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Subject: A twist on tile laying. rss

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Michael Pennisi
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Carpentersville
Illinois
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Mother Sheep is a twist on a standard tile-laying game in that the tiles have been turned into “sticks” which players use as fences to try and corral sheep.

The first thing you will notice about Mother Sheep is the bits. The game comes with 10 plastic sheep figures that have been referred to as “cute” by more than one person. There are also many popsicle-stick-like fences that have from two to five colored bands on one side and a green backing on the other. Each sheep comes with a cardboard disk bearing the name of the sheep. To start the game those disks are placed randomly face down around and no further than 3 stick-lengths away from a central and much larger Mother Sheep disk. Then the disks are placed face up and a sheep figure is placed on each. So, essentially the sheep are just eye candy but, “they’re cute”. Next each player draws three fence-sticks and places them face down as a private supply. Three fences are also placed face-up as a common draw pile. Finally each player receives a card listing the names of 5 sheep that must be fenced in order to win. Each player has a different set of sheep but with only 10 sheep there is obviously overlap among the objectives.

On a player’s turn they may take a stick from the common draw pile and place it so that it connects to another fence already in play or they may connect to the mother sheep. In order to connect fences, the colors on the fences must match (the mother sheep is considered to be all colors). A player may additionally play one of his or her private fences but when a player has used all three of their private fences this option is no longer available. The drawn fence piece is then replaced by another fence taken from a draw bag. If a player corrals (i.e. surrounds with fences) a sheep, then an immediate free turn is awarded and the sheep figure is placed on small “corral” board.

There are additional rules stating exactly how a fence piece must be played but it is important to note that each colored section on a stick can only be used once (e.g. if a fence has a portion colored orange only one other orange fence stick may connect to that orange section). This leads to interesting tactical decisions because you can hinder the growth of a fence by diverting the end piece as well as “grow” fences towards your sheep.

The game continues until a player announces that all of the sheep on his/her card have been corralled. If this happens simultaneously for several players, there is a tie-breaking sequence.

Thematically/artistically I have a few problems with the game. Why am I building fences out of a mother sheep? Is she that large that she can support fences? Wouldn’t a barn in the middle of the playing area make more sense? Also, I have a problem with the free “wolf” expansion which is available through retail outlets. It’s a disk that is played during set-up as if it was a sheep but, if corralled it allows the player to automatically corral any sheep of their choice. Wouldn’t the wolf eat the sheep? I think a “border collie” tile would make more sense since the dog would herd the sheep without needing a fence.

Mechanically I have a few problems as well. The rules are not clear enough on how to place fences and some vagaries arise during actual play. Also, it’s possible through fence placement to create an impossible situation where a sheep can’t be corralled. This hasn’t happened in any of the games that I’ve played but… the game itself acknowledges the possibility and says that all players must then work together to resolve the situation. What the hell kind of rule is that? Seems like some more play testing was in order instead saying “figure it out for yourself”.

Finally the end game seems a bit flat. In each of three games, a simultaneous win occurred between at least two players meaning the game was decided by tie-breaker. If this continues to be the case then I could see this game dragging out as players try to avoid corralling sheep for as long as possible so that they can just use the bonus turn rule to corral all their sheep in one play, thus guaranteeing them the win.

Flaws aside, I can see this game being good for kids on several levels. It’s a basic color-matching dexterity games for young players. Then for slightly older kids, there is the tactical aspect of planning a capture. Finally there is definitely a “screwage” factor in there for adults and teens as you can divert fences away from sheep that other players are trying to capture.

Playroom Entertainment is known for making family/kid’s games and Mother Sheep is a great fit to their product line. It’s easy to learn and it plays quickly but as a game it has a few kinks in the rules which really need to be worked out. If you’re looking for a quirky, reasonably priced family game I would definitely recommend that you try this but if you are looking for a quirky light/filler game for adults I would suggest looking elsewhere first.
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Mad Halfling
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If you check the rule book then there are instructions on how to deal with more than one person simultaneously having all their sheep corralled.

Just a comment, this is a wonderfully evil game, but you can't afford to just try to screw each other over as you will run short on fences quickly unless you are playing with 2 players. My group are pretty hard-core gamers, and we really enjoyed this game - if you think creatively it can be (as many, very simple games can) a very tactical game, but you have to view it as such rather than just as a kids' game (which, I would imagine, it would also function well as).
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Ashley Ratyn
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Agreed that with the way it plays, it should have been a Border Collie expansion, not a wolf. I expected the wolf to allow you to somehow cause the other players trouble.

Played it a couple of times over the holidays, and all seemed to enjoy it. The kids play a fair amount of games, from light to heavy depth so it gets my vote as a fun filler.

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