- The game play is a wonderful blend of mechanics and theme taht evoke the feel of a Euro with glory-seeking Viking clans
- The minis are some of the best I've seen in any game
- The learning curve due to the drafting mechanic is steep and may be off putting to newer players as they struggle to form a coherent strategy
- The game is very unforgiving, with a single bad mistake being disastrous
Vikings are pretty popular right now. Numerous TV shows, app games and even board games have been springing up in the last couple of years. Your choice in cardboard Norseman shenanigans is immense with great titles like Champions of Midgard, Raiders of the North Sea and Vikings: the board game. So how did I choose to take my dose of angry beards and dragon-headed boats? Why, Blood Rage!
Kickstarted by Cool Mini or Not in 2015, Blood Rage is a miniatures game based around clans attempting to earn as much Glory as possible during the last days of Ragnarok. Glory can be earned in many different ways as we’ll see in the review below.
The game itself is split into three Ages. At the beginning of each Age, players are given eight cards from which they will draft six to use during the rest of the turn. These cards consist of upgrades, combat cards or quests (the use of each is explained below). Once drafted, players go into the Action phase.
During the Action phase, players have five different options. Each uses a varying amount of Rage, the currency in the game (think Action points and you won’t go far wrong). These options include:
– Upgrading. This improves the stats of your various models in your clan, or allow you to summon massive monsters to the table, each with their own powers of destruction and dominance.
– Raid: This allows you to place one of your clan into a village in one of the provinces the board is split into. Each province only has limited space so maintaining dominance is vital to good strategy.
– Pillage: The Active player attempts to take the Pillage icon in a Province they have clan minis in. Other players have the opportunity to move their own clan minis into any free villages if they are close enough to the pillaged province. This creates a wonderful cascade of considerations for each player: do I Pillage now and risk a big monster moving in, or wait and see if I can fill all the villages in a province with my own stuff? If two or more clans occupy the same province, a fight breaks out. The participating clans then choose a combat card and reveal at the same time. Each player then adds the combined strength of all their minis in the combat plus any bonus and special effects on the combat cards. The winner takes the pillage icon (which invariably allows then to raise one of their clan stats) plus victory points, whilst the losing clans are sent to Valhalla.
– Move: Simply put, a player can move all their minis in a province to another.
– Quest: These are cards played facedown. During the Quest phase, each player reveals their quests and earns victory points and clan stat increases if they were able to complete them. These Quests tend to be linked to controlling a particular province, or having a lot of minis in Valhalla (so losing minis can in fact be beneficial!)
Play continues in this fashion until either all the provinces have been pillaged or all players run out of rage. At this point the Age advances to the Quest phase, then onto the Ragnarok phase where one of the provinces (and all minis within it) gets smashed! Any minis destroyed this way earn the owning player some glory points (AN EPIC DEATH!) and the region becomes impassable in the next Age. Finally, Valhalla releases and all the minis go back to their owners.
This combination of actions and phases creates a massive variety in choices for the players. Knowing when to Pillage or Upgrade, to send in a ship instead of a monster, or abandon a doomed province all give that wonderful touch of a Euro game whilst enhancing the theme. You actually feel like the end of the world is fast approaching and glory can be yours if you act boldly, planning your next move with care before crushing your foes with a well-timed Pillage. The gameplay runs the perfect balance of choice depth without becoming overwhelming, leading to analysis paralysis.
The upgrade and improvement systems of Blood Rage add the sense of progression you need to keep you engaged in a game like this. Each upgrade card opens new ways to get cheaper minis on the board, or score glory points through more unusual means such as getting minis sent to Valhalla deliberately. The improvements to your clan stats (Rage for Actions, Axes for glory won in Pillage combats and Horns for number of minis you can field) means each turn you can do more and gain more; the feel of your clan getting bigger and more bad-ass from Age to Age is awesome!
That said Blood Rage does have a bit of a learning curve that may put off more casual players. The drafting of cards will reward players who have played before as they understand what tactical paths are available to them based on their opening hand. This makes Blood Rage very unforgiving for new players as it is all-too-easy to be locked out of a game by one bad choice of combat card or upgrade; once you start to fall behind you’ll find catching back up virtually impossible, as your opponents continue to improve their clans, gaining more actions per turn and keeping more minis on the board.
The artwork of the game is suitably dark and gritty, evoking the theme of the end of the world amongst clans of brutal men and women in a harsh time. The production values are also excellent with thick token and card stock, plus intuitive graphic design on the player boards and game board, making Blood Rage simple to keep up in terms of ‘accounting’.
It’s the minis however where Blood Rage truly shines. These sculpts are gorgeous, from the tiny Viking long boats, through the individual clansmen to the giant monsters like the troll and the sea serpent. Both a pleasure to behold on the table top and the robustness to survive the ministrations of fumble-fingered gamers, these minis look great even unpainted.
Pictures courtesy of CoolMiniOrNot.