target players on your left or right (or both!) or even the player across from you. Mix and match to find something that works with your group.
Generally, if you play with more than one Wolf (or a card that acts as more than one Wolf), you’ll want to give each player a fourth Sheep to make the game a bit more sustained.
Have a combination that you really like? Let me know in the comments. There are also a few suggested combinations in the rulebook.
Player Count Differences
Check out the stuff about dummy players, both in Setup and Gameplay. Generally, not a huge fan of dummy players, but in this case it’s nice that the option exists. I haven’t seen much play of it, but it doesn’t look to be bad (the people who have played it at that level enjoyed it, but recommend that the most experienced player play with the dummy player on their team). That said, I’d still recommend this at four.
Surprising amount of strategy, depending on what you’re playing with:
- Keep track of cards. On the back of your turn counter, there’s a list of the card distributions. You should keep an eye on these so that you can figure out what your opponents potentially have.
- Know when to move the Wolf and when to move the Hound. Is the Wolf currently on your opponent? Why not move the Hound somewhere else, then? You can play Hound cards to make sure that the Wolf doesn’t move, forcing your opponent to lose Sheep.
- (Advanced) Keep track of what Wolves and Hounds you’re playing with. If you’re playing with more than one Wolf, try to get them synced up such that you’re hitting your opponent twice in one turn. Just be careful they don’t return the favor.
- (Advanced) Use Sheep Cards to set up combos. If you can skip an opponent’s turn, that’s great! Gives your partner a chance to really hit your opponent’s pasture hard.
- (Advanced) Use Sheep Cards to help yourself, even if it means that you lose your turn. Sure, getting your turn skipped sucks, but if you were about to get hit with a double-Wolf, it really helps. Try to weigh those options.
- 4s can be really interesting. For many Wolf and Hound cards, it effectively does nothing since they’ll make an entire cycle around the game board, but it’s helpful if your opponent is already set up to lose a Sheep on their turn. For some of the Metamorphic Cards, though, it’s very useful, as it’ll cause them to flip, potentially turning a Hound into a Wolf (or vice-versa). Depends on which sets you have in play.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the art, a lot. I mean the art is fantastic. Really a major selling point of this game.
- The standees for the sheep are adorable. I know that’s another art thing, but in general the pieces / components / cards are also very high quality.
- Seems super family-friendly, but not boring for experienced players. It seems like you can scale up the difficulty / complexity as players are ready for it, which is pretty awesome. I think that’s probably one of the best parts about this game, in my opinion.
- Light and fast. You can use this pretty well to open or wind down a game night, because it doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking. That said, you do need to think some in order to play well.
- Team games are fun. I don’t think I even have that many that aren’t bluffing other than, say, Apotheca (or BANG! The Dice Game, since I don’t really consider it a bluffing game).
- Incredibly high replay value. There’s a LOT here. It seems like a real labor of love, and a lot of the concepts are cool. I haven’t even gotten to maybe half the combinations of Wolves and Hounds possible (or the Meat & Bone expansion, though it seems pretty straightforward).
- Provides suggested Wolf / Hound / Sheep configurations. I think that’s just a nice touch, personally.
- Too many extra cards can make the game very confusing. I’d just warn you to be careful to make sure that you’re not trying to take on too much cognitive load between various types of Wolves and Hounds, especially ones that move on other players’ turns. The nice thing about this is that if a certain configuration isn’t working for you, you can just … not do that. There are tons of options.
- I’d like more Sheep cards. There are only two, which makes your options feel somewhat limited. It’d be nice to have a few more.
- Really does feel like it plays best at four. That’s a personal preference, but it’s a tiny bit of a bummer that I have to find exactly four to play it.
- Rulebook / materials seem to have some wording consistency / translation issues. There are a few cards that are a bit confusingly described, such as cards that move 1/2 speed counterclockwise — a lot of my friends have trouble remembering those, as well as cards that flip under certain conditions. The rulebook is also 30+ pages just to describe the variants and edge cases, which seems like a bit much. It took me a while to get started. It might have been useful to have a “Quick Start Guide” and then a “Variants and Expansions” set of rules.
Overall: 8+ / 10
I think Wolf and Hound is a great game, even better as an intro game / family game. I think it’s simple to pick up (though the rulebook is a bit clunky at times) and easy to expand on, allowing you to scale the complexity as, say, your coplayers age up a bit. That said, even for a family game, I think it’s still got a lot of fun, interesting things for players (and there aren’t a ton of team games in my collection), so I’m actually really excited about playing it again and will sometimes even suggest it. If you’re playing with a family, though, I’d strongly recommend checking this out.
Plus, again, sheep standees. What’s not to like? It’s got as many sheep as Cake Duel.