A Kickstart in the Furry Bits
I’m going to start this review off with one massive question. How do you follow up on the most backed card game on Kickstarter which raised a truly obscene amount of money, and was so good that it made the top of my gateway games list?
With a furry box of course!
Matthew Inman and Elan Lee obviously wanted to remind the world that they weren’t done with their brand of silly just yet so made a game out of another massive question which was likely formed in a bar after way too many shandy’s: Who would win in a fight between a bear and a baby? Thus (in my theory at least) Bears vs Babies was born.
I’m going to come right out and say it, I love Exploding Kittens to this day and I have played A LOT of games since then, so I had pretty high hopes for Bears vs Babies. The Kickstarter did well, and everything looked to be peachy for them again… but was it justified? Well…
Build a Bear – the Oatmeal Way
I’m not sure how to go about pigeon-holing Bears vs Babies since it’s a bit of a unique beast. A game where you keep on building unique beasts in order to defeat and then devour an army of babies (see, Bears vs Babies isn’t just a clever name).
On your turn you get a set amount of actions depending on the amount of players. 4 for 2 players, 3 for 3 and 2 for 4. On your turn, you can draw a card from one of three draw piles, you can play any cards that you have; but if you’re starting to build an animal you need to start with a head; you can provoke the baby army of your choice or you can (give me a minute to stop my eye twitching from this Americanism) Dumpster Dive.
The first thing which struck me as being different about Bears vs Babies from anything else (aside from the furry box) is that you get a play mat in the box. I have to say that it is a really helpful addition to the game and makes it really easy to keep track of what’s going on in the war of Bears vs Babies.
Drawing and playing cards is pretty self-explanatory except that if you are joining 2 body parts together, all of the stitches on them need to match to the attaching body part. Your Bear, or Manatee, or Velociraptor starts racking up a score depending on what it attached to it, and this will come in handy later.
If you’d like to Dumpster Dive (twitch) then you can take no actions at all, but take a card of your choice out of the discard pile.
Provoking babies though, is the bread and butter of Bears vs Babies as you may well expect. Babies come in 3 factions, land babies, sea babies and sky babies. But I’m sure you all knew that anyway from adult education classes. If you choose to provoke the babies, then you will count up the amount of points they have on their cards and compare it to your monsters score. If your monster (or group of monsters) is stronger, then you win and get to keep the babies as trophies for the end of the game where the most prolific baby devourer is the winner.
So what’s the fuss all about?
Sounds pretty low conflict so far right? Not with these 2 designers. Bears vs Babies is actually quite cut throat. Imagine the scene if you will: You manage to put yourself together a truly epic monster in the form of a drop bear who is also a tank and has a trio of guns on one arm and a chainsaw on the other, only for one of your baby barbarian compatriots to play a pair of “dismember” cards so you lose your awesome appendages. This can then be followed up by someone else provoking a baby army knowing full well that you’re not able to handle yourself and then your monster gets massacred without being able to show its full Bears vs Babies murdering potential and you have to start building all over again.
That is the other simultaneously great and awful twist about Bears vs Babies – when one of your players picks a fight with a baby army then any creature of the same affinity (land, sea or sky) HAS to fight. This opens up the door to all kind of dirty tactics depending on the people you’re playing with; especially considering that all of the bears in the game are multi-coloured, which means that they have to fight no matter which baby army is provoked.
Bears and Babies vs Boredom
So that is a quick overview of Bears vs Babies. But the question is, it worth the attention it has gotten?
The first thing I should probably say is that the game is very approachable for people of all ages. It can be a little kooky and there are some cards aimed squarely at adults, but the same could be said about a lot of games and Bears vs Babies is pretty approachable so long as you’re well prepared to explain to Little Timmy how a dolphin got pregnant.
The play time is sensible and doesn’t outstay its welcome while it’s on the table as it plays in less than half an hour a game, so as far as that goes, it’s great. But…
For me, Bears vs Babies is the game equivalent of that awkward second album that musicians suffer with. When I saw it, and I saw the premise I was totally on board. I thought it would be funny and good to play with all ages much like Exploding Kittens. But, it just hasn’t ticked all the boxes like it’s predecessor did. It’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just not a great game either. There is however a NSFW pack available for it so there is a chance that a purely adult themed game of Bears vs Babies could change my mind, but I’m not convinced.
Half art for art’s sake
One of the things I love the most about Bears vs Babies is the artwork. It’s wacky, and feels like The Oatmeal as you’d expect, but considering all of the effort which was put into making the baby cards looks fun and awesome, you never actually get to see them for very long. When they’re picked out of the draw piles, they go face down on to the play mat and once you’ve counted them up after provoking them, they go face down in front of a player so nobody knows who is in the lead unless they’re counting cards Rain Man style. It just feels like such a shame that you don’t get to see a literal half of it.
Mind you, with that being said, there’s a lot of fun to be had with the half of the artwork that you get to see, and put your monsters together with. It’s only in the world of Bears vs Babies that I’d have come across a Handsome Salmon pregnant with dolphin babies and having a “friggin’ sweet robo-hammer” and an intravenous caffeine drip as additional appendages, and for that I’m equally sad and grateful. I need more of these things in my life.
I also really liked the conflict aspect of it. It takes a couple of plays to work out the finer points of how to mess with your fellow gamers but once you do then things can get a little messy; especially if you’re all finding these things out around the same time. It adds a facet which is necessary to Bears vs Babies to liven things up a little bit. Otherwise it would score very low on the love scale.
Bears vs The Bin?
As it stands I can’t hate on Bears vs Babies. That’d be like kicking your puppy all the time for looking stupid. They really can’t help it, it’s just the way they are. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t like it more. Sorry Bears vs Babies; I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.
I was expecting tonnes of wow and instead was supplied with a box of middle of the road meh feelings. Because of this, I am feeling more conflicted about rating a game than I have done for some time.
I’m going to give Bears vs Babies a furry box rubbing 6/10 but I am doing so with a caveat. Normally for me, anything less than a 7 wouldn’t stay in my collection. However, I think I’ll keep trying with Bears vs Babies. I’ve had a few plays with some of the different type of gamer I hang out with and there may be a niche for it yet. Maybe.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.