Protect Your Sheep in the Kids Board Game Wilson & ShepAll images courtesy of Blue Orange Games Games Reviews board games
Readers ask me all the time to recommend games they can play with their kids, but one of the bigger voids in the tabletop space is games for younger players (below age seven) that won’t bore adults to tears or don’t rely excessively on luck. (Looking at you, Candyland—the perfect game if you want to teach your kids early that life is pointless and random.) Blue Orange Games published Dragomino in 2020, and it has become my go-to recommendation for a game that you can play with kids as young as four. My youngest daughter loves it (“the dragon egg game”), my nephew loves it, I’ve given it twice as a gift, and many friends and readers have come back with similar raves. It’s easy for a kid as young as four or five to grasp and play well, but it’s not excruciating for the grown-up(s) at the table, and it has just the right amount of luck involved.
Blue Orange’s latest big release for the tiny gamer set is Wilson & Shep, a very light game of hide-and-seek with a bluffing element, playing as one-against-one or one-against-many, with fast turns and lots of silliness. One player plays the wolf, Wilson, who is hiding among the sheep—exactly why he’s doing this is never quite articulated in the rules, but we all know that he’s there to steal their Oreos—while all other players will try to uncover him before the round ends.
The game comes with 16 sheep tokens and one wolf token, all of which have the same symbol on the back. You lay out a 4×4 grid of sheep tokens, all face-down, and then all players other than Wilson close their eyes. The player playing as Wilson then replaces one of them with the wolf token, also face down. (They may choose to move the pieces around a little bit so it’s not so obvious which one they replaced.) The sheep players then place their sheepdog, Shep, on any token they want, flipping it over to reveal whether it’s a sheep or the wolf, and then each sheep player moves it one space orthogonally or diagonally, again revealing what’s beneath.
Once every sheep player has taken a turn, Wilson gets to swap any two adjacent face-down tiles, without revealing either. They can be a wolf and a sheep, or two sheep, which is where the bluffing element comes into the game. Players continue going around, with every sheep player going once in turn, followed by the wolf, until the sheep find Wilson, in which case all of the sheep players win, or eight tokens are revealed, in which case Wilson wins. The winning player(s) get a token worth a point. The players then start up a new round, and continue playing until everyone has had two chances to be Wilson if you have two to three players or one chance to be Wilson if you have four to six players.
The game plays very differently by player count, and I don’t love it as one against one, although I’m not the target audience and my five-year-old thought it was great. It’s a bit too easy for the wolf to escape by staying one move ahead—it’s not impossible for the sheep player to catch up, but it does give Wilson too much of an advantage. It’s perfect when you have two or three sheep players, which I think strikes a perfect balance. I have yet to try this with more players, but my guess is that with four or five sheep, it’ll turn into a function of luck—if they start in the right area of the grid, Wilson can’t do anything but watch.
Dragomino had more to offer adult players than Wilson & Shep does, and took a bit longer to play—you can get through a three-player game of Wilson & Shep in less than 15 minutes, including setup and cleanup, once the players understand the rules. This game is simpler, and there’s certainly some more luck involved, but the bottom line with games for kids under age seven is whether the kids like it enough to ask to play it again, and mine did.
Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.