Review based on the Rules-Play-Culture model.
Victory condition: There’s a flock of sheep, two sheep for each colour plus the unfaltering black sheep; each player has to score points by shuffling the flock configuration according to four different positional goals. Who scores the most overall points wins.
The goals are based on the relative position of the sheep in the flock. The game has four phases and there’s a different goal in each phase. You get points depending on where the sheep of your colour are.
Two goals are scored individually: your sheep must be close to each other in the first phase and close to the black sheep in the third phase.
Two goals are scored collectively: in the second phase the sheep more to the front of the flock can mate with the ram first (!) and score more points, while in the fourth and last phase the sheep more to the back feel safer and score more points because the first row must undergo the scary process of being shorn and thus removed from the board.
At each turn you can pick a move from a fixed set of one-shot possibilities (stuff like “turn the flock 90°”, “push a row of sheep”, “jump a line of sheep” etc.) and it’s not easy to do the right thing. Moves already taken are marked as such by placing tokens on a mat.
The game feel is comical: conflicting plans in a very limited space result in a huge confusion, which supports the flock theme.
Basically, most of the match outcome is decided in the the shearing phase, but this is OK considering the lightness of the game. What I find less OK is that remembering the meaning of the moves is not easy for casual players, although that is just the kind of player that this game seem to be targeted at. Also, the rules for rejoining the flock when it becomes separated are too complex for a family game.
It’s a pleasure to touch and move the sheep, thanks to the impressive quality of the components.
The game components are very cute: heavy miniatures, much larger than necessary and carefully crafted and painted. They look like small statues. There are also miniatures of Roger the Ram and a sheep shearing another one (I thought humans shear sheep, but this is what you get).
In the English-language original version, there is plenty of puns, starting from the game title itself. Sheep lexicon lends itself to dad jokes: “Ewe Turn” is the only example I’m giving here.
For some reason, sheep flocks are a recurring theme in board games. Part of its allure is due to the concepts of pastures and shepherds, completely absent in this game. Another key element is the black sheep archetype, which is heavily exploited here too.
But what Shear Panic does best is exploring the concept of a compact, messy, perpetually reconfiguring flock. If you have ever watched a flock of sheep now you understand what they are up to when they keep on swapping places and pushing each other: they are playing this game.
This review was originally published on my BoardGameGeek profile in 2014. It was re-edited in 2023 to fit the format of the Rules-Play-Culture board game analysis series on this website.