After playing almost a thousand different games, and dozens and dozens of children and family appropriate games, I have come to appreciate the tightwire act that goes into building the perfect game suitable for all ages. It’s almost a Goldilocks situation. where designers have to take into account “time length zones” and relatively sparse rule sets yet somehow make an experience enticing enough to keep the attention of the youngest intended player as well as the most experienced.
Some companies are just better at it than others, I have found. And one of those companies is Blue Orange Games, which seems to have a knack for making family games that appeal to a wide spectrum of players. They recently sent us a copy of an interesting “one versus many” deduction, bluffing and memory style game, with a very similar theme to some familiar Looney Tunes shorts.
Wilson & Shep is a brand new 2021 release from Blue Orange Games designed by the very underrated Roberto Fraga of Captain Sonar, Spinderella and Dancing Eggs fame (among many other very popular games). The cartoony art (which never ceases to make my little grandbugs squeal in delight when they see the silly poses of the sheep) is wonderfully drawn by Stivo.
In Wilson & Shep, up to five players collectively play as Shep the guard dog seeking to find where Wilson is trying to hide among the sheep. Players will take turns moving the Shep token around the field of sheep, turning over tiles to reveal whether a funny sheep or Wilson is located underneath. Find Wilson in eight turns or less and Shep wins.
We usually play best of three games, or let everyone get a turn at being Wilson. Playing Wilson is easy: the Wilson player secretly hides the Wilson token among the sheep tokens, and then on their turn can swap two tiles either to “hide” Wilson from a closing in Shep or bluff the Shep players into thinking the tile you are swapping has Wilson. Each game has taken us about 15 minutes to finish.
It’s always a joy when companies hit the nail on the head with their production of a game…but I will be honest, when I first saw the box, I had questions. The entire thing fits into the palm of my hand, and has a faded look where I am very much used to seeing bright primary style colors on children’s games.
But then I opened the box, and noticed that it had one of my favorite little production elements, the side opening box with a magnet to make it open like a treasure chest. Love that! It actually looks like a thick little family book on my shelf.
Inside the box, we find two rules sets in English and French, along with 16 cardboard sheep tiles, one “Wilson” tile (a dressed up wolf in sheep’s clothing), one wooden Shep piece (the guard dog), and a big pile of reward bones made of cardboard. It’s simple and easy to set up, just lay out the sixteen tiles and have Wilson hide among them while the Shep players close their eyes.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
When I am looking for games to play with the grandbugs, it has to have a theme that will attract their attention. Dragons, superheroes, Disney characters, etc are instant attractions for them. But, another draw is anything they find silly, and so the first plus going for Wilson & Shep is the awesome sheep illustrations from Stivo.
The sheep and their funny caricatures really set the mood. Some of them are stuffing their faces with grass, or eating flowers, or even staring back at the players with mad faces. We played again this morning with Evelyn, the youngest, and everytime she saw a sheep in a funny pose, she giggled with joy, making sure to point out her favorites.
But funny pictures won’t hold their attention for long, so it needs to have quick gameplay and some kind of tension. I do not know why, but little kids love that tense moment when the roll of a die can make the crow win the game (like in First Orchard). Wilson & Shep has those moments.
The game box says it is for 6+ age groups, and Evelyn is only four, so we house rule it a bit. We hide our eyes when she is Wilson, and let her look at the tiles underneath to make sure she is moving Wilson. (Gabby is a little older, so she remembers where Wilson is.) We also let her move Shep when she is that player to any tile instead of just adjacent tiles, since she tends to bounce around the tableau a lot.
Either way, when we get about half of the eight tiles flipped over, and she knows she is getting closer, she lingers on the tiles just a little bit longer, savoring the anticipation as only little kids can. It’s such a joy to see a smile burst on her face when she finds Wilson or even when she offers me a high five when I find where she has hidden the tile.
Does scoring and the end game really matter? I guess maybe if you were playing this with older teens, who might be a little bit more competitive. The short nature of the game, and the fact that little kids seem to grasp that we are telling a story about a guard dog saving his sheep friends from the big bad wolf no matter which side we play on means that scoring for us has been more about the journey rather than the destination. Sure, they like to count up the bones just as much as anyone, but the focus is more on finding the stories to be told.
I don’t want to overstate this game — it’s a fifteen minute family filler, that is the perfect Sunday morning game to play with some Meche’s donuts for a treat. We break it out every few weeks because by that time the memory of the exact poses of the sheep on the tiles has been forgotten a bit and the laughter starts again. For what it is trying to do, Wilson & Shep does really well and it’s certainly a keeper on our family games shelf.
— BJ from Board Game Gumbo
Our thanks to Blue Orange Games for sending us the review copy.