Blood Rage Review
Eric M. Lang is a great designer, no doubt about that. He has his own fans, to say the least. One notorious work He had done is Chaos in The Old World and damn, its so friggin’ amazing. I love it, not just because the theme, but the asymmetrical aspect of the game, the clever plays, interactions and full of conflict. “No offense, you’re just in my way” is something you recall it often when playing this.
So years after He designed Chaos in The Old World, He announced a new title that He claimed, shares the same concept but better than Chaos in The Old World. He even meant that it’s what Chaos should be. The game is Blood Rage, not published under Fantasy Flight banner but Cool Mini or Not, which was a potential publisher to be reckon with. The game was on Kickstarter and managed to amassed a great deal of pledges. So let’s join me to see what Blood Rage really is.
A reminder that what I talk about here is the Kickstarter edition, not retail, so expect some differences in components.
Blood Rage is a bloody game (you probably could guess it by its title). It sets in a Norse Mythology where Vikings believe in. Vikings go to battle, to win wars, come out victorious, plunder the glory or die in Valhalla in the name of Odin, their God. In this game, players take control over a Viking Clan (Raven, Wolf, Bear, Serpent) and try to appease the Gods so they will reward them with glory. The game takes place in the nine realms with Yggdrasil or The Tree of Life located in the center connecting those realms.
As you might already see, this game has many particular reasons why it’s so appealing, and one of them is the artworks, created by Adrian Smith. Smith is definitely one talented artist that could bring the illustrations and imaginations to life. His drawings are simply amazing, really evoking with the theme, setting and tone of it. Each character here is drawn very detailed and has its own persona or characteristic. Given by the theme and the clear visual cue about the game, I remind those who do not like images with horror and terrible looks, gruesome, dark, bloody and a bit of nudity, so not really a good choice for kids underage.
The Game Components
This is for The KS version, with KS exclusive monsters. The most eye candy of all are of course its miniatures, with the total more than 50 miniatures. Thanks to Kickstarter, each clan has 2 different poses for the warrior figures, so a bit of flavor and variant there. The monsters are excellently sculpted, they’re the ones that draw many attentions on top of the table, like Sea Serpent, Fire Giant or Fenrir (they’re big). And considering this is CMoN collaboration with Studio McVey, no surprise the quality is top notch. The board and cards are okay, wished that the player boards weren’t too flimsy but if they were thicker the box wouldn’t able to fit them all. And speaking of the box, it’s just like the usual square box with more depth, due to the many components inside. The cover art is evoking, though upon close inspection, I did find the figure posed quite off. Aside from the box, there are two separate kraft-boxes inside the game box. These boxes are used to store all the miniatures inside. One for monsters, and one for units with plastic insert inside. Pretty cool to get things organized but unfortunately this also means more effort on setup and clean up. There are differences between retail and Kickstarter editions, which really shown in the components. Kickstarter editions have more monsters, plastic tokens instead of cardboard and also plastic figures for first player marker and the phase tracker, pretty neat things.
The Game Play
When you get a first look on Blood Rage, the visual presentation, some of you might think that this game is about hack and slash your opponents down to nothing. Just kill and destroy to win the game. This is where you are wrong. Aside from the visual, this game is pure Euro with a shot of direct conflict, not a regular Ameritrash (AT). The theme is strong, but when you strip them down, it has remarkable Euro feats such as drafting, area control and tableau building.
The game lasts for 3 ages (rounds), each age is broken down to several phases: God’s Gifts Phase – Action Phase – Quest Phase – Ragnarok Phase – Release Valhalla
The game is mainly divided into 2 major parts, this is the first. In this phase, players are given 8 cards, where they will draft until they have 6 cards. Discard the leftover cards and go to the next phase.
In this phase, from the first player and continues clockwise, players will take turns to do one of the possible actions (Invade, March, Upgrade, Commit Quest and Pillage). Before getting into the actions in detail, each player has a player board which contains spaces for upgrade cards, tracks for Rage, Glory and Honor points. Players will play upgrade cards to improve their factions, advance in Rage track to do more actions in each age, advance in Glory track to score more points when winning battle and also advance in Honor track to increase their unit limit in the board. OK let’s back to Actions.
Invade – This is the basic action how to place units into the game board. In a single turn, player can take this action to place a unit (exactly one) into any unoccupied slot on the outer province (not in Yggdrasil, which cannot be invaded through basic action). Each province has different (and limited) amount of slots and once it’s occupied, no unit may occupy the slot. Invade with a unit costs rage points (the amount is usually based on the unit Strength,shown in the left top corner of the card / image) except if it’s a leader unit (the rest being warrior or monster units), which is free to invade.
March – If Invade is about adding units inside the game board, March is about moving units from one province to another. This is the basic way to move your units on the board. The cost is cheap, only 1 Rage to do a March, in which you can choose more than one unit in one province to move into another province (Yggdrasil also counts, so this is the basic way to move units into Yggdrasil). Yggdrasil is an area that is located in the center of the map / board (surrounded by all provinces), and it doesn’t have slots for units, there’s no limit in this place.
Upgrade – This action requires players to play an upgrade card from their hand. Upgrade cards are divided into several types such as warrior, leader, clan, monster and ship upgrades. Players play these cards into their board by spending Rage points shown in the left top corner of the cards. These cards is the core mechanic that make players have asymmetric powers one from another along the game progresses.
Commit Quest – Quest is one out of many ways to gain points. To complete a quest, players not only to do / achieve some sorts of condition or tasks but also they have to commit on the quest first. To do this, they have to have a quest card (from the drafting) and play it when taking this action (by committing the quest) and only then they can gain the rewards from completing the quest. But no worry, even if you cannot complete the quest, there is no penalty at all (aside from failing to get points), kinda weird huh? Well, the interesting part doesn’t lies in that reason. There are many things going on in this action, at first I thought there’s not enough incentives not to play quests or why not if there’s no penalty. The twist here lies on timing and situation, which in this kind of game, are very important things.
Pillage – One last action is Pillage. With pillage, players try to conquer provinces, and sometimes if there are other factions join in, it turns to battle. It doesn’t cost players rage point to do it, but the trick is the player must still have rage points. Pillage can only be done when the player has at least a unit in the questioned province and it’s still not successfully pillaged yet. When doing Pillage, other players in clockwise order from the pillager have the opportunity to jump in if, there’s still unoccupied slot in that province and They have a unit in adjacent province to spare. After that, battle happens (if there are 2 or more factions in the disputed province). The battle is simple, pillaging players must play a card (if they have any) from hand and reveal it simultaneously. They sum the strength of their unit and the strength value listed on the battle card played (only battle cards are counted), don’t forget to resolve the effect in the card if any. Player with the most strength wins the battle, gain the reward listed in the province, glory points and discard his played card. The losers, may keep their card and all their units are moved into Valhalla (destroyed).
This phase ends when all players have passed their turn. Then players must discard their hands down to 1 card.
Now players check their committed quests, whether they fulfill the quest or not. If they fulfilled their quests, they receive the points listed and have to advance one step from one of the three tracks. Luckily, if you cannot complete the quest, no harm’s done.
During this phase, Ragnarok happens in the province shown in the progress board. All the units in that province are destroyed and sent to Valhalla. Seems bad, right? Well, not entirely bad if you want it, at least it compensates you with glory points for each unit dying in Ragnarok. This could be profitable for players, since the points for each unit dying because of it increase over age. So this could be a strategy to keep in mind, especially in the last age because there is no point of having units at the end of the game, why not make them give you points.
The game ends after the third age, which players tally up their scores based on their tracks (each track gives +10 or +20 points when reached the last or second to last place in its track. Player with most glory points, wins the game.
The game core mechanic is drafting, which is essential because the cards drafted will determine players’ actions and strategy. Players will build their factions by the cards they played, adding monsters into their faction and improve their clan or units. The cards in each age are different, they’re progressing in strength and also reward. This drafting requires players to know the cards first, what they can do and how they works with other cards to make better combos. So for new players, this could be a disadvantage but since everything will be easier in the subsequent plays, I suggest do not worry about this, consider the first play as learning session.
The cards (or you can say faction progression / improvements) provide the strategy aspect of the game, meanwhile the deployment of units represents the tactical side of the game. This game is very tactical in nature, where you deploy units and when, really affecting the outcome of the game in a very big way. Even a small decision can make or break your plan. Units deployment is very important because it affects a lot more than you can imagine, the slots are limited, so first one get dibs. Players also has limitation of unit on the board and also rage points strictly limiting your options. Timing also takes a great part in this game, since placing units and pillaging will relate heavily on your opponents’ plans.
My Thoughts on The Game
The game is great from many aspects, components, theme, the artworks and also the game play. At first this game had been compared with Chaos in The Old World, another game the designer made in the past (which also one of the greatest game ever made), even at some point the designer himself said that Blood Rage is the kind of game where He wanted Chaos in The Old World to become, this statement was really intriguing, but after experience it in person, I must admit that this don’t have that material to be on the same level as Chaos in The Old World, but make no mistake, it doesn’t mean it’s bad and it doesn’t have better things than Chaos in The Old World itself. It’s a whole different kind of game. Chaos relies heavily in the asymmetrical aspect of each factions and this brings issue in the player count that leaves unbalance play. Chaos has such deep and clever play of cards and units throughout the map. Blood Rage has simple rules and easy game play and of course with shorter game length. The miniatures are top notch, better than Chaos, obviously.
While it presents with direct conflicts, Blood Rage doesn’t place the winning strategy winning battles, players may also pursue different strategies, this leads the game to have another interesting aspect, which is bluffing in the card play. “Sometimes losing is the best way” phrase really plays its part in this game.
Aside from many goodness of the game, the game also has bad sides, which in my defense aren’t many. I thought the box quality is too thin given the weight of the components, the player boards and Age tracker are too flimsy thin, the cards aren’t in linen finish but that’s okay. The only big disappointment for me is the box is already too full to accommodate the expansions and fifth player expansions (you can put it all but need certain modification to the insert which already good enough for me and wanted to keep it that way).
To be honest, there’s not much replay value in the game, aside the different card plays and combinations. There is no variable player powers, the boards always the same, monsters in play can offers good variables but that’s also limited. All the cards are almost used in the game, so not many variability involved. Of course there are expansions, the God of Asgard and Mystics of Midgard which add game play variants. The rest lies in the player interactions and how they play.