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Shephy (Switch) artwork

Shephy (Switch) review

"Shephy is charming to look at, but beneath that fluffy exterior beats the heart of a tedious monster."

Shephy, a recent Switch release from Arc System Works, is a digital card game based on a fancy bundle of cards you can currently import from Japan. You don't compete against another human player, so the experience feels a bit like an especially challenging variation of Solitaire. The demanding play mechanics are at odds with cutesy presentation depicting fluffy, mostly happy looking sheep doing interesting things like standing on the edge of a cliff, getting struck by lightning, or humping each other to generate still more sheep.

Population growth is your ultimate goal in Shephy. You want to place at least 1000 sheep in your field all at once, which you must do by the end of three rounds, in specific ways I shall now explain in detail.

Shephy (Switch) image

Before a game begins, you have two decks. One deck contains groups of sheep in various denominations: 1, 3, 10, 30, 100, 300, and 1000. There are a few cards devoted to each denomination, and those are placed in piles at the top of the screen. You start out with a single card facing up, just below that row of stacked sheep, and it is always a sheep card with a value of 1. This middle portion of the playing area represents your field.

Your second deck, located off to the right of the field, contains a random assortment of action cards you must play in order to either add sheep to your field or remove them. The deck contains around fifteen or twenty cards per round, and you start by automatically drawing five of them. A round ends when you tend to every card in that deck without letting all of the sheep in your field die. You have a maximum of five action cards visible, which means you must develop some fairly complex strategies while also dealing with astonishing runs of bad luck.

You might wonder how one turns one sheep into one thousand sheep. In Shephy, the answer is that you hope the action cards favor you. A fairly common action card lets you duplicate a single in-play sheep card of your choosing. Suddenly, you can have two 1-sheep cards instead of just the one. Another card lets you draw as many 1-sheep cards as you like, provided you have room (but only seven sheep cards can populate your field simultaneously). Then there are cards that let you combine as many of the visible cards as you like, so their total reaches a new threshold while taking up less space. For instance, you might combine three 1-sheep cards to produce a single 3-sheep card, or four 3-sheep cards to produce a 10-sheep card. I guess the remaining two sheep in that case went on vacation in some other field.

Shephy (Switch) image

While your sheep are busy being fruitful and multiplying, you get to deal with more creative cards. Some of them are good, like the ones that let you improve the value of certain cards you have in play (so that your total headcount increases dramatically). Others are... not so good. They force you to discard your single highest value card, or even every sheep card in your field. The latter means an instant loss. You can't know which of these disasters might lurk somewhere in the deck unless you draw a special card that lets you look through the coming cards and select one you like a bit early (after which point any action cards remaining in the pile are shuffled so you're in the dark once more). Thanks to this setup, you're constantly forced to make plays that maximize the sheep you currently possess, but without overextending yourself.

As I noted a moment ago, you have to do something with every card in the deck. Sometimes, you can discard an unwelcome card. But this forces you to contemplate risk versus reward. Do you get rid of the card that will wipe out most--but not quite all--of your deck, knowing the next card you draw after that might gift you an instant loss you then have no way to avoid? Or do you try to endure the first hit, knowing it means you may not be able to grow your flock quickly enough to satisfy the requirements by the end of the third round?

Despite understanding the general principles, and having a decent idea how to minimize my risk, I tend to have an awful time of it with Shephy. I lose many more games than I win, and winning doesn't even leave me with a feeling of satisfaction. If one different card had been included in that deck, I know, the game I just won would have gone very differently. It's amazing how much a non-catastrophic performance seems to rely on luck of the draw. In some cases, I can't even get past the first round because I draw almost nothing but negative cards (which wipe out every sheep card of a particular denomination) and I don't have a way to fend off early defeat. Other times, I make it to the end of three rounds and I still haven't managed to work my way up to even the 100-sheep cards.

Shephy (Switch) image

The game developers' apparent solution for these problems was to make things tougher still, to produce more scenarios where spectacular runs of bad luck are inevitable. You can play the basic mode and probably have a reasonably good time, particularly once you memorize what all the cards do. But there's also a story mode of sorts. Using manga-style artwork, it tells the story of some sheep and their master, who are apparently wandering all over various dimensions or worlds or... something. Stages feature various rules that make things even harder. For instance, the very first one replaces most hazard cards with plague cards, to the point where you're pretty much screwed because you can maybe get rid of three or four of them in a round without much trouble but a fifth could be the end of you.

Shephy is a difficult game to learn. You have to clear a tutorial before the game even lets you get going, but that brief instruction makes things clear as mud. You're left to figure out an awful lot on your own. A separate help file you can access from the Extras menu goes into considerably more depth, but that gets overwhelming and is best saved for a later hour. I suspect most players will do what I did: blunder through until they get a general feel for how everything works, then realize they invested all that time in an experience that doesn't meaningfully reward the effort.

I didn't spend a lot of money adding Shephy to my collection, for which I am grateful. It cost me less than $5, an affordable enough investment that I feel pretty good about having given the game a chance even though I didn't wind up having a good time with it. That's not exactly a glowing recommendation, though, is it?


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 11, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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hastypixels posted September 16, 2017:

It's good to see the Switch getting a healthy dose of lemons, because that means there's enough developer traffic to substantiate them. As it's said, you've got to sheer a few sheep to make wool.
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honestgamer posted September 16, 2017:

There's plenty of shovelware on the way. Switch has an almost incredible amount of software coming, even from third parties that are typically reluctant to support it. I look forward to having a lot of fun with the hardware and its games for years to come. And yes, sometimes I'll stumble across something I could have done without. ;-)

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