Players: 2-4 (5 max with retail expansion)
Play Time: 60-90 mins.
Blood Rage is an upcoming board game from Designer Eric Lang, and published by Cool Mini Or Not and Guillotine Games.
Blood Rage Board Game: Introduction.
Blood Rage is set firmly in Norse mythology, and draws very heavily from many other modern boardgames’ mechanics and styles. The main theme of the game is that the apocalypse, referred to as Ragnarok here, has arrived. Things are on fire, villages and townspeople are being annihilated and entire swaths of countryside are left devastated to the point of being inhabitable.
The great thing about Viking warriors is that they don’t let any of that cataclysmic rain ruin their parade of fighting, killing, and pillaging just for the glory of it. That glory is what will remain after their bodies have been ground to dust, and nothing is left of the land. It’s also precisely that glory that is the main objective of each player, acting as a leader of a clan of these die-hard men and women.
Before getting into our Blood Rage Board Game Review, it seems appropriate to mention that I’m a huge fan of Eric Lang’s previous works as a designer. The Chaos in the Old World board game was my absolute favorite for a long time, and still stands as a pinnacle of balance for asymmetric factions. It’s also easy to see some of CitOW’s lineage represented here in Blood Rage, which is an incredibly good thing. I may reference the similarities between Blood Rage and Chaos in the Old World along the way, but I think the comparison is fitting.
We reviewed the Blood Rage Game with a base copy, so we didn’t get to see the balance with the fifth clan, or the other expansions that add additional monsters, gods, and shaman.
Blood Rage Components
Wow. For a first impression, Blood Rage comes out of the box and punches you right in the face with theme. The crew at Cool Mini Or Not has always had some wonderful models, but there’s something a little extra special about the ones in this box. My personal favorite is the Fire Giant. It’s not as easy to tell in a picture, but he’s just BIG. When you rumble this imposing monster out onto the board, the other Viking clan leaders will absolutely wince – and his trait when coming onto the board assures it by killing off every enemy warrior just by showing up.
The Ice Giant and Troll are two other standouts in an ensemble cast of awesome miniatures. There are lots of wonderful details on each that are begging, practically audibly, to be painted. Going down the line, the individual viking warriors and clan leaders are also quite varied. I was really happy to see both guys and gals represented in the ranks of warriors, and each clan has obvious visual flavor attached to them that represent the animals they associate with (raven/bear/serpent/wolf in the base game)
The physical board is solid as well, showing off the center bloodbath-to-be zone of Yggdrasil and the 8 surrounding zones. Each of these zones has a varying amount of villages inside them and each village can only support one model on it. There are also 4 fjords set up between these zones which provides adjacency to two zones simultaneously for your boats or the big bad Sea Serpent. This is one area of the game that I did feel was just a bit lacking – there were times once things got hectic on the board where it took a little bit of extra effort to see just how many villages there were.
Next up is the clan sheet and play cards, and these all function well. The clan sheet concisely sums up quite a bit of information in a quick way , and the playing cards are on the smaller side, but convey all of their necessary information clearly as well. I’m not personally the biggest fan of the smaller-sized cards the Cool Mini or Not uses for this game, Zombicide, and probably others – but it’s hard to argue against their place in Blood Rage since you can end up putting quite a few of these cards on your clan sheet by the end and it would look like a nightmare if they were full-sized playing cards.
Blood Rage Game: Instructions
The instructions are laid out very well. This makes getting the game up and running an easy affair if your group has gotten past the “gateway game” stage of board games. It lays out each of the phases in each era, and then also provides you with a very easy era tracker board that helps keep track of exactly which step of the game you are in.
The first few moves have everyone stumbling a bit and re-referencing the rulebook, but about midway through our first Era the process really clicked. I found that to be a very impressive statement about the quality of the instructions and just how streamlined the game is!
I thought the examples provided cleared up some of the easy earlier questions we had, but as the game went on we definitely were also left with some questions that we couldn’t find the answers to.
One in particular was the matter of what qualifies as a BATTLE for the sake of determining glory points awarded for victory. To use an example, we weren’t able to determine if glory points are awarded when a clan is able to pillage a region and no other clans come to contest. We ended up not awarding glory points for those solo pillages, and towards the end of the game I started to feel like the Axes clan trait (which determines glory points awarded) was under-utilized.
In retrospect, it seems like either way the clan should be awarded glory points to make Axes more worthwhile. It’s entirely possible that I completely missed something simple in the instructions, but for a situation that comes up pretty often, I’m surprised it wasn’t more explicitly stated.
For a great guide on getting started playing the game, I would highly recommend checking out Rodney Smith’s video on WatchItPlayed.
Blood Rage: Gameplay
Blood Rage’s gameplay shows an impressive pedigree of other mechanics that have worked well before, and then adds some refinement on top of that. Asymmetric design is one of my absolute favorite styles, as it can provide such a unique experience every time you play a different side. This game creates asymmetry through card choice, however, instead of each clan having a fixed set of traits. This aspect reminded me very notably of another great dudes-on-a-map game, Kemet.
From the beginning of the game, Blood Rage scores a big win in comparison to other similar games by having a limited amount of zones available depending on the player count. The Ragnarok is blowing places up, and it’s already gotten a good start before any of your warriors can invade a zone. While the Chaos in the Old World rules were amazing with 4 players, anything less than that was a clearly sub-par gaming experience. Our first game was with 3 players, and the smaller subset of available zones gives this game an immediate sense of urgency and stress – and not the bad kind of stress.
On top of that zone-limiting, this effect is only increased through the course of the game as the Ragnarok has 3 more zones picked out that it’s going to destroy at the end of the three Eras. While the first round has a just-about-comfortable amount of space, that changes dramatically as each clan gets stronger and the supply of space they have to fight in gets smaller and smaller. These two mechanics working in tandem create a superb setting for a game that goes one step further than encouraging aggression, it actually demands it. I love that.
Aggression, however, means your vikings are going to die. Death, here, is welcome too. Dying in this game isn’t always such a bad thing, and sometimes can be your path to victory. A basic concept of the game is that in each era, the players will know which zone is going to be destroyed by the Ragnarok. If you still have models there at the end of the era, they will be destroyed too, but your clan will get glory points for each brave warrior or monster that perished in that inferno.
Additionally, some of the unique upgrades can make death even more enticing. When your vikings die they go to Valhalla, and you’ll typically get them back at the beginning of the next round. Some cards will have you getting glory points when they are released from Valhalla. Some quest cards give you glory points and a trait upgrade if you have a certain amount of models already in Valhalla before the Ragnarok. Putting these together in the correct combination means there are plenty of viable paths to victory in each game. The fact that one such path is paved with the way of your own clan members’ corpses is very cool.
The upgrade cards have a ton of variety in them, and each of the 6 gods’ cards have a consistent theme to them that encourages you to try and combine them together to get a steady glory engine going. Upgrades aren’t the only cards that will be in your hand, though. Quest cards, for example, can be played which give you a secret goal that you’re trying to achieve by the end of the era. These quest cards provide bonuses of glory points as well as an upgrade to a trait of your choosing usually.
The traits for each clan are another interesting change from the formula that exists in a few other similar games. Power points, for example, are used as currency or energy to put characters on the board in games like Chaos in the Old World and Cthulhu Wars. Blood Rage the game has that in the form of Rage. Bumping this trait up means you get more points to use in the following era.
Two other key clan traits are Axes and Horns. Axes determine how many glory points you get from winning a battle, and horns determine how many models you can have out on the map at any one point. Each trait also provides potential bonus glory points at the end of the game if you can get them to the highest two levels.
Combining the traits and upgrade cards means that each clan will quickly take on a personality that is distinct from the others in every game. This is where the asymmetric gameplay comes in, and it is dynamic through the course of the game since every round you get more cards to add on or replace old upgrades.
Battle cards are the other type of card that are crucially important. In every battle you compare your models’ combined strength together against every other clan. The one with the highest strength wins the battle, and EVERYONE else is destroyed! The Battle cards can modify this strength number to give any one clan an edge. Now this particular concept isn’t new, it’s a lot of fun and works in many other games.
Where Blood Rage mixes it up is by giving every losing clan their card back – only the winner loses their used card. This is an outstanding twist that means you can just throw a quest card in when you are either confident you have enough points to win or you are accepting the loss. Sometimes you will want to lose intentionally JUST to remove a powerful card from the winning clan’s hand. There are also cards that provide benefit when you lose – such as Loki’s card that steals one rage from the winning clan when you lose. In effect you gain a rage, they lose a rage, and you get that card back to use again if you wish.
When I first read about these cards, my thought was “oh, cool – battle cards… been there, done that.” Actually seeing them played and how things turned out, however, was an entirely different animal than I could have imagined. You can have your clan in a great position at the beginning of an era. You can have every card you want in your hand, and a plan to play them at the most opportune times.
Here, those plans end up getting trashed and tossed out the window regularly, and much quicker than I was expecting. The sheer chaos of 3 or 4 (or 5 with expansion) people all jumping in and playing cards simultaneously provides so much glorious chaos that it’s hard to predict more than one move ahead. This battle card system, and the bluffing involved is one of the other key pieces that make this game rock and roll.
As for weaknesses of the gameplay system, we have found some initial niggling things. Our first few games saw some wide point discrepancies, but I’m going to chalk that up to just learning the system and upgrades. Most asymmetric games suffer this same problem until everyone knows their way around not just their stuff, but what everyone has access to.
This game features a drafting mechanic that lets each player choose one card from eight, then pass them along, and repeat until you have a hand of 6 (plus possibly one card from the prior round you can hold) This is a tricky one for me, while on one hand the drafting mechanic means you get to put together a somewhat tailored hand for the upcoming era, it also seems to grind the brutal chaotic pace of the game to a halt for a few minutes – and those few minutes can definitely be dragged out by those prone to analysis paralysis. This is something easily fixed with a variant of drawing more before passing – drawing two at a time seemed to help our pacing quite a bit.
This game provides a lot of value right out of the box. One big plus is the Blood Rage game length, which plays relatively quickly and encourages “one more round”. The variable powers being drawn and played and the drafting mechanic, it’s hard to imagine many clans looking alike.
The way the Battle cards play out is incredibly varied as well, and extremely unpredictable. It provides opportunities for experienced players to engage in mind games with their opponents. The areas destroyed by the Ragnarok are also random as well, so every time you go to the map it will be different than it was before. This is a highly re-playable game that usually leaves us wanting to play again right away.
Vicious, glorious, and tricky. Blood Rage knocks the feeling and theme out of the park, bringing together gameplay elements to represent Viking warriors going all out before the last curtain closes perfectly. I heard a lot of hype about this game, and while reading about it sounded exciting, it didn’t really do the actual experience justice. This is the kind of game that flexes the muscles of the tabletop medium and leaves the lasting impression of fun that is what brings people to the table instead of to their PC or consoles for gaming.
Everyone will be consistently pushed to fight, and when a fight happens, everyone nearby is invited to join in. It’s a glorious party of impending death! It creates a frenzy echoing the game’s namesake, a fervent bloodrage for each player. You all put your cards down, some hoping to win, some hoping to lose, and some just hoping for everyone else to blow their good cards so they can win later. When losing in short term sometimes means winning in long term so many of the king-making issues that creep up in other games dissipates. The screw-you factor in every round is higher than you might expect, but every tragic defeat is right on the edge of being a glorious victory.
Blood Rage is an excellent game that captures one vision of the end of the world and going for broke on the way out. Valhalla has plenty of room for you and your friends to bask in eternal glory.