The Baron Voodoo board game is an abstract game for 2-4 players that takes just under an hour to play. It is listed for ages 10+, which seems about right. While the game isn’t complex, there are a lot of choices to decide between.
During the game, players claim cubes from a shared board to make sets (for points) and take actions (extra points, steal cubes, have extra turns etc). It is essentially a race to 20 points, with some colour majority bonuses at the end.
While superfluous to play, the game’s voodoo-lite theme helps make the game look fantastic. The cartoony artwork is colourful, the game pieces high quality and the box insert useful and well designed. In the small-ish box you’ll find five boards, 40-ish cubes and about 30 cardboard tokens. The main board is double layered, to allow the cubes to sit nicely on it. While the player boards have a punched-out score track to secure its cube. At around £25 (various suppliers via Board Game Prices) it offers good value for money.
* Please note that, due to the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, I have only been able to play this game with two players. So bear that in mind when reading the opinion sections of the review. However, I don’t think playing with more would’ve affected my conclusions.
Teaching the Baron Voodoo board game
During setup you create a central 7×7 grid of cubes – 10 in each player colour plus eight ‘wild’ cubes (the central space is empty). Each player has a board with a score tracker, unique special ability, info on scoring, plus plenty of space for cubes. You’ll also have a few offering tokens (used for some actions), plus a protection token (one action allows you to stop people messing with your cubes for a turn).
On your turn, move one of your coloured cubes orthogonally on the board to jump over (and thus capture) a cube. There are rules to this (they can only stack three high etc), but they’re not important here. You basically have a lot of choice, which is aided further by your special powers (which all allow you to move cubes around). And if that doesn’t let you do what you want, you can pay to use someone else’s power instead.
Once captured, you can manipulate that cube – or use the action of the face it was on. Every cube has the same six faces, representing six different actions. Examples include switch a cube with another player, change the cube face, protect yourself etc. You can even spend tokens to take an extra go (once per turn). Then, you can move a set of your cubes to the lower part of your player board to score them. This involves either having the same colour cubes with different faces; or different colours wit the same face.
This continues clockwise until a player gets to 20 points, triggering the game end. Turns continue until you’ve all had the same number. Then you look to see who has the majority in each cube colour (for some bonus points). Most points is the winner.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: The Baron Voodoo board game was high on my list of picks from the Essen Spiel 2020 crop. And the first play or two was fun, if a little baffling. But then, as you learn how it plays, the decision space becomes less interesting, rather than more. It feels like a game that’s early in development, rather than a finished product. Games need parameters for me to enjoy them. This does away with too many to hold my interest.
- The thinker: It is rare I’ve played a game with so many options within such a light, abstract system. The game feels like a race, with each player choosing their favoured way to get to 20 points fastest. As there’s so much mitigation available, you can usually do what you want. So while leaving the board state in a bad place for your opponent initially feels like it must be important, it rarely is. If playing with AP-minded friends, this can become tedious though. There are so many variables you can choose to work through. So while I found it an interesting brain workout, it certainly isn’t for everyone. And probably isn’t the game you may perceive from looking at the box, its play time, the complexity level etc.
- The trasher: Wow. How frustrating is Baron Voodoo? At first I did my best to try and make life difficult for my opponent. But soon realised that, with such a baffling array of choices and ways to mitigate, you can’t really control anything. For example, you can remove a few of their pieces – but they start with 10! Such a shame, as it had potential. But no.
- The dabbler: What a shame! This game looks amazing on the table is fun to play at first. You find cool combos and have interesting choices. Do you just go for points; or manipulate dice for extra turns; or take your opponent’s dice? so much to think about! But after a few games, it just feels samey – and none of the options you choose seem to make much real difference to the outcome. I then got very bored very quickly.
For me, Baron Voodoo suffers from a serious identity crisis. After quite enjoying our first few games, as we explored the game’s parameters, our enjoyment fell off a cliff in the few games afterwards. The cartoony art, colourful components etc suggest a light, fast-playing abstract. But this is not the game that’s in the (very poor) rulebook. On the rules – you’re guaranteed a trip to BGG to get to grips with them (the English translation anyway), as some terms mean different things depending on which page you’re on…
We found the level of choice both baffling and boring. You start with 10 cubes, one of which you’ll use to capture another cube. And you’ll be taking one of about 50 cubes. All of which can be manipulated in several ways. There’s your power. But then, for a small cost, you can use any of the other three player powers instead. All of these manipulate cube positions on the board. And of course, once you’ve taken a cube, you can probably manipulate the side/action on it that you pick. So this narrows your options down by, roughly, nothing.
The kinds of abstracts we (Sarah and I) tend to enjoy work within strong confines. Where there are genuine consequences, on both sides of the table, to the decisions you make. The Baron Voodoo board game is at the other end of the spectrum. Every turn offers you the puzzle of pretty much knowing you can do what you want – you just have to find out how to do it best. The only thing stopping this being a solo experience is the race element. Essentially, who can finish their puzzle first. Plus the fact majorities of colours of the cubes at the end can mess with this, so you need to try and protect what you have.
But that’s just us. While I’ve rated the game a 5 on BGG, it currently averages a 6.9 (April 2021) with a fair number of very positive reviews. Players like the fact that, while players can mess with you, you can always find a way out of your predicament. After setup, it doesn’t have randomness. Although I’d argue with more players it is going to get chaotic – something admitted by even the most positive reviewers. I would argue that itself is a form of randomness). And that there are several ways to win, which I’d agree with. But I’d argue none of them seem interesting enough to go through so many choices to get to.
Players also positively comment on the asymmetry of the player powers. But for me, it was too easy to utilise the powers of others – so negating that potential positive. While fans also point to being able to limit your opponents’ options through clever play – something we simply didn’t find. In fact we found it rare we couldn’t do what we wanted. So reducing any real feeling of player interaction.
Note: One commenter talks about a solo version. I can see this being an interesting solo puzzle, but there are no solo rules in the rulebook or on BGG. And the box states it as a 2-4 player game. So I cannot comment on this apparent solo variant.
Conclusion: Baron Voodoo board game
Baron Voodoo was one of the games I was most looking forward to from the last Essen crop. Which makes it all the more disappointing I didn’t get on with it at all. My last play, in fact, I actively didn’t enjoy – quite rare for me with a board game. But the game’s popularity with some shows there’s certainly something there for the right groups of players. And the production quality and price point make it a game you should definitely check out if the positive points mentioned above resonate with you.