We tend to identify the Wild West with cattle rather than sheep (Editors note: see Glenn Ford in the 1958 Western, The Sheepman). In this game, however, the cowboys are shepherds who are recruiting townsfolk with special abilities to help them grow their flocks and protect them from the predation of wolves.
In Wild West Shepherds, published by Wild Boys Studio and part of the Taiwan Boardgame Design group exhibiting at Essen last October, the start player always has an assigned ‘head man’ character role but the others, in turn, using a drafting mechanic to choose their character.
The game is played with four decks: one with wolves, one with sheep and one with empty fields, plus a mixed deck drawn randomly from the other three. Each round, a card is taken from each deck; the four cards are shuffled and they are laid out face down.
The head man looks at two cards and must say how many wolves he sees in total. He lies, however, if he sees three or more (which is possible because wolf cards can have more than wolf) and he can choose to lie about any wolves which are in sheep’s clothing.
In their turns, players choose a face-down card to look at and place out their cowboy meeple on any one of the four face-down cards (it doesn’t have to be the one they looked at). Subsequent players cannot look at a card occupied by a meeple, though they can place their meeple at an occupied location. When all players have placed their meeples (the head man placing theirs last), the four cards are revealed. On a sheep card, players with meeples there divvy up the sheep on the card and then they apply the special ability of their character. Players with a meeple on a wolf card will lose sheep from their own stock unless their character’s ability gives them immunity.
The game involves much bluffing and probably some downright lying (only the head man has to tell the truth, and even then only in limited circumstances). Sheep tokens that are forfeited by players, or which go unclaimed because they cannot be equally divvied up, are carried over to the next round, and this certainly helps to spice up the game.
Wild West Shepherds is a light, bluffing hidden role game where players are gambling on limited information, including their best guesses about the motives and intentions of their opponents. It’s an attractive well-produced little package; it just feels odd that the tokens representing sheep look for all the world like coins. Wild West Shepherds plays with 4 to 7 players. Playing length varies a bit from game to game but it’s typically around 30 minutes.