Review: Sheeping Around23 Jan 2019 2
Review: Sheeping Around
Released 17 Jan 2019
Let’s gloss over the promiscuous ruminant themed pun of the title as quickly as possible, same goes for the “Will you sheep with me?” tagline. Pocket Tactics has a bit of a sheep theme this month, which is weird since sheep and strategy make uneasy bedfellows. Indeed, a sheep’s one and only strategy seems to involve following other sheep, which as far as cunning plans go is up there with Baldrick’s finest. However, it is self-evident that the subject provides a rich vein for sheep-based puns and, of course, our woolly friends are easy to depict on screen, being basically just clouds on legs.
Sheeping Around is the age-old story of loyal sheepdog verses cunning fox. Shepherdess Hazel Woof is going about her business grazing her sheep when poacher Alex McCunning appears on the scene and immediately makes plans to steal them away. Both players begin the game with a deck of cards and must compete to claim ownership of the three sheep displayed in the centre of the screen. The first player to claim ownership of two sheep wins the game. To actually take control of a sheep Hazel must play graze cards and when the total reaches four, she can use a whistle card to call that sheep home. Meanwhile, Alex must use lure cards, upon reaching a sum of four he can then play a steal card to nab the unfortunate animal.
Turns are simple; you play a card on one of the remaining sheep and then draw a new card. To add a little more flexibility there are also some additional blue bonus cards and you can play up to three of these each turn. The lucky charm, for instance, allows you to immediately draw two extra cards, whilst the sprint card lets you play an additional action card. Some of these cards will have a direct negative effect on your opponent. The trick bonus card lets you steal a card, whilst petrify will force your opponent to skip a turn.
Initially, it sounds like Sheeping Around is going to be a neat asymmetric card game in which the opposing players get to make use of their own set of differing powers. Disappointingly, it turns out that the cards only differ in name. Whilst Hazel can use a guard card to prevent her opponent from playing a card on a sheep for two turns, Alex can initiate exactly the same effect by using a trap card. Hazel can use an affection card to switch two lure points to graze points, but conversely, Alex can use a sneak card to change two graze points to lure points. It’s a pity that the opposing sides do not offer their own unique powers, as this would have significantly enhanced the game’s replay value.
Winning a match earns both experience points and gold coins. Coins can be spent at the market place to buy new cards, which will increase the overall power of your deck. You begin with fifty basic cards, and can never increase or decrease this number. This means that in order to add new cards you will have to remove old ones, remembering to ensure that you maintain your deck’s overall balance. New cards will unlock as your experience level increases, but most of these new cards tend to be variations on a similar theme, being just more powerful versions of the basic cards. For example, when you reach level 43 you unlock a guard/trap card that increases the duration from two to four turns. When you unlock a new card you can add the first copy for free, further copies will cost you coins. Need more coins? Well, extra supplies can be brought for real-world cash, a feature that is sure to irk many gamers, especially in a paid app. Sure, you still have to earn experience points to unlock new cards by actually playing, but the option to throw extra money at the game to improve your deck creates an uneven playing field.
The sole focus of Sheeping Around is to battle your way to the top of the online leader board. Games are played out in real time; you have three minutes to complete your first turn and one minute thirty seconds for future turns. Currently, the matching system is patchy. Sometimes it works fine, whilst at others, a prospective opponent will unmatch you before a contest begins. It is especially frustrating to end up waiting for an entire three minutes for your opponent to complete their turn, only to be told that you have been disconnected. If all of these hitches prove too frustrating then you can also challenge a friend to an online game. The biggest omission is that there is no option to take part in a solo game or a two-player pass-and-play duel. With the online issues, the lack of any offline options is particularly telling and limits the game’s appeal.
Sheeping Around certainly looks the part, with its polished presentation and tidy interface. Graphics are colourful and distinctive, even if the anthropomorphic adversaries lean more toward the creepy rather than the cute. The cards are nicely animated and have a variety of neat sound effects. Games are short and snappy, taking only five to ten minutes to complete. Unfortunately, they are also too shallow to warrant playing over and over again. The decision-making process is neither immersive nor involved. The whole experience feels very one-dimensional and rapidly devolves into a dull game of tug-of-war, without much in the way of surprise or any real scope for clever card play.
With its stylish cartoon graphics and easy to grasp rules, Sheeping Around might serve as a good introduction to deckbuilding card games for casual players. However, for the rest of us the gameplay is too predictable and soon becomes a more effective cure for insomnia than counting sheep.