Review: Sheepland31 Oct 2013 0
Sheepland has a casual-friendly art style, relatively simple rules which offer multiple viable strategies, plays fast, and it's sold at a single price, with no in-app purchases. To me, that sounds like the perfect pitch for an iOS boardgame. Animal husbandry is one of the most broadly appealing themes available, and the snickers from the deviant-minded shouldn't put anyone off--we, uh, those degenerates who find innuendo everywhere.
The only obvious trouble with such a game is there are some revered gaming pioneers occupying much the same space. Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, and Hey, That's My Fish! are some pretty serious competitors, many of which have matured into formidable iOS games only after substantial post-release attention. Sheepland shares qualities with many of these, but most of us are better served by one of these more established options.
In Sheepland, you're a shepherd managing a flock of sheep on an island, competing for room with other shepherds. Like in Lost Cities, Sheepland's thematic elements minimally obscure the game's abstract structure. On each turn, you may take three actions from among the types move, herd, and invest. Each turn, one of your actions must be to move your shepherd from one hex edge to an unoccupied one, leaving a fence behind. Herding moves a sheep across the edge your shepherd occupies, and investing yields victory points at the end of the game based on the number of sheep in the terrain types in which you are invested. There's also a black sheep worth double VPs which moves randomly. While the art is pleasantly goofy, it deceptively makes some terrain types look larger or better-connected than others, which makes quick estimation of position require a bit of practice.
The dynamic that results is that you have to balance moving sheep into certain terrain types against investing in them early, because the more sheep a territory has, the more other players will want to invest in them (which raises subsequent prices). You can invest broadly expecting low returns, or narrowly, at the cost of increased vulnerability. Frequently the option which most benefits you now will help your opponents too much to be worth choosing, so important to keep the whole board in mind to play well. Position matters, because moving far costs money, so it can be valuable to try and hem in other players or the black sheep. Alternatively, you can play with fairly young children and focus on tapping the cute faux-wooden sheep. For all that I admire the cleverness of the "sheeple" neologism, it would be even better suited to these sheep meeples.
I have some minor irritations with the game. The rules say, "You can't perform the same action twice in a row until you move your shepherd from his position." However, the iOS implementation will not allow move-herd-herd or move-invest-invest. Given the rapidity with which Cranio have addressed some truly hilarious "localization bugs", I have high hopes that this will be addressed quickly, either by clarifying the English translation of the rules to make it clear that the implementation is correct, or by changing the implementation to match the rules as translated.
It's also a tiny pet peeve of mine to introduce two names where one would do. You start with a pool of money and spend it to invest and move, but at the end any money left over is converted directly to VPs. Why not just start with a pool of VPs you can spend, or have investments pay off in money, with whoever has the most money at the end of the game winning? That actually seems more thematic for Sheepland's capitalist ruminant utopia. Sheepland is also locked into portrait on the iPhone but landscape on the iPad, and has a few minor UI bugs still to be worked out (some rarely-used menu items didn't work for me).
Sheepland isn't a bad game, and for players who are burnt out on the games mentioned above, it's an attractive option with only minor drawbacks. But with so much less name recognition than them, it's unlikely to have such a well-populated online player base, and it doesn't offer much that hasn't been done at least as well before. If you like sheep more than trains or daring archaeological expeditions, I wouldn't trust you with the remote control, but now there's a solid casual board game for you.