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(Worth 2,700 Funagain Points!)
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"The Best Game Ewe Ever Herd!"
Ah, do ewe long for the life of a sheep? Bright summer days filled with games of tag and attempts to flock closer to Roger, the Heartthrob Ram? But, Watch Out! The shearer wants to drag you away from all the fun and games! In Shear Panic, ewe maneuver your ewes to score points, playing tag, standing close to Roger, or trying to avoid the shearing scissors! Will your brave sheep score the most points, or will it be "Off with the wool" for ewe?
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Jan 12, 2007
Shear Panic is a light strategy game about managing the position of your sheep in a flock.Watch the video!
NOTE: This review was first published in Knucklebones magazine
What is one of the best ways to sell games at the Spiel in Essen? Advertise in advance, announcing that the game is a very limited edition. Oh, adding pictures of the game’s components won’t hurt, either. In fact, if the components are incredibly adorable sheep, then this will quite likely cause a flood of pre-orders from gamers who simply cannot resist attractive components. It apparently also doesn’t hurt if your previous game was a hit. Finally, wear kilts.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m speaking of Shear Panic from the jolly Scotsmen and women of Fragor Games. Last year’s Leapfrog was well received, and the group created quite an internet sensation when they posted pictures of their new game’s components on the ‘net. The main attraction is eleven highly detailed, resin sheep, which bear a striking resemblance to those sheep characters in the Serta mattress commercials, as well as the characters in the Wallace and Gromit films. In short, they are adorable.
But adorable pieces do not necessarily make for a good game. Fortunately, Shear Panic is a good game, so those great pieces aren’t wasted.
Players control two sheep apiece, each marked with identifying colors on their backs (just like in real life!) These sheep are set out in a square pattern, with the lone black sheep in the center. Of course, the grouping is called “the herd”.
Each player also receives a player mat outlining the potential “moves” he can execute during his turn. These moves usually have clever names (lamb slam, yew turn, etc.) and generally involve pushing, moving, or jumping sheep. Each time a player executes a move, he must cover that block on his mat with a chip, rendering that particular move unusable again for the remainder of the game. Thus, a player’s potential movement options become fewer and fewer as the game progresses. Choosing which option to use … and when to use it … are critical decisions to be made during the course of the game.
Each action also has a time associated with it. When a move is executed by a
player, the time marker is moved the corresponding number of spaces on the time
track. The movement of the time marker will trigger the various phases of the game,
as well as ultimately the end of the game. It will also trigger …
The game is played in four phases, each having its own objective. During the first phase, players attempt to maneuver their two sheep so they are adjacent at the end of the player’s turn. In the second phase, the heart-throb of sheep everywhere – Roger Ram – appears. Players attempt to maneuver their sheep so that they are in the front row, closest to the dashing Roger. Scoring is only held at the end of this phase, so there is some time to execute clever moves.
In the third phase, the idea is to tag the black sheep. That means get your sheep next to him at the end of your turn. The final phase is the dreaded “shearing”. In this phase, the poor sheep will have their fluffy coats shorn, leaving them shivering in the morning chill. The idea here is to be as far away from the shearers as possible. In fact, the hapless sheep in the row nearest the shearer will actually be sheared, removed from play, and will score no further points for their owners.
The ultimate objective, of course, is to score as many points as possible during each phase of the game. To accomplish this, a player must be adept at assessing how the various actions available to him will affect the positioning of his sheep in the herd. This requires keen visualization, a skill at which I am woefully inadequate. It can also possibly cause that dreaded “down-time”, as one or more players take excessive amounts of time in analyzing their options before executing their move. So, gentle encouragement to the players to not take too long (whoa … there’s a subjective concept!) when contemplating their moves is in order.
Like some other games, a player really cannot do much advance planning. The configuration of the herd generally changes radically between turns, so a player can really only assess the situation on his turn, then execute the best action possible. This situation can irritate some players, but I generally don’t have a problem with it. It doesn’t bother me here, and I enjoy the challenge of ascertaining the best possible action which will yield me the optimum result. Sadly, I usually fail at this task!
Shear Panic is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Thanks to the components and adorable components, one expects a cute, harmless family game. Inside, however, is a very tactical game, one which is a true abstract at its core. This will undoubtedly be a put-off to those expecting lighter family fare, but gamers – if they can get past the idea of playing with sheep – will find a nice challenge.