Tabletop Corner: Bears vs Babies Review

Bears vs Babies is the brainchild of Elan Lee and Matthew Inman, creators of the popular card game Exploding Kittens, with the follow-up being a runaway success before it even made its way to publication. Raising a mammoth $3,215,679 on Kickstarter, making it over 25,000% funded as of its crowdfunding campaign's completion date on November 17th, 2016, Bears vs Babies is in a unique position in that it doesn't even have to be popular post-release in order to be a hit. This is fortunate for Lee and Inman, because it's difficult to see Bears vs Babies enjoying nearly as much longevity as its predecessor.;

Bears vs Babies Review: The Setup

Bears vs Babies pits 2 - 5 players against one another in a race to destroy an army of malevolent babies, with each player tasked with building unique monsters (bears make up only a fraction of the creatures you can create) divided between three different categories — land, sea and sky. These monsters are built by attaching a head to a torso and two arms, with each card containing a power value between 1-3, while clothing and items can be placed on each monster granting them new abilities.

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The baby army is developed throughout the game by way of players drawing them from out of the deck, with them being placed face down immediately on their corresponding category. A group of 4+ players have 2 actions per turn (3 players have 3 actions, 2 players have 4 actions), though they can sacrifice these actions in order to "provoke" a specific category of baby, at which point any monsters from that same category engage in a battle with their rival babies. For instance, if two players have created a land monster, they will each go head-to-head with the land babies. The combined power values of the baby cards will be compared with the power values of the monsters, and either the babies will win and destroy the monsters, or a monster will come out on top and get to keep every baby they've defeated. The points of the baby cards in a player's possessions are calculated, with the winner of the game being the player with the most points after the last card has been drawn from the deck.

Bears vs Babies Review: The Game

Building your monsters in Bears vs Babies has a bit of a Cards Against Humanity vibe, with each component of a monster containing parts of a sentence that combine to create a farcical aberration. For instance, you could go toe-to-toe with the baby horde alongside your 'Shark in a business suit who sucks at dancing,' or 'A Sloth ready to do some lumberjacking wearing spooky cat feet.' It's absurd fun, with a NSFW expansion deck adding some decidedly more sexually explicit cards into the deck.

While the art style retains the goofiness of Exploding Kittens, the freneticism of Lee and Inman's previous card game has been replaced by simplistic deck-building mechanics, which unfortunately swiftly give over to frustration. The majority of Bears vs Babies problems stem from its endgame conditions, which require players to have defeated as many babies as possible to win, but ultimately need players to take risks that are often too great in order to ensure that will happen.

Points can only be earned if players provoke the babies, but as provoking requires you to sacrifice your actions, the potential reward often isn't worth the risk. Regardless of if you win or lose against a baby army you'll be forced to discard the monster you've worked on, and actually building one without it being tampered with by your opponents is a difficult task in and of itself. I often found myself keeping my best monster in my hand, as all monsters on the field would routinely be subjected to various cards that saw their heads being swapped over with another player's monster, or similar debilitating tactics being employed that made defeating the baby army an increasingly insurmountable task.

As I've previously noted in this column, I'm a big fan of games that effectively allow you to stab your friends in their backs. There is nothing more darkly hilarious than watching one of your buddies riding a wave of success in a game, then swiftly pulling the rug out from beneath them with a cruel one-two punch. However, Bears vs Babies encourages such low-risk strategy that none of the people I played with felt compelled to tempt fate by screwing over other players, as it was inevitable that they would do the same when their turn came around. The baby army tends to grow with much greater pace than your monsters, meaning that I rarely felt comfortable provoking them in an effort to bag points. This ensures that most rounds are low-scoring efforts, with players tentatively provoking before watching as the other monsters crumble around them; as far as party games go, Bears vs Babies can certainly be ruthless, though not in a particularly fun way.

Should You Buy Bears vs Babies?

Bears vs Babies is a disappointing successor to Exploding Kittens. Lee and Inman's first game was full of energy and routinely presented players with ways to screw each other over, resulting in a frantic dash to the finish line that made it an ideal party game. Bears vs Babies attempts to emulate this hilarity in a deck-building game, but ultimately introduces action cards and an ever-expanding baby army that encourages conservative play. While its artwork is as entertaining as ever, Bears vs Babies is unfortunately a quick way to bring your party to an abrupt halt.