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[Review] Wooly Bully

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Apparently farm animals are a popular game theme, especially pigs and chickens. However, sheep are starting to show up in greater numbers, and perhaps they will become the supreme Spielfriek animal. First we had War & Sheep, a clever two-player game, and now Wooly Bully (Asmodee Editions, 2002 – Philippe des Pallieres) has joined the ranks. I first heard of this game when I was researching out War & Sheep, and the humorous name, as well as some interesting mechanics, caused me to wonder why I hadn’t heard of the game before.

When you go to, the premier board game rating website, and read the comments on Wooly Bully, you’ll notice one game mentioned in more than half the comments – Carcassonne. There is a good reason for this comparison, as players lay down square tiles, matching the edges – just like in the very popular Carcassonne series. Yet Wooly Bully is a very different game – faster, with possibly more strategy. I really enjoyed Wooly Bully, having a lot of fun with a game that has beautiful components and simple yet elegant rules. As with many tile-laying games, there is always the luck of the draw, but as long as you accept that the game is fairly light, I think the funny artwork and enjoyable play would appeal to most people.

There are seventy-seven double-sided tiles in the game. One of them, the village square, is placed in the middle of the board. Four more tiles, with a question mark on one side, and four sheep and shepherd of one color (black, blue, red, or yellow) on the other side, are shuffled and each player takes one and looks at it secretly. This tells them which color sheep they are. There are four more tiles that blatantly state what color a player is, but they aren’t used for now, and are set aside. The remaining 68 tiles are shuffled and put in a bag. Each player draws four tiles from the bag and holds them in their hand secretly. The player who most recently visited the countryside goes first, with play passing clockwise around the table.

On a turn, a player chooses a tile from their hand and plays it on the table next to any of the current tiles face-up on the table. A player can put a tile down on either side, as long as the sides of the tile match the other sides of tiles it’s adjacent to. The sides are: forest, village, blue sheep, black sheep, yellow sheep, and red sheep) The player then draws from the bag one tile for each adjoining tile the tile they place matches. The next player then goes. The tiles are placed in such a way as to put the sheep in different fields, each fences in and/or bordered by forest.

If a player plays a Wolf tile (a tile with forest on all sides and a picture of a wolf in the middle), next to a forest, the sheep in adjacent fields to the forest are in danger. If a player plays a Hunter tile in a forest, no wolf tiles can be placed there further. If a wolf tile is already in the forest, the hunter tile is placed on top of it, and no further wolf tiles may be placed there. Also, a player can play their secret tile, revealing their true color. This also allows them to place one more tile as a bonus tile. They then take the colored tile set aside at the beginning of the game to show everyone what their color is. The wolf, hunter, and bonus tiles may be played at any time – even during another player’s turn. A player can just interrupt and play the tile(s), taking tiles from the bag as a result of matching up the sides of the played tiles.
On their turn, a player can choose to stop playing tiles – effectively removing themselves from the remainder of the game. The first player to do this scores six bonus points, the next player three, and the third one bonus point. After the tiles run out, and/or all players have stopped playing, the game ends. Each player counts up the total sheep they have in their largest totally enclosed pen – bordered on all sides by fences or forests with no wolves in them and adds this to their bonus points. The player with the largest total wins the game! Ties are broken by second largest fields, etc.

Some comments about the game….

1.) Components: The tiles are absolutely incredible in this game – very well done. They are thick, laminated, and beautifully illustrated. (Not to mention they seem to be rather childproof also.) Some have complained about the double-sided tiles, and even when I played, some players mentioned that they would have liked it better if they could have placed them in front of themselves. I personally didn’t have a problem with it, but I may try to improvise a “fix”, by making a tile holder for each player. Everybody agreed that the artwork was very “cute” and very nice. I was impressed at the abundance of different artwork shown for each and every sheep. Another thing – minor of course, was that the grass under each color sheep was just a tiny different shade of green. This isn’t a big deal, but it helped the whole board look better aesthetically. Each sheep also had a different pattern on their backs, helping tell the colors apart for those who are colorblind. Since the only major component in the game was the tiles (apart from the cloth bag – which was suitable), I was glad that so much effort was put into them. All of this fits in a small, very sturdy box, with bright, eye-catching artwork.

2.) Rules: The game rules are stated very simply, on six pages including full-color illustrations, and helpful hints. Everything was very clear, and I was able to explain the game very quickly. Those who played Carcassonne before actually took longer to catch on, as they weren’t used to several of the differences.

3.) Carcassonne: The game really doesn’t match up that much with Carcassonne, other than connecting matching tiles by the edge. Players are not placing meeples, not scoring points while the game is playing, and have a chance to play one of several tiles. However, the inevitable comparison with Carcassonne will always be made. I personally prefer a full-blown Carcassonne with all expansions added – and I like that better than Wooly Bully (a little). But I’d rather play Wooly Bully than “vanilla” Carcassonne because it’s faster, seems to have more strategy, and just looks so great when laid out on the table.

4.) Strategy: The hints provided in the rules really provide basic strategy for the game. One should try to close off other’s player’s fields, keeping them as small as possible. Or they can set it up so that the other player can never possibly finish a field. One can use the wolves and hunters, also – but they seem more of a delaying tactic than anything else (not denying the use of that.) One of the biggest decisions a player must make is when to reveal their bonus tile and use it. If they wait too long in the game, then it’s use is greatly diminished. Yet if they do it too early, everyone knows what color they are.

5.) Deduction: Unlike other games that have players with secret colors, I found it quite easy to quickly deduce what color each of the other players were – it’s impossible to do well and keep that fact hidden for a while. So if the secrecy is a factor, I wouldn’t recommend playing. In fact, the rules state that each player in a two-player game should play with two colors each – reducing the uncertainty factor, and almost turning it into a tactical abstract game.

6.) Time and players: I really recommend playing the game with its full compliment of four players, although three seems to work okay. Two just really didn’t cut it for me. I’ve stated several times that the game goes quickly – BUT a paralysis analysis player (you know who you are!) would probably not do to well with this game. The game rules recommend using an egg timer to speed up people on their turns, but I found that merely reading this optional rule aloud helped hurry people along.

7.) Fun Factor: The game was a lot of fun – although because of the thinking of the players as they determined where they would put their tiles, there was quite a bit of silence. This is no party game – and despite the cute theme and cool tiles, there is a layer of strategy and thought here that some will enjoy, but that might bore others.

I really, really liked this game. I enjoy tile-laying games exceedingly, and here is one that is a light game whose strategy can border into the medium game range. It’s a pleasant way for four people to pass some time – and the artwork is just fantastic. It’s a lot of fun for those who like to stand back at the end of the game and just admire the fields that they’ve created. If you like tile-laying games at all, or sheep, then this is a must-buy – as it moves quickly, is of great quality, and really doesn’t cost that much. If you’ve never heard of this game before, give it a try – you’ll find yourself having a good time, penning up those sheep.

Tom Vasel

Joined: 12/31/1969
[Review] Wooly Bully

It's funny to point out that the original name translate to "War of the Sheeps" which is very similar to "War & Sheep", another game you mentionned featuring sheeps and wolves (I think). This is all pretty confusing and neither game look to be about war.

I knew about this game as "La guerre des moutons" but had no idea it was released as Wooly Bully. Funny name.

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