Two Shepherds and a Sheep
Sheep-Boom-Bah is the newest offering from Bob and Ryan Craig, the brotherly duo that makes up One Day West Games. The game embodies the company’s mission to make fun family friendly games that balance skill and chance. Sheep-Boom-Bah is a game about shepherding your sheep through the uncertainty of an active minefield back to the safety of the barn. The game expertly crafts tension by the players not knowing if their next step will result in a pleasant “Bah!” or a disastrous “Boom!” The game is for 2-4 players and is rated for ages 8 and up.
Putting Your Sheep Out to Pasture
Before you can guide your sheep safely home, you have to set up the minefield your unlucky sheep must successfully navigate. Sheep-Boom-Bah’s board is made of two types of tiles arranged in a seven by seven grid: start tiles and field tiles. Start tiles form the outer edge of the board and indicate where players’ sheep start. Field tiles are randomly arranged face down in a five by five grid. The exact distribution of tiles is determined by the player count. The game also has a deck of cards that provide ways to manipulate the events of the game. To begin, each player is dealt four cards. After a rousing sheep imitation contest, the best sheep impersonator claims first place. They can place a sheep on any perimeter tile and this continues until all the sheep have been placed.
No Sheep Left Behind
In Sheep-Boom-Bah a turn is made of two mandatory actions and optional unlimited card play. The two mandatory actions are moving your sheep to a field tile or moving them from your barnyard to the barn. These can be done in any order, and you are allowed to repeat actions. Your sheep are slow but agile. They can move one adjacent space in any direction. When moving your sheep to a new unrevealed tile, you must flip it and resolve its effects. Your sheep are divas who simply cannot possibly share space with just any other sheep. Therefore, they will bump any sheep they run into on to the next field tile. This forces that hapless sheep into revealing either an unrevealed tile or triggering a revealed tile as if they had made that move on their turn. This can cause a chain reaction, often to hilarious effect.
There are several types of field tiles in Sheep-Boom-Bah: safe fields, landmines, double-sided safe to cross/safe cones, and a barn in each player color. The safe field tiles allow the player who revealed them to score one point upon revelation. Afterward, they are simply safe zones, which given the circumstances, is a welcome respite. Landmines put the boom in Sheep-Boom-Bah. When a wayward sheep discover a landmine and the player doesn’t have a playable card to prevent it that sheep is sent straight to the graveyard. If the card Hero of the Herd is played though, the mine is replaced with a safe cone tile. The sheep remains there and the player scores two points. If a sheep can’t be saved, then the tile is replaced with the safe to cross side present. The noble sacrifice of the previous sheep makes it safe for everyone else as, thankfully, landmines only go boom one time. Finally, there is a barn in every player color which when revealed scores three points for the player of that color. When sheep land on it, they go to that respective barn, regardless of sheep color.
Card play, while optional, is by no means unimportant. Skillfully managing your hand allows you to shepherd not only your sheep to the comfort of your barn but your opponents’ sheep as well. Orchestrating combos, such as going into an opponent’s barn to steal your own sheep from said barn because you didn’t have a faster or more direct way to get more sheep could be the turning point that nets you a win. Hero of the Herd, Am-Bah-Lance, and EIEI…NO are cards that can be played out of turn which heightens investment in other players’ turns. There are so many interesting combinations of manipulating where sheep are that any situation can be turned around with enough creativity. At the end of your turn, you can choose to discard any number of cards. If at any point in the game you have fewer than four cards you must then draw up to four.
Gameplay continues until one player removes all their sheep from the board. The rest of the players have one more turn to take actions and scoring begins.
The Measure of a Shepherd
Any points earned in the game are now added to end game scoring. Cards have backgrounds that have to match the player colors. Cards of your own color will score you one point. Wild Wool cards count as wild cards when in your hand. Any sheep in your barn that match your color score three points and opponents’ sheep score two points. If a Wild Wool card was played, then all sheep score three points. Sheep in the barnyard all score one point, regardless of color. Sheep in your graveyard lose you one point since no shepherd worth an ounce of pure wool would allow their good sheep to die and this must not go unpunished. Victory goes to the player with the most points. Ties are broken by the number of sheep in your graveyard since living sheep as a shepherd is naturally preferred. The player with the fewest sheep of their color in the graveyard win in the case of such a tie.
Be a Shepherd, Not a Sheeple
Sheep-Boom-Bah has puns and is not afraid to use them. Beneath its fluffy woolen exterior is a game of balancing caution and risk wrapped in a tight 20-minute package. You can play it as recklessly or strategically as you want, but it feels like both are rewarding experiences. No two games are alike since the randomness of the board and player movements guarantees tiles won’t be revealed in a particular order. Choosing your new tiles always feels a little tense as you reveal the fate of your sheep. The idea of bumping sheep into bombs is very alluring. However, the game prevents a player from running roughshod over other players with that mechanic, because bumping them could result in a disastrously good thing occurring for that sheep or could start a chain reaction that bumps one of your sheep into a landmine. Everything has a pro and a con, which lets you make this as deep or as light as you want. So, play it however you like, but please don’t let the bahs go boom.
A pre-production prototype of the game was provided to GeekSpiel for the purposes of this review. Please note the finished product, components, and even rules might differ slightly from what we show here.