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Subject: Don't feel sheepish playing this golden oldie rss

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Eddy Richards
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This Tuesday our regular gaming group ended up with 6 players which is often an awkward number. I had the bright idea of bringing out a game dating all the way back to 1991: Bauernschlau (Black Sheep). This was one of the first european games I bought and it has stood the test of time pretty well. Basically you are farmers trying to construct a field with white sheep (scoring 1,2,3 or 5) in it to score you points and avoiding the nasty black sheep (worth -3). There are elements of bluff and memory, and some interesting tactics particularly around the development of the fields, where you are sharing the building of fences with your two neighbours, obviously trying to capture the best sheep, and to some extent good fields (some hexes multiply the points you get from that hex by 2 or 3 - excellent if you can capture a 5-value sheep on one, rather less good if you end up with a black sheep). One twist is that if your field isn't completed when the game ends (when one field is both complete and fully occupied with sheep or the sheepdog) then you can't win.

Each turn you choose one simlpe action from four possible: 1) grab a sheep tile, look at it and place upsidedown on any empty hex, so only you know what value it has; 2) turn such a counter the right way up where it is; 3) use the sheepdog piece to round up an upside down counter and move it anywhere on the board, then turn it right way up 4) build a fence (you only have 10 pieces each in a 6 player game, so you have to co-operate with your neighbours to some extent). The game ends as soon as one field is completed and all the spaces are occupied (either with face up sheep, face down sheep or the dog piece, which you can place anywhere on the board after you've used it - a point which became crucial at the end of the game).

This was the first time most people had played, the other two hadn't played it for years. All were struck by the clean elegance of the mechanics which nevertheless holds some interest - it is certainly not just a guessing game. There was much sneaky placement of black sheep and triumphant grabbing of 5 point white sheep happening, with fence building being done largely on the side. There were a number of competitions for good hexes, and perhaps more crucially, a battle to avoid taking negative sheep which actually led to farms not being finished as Chooi and Stewart didn't want to place a fence which would allow the other to cordon off an unwanted black sheep. Further round the board Brendan and Inky were building up impressive farms with plenty of sheep, but didn't make a start on building their mutual fence until very late on. In the meantime Eddy and Helena (who were the ones who had played before, albeit a long long time ago) concentrated more on constructing medium sized fields and filling them up. Of these two Helena had a larger field however the open spaces were too tempting to those with black sheep to lob around and she had to cope with an influx of these unwanted ovines.

Eddy managed to complete a small farm fairly quickly; at one point it looked as if he would be able to fill it up quickly too but other players stole upside down sheep discs and relocated them. However, eventually he managed a surprise ending by filling up Helena's field with a (fortunately) low value sheep and the sheep dog. As Eddy's and Helena's were the only two complete fields (though Inky's was only one fence away and would have scored quite well) they were the only ones in the running and when the final shearing was done, scores were:

1st Eddy: +13 points (white sheep) - 6 points (black) = 7
2nd Helena: + 23 points - 21 points = 2
Joint Last (or 3rd if you are feeling generous): Brendan, Inky, Stewart, Chooi

Overall verdict: an excellent and fun game which hasn't aged, plays nice and quickly and works very well with 6 players - perhaps is at its best with this number. Highly recommended if you can find it!
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