(2013 - Stronghold Games)
The element of “time” has been a heavy mechanism seen in a majority of Stronghold Games’ releases in the last couple years. Space Cadets, Time ‘n’ Space, Article 27, and Going Going Gone are all driven by time-oriented gameplay, where players must complete their objectives before time expires. The company’s newest release, by designer Anthony Rubbo (Renaissance Man), incorporates this element of time yet again, albeit with a more puzzle-approach to its gameplay.
Set in a Star Wars-parody universe, Space Sheep is a cooperative, real-time, puzzle game in which players take the role of Space Sheep Commanders attempting to corral the civilian sheep to their prospective systems before the Wolf fleet can successfully complete its invasion. Players will draw and play Tactic cards from their hands, which will allow them to move Sheep and Shepherds (ships) through and out of different systems. If players can not keep the sand timer from hitting zero, the Wolf Fleet attacks, and a certain number of Tactic cards are removed from the game. If players can match the civilian Sheep, Shepherds, and Systems of all the same color before running out of Tactic cards to play, they have won the game.
- Main Defense Board
- System Boards
- Instruction markers
- Color tokens
- Sheep tokens
- Shepherd tokens
- Wolf token
- Wolf markers
- Wolf movement die
- Tactic Cards
- Allegiance Cards (used in variant)
- Supreme Commander card
- Reference cards
- Sand Timer
- Cloth Bag
A unique aspect to Space Sheep is that setup is completely adjustable depending on the level of difficulty players wish to attempt. For the purposes of this review, I’ll use the following to represent how a game of Space Sheep works. However, note that adjusting settings such as adding more systems or using less Tactic cards in the game, can adjust the overall difficulty.
The Main Defense board is placed into the center of the play area for all players to see. There are various Wolf markers that come included with the game (marked with numbers 2-8, as well as “infinity”). One of these markers is placed on the top-left corner space of the board. This represents the number of Tactic cards that must be discarded when the Wolf fleet makes a successful attack. If players choose to use the “infinity” token, all Tactics cards are destroyed when the Wolf attacks, thus the game is over if this happens.
Players will first choose 5 system boards of any color, along with 5 matching colored Sheep tokens, 5 matching colored Shepherd tokens (ships), and 4 color tokens matching each of the 5 system board colors being used in the game (for a total of 20 color tokens). These 20 tokens are placed into the cloth bag.
The systems boards are placed around the Main Defense board in the central play area. A single Sheep and Shepherd token are randomly placed on each of the system boards (keeping in mind that the Sheep token, Shepherd token, and system board must all be different colors). Place the Wolf token on one of these system boards as well. Players will randomly draw an Instruction marker for each of the system boards, and place them on the bottom portion of the board. Then, a color marker for each system board is drawn from the cloth bag and placed onto the Instruction marker. These will reference what actions players can take when playing specific Tactic cards that match a system board’s color.
For instance, when taking an action with the blue system, the Instruction marker tells a player that he can move one of his pieces to the system that is 3 spaces behind the orange colored Sheep. (I’ll explain more on how this works in a bit).
The Tactic Card draw pile is constructed, being made up of 30 Tactic cards, which include 5 of each color being used in the game as well as 5 Wild cards. After these cards are shuffled, each player receives 4 Tactic cards to begin the game with, as well as a Reference card that breaks down the turn summary. One player will also receive the Sand Timer and the Supreme Commander card. This person is in charge of keeping up with the timer during the game. After setup is complete, the game should look something like this:
With Space Sheep, players are essentially trying to solve a puzzle before they run out of cards. The object of the game is to figure out how to get all of the Sheep and Shepherds onto their matching colored system boards before time runs out and the game ends. Players will take turns playing Tactics cards from their hand, in order to manipulate the token on the board, attempting to match them to where they need to go. At any point in the game that the 1-minute Sand Timer runs out, players will lose some of their Tactic cards. If players run out of these cards before they have solved the puzzle, the game is over and they have lost.
To begin the game, the Sand Timer is started, then the Supreme Commander player will roll the 8-sided Die and move the Wolf token clockwise that many spaces. On a player’s turn, he can play 1 Tactic card from this hand, choosing to take an action. At the end of his turn, he will draw back up to 4 Tactic cards. Players have 3 optional actions to choose from when playing a Tactic card:
1.) Shepherd Action - When a player plays a Tactic card, he can use the Shepherd that matches the color on the card. He may then move this Shepherd one space, clockwise, onto the next system board. Anytime that a token is moved onto a new system board, it will swap places with the same type of token. Only Shepherds can be moved individually with this action, not Sheep.
For instance, a purple Sheep and orange Shepherd are currently located on the green System board. The red System board to its right contains a blue Sheep and purple Shepherd. On his turn, Player A plays an orange Tactic card and decides to move the orange Shepherd one space and onto the red System board. The purple Shepherd that was previously on this system board would then be displaced and positioned on the green System board.
2.) System Action - When a player plays a Tactic card, he can use the system that matches the color on the card. He may move either the Shepherd or the Sheep on the system board, according to the system’s Instruction marker. If however, both the Sheep and Shepherd are of matching color on the same system board, both tokens can be moved together when taking this action. Most of these Instruction markers contain straightforward actions, however there are some more difficult ones included in the game if players want up the challenge.
Player B plays a purple Tactic card and decides to move the purple Shepherd. The purple Shepherd is currently located on the green System board. The system board’s Instruction marker states that when taking this action, a token will be moved 1 space behind the blue Shepherd. Some Instruction markers will state “behind”, while some will state “past”. “Behind” references a counter-clockwise move, while “past” references a clockwise move. Therefore, the purple Shepherd would be placed onto the purple system board, since it is one system behind where the blue Shepherd is located.
Since the purple Sheep was also with the Purple Shepherd on the green System board, the Sheep is allowed to move with the Shepherd when taking this action. Therefore the purple Sheep and purple Shepherd are moved onto the purple System board, displacing the red Sheep and green Shepherd onto the green System board.
3.) Defense Action - Finally, when a player plays a Tactic card, he can choose to simply place it face down on the Main Defense board in order to increase the team’s Defense. When the Wolf attacks, he will destroy the number of Tactic cards matching the Wolf token referenced on the Main Defense board. If players have cards that they feel they don’t need, they can choose to have these cards sacrificed first by having them placed on the Defense board
The 1-minute Sand Timer represents how much time is left before the Wolf attacks. To minimize the opportunities that the Wolf has to destroy Tactic cards during the game, players can play a Tactic card on their turn (in addition to the one played to perform an action) that matches the system where the Wolf is currently located. This is considered an attack on the Wolf, and the Wolf token is placed on its side.
Once this happens, the Supreme Commander player will be allowed to flip the Sand Timer, thus continuing its countdown. Timing with this mechanism is key, since you always want to make sure that at least half of the Timer is complete before flipping it back over. Once the timer is flipped, the Supreme Commander player will roll the 8-sided Die, move the Wolf that many spaces clockwise around the board, and face the token back up. If the Timer runs out however, Tactic cards will be destroyed equal to the Wolf marker on the Main Defense board. Cards are always destroyed in the following order:
1.) First, discard any Tactic cards that have been placed onto the Main Defense board.
2.) If a number of Tactic cards still need to be discarded, or there are no Tactic cards on the Main Defense board, players will discard Tactic cards from the Draw deck.
3.) If the Draw Deck runs out, players will have to discard Tactic cards from their hand. The Supreme Commander player will choose which players have to discard cards.
If players can no longer discard Tactics cards when the Wolf attacks, the game is over. If however, players have gathered all of the Sheep and Shepherds to their matching systems, they have won the game.
When playing a game consisting of 3 or more players, Allegiance cards are included with the game as a possible variant. Allegiances are split up into two groups, Defenders (sheep), and Infiltrators (wolves in sheep’s clothing). Players are dealt one of these two types of cards randomly (there will be more Defenders than Infiltrators).
The Defenders goal is to win the game by solving the puzzle successfully, while the Infiltrators are secretly trying to mess with everyone’s plans. If a player thinks he knows that another playing is an Infiltrator, he can point to that player. If more than half of the players are pointing to the same person, that player is removed from the game.
If players were correct, and the person was in fact an Infiltrator, his cards are shuffled and placed on the bottom of the Tactic card Draw pile. If players removed a Defender from the game, any time when it would be that player’s turn going forward, the Wolf attacks regardless of whether the Timer has run out or not.
Space Sheep could easily be described as a cooperative, race-against-time, Rubix Cube. The game is certainly puzzle-oriented, and a majority of its gameplay is driven from this element. While it may not appeal to those that do not enjoy time-directed puzzle solving, the question becomes, will it appeal to those that do? The major feature to consider is the unique adjustability of Space Sheep. There are a number of variables that are adjustable to create an easier or more difficult session. Since the game is so puzzle driven, it’s encouraging that once the puzzle is solved at a particular difficulty setting, the game can be fine-tuned to increase the challenge after multiple sessions.
The theme is an interesting discussion. On one hand, the sheep, shepherd, and wolf combination is neat. The shepherds attempting to corral their sheep into their correct homes before the wolf can attack makes sense, thematically. However, it may seem a bit dry. The overlay of a Star Wars themed parody gives the game some much needed flavor (and an excuse for Millennium Falcon shaped components), though some may misinterpret the game as being space themed, or even Star Wars related. However, knowing that this isn't quite the case ahead of time, shouldn’t present an issue.
Space Sheep is an interesting game. The combination of a time-related, cooperative, puzzle may not appeal to everyone, and may be a bit too chaotic for some. But for those that enjoy pure puzzle-solving, Space Sheep presents a challenging and compelling game. I would suggest that anyone giving it a try, play their first session without the Wolf included. Figuring out the various elements of the puzzle without the pressure of the Sand Timer will make for a smoother understanding of what needs to be done when the Wolf is included. Overall, if you enjoy mind-bending, tension-filled puzzles with a cooperative twist, Space Sheep is worth a look.
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Thanks again for another great review!
Stephen M. Buonocore
Stronghold Games LLC
Shawnee on Delaware
Nice, detailed review! I agree that this is a puzzle game at heart, and a great one at that. The main reason I say this is because of what you refer to in the review. There is an almost infinite amount of adjustment and tweaking that can be done so that the game can never, truly be "solved" in any way. In many puzzle type games, players can, over time, figure out optimal strategies and sequences. In this game, that seems impossible. Consider this:
Random movement tile selection (there are a ridiculous number of these in the box), layer one, that are randomly assigned to systems, layer two.
Random color counters assigned for the instruction cards (layer three for those counting), random placement of initial pieces on systems following simple rules of no piece on its home color system, and no like colored pieces together, that's the fourth layer. Now, I'm not a mathematician, but I'm pretty sure if you run the numbers on this, you'll find a staggering number or permutations for this game which should always keep it fresh. Now, throw into the mix the "distraction" of the wolf which does not allow players the luxury of time to sit many stare at the game state (also gets rid of AP, nice!) and the possibility of a hidden traitor or two, and you have a complete system that should never, ever get old. This is the game's greatest strength, in my opinion.