Them thar woods are full o’ bears and they’re all a bit nutty. Some of ’em are aggressive, but mostly they’ve clearly spent too much time dumpster diving, watching TV through tent flaps, and reading gossip magazines for news of us humans. It’s no wonder that the only way to win is to wrassle with a bear, or maybe even two of the pesky critters. It’s the card game “Fight A Bear” from Mystic Vendor Games and it’s darn good fun for 2-4 players with an irreverent sense of humor. Comprised of 115 item cards and 87 bears of varying levels of toughness, it’s a perfect game to take camping or have stashed on a shelf in your RV. Or, I suppose, if ya got one o’ them thar gamin’ rooms, it’d fit on a Kallax too.
Fight A Bear is a competitive, take that! game where you’re whuppin a buncha small bears to claim teeth so you can build up a formidable bear fighter and take on one of the Extra Bad Bears before your opponent does the same. Of course, half the cards in your hand are intended to make everyone else’s battles harder and their bears tougher, while you’re also looking for traps to help you defeat stronger bears yourself. Assuming your opponent doesn’t give you the smack-down with some surprise cards out of their hand when you think you’ve got it all figured out, that is.
Let’s look a bit closer at everything, ‘afore Crazy Willie decides we’re all too plumb chicken to take on the whole darn population of bears in the region!
BASIC SETUP AND CARDS
The cards are broken into four categories: Items, Baby Bears, Bad Bears, and Extra Bad Bears. The initial setup is quick and easy; deal seven Item cards to each player, lay out six extra Items in Crazy Willie’s store area, and make three neat piles of bears, organized by how tough they are:
This is a game of secret cards, but your active equipment is laid out for all to see. Notice the Stock card each player has; it lets you easily track how much food you have (run out and you lose!), how many teeth you’ve earned by beating up those pesky bears, and your current strength. Since strength is easily calculated, we quickly learned to omit that from the Stock cards in the interest of avoiding token overload. The yellow cards are Baby Bears, the orange are Bad Bears, and the red cards are the toughest of the forest, the Extra Bad Bears.
Looking more closely at three of the item cards in the shop:
The left card, Stick, is an equipment card and a one-handed weapon. You can see that denoted with the single hand icon on the left. It has a power of 1, costs 1 tooth to buy, and is worth 1 if you resell it to the store to buy something better. Sneakers are better, they’re footwear, have a power of 3, cost 3 teeth to purchase, and are worth 1 if resold. Finally, Tear Gas is a great card, much better than the other two, a trap that when deployed will sap 5 strength from either a bear you’re fighting or another player if you’re trying to slow them down or make them lose a battle. It’s expensive, costing 5 teeth and it’s worth 2 on trade in.
Already you can see the basic concepts of the game: Stick + Sneakers = 4 power, while Tear Gars = -5 power. Those are still in the shop, however, so let’s see what my hand looks like. Here it is, with my starting equipment – as randomly included in the 7 cards dealt – laid out in the body pattern:
Remember it’s all about the icons on the left, so my equipment is a Climbing Helmet that gives me 3 power, a Life Vest worth 2, and two “star” items, each of which can be used as designated on the respective card. In other words, the Rock can be in my hand or used as ammo for a specific weapon, while the Cooking Pot can be worn as a hat (!!) or in my hand to give me a bit more power. These are not particularly great, but it’s just a starting point. We’ll improve our equipment as we go! Combined they add up to 9 and notice that of our three traps one of them, Bear Trap, is great, dropping a whopping 6 from the bear’s strength when I fight them.
The bears are sorted into easy, medium, and tough, though each category has a mix of weaker and stronger bears. Here’s a typical bear from each category:
Bashful Bear, with a strength of 5 (the second number) is a creampuff, easily defeated with even my starting equipment. Rhythm & Bears is much tougher with a strength of 16, and The Bearinator, an Extra Bad Bear, is challenging with a strength of 23. The other numbers on the card are the amount of food they’ll steal if you fight them and lose (1 for Bashful Bear, 2 for Rhythm & Bears, and a whopping 5 for The Bearinator). You only start with 10 food: Run out and you’ve lost. The last number indicates how many teeth you harvest from the bear if you defeat them in battle, 1, 2, and 8, respectively. As you can see, The Bearinator is tough!
HOW TO PLAY FIGHT A BEAR
It’s set up, the decks are shuffled, we each have 7 cards and it’s my turn. This begins with me laying out my equipment (head, left hand, body, right hand, boots) face up on the table. Then each turn is pick an Item card, sell and buy new equipment and, finally, fight! You can always pick from Baby and Bad Bears, but you can’t pick from the Extra Bad Bears deck until someone acquires 10 teeth.
It’s still early in the game, but I’ve had a chance to upgrade my equipment a little bit over the last few rounds, so I’m ready to take on my first Bad Bear and it’s Rhythm & Bears!
Here’s where math comes into play. Add up all my equipment and I have an attack strength of 13. The bear I’m attacking has a strength of 16, though, so I lose. Or do I? No! I use my Bear Spray which drops his strength down 4, making it 13 vs 12. Winner! I earn two teeth, which I mark on the Stock card. If I didn’t have that handy trap and lost, he would have stolen 2 food. Out of 10 total. Worth keeping in mind is that there are only a couple of Supply Drop cards that let you restock your camp cooler, so food is a very precious resource to manage.
A few further equipment upgrades over the next half-dozen rounds and I can now easily overcome Detective Bear:
Add up all the numbers and I have a strength of 18 which easily overcomes Detective Bear’s 15 points. Two more teeth to add to the collection.
Players alternate turns and try to drop some of the great Take That! traps and other bad things on each other to make life more difficult in the woods. A smart strategy is to hoard a few of your most powerful for when the other player’s poised to finish the game by beating an Extra Bad Bear. This, ironically, is just what happens when I figure I’ve got this game in the bag…
WINNING (OR LOSING) FIGHT A BEAR!
Yet a few additional rounds and I’ve built up my equipment and purchased a few extra traps. I’m finally ready to take on an Extra Bad Bear. Here’s how things looked:
I still only have a strength of 18, but those traps add up! In fact, if I drop them all on the bear I’m about to fight, it’ll subtract a whopping 15 points from their strength. I got this, right?
Ah! It’s The Bearinator, so I do have this. I lob the Tear Gas at him and his strength drops down to 18, which I can match. Toss another trap and I can definitely beat him.
BUT NOOOOOOoooo…. my opponent chooses this moment to play an attack card that forces me to fight TWO bears of the same category, not just the one. Ulp. I draw another Extra Bad Bear and it’s Story Book Bears! This is not a good turn of events:
Fortunately, you fight the bears one after the other (though each gets a +5 bonus for being in a scrum rather than solo). This means that I can still beat The Bearinator, but it’s now at 23 + 5. Then, after I’ve used my precious traps, I have to take on the Story Book Bears who have a modified strength of 22 + 5. The Bearinator is defeated but those pesky Story Book Bears overcome me, which means that I lose 4 food (remember, the food doesn’t combine, just as the bears don’t combine). Since I’d already lost 7 food due to some bad luck in earlier scrimmages, I run out of food and lose!
THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
While you could ostensibly play Fight A Bear in a cooperative manner, agreeing not to drop traps on each other, where’s the fun in that? This is definitely a classic take that! game design and as long as you can find other gamers who have a similar sense of fun and, yeah, maliciousness, it’s darn entertaining! Because of that, it might not be great for younger gamers in your family, particularly those who are challenged to accept losing, particularly when snatched from the jaws of victory. Wait, is that supposed to be the jaws of defeat? Anyway, the game is quick to learn, easy to understand, and, unusually with these sorts of games, none of the cards are ambiguous. No need to check online for interpretation, everything’s simple and straightforward. This is also a great game to play at a pub with a few pals, and it will undoubtedly bring out everyone’s boisterousness!
The only thing I found frustrating was tracking food and teeth on the Stock card. The tokens are cut out from another “tokens” card and they’re tiny, difficult to manipulate, and easy to lose. I would recommend to Mystic Vendor that they offer an upgrade. Concentric wheel trackers would be infinitely superior to the current tracking system. Regardless, this isn’t a big, complex game that includes 700 miniatures and a 90-page rule book, it’s a fun, silly competitive card game with a single page of rules. Even if you dislike the tracker, it’s still darn fun. Get it. Fight some bears and don’t run outta food!
Fight A Bear by James Weir and Max Hirneisen of Mystic Vendor Games. $29.99 at Amazon.com
Disclosure: Mystic Vendor sent me a copy of the game in return for this review. Thanks, lads!