War & Sheep is one of the initial offerings in Eurogames' new "Games for 2" line. Each player controls a squad of six sheep that are hoping to graze the best grasslands while avoiding the wolves hidden amongst them. Play is on a 6 x 6 board which starts the game filled with either a sheep or a face down grass token. On each turn a player takes two actions and these include peeking at face down tokens, moving a sheep or wolf, playing a special card or "camouflaging" a sheep.
At the start of the game you'll usually be moving your sheep (along a straight line) until it hits a grass token. Most of the tokens are grasslands that are worth 1,3 or 5 victory points but if it's one of the two wolves, the poor critter is eaten instead. The various grasslands are also somewhat balanced in that the "1's" allow you to draw a special card for later use whereas the "5's" cause that sheep to be removed from the game. (The explanation being that such a meal is so nutritious that the sheep spends the rest of the game devouring his delicious meal. Uh huh.)
The cards are generally quite useful (although some more so than others) and there's a neat little mechanism that prevents you from hoarding too many. There are several "binge" cards in the deck and if you draw one of these you lose all the cards you currently have in your hand. So if you draw a killer card you can't always wait for the perfect moment to use it.
Play continues until all the grass is eaten and this will normally take less than 15 minutes. Add up the value of the grass you've eaten and the higher total wins.
There is one rule that's easy to overlook (especially as it's omitted from the rules summary) and that's one of the victory conditions: if your opponent loses all his/her sheep - you win! This is critical for the game in my opinion as without it the game is mostly a mindless grab for victory points. Clearly the best course of action would be to eat as many tokens as possible and ignore the risk of a wolf appearing. This meant that victory was more or less random, whoever got lucky with the tile draws won. Adding this "sudden death" victory condition presents the players with more options - if you're behind on points you can switch to a "kill sheep" strategy. Often you'll have a slight advantage here as your opponent is likely to have fewer sheep on the board (due to the removal of sheep that ate "5" tokens, the reason you're behind on points.)
It's this later half of the game that provides interest as you must decide between the two courses of action: eating or sending the wolves after your opponent. The board is generally quite open at this point and so there is some scope for clever maneuvering. Careful positioning of the wolves can be used to block your opponent or devour him outright. Still, this is not a brain burner by any stretch of the imagination.
The components are very nice with artwork that matches the lighthearted feel of the game quite well, I found the card art particularly amusing. The rules are fairly well written (with the above noted exception) but there are some questions that arose about some of the special cards. For the most part they're pretty trivial and it's easy to come up with ruling on the spot. This is not a game to be taken too seriously though so if you get into an argument about a specific interpretation then I'd suggest you're playing the wrong game.
The first time I played War & Sheep the wolves did not appear until very late in the game and I quickly dismissed the game as "too random". I'm glad that I tried it a few more times as it improved greatly when they appeared earlier. More options and a little more scope for clever plays. I have a little concern that the "reconnaissance" option (peeking at face down tokens) is too weak but perhaps that's a side effect of how we played. It seemed that most of our games ended with one side being completely wiped out so it might be that we were simply underestimating the value of "recon". Losing a single sheep does not seem that big a concern when you're starting out but it could prove critical in the latter part of the game.
While I enjoyed War & Sheep, there's no mistaking this for an involved, heavy strategy game, it's very light and relatively straightforward. The endgame does provide some interesting tactics and opportunities that will reward foresight and planning but it won't melt your brain in the process. As such I think this is ideal for playing with younger children or as a casual filler.
- Greg Aleknevicus