Shephy (pronounced ‘Sheppie’, judging by the reimplementation) is quite simply a modern classic.
Released in 2013 by veteran Japanese tabletop / RPG publishers Bouken – also charmingly known as Adventure Planning Service – it was both designed and illustrated by Pawn (ポーン). This light, surreal solitaire balances between whimsy and meaningful choices.
But Shephy isn’t going to drive you insane with agonizing dilemmas.
It’s a meditative exercise. Protect the herd when you can; sacrifice it when you must. I think I’m in love.
It’s not often that quoting directly from the rulebook is a good way to convey theme. In this case it’s perfect:
Be fruitful. Multiply. Fill the earth.
Flourish in every part of the land and let the tread of golden hooves resound.
Let calamity be inspiration and have a plan for any purpose.
This poem continues for some time, sketching out a gentle yet fragile post-apocalyptic world. Sheep – the meekest of creatures – have inherited the earth, and are filled with hereditary urges to populate its vast, empty fields.
As both designer and illustrator, Pawn has complete control of this vision.
Every woolly fatality by lightning strike, falling rock or asteroid feels tragic. There’s just something touching about the noble ambitions of these sheep married with their plump, round, woefully impractical biology.
The game’s population is represented by 49 sheep cards of ascending value (1, 3, 10, 30, 100, 300, 1000 – seven of each). These are moved around seven play slots, representing the land available to grow and expand.
You’ll start with one sheep, and from there things can only improve, although that first expansion is never quite explained…
Manage your hand of event cards to guide this flock through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Duplicate, subtract, divide and combine your furry citizens in a glorious march to outproduce the game’s timer – the black sheep.
Players win by reaching a population of at least 1000 by the end of three rounds.
Although it’s possible to lose in the first round (even the first hand), there’s usually a path to victory once you understand the different cards. The challenge then becomes beating your previous score.
Choose a card; do the thing. Simple.
There are no chips, counters or dice here – only cards on nice, premium stock.
But just look at those sheep! Each card has a unique illustration, from the weird acrobatics of population markers to the grim portents of the event cards (what exactly is a Shephion?).
It won’t be to everyone’s taste but clearly I’m a fan.
If there’s one complaint (I’m contractually obligated to have at least one) it’s that Shephy isn’t quite as portable as it feels like it should be. At 72 cards, it’s a fairly substantial deck, and won’t exactly fit in your back pocket.
This is probably the inspiration behind the previously mentioned reimplementation, which is the same game in miniature.
What do others think?
Shephy is rated 6.8 on BoardGameGeek and reviewers generally approve – although rarely with the same enthusiasm I feel.
If you are looking for a light, fast solo game, that won’t burn your brain, Shephy could be just what you baa-gained for.
I play this game as a kind of restful, self-imposed exile from other min-maxing, heartier games that my group loves.
If the idea of sitting alone on a tea break and indulging in some hot sheep on sheep action while defending your flock from all the worst bits of the bible does it for you, then I urge you to give this a try.
Shephy is a gateway game.
Don’t take that for the insult sometimes suggested. This is a gateway to solitaire play, a field I’ve previously associated with fiddly World War Two simulations and big boxes that you could – technically, if you really wanted to, we suppose – play on your own.
With Shephy, I’m finally able to game over my morning coffee. And doesn’t everyone deserve a moment of zen?
4.5 sheepskin rugs out of 5.
Number of players: 1
Playing time: 15 mins
Price: 19.99€ at NiceGameShop