I really enjoy partnership games. There’s something great about an experience where you are not only in it for yourself, but also doing your best to assist someone else. And that is certainly true of Wolf and Hound. In this 2v2 title, your goal is to rescue your sheep while sending your opponents’ into the wilderness.
The Basics. The game is played with the partners opposite one another. Each player has a pasture in front of them with sheep safe in their pen. Of course, as the game progresses some of those sheep may be lost and placed in the dark forest on the opposite side of the player board. There is also a Hound card and a Wolf card that travel between the players. If the Hound is in front of you at the start of your turn, you get a sheep back. If the Wolf is in front of you, you lose a sheep.
There is a central deck of number cards. Each card matches the color of either the wolf or the hound and has a number on it. That’s the number of spaces the wolf or hound will move in a clockwise fashion. Importantly, the player can only play one card per turn. So you’ll move either the wolf or the hound, but not both.
In more advanced variants, there are also sheep cards that can move between the players. When a sheep is in front of you, it usually provides an advantage or special ability. Plus, there’s more than just the basic wolf or hound. You’ve got wolves that move a variable number (half a card or double it), and hounds that impact the players to the right or left instead of the player it landed on. Plus, designer cards can do some really wild stuff.
The game ends when one player has lost all of their sheep or when one player has played every card. In that case, the team with the most sheep still in their pens is the winner.
The Feel. Wolf & Hound has a lot going for it, but a few noticeable weak spots. Let’s hit the positive first. The game includes way more stuff than is necessary. It has a central board that does little more than hold the deck of cards. Still, it provides a bit of atmosphere. Similarly, the game includes fences for a little pen that you can actually build on your player board. They could have relied on the graphical representation of a pen, but they include a three dimensional representation. Very cool.
The partnership dynamic is really what makes the game. Since you can only play one card on a turn, you have to decide whether it’s better to move the wolf or the sheep. Sometimes, you want to move the wolf because doing so will help your partner. Especially if you can move the hound to your partner when they don’t have the wolf. The next player can only move the wolf or the hound, so you know your partner isn’t losing a sheep.
But the cards don’t always agree with the perfect strategy. Sometimes, you’d kill for a card that can move the wolf one spot – right onto an opponent who will then lose a sheep. But you don’t have such a card. You only get four at a time and the distribution isn’t exactly even. So you need a good sense of when to manipulate position and when to strike out.
Plus, the game lasts at most, five to ten minutes. It’s a super quick experience, but still fun. And it strongly lends itself to be being played repeatedly. You get a light taste of excitement, and it’s just enough for everyone to look at each other and say, “How ’bout one more?”
Of course, there are some not so great things. While there are some hard decisions in the game, many of the card plays are obvious. If your partner has the wolf, you generally want to move it. If you don’t, the opposing team won’t move it and your partner will lose a sheep. This lends the game to a more casual crowd and hobby gamers might not see as much excitement here.
Also, the game comes with a ton of variants in the form of additional hounds and wolves. You can play games with multiples of each and some that even play off of each other in interesting ways. Plus Sheep cards! They move around and provide special powers or advantages. Which all seems awesome. But on further reflection, they tend to be variations on a theme. Maybe your number cards are halved or doubled. Maybe instead of impacting the person they land in front of, they impact the player to the left or right. All this does is subtly adjust the value of the cards and the distribution. Once you adjust to the modified values, it’s the exact same game.
The result is a game that works really well for non-gamer or casual couples. You have your couple-friends over for dinner and decide to play a quick five or ten minutes before they have to pack the kids up and go home. Wolf & Hound excels in that scenario. But for most other audiences, it won’t do as well. Too light for hobby gamers and too repetitive to play often.
Components: 4.5 of 5. I really like the bits included with Wolf & Hound. The three dimensional pens make the game more flavorful. As do the standees which make the sheep tokens upright. The cards are also on great stock and the game comes with some great player aids.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 2.5 of 5. Some luck exists within the card draw. And there are definitely times when you draw just the right card to make an opponent lose a sheep before he or she can react. The game is short enough that there isn’t anything like long term strategy. So you end up simply assessing your hand each turn and playing what is likely the best move at any given time.
Mechanics: 3.5 of 5. Wolf & Hound works well for the right audience. It’s easy to grasp the rules and even the strategy starts to reveal itself quickly. While the game can accommodate a cornucopia of variations, most of them are small tweaks to the basics rather than really adding further consideration or more strategic play.
Replayability: 1.5 of 5. In the right setting, this game is great. But outside of that narrow niche, it’s hard to see when it might be played. This is the kind of game that is great to have on the shelf for when the stars align. And it would be fun to have a session (usually of more than one play) every other month or so. But outside of that narrow range, it will be tough to get to the table.
Spite: 1 of 5. As a 2v2 team game, it doesn’t really have spite as I traditionally define it. Still, part of the game is about being mean and moving the wolf in such a way that the other team loses sheep. The game is so fast and light that it doesn’t feel particularly harsh and all but the thinnest skinned players should see the fun in it.
Overall: 2.5 of 5. I have to emphasize again that, in the right context, the game is great. And if you have that opportunity with sufficient frequency, then this is something you should check out. But I think for most players, that opportunity is going to be few and far between. Partners you can play it with, but who aren’t super eager to play it repeatedly. A tough order.
(A special thanks to Ninja Star Games for providing a review copy of Wolf & Hound)
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)
What is the sound of one card shuffling?
my wife and i love this game with the right crowd. my brother and his wife, or a few couples that we know, or our nieces for example. its super attractive, and easy to pick up, and interesting enough for a play with a casual crowd now and again. agreed though its not something thats going to hold a hardcore gamer crowd's attention for a ton of plays. but thats not what its going for either, and i feel that they nailed what they set out to nail with it.