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The Importance of Black Panther and Movies Like It

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 Black Panther hit theaters with the might of a superhero. People have been flocking to the theater and taking to social media in support of this amazing movie. Pictures of fans in costume, sold out theaters and fans renting out theaters to help more fans see Black Panther are just some examples the influence that this movie already has.

However Black Panther is not the first superhero movie to feature a hero who is a person of color. There has been a long road to get us to this point and it is important to pay homage to some of those movies as well.

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1993’s Meteor Man is the first superhero movie to feature a primarily non-white cast. When a mild-mannered teacher gains superpowers, he tries to rid his neighborhood of gang activity. This movie did not do well at the box office, but it still broke ground for more movies to come.

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Not every superhero movie is going to be serious. Like most slapstick versions of this genre, Blankman did not do well in theaters but is considered more of a cult classic. This Wayans’ brothers movie featured a socially inept repairman who doesn’t gain superpowers but, instead, uses his brains to make his own gadgets. Maybe Blankman can teach us that we don’t need Batman’s money but instead just need some know-how to become our own heroes.

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Spawn came out in the summer of 1997 to modest box office success. One of the problems with Spawn is that even though it’s lead is a person of color, many of the other characters that could have been from the original comic were not. Still, it showed that a serious superhero movie could feature a non-white hero and still have a meter of success.

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Blade is probably one of the most successful film franchises in this article. The Blade Trilogy was a first for Marvel. It proved that a superhero movie could star a person of color and be a hit in the box office. Also, yay for vampires.

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Another well known movie that has done a lot to help pave the way for movies like Black Panther is Hancock. Hancock came out in 2008 and was a huge hit at the box office. It is a dark take on the superhero genre that audiences loved.

These movies helped make it possible for Black Panther to be taking its rightful place in the superhero genre. I think that Black Panther will now be able to help inspire and make the way for even more movies like it.

Black Panther has proven many things with its opening week. A cast that is primarily made up of people of color can be successful in the superhero genre. Fans have been wanting this movie. They have wanted this representation of culture and power. They finally have a movie where they can see themselves and they are flocking to it. Fans are showing how this movie has inspired them to lift up others in their communities to be able to experience it.

Black Panther‘s smart writing is truly a gift to the superhero community. We have a hero who is just trying to figure out how to do what is best for his people while finding his footing in his new role. His younger sister is a respected princess who has found her place in STEM. There are multiple women of power in different roles throughout the kingdom. There are strong allies and enemies who have complex reasons for their actions throughout the movie. The visuals, music, costumes and culture are a thing of pure beauty for fans to witness.

Black Panther and aforementioned movies have great roles of importance in the movie industry. Here’s to many more amazing films to come!

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Always keep sparkling! 

Microtransactions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Microtransactions in gaming have been around awhile now, and are likely to be with us for some time.  They’ve been covered in the gaming press over and over, and discussed by gamers on various platforms ad nauseam.  I did find a pretty good breakdown of the history of this practice, the whys and hows that I don’t want to bore you with.

If you want, hop over to the Intelligent Economist and take a look.  Despite what we think of them, there is a purpose to some of them and it isn’t entirely nefarious.  We, as gamers, also have to accept that to a certain extent we are responsible for how widespread they are and how long they’re likely to be around.  They aren’t all bad however, so if you’re expecting me to go on a long-winded tirade about the evils of microtransactions, you’re only half right.

The Good
There is some benefit to microtransactions, believe it or not.  The best example I have in my experience is with Guild Wars 2.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s a popular MMO that’s been around for almost 6 years now.  It has no subscription model, and has been receiving constant updates, improvements, patches, and free content updates all that time.  It also has microtransactions.  They’re all cosmetic and convenience items though; nothing that’s considered pay-to-win.  It’s a necessary function of keeping a game going with constant maintenance and updates and it’s all optional.  If you want another character slot, you can get that.  A cool outfit?  They have that, too.  A better sword that you can only get in the online store?  No, not going to happen.

See, there’s a reason to have either a subscription model or microtransactions in this case.  I’m old enough to remember a time before the internet and online gaming.  When you bought a game in the early years of our hobby, it either worked or it didn’t.  There were no updates on the regular, or added content you could just log in and start playing.  We didn’t have servers maintained by the game company to play on whenever we wanted.  Even in the early days of online shooters like Medal of Honor, most of the servers were paid for and maintained by gaming communities and clans that paid a lot of money sometimes to make the game available to play online.

This was well before World of Warcraft revolutionized online RPGs, but there has always been a cost.  You don’t just make a game, put it out there, and expect the initial sales to fund the ongoing support, updates, and server maintenance.  Even now people still play the original Guild Wars on servers maintained by the company since 2005 with no monthly subscription.  Whether we like it or not, microtransactions in Guild Wars 2 help make that possible 13 years after release.

In these cases, I can’t really fault companies for using this model.  We really only have a couple of options if we want our games to be available with that sort of content and care for a long period of time.  It’s not like a game that’s released, and once purchased has no real contact with the developer any longer unless there’s a patch.  Some of these companies hire dedicated staff to do nothing but update a game while they also try to make new ones.  As long as they aren’t dipping into the pay-to-win or loot box model I don’t really see an issue since it keeps me from having a monthly bill just to play the game.

The Bad
Not all pay-to-win is bad, as long as there is a reasonable time gate sort of option to unlock the same content.  I don’t mind a game company offering early access to weapons or equipment for people who want to burn their money if I can do the same thing over a few hours of gameplay.  In a way, I like the feeling of achievement one gets from unlocking weapons and kits in games like Battlefield 4.  Sure, those higher tier weapons are better, and for a time people who paid to unlock those kits would have an advantage but it seemed like a fair trade off.  I’m going to play the game anyway, and I don’t care to spend any extra money just to have a weapon I’m going to get eventually.  Where it gets bad is when the time to unlock isn’t reasonable.

Battlefront 2 was a good example of this, though I thought the game was garbage before loot boxes were even mentioned.  Not only were there microtransactions, but there was also a randomized element incorporated into the loot boxes.  It was likened to gambling by some and in general it was just a bad idea.  The time it would take to unlock everything through grinding was exorbitant, which would leave players at a disadvantage in game for a lot longer than is reasonable.  The feature was met with a great deal of uproar from gamers, and EA made some temporary changes, but ultimately people still bought the game.  Sales for BF2 did suffer, and it has raised questions about what is acceptable regarding microtransactions.

The Ugly
The ugly truth is as long as people keep buying them, companies will keep doing it.  That’s sort of how the market works.  Companies try different things to make money.  If that thing sells, then the company will believe that is what the market wants.  If it doesn’t, then they try something else.  We can rant and rail all we want, but at the end of the day there’s only one language a business understands.  Will the awful sales of BF2 be enough to deter companies from using this tactic?  I don’t know, it’s too early to tell.  I can tell you if the next game from EA or Activision has microtransactions and people spend money on them, they’ll forget about the Battlefront sales.  It’s not a pleasant thought, but we are partially to blame for this marketing ploy.

The other ugly head of this beast is the manipulative marketing.  It’s one thing to present things for people to buy and let them decide.  It’s entirely another to make it so enjoying the game at all depends on spending more money over the purchase price.  It started with mobile games and the whole, “Pay another 99 cents to unlock 30 minutes of gameplay.”  The worst of what I’ve heard is from Activision recently though.  The idea is that, through matchmaking, they will encourage you to buy in-game items.  Pairing players who have good gear they bought, with those who have not purchased items, in order to trigger purchases through envy.  Manipulating our need to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ so to speak.

Personally, I don’t think I own any games with pay-to-win schemes built in, but if I do I can say for certain I’ve never bought any of the items.  I have purchased some convenience items through the Guild Wars 2 store, but as stated above I don’t see that as an issue in this debate anyway.  I think the only way we’re going to change these practices is to stop feeding the beast.  The publishers certainly aren’t going to just stop offering to take our money if we keep giving it to them.  The whole thing is a mess but we gamers have the means to change it for the better if enough of us want to.

Review: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

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All rise for the debut of Apollo Justice, the newest defense attorney in the Ace Attorney series!

The game has been remade recently for the Nintendo 3DS, but was originally released as a Nintendo DS game and it’s also available on iOS and Android devices. You don’t need to play the previous games to understand the story or characters, but I highly recommend doing so because they’re awesome.

Apollo Justice, the fourth entry, takes place seven years after the seemingly happy conclusion of Phoenix Wright’s story in Trials and Tribulations. Unfortunately, we discover that Phoenix has since lost his badge after being tricked into presenting forged evidence in court. Now he’s been accused of murder, and his only hope lies in newcomer Apollo Justice, who has idolized Phoenix for years.

These events kick off a new story with Apollo as the playable character, assisted by Phoenix’ teenage daughter, Trucy. The duo faces off against Klavier Gavin, a prosecutor who also happens to be a famous rock star. He likes to play air guitar after raising an objection. Because if these lawyers aren’t quirky to a fault, it’s not an Ace Attorney game.

Klavier ended up becoming my favorite character in this game. Granted, I’ve written before that the prosecutors are my favorite aspect of Ace Attorney, so that’s not much of a shock. It’s Klavier’s personality that surprised me. Previous prosecutors have helped Phoenix on certain occasions, but only after going through a good round of character development. Klavier is a nice guy from the get-go. He lets Apollo and Trucy have access to the crime scenes, gives them discount tickets to his concerts, and occasionally helps them out when he sees that Apollo’s on the right track but isn’t presenting the right evidence to the judge.

That’s not to say that he lets Apollo off easy. They’re still rivals in the courtroom. Nonetheless, he presents a change of pace that’s fun and refreshing.

I wish I could say the same for Apollo and Trucy. They’re nice characters and I like them well enough. But they’re basically Phoenix and Maya 2.0: a snarky, intelligent lawyer with a passion for justice and his cheerful, quirky assistant with a mysterious family past.

On the one hand, I do like them because this dynamic worked great in the Phoenix trilogy. If it’s not broken, why fix it? On the other hand, it would have been nice to see a more distinct difference between Phoenix and Apollo. Otherwise, why bother creating a new character? In the first AA game, we learn what inspired Phoenix and Miles Edgeworth to become lawyers. We never get that kind of insight about Apollo.  We get some backstory about him, but it’s revealed through other characters and we don’t get to see how it impacts Apollo.

Additionally, both Phoenix and Apollo lose their mentors early in the game, albeit under different circumstances. We see how the loss of Mia Fey affects Phoenix throughout his entire trilogy. And while Kristoph’s situation is a big deal to Apollo initially, and comes back into play later in the story, Apollo doesn’t reference him much in-between. There’s less of a connection between them. When his mentor does return, there’s more emphasis on how Kristoph impacted Phoenix’ life than Apollo’s.  As the new player character, Apollo deserved better.

Yes, Phoenix Wright returns as well, as an occasional mentor to Apollo. He’s a lot like Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, as the lovable hero who becomes disillusioned after losing everything. I didn’t mind his personality shift. Underneath it all, he still feels like the same character, just at a different stage of his life after suffering from a traumatic situation. (Then again, I felt the same way about Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi…)

So, having discussed the story and characters- which is necessary when it’s such a story-driven title- what about the game itself?

Apollo Justice plays out much like the previous entries in the series. You alternate between investigating a murder and proving your client’s innocence in court. There’s one new trick to the cross-examinations: Apollo can use an ability called “Perceive” on witnesses in court. You pick a statement in the testimony and zero in on the person’s face, hands, etc. to find whatever nervous tic they’re showing. Doing so helps you to see when the witness is lying.

Apollo Justice also has a couple of tweaks that make the game easier to play. For example, if you fail to present the right evidence too many times and lose all of your “health,” the game gives you the option to return to that last moment with a full health bar. That makes the courtroom sections much less frustrating.

Although none of the cases reached the level of “Farewell My Turnabout” or “Bridge to the Turnabout,” I thought they were all solid and fun to solve. They formed more of a cohesive arc this time around, with every case having some relevance to the overall plot.

If you enjoyed the original Phoenix Wright games, I recommend Apollo Justice. It doesn’t exceed expectations, but any time spent in Phoenix’ world is time well spent for me.

Top Ten Favorite Board Games

Board Games have always been a huge part of my life. Snowed in winters left little option for my family other than games to keep everyone entertained when I was growing up. Big family gatherings also always resulted in marathon gaming and even some rage quitting. Here, in no real order, are some of my favorite Board Games for all ages.

10. Clue

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Clue has always been a go to game for me. It all starts with a murder. Every player picks a character to play. Every character is a suspect. Cards are sorted by room, weapon and character. One of each is put in an envelope to indicate who done it, where and with what. Players roll the dice to move from room to room. Once in a room players may hazard a guess to be proven or disproven by the other players cards until someone has a final guess. They must then move toward the center, say their guess and check to see if they are correct. The game has gotten a bit of a revamp, including a new character and is still wonderfully fun. There is also a hysterical movie based on the game.  

9. Eldritch Horror

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Evil is stirring. The Ancient Ones are rising. Only you and your cohorts can close the gates to stop them. Careful though, failure can lead to madness or worse. Eldritch Horror is a great cooperative game to play with friends or family.

8. Cranium

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Cranium was a favorite of my friends and I in college. It has something for everyone with different categories in which to shine. Complete the task before the time runs out and you will have game night glory. Fail, and well, everyone looks like a fool when they play so just have fun.

7. Sorry

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I played a lot of SORRY! growing up. It is a fantastic game that is fairly simple to play. Everyone picks a color for their tokens. Players then use the plastic dome to pop dice. You move that number of squares. Depending on what you land on determine if further action will be taken. Be careful though as other players can bump you back to start while gleefully exclaiming; “SORRY!” This game may end up on lists of games that certain friends cannot play together.

6. Life

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I wish that real life was as easy to navigate as this game. LIFE  is a game meant to represent, well, life. Players get to choose whether to start with a career or go to college and then move their cars throughout the board from there.

5. Operation

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The buzzing sound from Operation still sends me into a rage to this day. In this game you are the doctor. You must remove the things that are ailing Cavity Sam with tiny tweezers. One wrong move and you get the buzzer and it will be someone else’s turn. The player who has removed the most ailments wins.

4. Tokaido

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Who doesn’t love to go on a road trip? In Tokaido you are playing to see just who travels best. Who gets the most points for food, sightseeing, shopping and charity. Each playable character has different perks to help you have the best vacation ever! The art on this game is also beautiful as an added bonus.

3. Pictopia

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I just bought this as a gift for my Goddaughter and the whole family loved playing it. Everyone chooses a color and then rolls dice to progress throughout the board. Squares let the rest of the players know what kind of question they will have. Some are cooperative. Some are solo. The questions have a mixture of classic and newer Disney characters. The Disney version of Pictopia s bound to be a crowd pleaser.

2. Candyland

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I don’t care how old you are, Candyland is awesome. It is a simple game based more on colors and picking cards for player advancement. It is bright and fun. Oh and yes, you can fall on squares that send you back on the board so don’t let the happy looking landscape fool you.

1. 13 Dead End Drive

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13 Dead End Drive is full of traps. Plays have to bluff their way out of the mansion in time to win. The board is a 3D house that the plays can use to their advantage. It is a great game with a new sequel game 1313 Dead End Drive!  

I hope you have found some fun new games to play, or remembered a favorite from your childhood. Either way go play a board game and always keep sparkling!

 

Communities for Marginalized Groups: Why This Matters

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“Why have a gender specific group?”

I’d like to think the answer to this was obvious, but it is quite clear that this is not the case. Perhaps, we don’t need to explain, but more so make it clear. Communities for women, minorities, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized peoples exist for a purpose.

The purpose is not to exclude others, but for these groups of people to find a place where those around them have empathy, understanding and experience in the same struggles they have. In a perfect world, everyone would have empathy and understanding for everyone, but no one’s experience in this world is the same. To those that are marginalized, the gaming community as a whole can sometimes be an unkind place. These types of communities help give a voice to those that feel they are not heard and give them strength, power and confidence to face a world that, at times, can be hostile towards their very existence.

We live in a time where inequality is so clear and in our face, yet those that hold the majority, the power, hesitate at times to do anything to help. Such groups finding voices among peers helps them vocalize with those who need to see their value in the rest of the world. We belong, we exist and we are important.

Finding a place where one belongs has always been something each of us strive for. Some of us will find that sense of belonging in various groups made up of various people, others will find that sense of empowerment amongst those that perhaps have experienced the world as they have… what matters is these communities help you grow and find your voice in a world that can make you feel like you’ll never be heard.

When it comes to the gaming world it is a much more concentrated level of negative experiences for those that put themselves out there as female, PoC, LGBTQ+ and those with disabilities.

I know my personal experiences as a woman of color have been nothing like many of my white male counter parts. This was expected when I chose to stream with a camera, but the level to which it came. It surprised my husband and friends who are not PoC. It surprised them more than it could have ever surprised me.

That is where a community comes in. Because, though non-PoC can see what is wrong, they can’t fully understand the effect not only in the gaming world but also in the world in general when so many still think and act in such a manner towards PoC, women, LGBTQ+ and those with disabilities. These are unique experiences in each of these communities. Helping those around us understand that these experiences happen and what those outside such a community can do to be an ally is very much needed.

Communities give strength to those that need it and sanity to those that may question themselves when encountering these negative experiences. They have experienced that feeling of anxiety, anger and hurt when someone joins a public chat and questions your femininity, or calls you a slur. When someone tries to put you in your place with words or even going as far as harming you beyond a computer screen, thinking we owe them something for just existing.

Though we don’t owe you an explanation, we will explain because we want you as an ally. We want you to understand as much as you are able. We want you to realize we aren’t excluding you from something, but finding a place where we feel safe and accepted, even if it’s just a forum online for a few moments a day. Having that kind of touch stone is important for everyone. It is sometimes harder for marginalized groups to find that kind of connection with one another because the feeling of being isolated can become all encompassing. There is bravery in reaching out for help and support. Communities for marginalized peoples give just a bit more help and support then a general community can give.  

In the gaming world, as this pertains to that, our allies are everywhere. They are helping us, supporting us as regulars, mods and larger community members. We value them a great deal. It shows the world is capable of change and can be a better place. Minority specific communities are not meant to block us off from the rest of the world, but to simply help us navigate it. Participating in one, as well as many different kinds, of these communities gives us the perspective and tools to react to the world around us.

In the end, what one should take away from seeing that there are such specific communities in the gaming world is that they are very much needed and many of them are helping to better the gaming community as a whole. Which is a good thing for everyone.

So how can you be an ally? (Not to sound repetitive, if you’ve read my last piece) Be supportive. When in someone’s stream that is getting harassed, speak up, make it unacceptable behavior. Don’t question a community’s existence, but more so ask questions to try and understand those communities’ experiences. You know these people. You are friends and peers with these people and they have a perspective of the world that you may not understand. Most are willing to share their stories so that you might have a chance to understand. Most important of all: listen. Listen to why such communities need to exist. Just that act is so important to those that aren’t as often heard.

Diversity Matters: A Look at the Best Black Protagonists in Video Games

While Pew Research Center states that 53% of black adults play video games and on average black gamers play more per week then any other demographic, a University of California study shows that fewer then 11% of games feature black characters, and of those the majority are athletes or gangsters. Additionally, IDGA reports that only 3% of game developers are black. Fortunately these statistics are improving (if slowly) as A-list game developers begin to realize that more diverse storytelling is a vastly untapped market and more black-helmed independent studios (like Dab Studio 7 and Kiro’o Games Studio) come to the forefront.

The past few years have marked an upsurge in black characters in games  —  a number of major releases have prominently featured black characters (Watch Dogs II, Battlefield I and The Walking Dead Seasons 1 & 2, and Michonne) and many new characters came to the table via indie games (VirginiaWe are Chicago, Sunset, and Dandara) and in established franchises (Uncharted 4’s Nadine, Assassin’s Creed‘s Aveline de Granpre, Dishonored 2’s Billie Lurk).

In celebration of Black History Month we’re highlighting some of the best black protagonists in video games.

Lee and Clementine – Walking Dead Seasons 1 – 3

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The Walking Dead games have long featured a rich narrative, and Clementine is their emotional center. From the initial relationship between Lee and Clementine to her growth as a character through the entire series, these may be the most in-depth characters in all of Telltale Games’ critically acclaimed games.

Aaron – We are Chicago

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In Culture Shock Games’ We are Chicago you play as Aaron, a teenager living on Chicago’s south side. Through experiencing Aaron’s day to day existence – harassed by bullies, struggling get a good education, trying to keep his sister and family safe – you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the struggles of growing up in the inner city.

Nadine – Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy

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Nadine debuted in Uncharted 4 where her no nonsense, capable attitude shows her to be smarter and more level headed in several situations than both the main characters. In Lost Legacy, Nadine’s personality is developed deeper and we get to see this tough, talented character shine as a lead.

Marcus Holloway – Watch Dogs II

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On the surface Marcus Holloway is the new Gordon Freeman – a tech-savy geek type that the average gamer player can relate to. But beyond that Holloway is upbeat, enthusiastic, and well-nuanced, a fleshed-out and multifaceted version of one of the earliest nerd heroes.

Aveline de Grapre – Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation

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Aveline is as capable as any other assassin, and directly confronts racial inequality in 18th century New Orleans. The popularity of this character and her story led this original solely handheld release to eventually be re-released later across all platforms.

Vella – Broken Age

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Vella is introduced in Broken Age as one of her village’s sacrifices to a monster, but this character is never a shrinking violet. Beneath this gorgeous, cotton candy art style is a cunning, resourceful, intelligent young woman to be reckoned with.

Honorable Mentions
Alex Vance, Half Life 2 – One of the earliest representations of women and black characters in a major release, and arguably still one of the best
Lincoln Clay, Mafia III – Clay is nuanced with a well written back story and the 1960s backdrop provides an interesting perspective on racial tensions during the period.

Diversity is making great inroads into gaming spaces and we’re looking forward to what to seeing what the future brings!

(*Did I miss your personal favorite? Tell me about them in the comments!)

Bears Vs Babies: A game review

20170627_171516 On July 4th, while many Americans celebrated with Fireworks and cookouts, my friends and I sat down to play Bears Vs Babies. As fans of the creators, we had been waiting to play it since the game had been announced. We were not disappointed.

Bears Vs Babies is honestly just a very entertaining game. It is also fairly easy once the players get started. There is a mat, and cards that are shuffled together. Some are babies who have different slots on the mat. There are some cards to give the players different actions. The other cards are pieces to help the player make a totally awesome monster!

The game encourages players to first go through a practice round, which is always helpful, depending on the experience level of the players. After they are comfortable, then it is time to get down to business and make some monsters. Players are given a number of cards. All babies are discarded face down on their appropriate color slots. Monsters are put together during each player’s turn.  

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The tricky part is that the cards have to line up with the stitches so it may take a few turns before a monster can be properly assembled. There are points on the cards which let you know how powerful each card is, so the more cards the more powerful your monster. All of the cards with the heads have a color that correlates with a baby pile, or they have a rainbow meaning they could fight any group. The goal of the players is to defeat the evil baby armies. If the player can, then they get the points. Some cards in the deck enable other players to trigger a fight between a player of their choice and the baby armies so it is a good idea to pay attention to what your friends are building.

Bears Vs Babies is brought to us by the brilliant minds of Elan Lee and Matthew Inman. Yes, the creators of Exploding Kittens. Bears Vs Babies has all of the humor of Exploding Kittens. It felt quick to play between trying to make my monster and strategizing against my friends. The art on the cards is well done. The monsters are funny and sometimes even fancy. In short, it was a great game that I cannot wait to play again.

I would rate Bears Vs Babies: Must play.

Always keep sparkling!