Base price: $XX. Legitimately unsure.
Play time: ~20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
I’ll let you know if I can find a place to buy this.
Logged plays: 3
Full disclosure: A review copy of Sheep Dog was provided by Nice Game Publishing.
It’s always fun when things come a bit full circle. I had noticed Mozi Games earlier this / later last year when they dropped Horticulture Master, a game that Annette (over at Nettersplays, again, check out her content) has been playing quite a bit and enjoying. I was limiting the number of games I picked up at BGG, so I didn’t get it (got Tag City instead, which, I also really like, so everyone wins), but I wanted to definitely see more from the studio. Naturally, you can imagine my surprise when a recent set of review copies from our friends over at Nice Game Publishing arrived with a couple Mozi Games in tow! We’ll be taking a look at their, uh, small box titles (they put even Oink to shame, managing to be barely bigger than Button Shy’s line) over the next few weeks, Sheep Dog and Hound.
In Sheep Dog, you play as either the Big Bad Wolf (that’s probably public domain, so it’s fine if I say that), looking to monch some friendly sheepies, or a friendly sheepdog whose job it is to prevent, well, that exact outcome. Each of you vies to attack or protect a specific plot of land each round and the sheep on it. Will you be able to accomplish your goals? Or will you end up put out to pasture?
Not much to set up. Give each player their standee; set the Farmer and Fence standees aside:
Shuffle up the Round Tokens; turn them over so that they all show the same side. I think there are only 6, even though my copy came with 8? Strange.
Assemble the board:
Give each player their, uh, “cards”:
The Sheepdog player should put the lambs on the board. No section can have more than 3 lambs, so, knock yourself out otherwise:
Set aside the Big Bad Wolf Tokens:
And you’re ready to start!
So Sheepdog is played over six rounds; each round, the Wolf tries to “take” some sheep, and the Sheepdog must defend. If the Sheepdog is successful, they collect a Big Bad Wolf token; if not, the Wolf collects some lambs. If the Wolf collects 7 lambs or the Sheepdog collects 3 Big Bad Wolf tokens, that player wins!
Let’s dig in a bit more deeply.
A round has several phases, which I’ll outline.
To start a round, flip the leftmost unflipped Round Marker. If it has a Farmer on it, give the Farmer Standee to the Sheepdog player. I’ll speak more about that later. Otherwise, don’t do anything.
Now, the Sheepdog player moves three sheep. They may move up to one space away at a time (orthogonally; not diagonally), and must obey these rules:
- Only three sheep per pasture.
- Only one pasture may be empty. This doesn’t matter at the start of the game, but will be important later on!
- Sheep cannot be moved through a fence. You have to go around that, unfortunately.
The Wolf player now chooses one of their cards. This is the plot they intend to attack.
Repeat the previous process, and the Wolf can either confirm or change their intended plot. If they change, they must set aside their previous card first and then choose a new card. You don’t get the set-aside cards back until the end of the round. The Sheepdog can then reveal one of their plot cards face-up; if they reveal the Wolf’s plot, the Wolf must immediately replace it with a card from their hand (face-down). Naturally, the Wolf doesn’t get that card back.
Now, at the start of the third “cycle”, before moving sheep, the Sheepdog may place the Farmer token on a pasture if they got it this round. The Farmer can remove the fence token if it was previously placed, and they protect one pasture from the Wolf (the wolf attacking that pasture does nothing). The Wolf may then, again, confirm or change their intended plot. Once the Sheepdog picks a plot, both players reveal! Resolve as detailed below:
- If the Sheepdog and the Wolf picked the same plot: The Sheepdog scares off the Wolf! The Sheepdog player collects one of the Wolf’s Big Bad Wolf tokens as a prize. The Wolf may place a Fence between two plots on its way out; it can open doors, clever girl.
- If the Sheepdog and the Wolf picked different plots: The Wolf monches a few of the sheep! Sad. They claim all the sheep tokens on their chosen plot.
The Wolf and Sheepdog players take all their cards back into their hands and continue!
Play continues until one of the following criteria are met:
- The Wolf has collected 7 sheep: The Wolf wins!
- The Sheepdog has collected 3 Big Bad Wolf tokens: The Sheepdog wins!
- 6 rounds have passed: Players now tabulate their scores. Each black sheep is worth 2 points; each white sheep is worth 1 point. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
None! This is a strictly two-player game.
- Keep ’em guessing. Move those sheep around. Shuffle your hand; do whatever you need to to play some mind games. Play cards that you can’t use and then change them around in subsequent rounds. It’s all fair game, and every game is a mind game if you believe in yourself.
- Bluff. I’ll put down some useless cards early and then stick with it in the hopes that I frazzle them enough that they don’t guess the plot that I’m after, or occasionally I’ll switch in the second round to try and throw them off the scent. It’s tough since this game is pure bluffing, but, never let them see you sweat, I guess? If they figure you out, it’s over.
- Don’t be consistent. Consistent makes you predictable. If you’re predictable, then you’re going to be easy to rob when it comes down to it. You want to make your opponent sweat, a bit. If you frazzle them, they’re also more likely to make a mistake.
- Sheepdog: Don’t make all your plots the same value. Then it’s essentially random and you’re going to lose some points, in all likelihood. It’s better to make small sacrifices here and there and defend your high-value stuff, if you can. That said, if you always defend your highest-value plot, you’re forgetting the previous rule. That makes you easy to steal from.
- Sheepdog: If you can catch the wolf in the second phase, you’ve got a pretty solid edge. That means you have a spot they’re guaranteed not to hit. If you get that lucky during a Farmer round, it means you can basically force them to take 0 on that round (since they can’t hit one plot, the farmer protects another, and you guard a third; just clear the fourth if you can). That’s an awesome move. You just have to get a bit lucky.
- Wolf: It’s sometimes worth switching in round 2. You may be able to avoid getting caught, but you are maybe leaking information if your opponent has a really good read on you.
- Wolf: Place your fences wisely. I like to place them such that the Sheepdog player has to move their sheep through an empty zone; that means it’s harder for them to move a lot around and they’re more likely to be forced to spread them out. If they’re spread out, it’s much easier to pick off one or two, rather than trying to risk getting caught when I get greedy.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Oh hey, an asymmetric bluffing game. It’s like The Neverland Rescue, but at 10% scale. And with more sheep! My friend has noted that I should point out that the sheep are necessary for the game’s theme, unlike Cake Duel, one of my favorite games. I’m pro-sheep, so, I don’t care as much about this particular point, but there; noted.
- Really great art. Given what I’ve seen of Horticulture Master, it sounds like I should expect this from Mozi, but worth shouting out nonetheless; I always try to celebrate games with great art. It’s just a very cute game; reminds me a lot of Wolf & Hound, which I haven’t talked about in a while but seems appropriate to mention alongside this. They’re … pretty much the same game theme, now that I think about it.
- Seems pretty family-friendly. There’s no real reading to speak of; you just need to know how to count to three and the difference between A / B / C / D. Even if you don’t know that, just give them the Wolf and see if you can beat them if they’re playing randomly. That’s kind of an exciting challenge; it’s like the classic Apples to Apples Random Player but it doesn’t make you feel as bad about yourself (though arguably it should?).
- Extremely portable. It’s one of the tiniest boxed games I’ve ever seen. That and Hound (reviewing that later!). So, that’s exciting.
- Pretty easy to set up and play. I think it’s targeted at a slightly more family-level audience, so that’s kind of a must, yeah.
- Rules need a bit of work. Just some cleaning up; not a big deal, but it did take me surprisingly long to parse. Being honest, it took me longer to get them out of the box, but, that’s more on me.
- Some components appear to be superfluous. There’s a farmer token and a standee, for instance, and no real need for the Sheepdog or Wolf standees. They’re cute, though, so I’ll give them a pass.
- This game is very small. Some of the components are just … much tinier than they need to be. The Round Markers especially are just itty. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if this game were twice the size pretty much across the board; it would just be less portable.
- Pure bluffing games aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. For me, I prefer playing the Wolf since I think I’m better at bluffing than trying to read a bluff. The Sheepdog is a bit too cerebral of a gameplay style for me, personally, and I’m very bad at it. Oh well. It’s definitely nice that it’s asymmetric, though, since that lets players choose their comfort level.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, Sheep Dog is solid! I mean, the obvious advantages to it are pretty clear without even opening the box: the art is great, the game is astonishingly compact, and the theme is pretty unique, as well. That alone is usually enough for me, but I’m pleased that the actual game itself is pretty solid. Personally, a pure bluffing game is a bit hard for me to get into, but thankfully, only one player really needs to bluff; the other player needs to try and crack the bluff. It’s that part that makes it really interesting and gives players the flexibility to play a style that suits them. Also, it’s a short enough game that it’s not really a problem if you’re getting read by your opponent; finish the game and switch roles! Then see if they can out-bluff you! The major issue with this one is that it … doesn’t seem to be available anywhere, right now, but hopefully there are companies locally that would be interested in picking it up! It seems like a natural fit for Letiman Games, to be honest. Either way, if you’re into two-player asymmetric games or you’ve got an affinity for bluffing (or figuring out other players’ bluffs!), Sheep Dog is a pretty cute game; maybe you should check it out!