BABA YAGA: The Witch of the Winter is Coming !
Published by iello Designed by Jeremie Caplanne & Vincent Joubert
This is the second in the book-style-box games from French boardgames company iello. Like Three Little Pigs
the previous game in this series, Baba Yaga looks great on the shelf where it stands out visually attractive.
The components are of strong card for the counters, durable card for the spell cards and wood for the Baba Yaga figure.
There are no dice and the only luck / random factor is the setup of the forest in which Baba Yaga lives and prowls.
There are 10 Baba Yaga counters of which nine are placed on the playing surface to form a cross. Then the Forest tiles
are shuffled and placed face down in the quarters formed by the cross, forming a 5 x 5 square. the tiles have to be laid
so that all players can equally reach and see them. The Baba Yaga tiles are the same on both sides, the Forest tiles have
clues on their backs to the illustrations (spell ingredients) on the front (face down); these pictures are also represented
on the spell cards.
Each player is dealt three spell cards which are placed face down in a stack unseen by anyone, including themselves. The
first player is determined by whatever means the players decide, though it can be a disadvantage to go first because this is
a seek and find game.
Although all players play at simultaneously it is only the first player who is seeking, the others have the job of moving the
Baba Yaga figure along one straight path and back - this is the part of the game where spirit of the game comes into play.
The player at turn flips over the top card from their three and then goes about finding three of the four (all four with one of the
variants) spell ingredients by turning over the Forest tiles one at a time and using only one hand. If they locate one of the spell
ingredients on the card they leave the tile flipped over - if it is a wrong ingredient the tile has to be replaced face down. While
this is happening the other players are taking it in turn order (clockwise) to move Baba Yaga along the path - when she reaches
the end of the path she has to turn and travel back. As soon as she is back on her starting position tile the seeking player has to
This works quite well with 4 or 5 players as long as they are sensible with their actions. For example, if they all hover over the
Baba Yaga figure ready to grab it and move it as soon as it touches the Forest tile then the spirit of the game is, in my opinion,
breached. If there is a pre-determined micro-amount of time between Baba Yaga landing on the tile and it being moved on then
all players have a chance. Naturally if you allow too much time between moving the figure from tile to tile then the seeker has an
advantage, but if you don't allow any time then the game becomes an untidy scramble that ceases to be fun very quickly.
If time does run out before the player has located the necessary 3 or 4 spell components then their spell card is placed under the
card stack and it is the next players turn. Baba Yaga is placed on one of the outer Forest tiles again and play continues with a new
seeker. As I said earlier it is possibly a disadvantage going first as the next and following players may now know where some of
the ingredients are (if the first player turned over some unwanted (by them) ingredients).
We found that playing with just two players, even using the change hands, hand on head, variant, it is too easy to move Baba Yaga
from one end of the forest path to the other before the player at turn has a chance to flip over (and return to face down if wrong)
more than perhaps two of the Forest tiles. The designers have done their best to try to make this fair and I can see Mums and Dads,
Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents etc playing this with young children and allowing them to get away with slow play as that is
what most people do when playing with 6 year old kids.
I know that I am looking beyond the 6 year old plus game age the box determines to be right for this game, however, there are also
elements of more than just a kids game here - particularly for an opener or closer on an evenings game session - which need to be
addressed. I have come to this conclusion because I played this with our 8 year old grand-daughter and it took her no time at all to
work out that with just the two of us the game quickly became silly and not in a fun way - her words - with players bashing hands as
they grab for the tiles and the figure.
With my grand-daughters help we made up some house-rules that kept to the spirit of the game without actually changing the way it plays
or is meant to play. These gave us as a lot more enjoyment with both 2 and 3 players (her mum joined in after we had played a few times).
The first of these is that when we move Baba Yaga we count aloud "One and Two and Move" moving the figure on the word move. We also
made sure that we said the words clearly and not rushed or garbled maniacally. When you hear your opponent(s) almost chanting these words
as you search for the ingredients the tension gets to you in a good way, creating more of a challenge.
The second thing we did was to reset the Forest tiles after a player had made a successful search - that is reshuffle all the Forest tiles and then
redistribute them, keeping them face down and unseen as before.
Both of these worked well without adding more than a smidgeon of order to the chaos - the game is based around chaos (grabbing, moving and
seeking all at the same time) but it works better with a little order.