Sheep & THIEF is a cracking family game for 2-4 players aged 8+. It is perfect for family play because it lasts only around 30 minutes and thus is well within the attention span of young players.
Sheep & THIEF is also a good introduction to the construction game genre of laying cards that depict the building of roads (and rivers) while taking note of the other features on the cards.
PEGASUS SPIELE have used all of their experience to ensure this game has good quality components and a clearly designed and printed rules booklet in both English and German languages.
The players take on the role of Peasant Farmers who each own a farmstead of 16 fertile fields at the foot of the mountains where the lush land and clear rivers separate the hard-working farmers from the towns of Baabourne, Sheepville and Woolington (okay, designer Yuichi Sakashita has worked a little too hard on trying to make the town names amusing). Each farm is depicted by a landscape board with a surround of bushes and shrubs and overlaid with a 4 x 4 grid of spaces designed to take the landscape cards. These cards show dirt roads, and/or rivers at various angles (including straight across or up and down) from the centre of the card's edges. Also on these cards are Gustav and his Son (your Sheepdogs), Sheep, Fritz the Fox, and Barns; on the flip-side of each player's starting Farmyard card is a Black Sheep - this side is only used in the Black Sheep module - there are Black wooden Sheep-shaped pieces for this.
The goal of the game is to score Gold by building the longest connected river and by connecting the three towns (on the Map edges) by building roads. You are also trying to collect as many Sheep, yours and your opponents, as you can. looking after them in the safety of the Barns and with the help of Gustav & Son. Of course your opponents have the same Goal and so they will be after stealing your Sheep while you are trying to steal yours.Although each player's main Goal to win is the same there are nine Mission (Module) cards from which one random card is dealt to each player along with their five Landscape cards. The Landscape cards are used to build your farm whilst the Mission cards give you end-of-game bonuses. All the game Modules are fully explained in the Rules Booklet, all the other cards are basically self explanatory.
Apart from introducing new players to the way games use cards to build roads, rivers etc, Sheep & THIEF also introduces the mechanic of card playing and passing. There are two phases in each of the three Rounds of play - the first of these is the passing (aka "drafting") of the cards until each player has five to play, the cards are passed to the left in rounds one and three and to the right in round two (there is a reminder on the cards as to which direction the cards are passed). The second phase is the Placement Phase where the players take turns placing 4 cards, one at a time, on their Farmsteads.
Cards have to be placed on the Farmsteads orthogonally. The first card has to be placed in the top left corner where your farmhouse building is and from then on cards are placed adjacent to an edge of a previously placed card, either the long edge or the short edge but never diagonally.. Apart from the rule of adjacent placing the roads and rivers on the cards have to connect properly too. Rivers can be placed against the edge of the farmstead, against an empty space, or against another river edge. Roads, on the other hand, do not have to be continued and can be placed against edges where only grass and against other roads but they cannot be placed to continue into a river. Fritz the Fox is a space blocker, preventing you to build on the space he is in. There is a Fritz on every farmers board and also on some of the Landscape cards. When a card with Fritz on it is played then everyone, including the person playing it, has to move the Fritz on their board; the fun thing is that all the other players have to move their Fritz in exactly the same direction as the player who played the card - this can cause some additional fun as well as being the source for some strategic play. When the Fritz (or Fritzs') on other peoples farmsteads land on a card with Sheep on it, those Sheep are stolen by the card player and placed in their paddock (on their paddock card).
Each Sheep on a card you play allows you to collect a Sheep (wooden piece) from the supply - you have to place the new Sheep on the recently played card. Each Sheepdog, Gustav and/or his Son means you can move all the Sheep from one card to an adjacent card (like card placement this cannot be diagonally) but not onto an empty space. Sheep in Barns are safe from being stolen even if Fritz lands on the card with a Barn he cannot touch them.
As I said earlier, this is a good family game at a reasonably good price, which is between £20.00 and £25.00 on the internet and from your local games store. Apart from it being a fun game to play Wee Yee Chong's illustrations of the animals in this game give the wooden pieces that represent them a sense of realism, so much so that they become more than just die-cut pieces of wood, they take on lives of their own.