Baba! How you been? ~ A review of Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga is the second installment of Iello’s Tales and Games Series following their inaugural dice-chucker – The Three Little Pigs. In Baba Yaga, players have slipped through the clutching grasp of the Baba Yaga, a hideous witch who lives in the woods and flies around in a cauldron. However, in order to escape back to the safety of their home, the players will need to successfully gather the necessary ingredients in order to cast three spells. While you are gathering your ingredients, the wicked Baba Yaga will be hovering above in her magic cauldron mocking you! Be careful! Spellcraft is an exact science and any mistakes will lead to a failed spell. Also as those spells get cast, some strange things will start happening.

Basics:

  • Designer: Jérémie Caplanne
  • Players: 2-5
  • Game Length: 15+ minutes
  • Ages: 6+
  • Category: Dexterity, Memory, Real-time Distraction, Basic Forest-Lore, 
  • Mechanic: Memory, Spellcraft 101

Similar to The Three Little Pigs, Baba Yaga comes in a box which resembles a book and fits nicely on a shelf – and the librarian in me thanks Iello for that. If I end up with a full shelf of these games I will be a happy parent. The components are nice – consisting of several discs, spell cards and a gorgeous wooden doll representing the Baba Yaga flying along in her magic cauldron. Baba Yaga resembles a matryoshka doll or Russian Nesting Doll and applies the thematic elements of this Slavic folk tale perfectly. It will be the first thing your child picks out once the box opens. The tiles are study and the cards thick enough for small, graspy hands. Also the artwork on the discs will likely be overlooked but it is splendid, fanciful work.

The front and back (forest and ingredient) of a Forest tile.
The front and back (forest and ingredient) of a Forest tile. [source]

The set-up is simple. Place the Baba Yaga Flight Path Tiles in an “X” on the table. The extra Flight Path Tile gets set aside. Then in each quadrant place of the “X” place four Forest Tiles in a grid fashion with the forest face up, and the ingredient face down. These represent the areas in the forest the children will search for ingredients needed for their spells. The forest side of these tiles provide subtle clues to the spell component underneath (as well as looks similar to other forest tiles leading to confusion in the heat of the search). Each player is dealt three spell cards face down with the house tile, extra Baba Yaga Flight Path Tile and the Baba Yaga figurine are set aside.

Set up for Baba Yaga .
Set up for Baba Yaga .[source]

Baba Yaga is a simple game of memory, dexterity and distraction. On a turn, the active player flips over the first spell card and then scrambles to search for the needed ingredients by flipping over tiles one handed (or otherwise handicapped if other spells are in place already). When a ingredient is discovered, the active player leaves it turned to its ingredient side and moves to another tile. If the tile is not a needed ingredient, it gets turned back to its forest side. This is the memory portion of the game. And it seems almost too easy…

However, while this occurs the other players alternate moving the Baba Yaga along her flight path, keening loudly, heckling the active player all while cackling hysterically. This serves as a time limit to discover the spell ingredients as well as the distraction element of the game. When the Baba Yaga makes a complete round trip the search is over for the active player. If the three of the necessary ingredients are exposed then the spell was successful and a spell effect takes hold! If an incorrect ingredient is revealed or not enough ingredients were discovered then the spell was a failure and the next player flips over a spell card and begins to search. The game ends when someone casts all three spells. The spells effects vary from reducing the the amount of spell components needed, switching tiles, extending/reducing the flight path of the Baba Yaga or some dexterity elements such as playing with one hand covering your eyes.

Bottom Line: Baba Yaga is a great follow-up to The Three Little Pigs and a solid game but, perhaps not as much fun as the dice-chucking in The Three Little Pigs. Game sessions are still fast, fun, loud and messy, requiring a tiny bit of fixing the layout after a round of fervently flipping over tiles. It does scale well for younger kids if you stick to a two player game and make it more of a memory/deduction turn-based game and use the game as a medium of conversation about what is on the tile and what could be hidden underneath. There are also variations in difficulty to provide a handicap for parents or older siblings.

Would your kids rather?

Would your kids rather play Baba Yaga or The Three Little Pigs? This is a toss-up. Baba Yaga was fun but also difficult for younger players. While my 3 year old was able to play and enjoy (with some guidance) The Three Little Pigs, the dexterity elements of Baba Yaga proved too much of challenge and caused some frustration. Alternatively, the fact that there is no downtime in Baba Yaga is awesome. The only minor complaint I had about The Three Little Pigs was the downtime. The simultaneous game-play in Baba Yaga fixed that. While the active player is attempting to uncover spell ingredients, the rest of the players alternate moving Baba Yaga. What ends up happening is the table becomes a delightful tangle of arms and hands as everyone quickly reaches for tiles or Baba Yaga. So everyone is engaged and laughing and don’t even care it isn’t their turn. And parents, seriously, downtime is the death of a game with kids. End of the day, my eldest (5) would go with Baba Yaga because of the increased dexterity and player interaction while my youngest (3) wants to chuck dice and scream so preferred The Three Little Pigs. As a father of two geeky girls, I think either is fine!

Would your kids rather play Baba Yaga or The Phantom Society? Another minor issue was that the feeling of discovery wasn’t as explosive as, say, The Phantom Society (also by Iello), where kids would scream with glee when they discovered a ghost. While, uncovering a needed ingredient created a nice element of AHA! but not that much…because… CRIMINNY! HERE COMES THE WITCH! GO GO GO! You simply don’t have time to relish in the discovery. It is too tense. So when I give the option of the “witch game” or the “ghost game” it is an unanimous “GHOST GAME!” from the girls. However, since I need to set everything, I prefer the fast set-up of Baba Yaga.

 

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUw2ZfgWBAA%5D

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