A to Z Gaming: Black Sheep

We started our “B” games today with Black Sheep.

Basic Info: Black Sheep
Players: 2-4
Time: 30 Minutes
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Artist: Ursula Vernon
Publisher:  Fantasy Flight Games(our copy)



In Black Sheep, each player is trying to get the most points by corralling animals on their board. This is done by playing cards to fields at the center of the board to create sets of animals that include two animals in the field and the animals on the cards played by each player. Whoever has the best “hand” wins the two animals on the field, and places them in their corral.

Each animal has a 1, 2, or 3 printed on the bottom, which represent game-end points, with black sheep scoring negative points. In addition, the player with the most of a given animal type gets a +6 point bonus – this includes the black sheep, so there is a reason to pick those up. Plus there is a +6-point bonus for each complete set of all 6 animals.

Each turn, you choose to play one or two cards to your side of one of the fields – if you play one card the first time you play to that field, you must play two the next time, and vice versa. If you play only one card, you can optionally discard a card. Then you draw back up to a hand of three cards. Finally, you check to see if any of the fields is ready to be scored – this happens when each player has played three cards to the field.

The fields each have two animals figures in the center, and these are combined with the cards – which depict the same animals – played on each side to figure out who has the best “hand.”  It’s essentially the rules of poker – five of a kind beats four of a kind, which beats three of one and two of another, etc. There is also an ordering of the animals, in case of ties – horses beat cows, etc.

I believe this is the first time we’ve played this game. It has been on our shelf for *years*, and neither of us can remember how exactly we acquired it. Our best guess is either a sidewalk sale at a game store or a yard sale.

This didn’t turn out to be our sort of game. We played through it three times to try to give it a chance. The first game, I think we got one rule wrong, so we decided to try again without cheating.

For the third game, we tried out the alternate game-end bonus points. Instead of set bonuses, this variation uses task cards. Each player has a number of secret tasks, and then there are a number of public tasks. At game end, all tasks are turned face-up, and all players vie for the points. These include having the most of various animals (like the traditional game), points for specific sets of animals, or the bizarre “get all the black sheep” task that automatically wins that player the game.

The poker aspect of the game was interesting – I’m not a poker player, so it took some thought as I was playing my animal cards. And the animal figures are cute. But that’s about all I liked about the game.

In all three games, I won by a huge margin – earning 3 or more times the points that Andrew earned. This made the game feel very unbalanced – there was just no way for him to catch up, and the game-end bonuses just made it worse. Maybe Black Sheep just isn’t a good two player game, but I’m not willing to put in the time and effort to figure out.

How is it as a 2-player game? Not good. I can’t compare to higher player counts, but it’s very unbalanced as a 2-player game. Either that, or Andrew just wasn’t very good…but he’s a good player in general, so I don’t believe that.

How about the art and component quality? The animal figures are super cute, and I love the art on the cards. However, the field and player corral mats are very cheap – they needed to be a heavy cardboard. Also, as cute as the animal figures are, the numbers on the bottom are hard to read.

Will this stay in my collection? No, it’s already on the to-donate pile.




One Reply to “A to Z Gaming: Black Sheep”

  1. Afterwards I was looking at the game’s forum on BGG and realized we’d gotten a rule wrong that might have changed things a lot. We were playing strictly alternating turns, but the rules say that when a player gets the animals on a field, that player goes again. Going first is something of a disadvantage, because you’re committing some cards to a field and the other player can then decide whether they can compete with you or just dump low-value cards on the field. So it’s possible we’re judging the game too harshly… but the cheapness & tininess of the components means I’m OK with not giving it another chance and just letting it go.

    The artwork is by Ursula Vernon, who illustrated one other game according to BGG. She’s gone on to success as a webcomic artist & writer, writing two series of children’s books (“Dragonbreath” and “Hamster Princess”), and winning Hugo Awards for her webcomic series Digger and for the short story “The Tomato Thief”. Her work is definitely worth checking out!

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