Publisher: AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Designer: Neil Kimball
Artist: Zoe Plane
Release date: 2021
1 - 4 Players
Favouritefoe score: 8/10
*Fun * Surprising * Push Your Luck * Racing * Solo Variant * Light Strategy Game *
Have you ever opened a game box, convinced that you know how it going to play, only to be completely wrong? Well, I have now! For the latest title from AEG is most definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing!
Welcome to the dark and daring world of Sheepy Time!
Looking cute and cuddly, I was expecting Sheepy Time to be a light, fluffy, sweet game. I thought I would be playing it with my Mini-meeple rather than my husband, Bearded Moon. After all, he and I are the epitome of fierce competition when we go head-to-head across the late night game table.
This two phase game has a dark side, as well as dose of strategic play, and I like it!
Sheepy Set Up!
So, how do we start?
Prior to beginning Phase 1, you will have placed the board (fence in situ) in easy reach of all players. A random “dream tile” is placed on the outside edge of space 5 and again on space 10. Players receive their chosen sheeple, and the nightmare token is placed in the centre of the board. Players’ “zzz tokens” must be within easy reach, but they do not belong to you yet!
4 dream tiles are placed face up in “the market” with the remainder face down forming a draw pile. The scoreboard with the appropriate side for the number of players is laid out. All sleepyheads are set at spot zero with their pillows placed on spot 40.
The main draw deck is then prepared, and includes all the relevant “sheep cards” as well as the nightmare cards corresponding to the nightmare you have chosen to play this time around (note there are 3 and they increase in difficulty). Once shuffled, each player received two cards into their hand.
Ok, housework done, how does it play?
Phase 1 – Sheepy Sprints!
Sheepy Time is a game played over a number of rounds each divided into two phases. The number of rounds isn’t set – it depends entirely on how long it takes for a player’s sleepyhead to move along the score track enough to touch their pillow (more on that later).
So, beginning with phase 1, this is all about the race. Because every time you make it around the board and over the fence, you will gain 5 “winks” (points). And, if you are the player to get your little sleepy head onto (or over) its pillow on the scoring track first, then you are crowned the dreamiest sheep of them all!
But it isn’t all frolicking in the meadow as you leap and bounce about. Because there is a nightmare on the prowl which is threatening to disturb your sleepy head!
How? Well, the nightmare can move too. And if it passes through or lands on the space your sheeple is occupying, it will “scare” you enough to make your token fall over. If it does it a second time, you “wake up” and phase one ends for you.
I can sense you’re getting anxious about this nefarious nightmare, so let me explain how everything moves around the board.
On your turn, you will have two sheep cards. These will depict one of two things; either a specified number of spaces to move and/or the chance to collect a zzz token/winks, or a nightmare. once you have decided which card to use, place it down and carry out the action. Once done, pick up a new card and it is the next player’s turn.
Note that if you pick up a nightmare card, you must resolve that action rather than what is on your other card. if the nightmare is instructed to “move” a number of spaces, that means it will scare every sheeple it passes. If the nightmare card instructs the nightmare token to “jump”, it will only scare the sheeple on the tile it lands on.
The phase continues with players moving around the board until either the nightmare jumps the fence, or every player has “called it a night” (i.e. decided against making any more laps around the board after their last fence leap) or woken up.
Then the game moves into phase 2.
Phase 2 – Sheepy Stops!
Phase 2 is the “resting phase”. Here, the need for speed is temporarily halted, giving players a chance to set up some bonuses to help them in phase 1 of future rounds.
And bonuses come in the form of dream tiles or activation abilities. On your turn, you can choose to pick up and place a dream tile from the market on any free slot around the board. You will have to have the required number of zzz tokens upon it (either 3 or 1 showing the infinity symbol on the reverse side (meaning that you never lose the bonus)), But hopefully you will have collected those in your stash from phase 1.
Alternatively, you can take two of your zzz tokens and place them on any of the dream tiles already in situ (either together or split across two tiles). These will enable you to activate the ability on those dream tiles should you land on any of them in phase 1 of future rounds. Remember to remove a token if you don't have an infinity zzz on the tile, however.
Once everybody has picked (tile v token) in the resting phase, it ends, and the round is scored.
Using the “pillow reference tile” matching the number of players, each person moves their pillow back the appropriate number of winks that round, depending on their sleepyhead's ranking. So e.g. the player who has the most winks will move their pillow back ten spaces from 40 to 30. If any player woke up during the round, as their sleepyhead will have been returned to zero during phase 1, their pillow only moves back three spaces from 40.
With the main board re-set, all sleepy heads back to zero (but pillows and placed zzz tokens left in their new spots), the market refilled, and deck shuffled, it is time for phase 1 to begin again.
Note that the first player for the next round will be the one whose pillow has moved back the fewest number of spaces.
This time around, however, the board looks different. Now, there are more dream tiles and (hopefully!) tokens spread about, allowing players who land on them to activate the special bonus actions!
Now, you may think that Sheepy Time sounds easy peasy. After all, running away from a nightmare can’t be that hard when there are cards like “move 7 spaces” and a board comprising only 10 spaces total.
But it is not simple child’s play!
Phase 1 is undoubtedly all about pushing your luck. You are aiming for the glorious winks just over the fence but you are risking everything you have achieved this round to get there. You get a second chance, sure. But that might not be enough to protect your winks that round. And with your overall target to win depending entirely on pillow placement, the “stick or twist” dilemma of old becomes real!
And I think the small board with limited spaces emphasises that perception which lulls you into a false sense of security. You should be able to make it over, of course you should. You need to, looking at where your opponents are on the wink board. It will be ok. The Nightmare is a few spaces behind, and you only have to cover 2 more spaces before making the leap to 5 wink freedom...... So you go for it. You rush past the nightmare.
But then the luck of the draw falls short. The Nightmare is on the move and your sleepyhead wakes up. Daaaang. But for you, dear player, the nightmare has only just begun. In comes the Nightmare to knock down your sheeple, steal your winks, and potentially rob you of your chance to be the dreamiest sheep of them all! You should have called it a night last time around. But you didn't. You pushed. You crashed and burned. You wish you could turn back the clock. Reserve back over the fence. But of course you can't.
Phase two is a different beast, however. And with no racing left in you, it is now all about strategic set up for the next sheepy showdown.
I will admit that we didn’t use the dream tiles to the best of our abilities in the first few games of Sheepy Time . We sprinkled our earned zzz tokens, randomly placing dream tiles in free spaces. We thoughtlessly gave each slot around the board the benefit of the probability doubt.
But, three games in, we realised the chaining possibilities in Sheepy Time .
It suddenly dawned on us that, if the market is kind to you and produces the right combination of tiles, you can ricochet your sheeple around the board. In a single turn, you can potentially action a number of useful bonuses in one go (although note that some ultimately work against you - another risk you have to consider!).
And that is ultimately how my Bearded Moon bested me on our third outing, He spied an opportunity to link tiles and set about lining up a prize winning sheepy sequence. I admit here and now that I had the wool pulled over my eyes, and I lost!
A Game of Gambol-ing Gambles!
Sheepy Time surprised me, and in a good way.
For example, I found the push-your-luck aspect of phase 1 more tense than I was initially expecting. I like tension in a game, and I was worried that the "right" choice might be too obvious each turn. But thankfully they weren’t. And I think that is because other decisions/risk factors feed into whether you move or protect what you have already collected.
Having to decide between racing to the fence, or using available cards to collect tokens/winks and hang back behind the nightmare is not always a simple this/that option. The absence of knowing whether the player after you is going to lay down a nightmare card and scare you definitely makes for some squeaky moments! I admit that I found the tension less intense in the solo variant. But the single player mode is easy to operate, and enhances the game’s versatility.
As a risk averse, fraidy cat, I sometimes miss the thrill of push-your-luck games, choosing instead to take the safer (more boring?) option. But, for reasons I don't quite understand, I feel more bullish in Sheepy Time . Whether the cute styling tricks my brain into thinking the risk isn’t that big. Or whether the second chance to snooze buoys my confidence, I don’t know. But Sheepy Time is proving to me that I can hold my nerve. And it is indeed exciting to see what happens.
The resting phase is also an interesting dynamic – deciding whether to buy a dream tile (of which there are loads!) or spread your tokens out means that no bonus is particular to one player. Obviously you need tokens to be able to activate them. But if you are flush with Zzzs, then you can build a strategy based on all the available options.
I also like the scoring mechanism. Having a reducing target each round makes victory feel like it is ever closer. Tantalisingly so. But then that raises the risk of losing everything by overreaching for that little picket fence. And that I think is what elevates the game beyond just gambling your sheepy gambols.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing!
Overall, I think Sheepy Time is a fun, surprisingly strategic game. It has helped bring push-your-luck out of the shadows for me because I find it less intimidating than some others ini the genre. The division of the game into two phases makes sense, and how the racing and the strategy feed into each other become clear after only a few games. Added to that the unique variable scoring targets, and Sheepy Time makes a great addition to our collection.
[please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review but any opinions expressed are my own]