Pop CultureSeptember 11, 2017

Review: Crowdfunded card game sensation Bears vs Babies is almost Unbearable


Kickstarter isn’t only the domain of backpack and fidget spinner innovators; it’s also good for indie board and card game makers. Pitched as a kid friendly card game built around vicious bears and violent babies, Bears vs Babies won some hard earned dollars from Douglas Moore. What’s his prognosis?  

Hype is one hell of a marketing tool. After the roaring success of his original kickstarter, Exploding Kittens, creator Elan Lee returned with Bears vs Babies. The pitch was cool enough to raise a staggering $3.2 million. And since November of last year, backers like myself have been waiting for it. Then last month, it arrived. We opened up our fluffy copy, gave it a few plays aaaaaand… It’s… okay I guess?

The fluffy box is a cool gimmick that’s nice to the touch. Two to five players draw a hand of cards (monster parts) that they use to assemble bears. Over time, three stacks of babies build up. Players can provoke these horrors to get into a brutal fight with your bears. All of this makes for a cool concept. In theory. In practice, what we end up with is an exercise in frustration.

It’s really the little things that bother me about BvB. The main action of the game has players playing bear parts from their hand and drawing new ones. If you’re wondering about the three deck piles, it’s all the same. The game just puts a weird emphasis on splitting the deck into piles to add to the randomisation of the deck. You can draw a whole range of body parts, but this is also where the babies come from. If you do draw a baby, it goes into the middle rather than your hand (this loses you one of your actions for the turn).

Given you need to split your allotted actions between drawing and playing cards, you can take several turns assembling your bears. While a bit easier in a two player game (with four actions per turn), this seems oddly grindy for a shuffle-and-play kinda game. As for the cards themselves, they really are the main draw of BvB. True to the humour given to the title by Matthew Inman (the comic artist behind The Oatmeal), the concepts here are absolutely insane. You need to start a bear with a head, so you can expect grizzly bears, panda bears etc. But then you get a unicorn head. Then a barracuda. Then a pterodactyl. This says nothing of the body parts though, such as ‘which is also a tank’. Almost no two body part are the same, at least at first glance.

In order for your beasties to kill a baby army, the power of its parts must match or exceed the babies. So you’d expect a chainsaw arm to far outpace the power of a horrific many-dildo-wielding appendage. But noooo. All ‘arm’ pieces accrue you one power to your bear, a pattern that holds true for all body part types, even heads. Another minor point is that all monsters are built the same. There’s no weird arm that splits off into two more arms, or a robot leg that has five tool points or whatever. Despite the extremely creative and frankly hilarious graphics, the mechanics of those cards are simply not there.

Now I can understand this balance-wise. If everyone draws from the same deck, having a vast array of power levels between cards would be an awful experience (lookin’ at you, Munchkin). Many games are able to offset this sort of thing by introducing a resource system. This makes players spend more time and energy on powerful cards. Maybe these cards could exist, and cost more ‘actions’ to play? But no such system is in place here. In fact, the idea of going to draw cards, and having them be babies, wedges the fun of drawing cards between a boring necessity and a waste of time. Not to mention the parts that do exist must be affixed in certain ways. No three-headed turbo bears in BvB.

So how do we win this monstrosity? Well when the last card is drawn from the deck, players count up how many baby points they have. Whoever has the most wins. There are just a few problems here as well. Having a game end after the last card is drawn means that you will see every card in the game… on the first playthrough. And as we’ve mentioned, none of them are mechanically unique (except of course for the few ability cards). Having all cards being drawn isn’t particularly awful, if the order they are drawn in would be meaningful. But the blandness of the cards means after your first play, consider this content consumed.

This end condition is further compounded by the ability to dumpster dive for cards in the discard. And trust me, playing the barracuda head for the third time only increases the monotony. All of these issues sort of weave into each other. And as much as I want to hear the argument “Bro its just a romp about killing babies with bears, who cares” I would tell you no one chooses to play casual football with a wet bag of meat.

I too want to have light, fun titles in my collection for newer players. But Bears vs Babies is not one of them. When this hits retail, I suggest you play someone else’s copy. Once.

The lovely gaming post was brought to your bleeding eyeholes by Bigpipe, the most intense baby in Babyburg.

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