Welcome to the first weekly email broadcast from The Wool Channel!
We're still in launch mode. While we wait for everyone to come inside and take their seats, I thought I'd introduce you to the sheep that's been keeping me company here at TWC HQ. I may have said you don't get a sheep with your membership...but I can still tell you where to find one.
My sheep is named Elsa, in honor of my wool mentor Elsa Hallowell. She lives in a tiny cardboard box and enjoys nibbling clover and playing with her beach ball and, on special occasions, I'll treat her to a ride on a Ferris wheel. Yes that's right, a Ferris wheel.
That's because Elsa is, in fact, an augmented-reality virtual pet sheep simulation game. She lives on my iPhone, and her real (and far less exciting) name is the Sheep Simulator AR, from Superfine Games Inc.
This being The Wool Channel, I'm sure you want to know what breed Elsa is.
Her wide, stocky frame is reminiscent of a Texel, but with the overall styling of a finewool breed such as a Merino. Her head is massively disproportionate to the rest of her body, poor thing. And her anatomically improbable legs, bless their tiny nubbins, move twice as fast as the ground she covers.
For a second opinion, I consulted wool expert and author Deborah Robson. "I think your Merino/Texel might have some possibility," she told me. "The Texel’s clean, square face, though, is pretty distinctive. Clean face and legs, but wool around the forehead and ears," she continued, "poses a challenge. Merino/Rambouillet/Debouillet can have that sort of face wooliness. Targhee is also potentially viable." She crossed Bond, Corriedale, Columbia, and Panama off the list, as they all have woollier legs.
Now that we have a sense of Elsa's potential imaginary lineage, here's a brief peek at what her Sheep Simulator AR world looks like.
The Lay of the Lamb
The Sheep Simulator AR is free. The world inside Elsa's box runs on a currency of hearts and gold coins. You earn those gold coins by shearing your sheep and selling the fleece. And unlike the world outside our phones, you can shear your sheep multiple times per hour. (Take that, real sheep and your yearly haircuts.)
The scissors cost just 10 coins per shearing, and you can turn around and sell the freshly shorn fleece for 40 gold coins. That's right, in contrast to much of the actual wool world, every fleece turns a profit. How else do you think I got the (imaginary) startup capital to launch The Wool Channel?
Sometimes poor Elsa is beseiged by flies and requires a good shampoo, which can be had for just 20 coins. Shepherds take note: Elsa's daily constitutional comes not in the form of scattered raisinets but from a single, tidy, soft-serve plop. Tap on it and it disappears while you earn something, somewhere, that I haven't yet figured out. I'm secretly hoping a dump truck of well-aged sheep manure will show up at my house some day.
Food in this virtual world is heavy on the hay. And not jut hay-flavored hay, but other flavors that your sheep is supposed to find appetizing. Things start on the low end, with 20-coin flavors like apple and orange and banana. But your options quickly escalate until you're staring at mulled wine, bacon, latte, salmon, cotton candy, and—coming in at a whopping 1,000 gold coins—caviar grass. Any shepherds out there with experience feeding your sheep caviar?
Life can get a little dull for Elsa in her box. To liven things up, I occasionally splurge on a playset adventure. She can take a dip in a pool, or ride on a Ferris wheel, or fly around in a Christmas sleigh. (Ask any shepherd, sheep love flying sleigh rides.)
Playsets are big-ticket items that cost hearts—which, just as in real life, are a lot harder to earn. Not to worry, you can pay actual real money for more hearts. They've priced them just low enough that you don't notice you're about to spend $2.99 on 50 pretend hearts so that you can give your pretend sheep a ride on a pretend Ferris wheel that you can only see on your phone.
Each day comes with new objectives, things like giving clover to your sheep, picking up your sheep, or sending your sheep off on a balloon ride. All of these tasks, of course, cost coins or hearts. Sometimes the rewards are worth the outlay, but not today. One of today's tasks costs a whopping 10 hearts, for a reward of just 5 hearts. Nice try, game developers, but I can do the math.
As I write this, little Elsa has stopped nibbling her clover and wandered over to say hi.
Sometimes she walks too close and I end up inside her pixellated body, but not today. I give a short slide of my finger on her coat, she nods her head in happiness and her tail wags. If it's a really good scratch, her hind leg will twitch like a dog.
For fans of more complicated sheep sim universes, there's Tiny Sheep: Pet Sim on a Farm. But I'm not made for building a town and running elaborate breeding programs. I don't even take advantage of Elsa's 3D mode. (And who has 3D glasses anymore?)
I just want to open my box, hang out with Elsa for a while, and then get back to building our new wool universe.