It was a deep family love for Exploding Kittens that led to us buying Bears Vs Babies as it is by the same creators…and it is a newfound deep love for this game that leads us to write this (spoiler alert) rather glowing Bears Vs Babies card game review!
But I do worry about what goes on inside the heads of Matthew Inman and Elan Lee (the creators)…
Exploding Kittens broke all sorts of records on Kickstarter when the campaign ran in early 2015, and Bears Vs Babies was certainly no slouch either amassing over $3.2 million dollars in pledges from 85,581 backers. At the time this ranked it as the tenth most funded ‘board game’ in Kickstarter history…not bad for a campaign that was looking for $10,000 to get going!
Naturally, in the very cynical world we live in, there were plenty of people dissing the game before it had even been produced and claiming that Bears Vs Babies would be a poor second fiddle to the ‘lucky hit’ of Exploding Kittens…but that’s the internet for you; just one big toilet wall for jealous folk to write graffiti on. There are also quite a few reviews around that don’t rate this game very highly, but I just can’t see why? We are reaching for this furry box time and time again.
Exploding Kittens was not luck…it was something very special from a small team of very creative and very funny people. Bears Vs Babies is the second release that, in my opinion, cements them also as very talented game designers.
What’s in the (furry) box!?
- 107 Game Cards
- Fabric Game Mat (very nice it is too, like material used in a high quality baby bib!)
- FAQ Sheet
Basic Game Overview
I am always suspicious of babies…when they are quiet they always look like they are plotting something. In the world of Bears Vs Babies it would appear that my suspicions are well founded as armies of vicious and evil babies are gathering, and they travel and attack by land, air and sea.
As players, it is your joint responsibility to build monsters from the various monster body parts cards that can then be used to battle and eat the armies of babies before they wreak havoc across the rest of humanity. I say ‘joint responsibility’ but this is not a co-operation game, it’s competitive. The player whose monsters eats the highest value of babies wins the game.
There you have it…that is pretty much the basic game overview!
But I’ll elaborate a little more without diving into too much detail. Players start with five cards in their hand of various body parts and, depending on how many players are taking part in the game, take it in turns to perform a number of actions. Actions can be placing down cards to start building monsters (always starting with a head) or picking up extra cards from the decks. The monsters that get built are either land, air or sea monsters to combat the land, air or sea baby armies. Each monster card (head, body, legs, etc) has a points value so as you build a monster across a number of cards the monster has a total ‘strength’ value.
As the game progresses, players may end up drawing baby cards from the deck – these must immediately be placed face down on the corresponding area of the play mat for the army that the baby belongs to. Each baby card also has a points value, and the combined stack of baby cards in a particular army adds up to the total strength of the baby army.
Yes, you guessed it…the combined value of a monster and the combined value of a baby army are the scores that determine the outcomes of battles between monsters and baby armies. For example, in a battle a land monster worth seven points will defeat a land baby army worth less than that after the total value of the cards are added up.
Now, battles come about one of two ways. A player can opt not to take any actions on his or her turn and instead proclaim a ‘Provoke’. This is where a player chooses to provoke a baby army (either land, air or sea) and the chosen baby army subsequently attacks all monsters on the table that match its type (i.e. land, air or sea). The value of the baby army is counted up and then each player counts up their individual monsters and the player with the most monster points wins the battle and keeps the baby cards. All monsters that took part in the fight get removed from play into the discard pile…they only fight once. If the baby army is too strong for each player that is fighting then they win and the baby cards stay in the army pile. Hmm…this may all be a bit abstract, but stay with me!
The second way to provoke an army is by somebody picking up a Wild Provoke card from the deck. This card must be played instantly and a baby army must be provoked into fighting. These cards can be a blessing or a real curse. The Wild Provoke card is just one of a few different cards that are in the deck that allow players to do something very different on their turn that just collect or lay down monster body parts. For example, there are Dismember cards which allow a player to chop off part of another player’s monster (e.g. the head, rendering the monster out of action until a new head is layed down), Hat cards which double the value of a monster that is wearing it, and Tool cards which give a player an extra action each turn.
The game ends when the last card is drawn from the decks and after every player gets their final turn after that point. Baby cards that have been won in battle are added up by each player and the player with the most points wins the game.
So, that’s what the game is all about…and it is as mad as a box of frogs.
What’s it like to play?
The Bears Vs Babies card game is such a surreal, yet highly competitive game to play that it has very quickly become a firm favourite in our household. Like Exploding Kittens, beneath the very funny artwork and the quirky packaging there is a rich vein of strategy and depth to Bears Vs Babies and you can be so goddamn mean to your opposing players at times…we love it, and many an argument has started because of it!
During the game the monsters that you and your opponents are building are clear to see by every other player, so you can work out the value of an individual monster or ‘army’ of monsters at any point. You can also clearly see how big the deck of cards are that are part of each baby army so weighing up the potential outcomes of battles is a key part of the game. A growing pile of land army babies might be ripe for the picking of your pair of seemingly invincible land monsters, until someone plays a Dismember card and chops one of your heads off, or plays a Swap card and swaps your land monster head for their sea monster head…meaning you now only have one land monster and one ‘new’ sea monster! A Lullaby card could be played which halves the deck of baby cards in an army so the battle you were about to call is now only going to be worth a few baby points so not worth the provoke.
There are many twists and turns throughout the game and they come thick and fast as the game progresses. What seems like such a straightforward game at first blush gradually reveals itself into a devious multi-layered strategic game that also sees you relying on the luck of the draw. I personally believe that great games always have a levelling device built into them and that is what makes them great. Often the roll of a dice to determine success or failure is the leveller, or it can be the luck of the cards and all aspects of a game such as these are what keeps new players being able to compete in a fun environment with very experienced or very good players. It might be one of the reasons I have such a dislike for chess as any gulf between two players of differing experience tends to remain exactly that…a gulf. I’m all for experience and knowledge widening a player’s path to victory, but prefer there to be something that can make them stumble along the way…I’d probably love chess if you had to roll dice and a ‘1’ meant your bishop trips over or something.
With Bears Vs Babies, the leveller can be the luck of the cards as you wait turn after turn for THAT one type of card to show up, or the leveller can be seemingly innocent actions by other players such as someone swapping a head with you because they don’t have a sea monster yet. Yeah, well I just spent the entire game building my sea monster army for what I was about to do…and you ruined it…I hate you…and never really loved you!! (it has nearly got to that point a couple of times in recent months). A Wild Provoke card which forces a battle can see your monsters beaten by one point just one turn before you were about to grab a battle victory which would have swung the game firmly in your favour. This game can really shaft you.
But the beauty is that you can also really shaft any of your opponents at any time, so forget luck and chance being a leveller…how about good old intent and malice!
You may become aware of a large air monster army being made by your buddy on the other side of the table, and you may be able to guess that he or she nearly has enough points to win a battle against the larger air baby army deck that is building up…and you don’t have any air monsters yourself. But what the heck, forgo your actions and declare ‘Provoke’ and pick that air baby army and watch it win by one point and enjoy your ‘buddy’ going back to square one with only a couple of rounds left in the game…de-lic-ious! When a battle commences ALL monsters on the table that match the baby army being attacked (land, air or sea) have to take part in the fight, so as well as hopefully ending up victorious with baby points in the bag you can also drag some of your opponents monsters that they were building into the bin too…which is a nice added bonus.
Tactics, luck, comedy, strategy, deduction, blatant bullying…Bears Vs Babies has it all and it makes it an absolute blast to play.
Who would like it?
If you have played and enjoyed Exploding Kittens then you should get a huge kick out of Bears Vs Babies. It is a game that can swallow up the faint hearted or the meek, but so far no-one we have played with has not had a ball. The designers have suggested that the age of a player should be 10+ and I think they are pretty much spot on with this as it is a better game when every body playing understands the mechanics of the game and how they should engage with the game itself. Having younger children at the table who just do things because they like the picture on the card or the colour of an army is actually a bit of a burden, but that is more from our play-testing experience and we are normally quick to embrace younger kids at the table. I think what I am trying to say is that 10+ is old enough to grasp the game and the mission at hand and to take this light-hearted, fun and creative game seriously…and I mean seriously. You WANT to win this game when you play it…you’ll find that out during your first game and it won’t leave you.
I am normally quite placid during games; I play to try and win but the social engagement is what I shoot for most. However, not sure if this says more about me or something clever about the game designers but I always become my most competitive when I play Bears Vs Babies or Exploding Kittens. I can also become a bad loser. Maybe it is me, I don’t know…I guess I’ll get the answer when I finally get my hands (claws?) on their third game, You’ve Got Crabs.
So, I guess competitive folk will love it, but anyone who can string a sentence together or dress themselves and has at least one instance of liking a game at some point in their life so far will enjoy playing Bears Vs Babies. It is a very good family game, especially as up to five people can play and we have found that four or five players is a pretty epic experience. Playing with three is also a blast…but I can’t comment on how it performs as a two player game because we just haven’t managed to get around to trying that and if any of the kids are around when the box comes out then they all want to play.
As a follow up to Exploding Kittens when the eyes of the board and card gaming world were watching them, and some nasty pasties were hoping they would fail…but Bears Vs Babies is another triumph and Matthew Inman and Elan Lee have done themselves proud yet again, and good on them.
The surreal and ever so slightly dark comedy style of Exploding Kittens is woven into the fabric of Bears Vs Babies, but most importantly so too is a genuinely unique, clever, competitive and hugely entertaining little game that never, ever disappoints…even in the moments when I have spat my dummy out after losing!
There is devil in the detail in this game, and plenty of testing has clearly been performed before bringing the game to Kickstarter and subsequently to market. Here’s one example…there are 107 cards in the game. After you finish a game and sweep up all of the piles of monsters and, more importantly, stacks of baby armies, you have to shuffle this very large deck very, very well and thoroughly. Unless you have worked as a croupier on the paddle steamer casinos of the Mississippi then you will fail to shuffle this deck of cards well enough and there will be runs of baby cards throughout the seemingly shuffled deck. Well, the designers built in that you have to split the deck intro three draw decks of similar sizes, and you can draw cards from any of them, and they did this just because we are all relatively bad at shuffling a deck that big, so it helps to break up the groups of baby cards that end up in the deck. Sounds simple and unworthy of mention, but if you have three actions and you draw a baby card from the deck three times in succession and that is the end of your go (as baby cards have to be placed immediately in their army pile on the game mat) it can be quite frustrating.
The level of testing is also clear in how well balanced the game is and this is partly down to just the right number of ‘special play’ cards being in the deck. The deck is not awash with them, which is great as they aren’t being played all the time. For example, there are only three Dismember cards in the deck, and two Swaps so when you get one of these you keep it and cherish it as it might be the only one you will get your paws on all game.
The actual packaging and components are really good, from the furry box to the quality of the cards and a special mention for the game mat; it’s a very useful and welcome addition and helps to make sense of the game as it unfolds as the state of play is a very visual affair so this is a crucial piece that helps you keep track of what is going on, and it is a high quality part too whereas they could have gone ‘cheap’ and included a card or vinyl mat.
Ok, I have completely written enough…I love it. The family loves it. Friends who have played it with us for the first time love it, and have bought their own boxes. That is why I am raving about it so much…we review based on personal experience of playing games over many months (sometimes years) and this has always delivered a good time…
…but one final thought. The babies are painted out to be the bad guys in this game…yet, they only attack when provoked by grown ups who have constructed monsters with the sole purpose of eating said babies when they attack. By provoking the babies that surely makes us the bad guys…which means Oliver Stone was right; the first casualty of war is innocence.
Maybe we are the real monsters after all…
Scores 10 out of 12 for being a hoot from the first get go and a genuinely great game to play!
Publisher: Bear Food
No. of Players: 2 to 5
Recommended Age: 10+
Time To Play: Around 20 minutes