Game Review: Blood Rage

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The great state of Minnesota is known for its Viking origins (and a perpetually disappointing NFL football team), and now you can return to your roots and become a leader of an ancient Vikings clan with the game Blood Rage. Ragnarök is coming and it’s your last chance to go down in a blaze of glory with your clan and make it to Valhalla.

Designer: Eric M. Lang
Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not
Genre: Area Control, Card Drafting, Variable Player Powers
Players: 2-5 (Expansion adds a 5th Player)
Play time: 90 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 6

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

Blood Rage plays 2-4 players, and typically takes 60-90 minutes. It is a combination of an Area Control game (battling for zones on the board like in the game Risk) and a Card Drafting game that seamlessly incorporates high quality miniature figures.

The game is played in three ages, in each age six phases occur (draft cards, complete actions, discard down to one card, complete quests, Ragnarök, and release from Valhalla). Final scores are calculated at the end of Age III, and the player with the most glory wins the game.

IMG_1219 (3)In the game, each player receives a Viking’s clan that includes eight warriors, one leader, and one ship in a chosen color. Tokens on the player board keep track of four different values (the first three are referred to as your clan’s stats):

1. The amount of rage you generate at the beginning of each turn
2. The amount of glory you score for winning a battle
3. The total number of units you can have on the board at once
4. Current amount of rage, which is spent as the primary resource throughout the game

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The board features eight provinces separated into three regions all surrounding one middle region, Yggdrasil. Each province is assigned a random tile, which will grant a stat bonus to the first clan that pillages there each age. Yggdrasil always receives the same tile and provides the greatest bonus as it is the most difficult to invade. Fjords are also featured on the board, which is where ships invade and participate in battles.

Finally, at game setup, a number of provinces are destroyed by the fires of Ragnarök, causing the board to shrink depending on number of players. At the end of every round, one new province (not Yggrdasil) and all units present there are sent to Valhalla.

Game Play

The primary resource in Blood Rage is rage (seems obvious, right?), which you will spend to do any one of the following five actions:

  • Invade territories: Select a unit in your reserve, place it in an available slot on the game board, and pay rage equal to that unit’s strength in battle. For example, a warrior’s strength is one, so one rage must be paid to deploy it.
  • March into territories: Pay 1 rage and select a single province where your units are present, and you may move any number of them to another province if there are enough slots free for the marching units.
  • Upgrade your clan: Play a clan upgrade using an available slots on your player board, paying required rage. Some cards allow you recruit a new unit, allowing you to immediately invade with the upgraded unit for free.
  • Commit to quests: Play a quest card face down to commit to completing it at the end of this age. If you are unable to complete it by the quest phase, then the card is discarded and the reward goes unclaimed. This action costs no rage.
  • Pillage: Pillage for a resource in a zone where you have at least one unit. If the zone is successfully pillaged. the token is flipped over and the bonus is given to the person who initiated the pillage action. However, pillage actions can be contested by other players and trigger battles. When a pillage is declared, any players that have units in adjacent zones, can move them over to defend the village from getting pillaged. In player order, players can move units into the zone to defend as long as there are available spaces. Once the province is full or all players decline to move any more units, the battle for the zone begins. Each player selects a card from their hand to play and lays it face down until everyone has chosen a card. Cards are then simultaneously revealed and will be added to the strength of the units in the zone. The person who the most strength wins the battle and discards the card they played. All losing units get the glorious death they were seeking and are sent to Valhalla and get to keep the card they played. If there is a tie then everyone loses. If the pillaging player loses then the pillage token does not get consumed.

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If the player has zero rage they are unable to do any of the actions, even if there is no associated cost to them. Players will need to plan their turns out carefully to take full advantage of their available actions. Players must choose their strategies carefully during the draft phase, but also be ready to adapt and react to their opponents’ strategies as the action phase unfolds.

He Said:

It was around the first year of college that I started playing my first “Dudes on a Map” game. What type of game is this, you ask? Games with this label typically involve controlling different territories with troops and maintaining them against other players forces. My first game of this type was Risk. The first couple times I played Risk, I thought it was awesome because I was able to amass a gigantic army and sweep across the lands. After a couple of plays, it was pretty apparent that your plans are heavily dependent on how dice treat you that day. I think it was for this reason that I lost interest in the game after only a couple of plays.

IMG_1226 (2)On the other hand, Blood Rage still gives you that same feeling of moving dudes around on a map, but gives the player much more control over how battles turn out.  It also encourages players to be on the offensive since that is the only way to increase your clan stats. This helps to move the game along nicely since players will be looking to move onto new territories to pillage to gain the stat bonus. So far I’ve played this game six times at all different player counts and have enjoyed it every time and still look forward to playing it again.

Ragnarok Has Never Looked So Good
The very first thing you’ll notice about Blood Rage is that the art in the game is pretty awesome. With the Viking charging through Ragnarok on the box cover, it really sets the tone of the game. You feel like you are a Viking seeking a glorious death to join your brothers and sisters in Valhalla.

When you open the box you’ll be greeted with a ton of miniatures with four different models representing your warriors, leader, and ship. Each of the figures look amazing with all the details from their banners to their entire outfit. You really feel like you’re getting your money’s worth with the amount of miniatures you get with the game.

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The best part is that the game also comes with six monsters that are usually much larger and even more fearsome looking than the vikings. My favorite monster has to be the Mighty Fire Giant with his gigantic flaming sword and charging battle stance. One day we’ll have to learn how to paint miniatures well to make these really stand out. Overall, I really like everything you get with this game in terms of components.

Loki’s Mind Games
There are six gods represented in this game through the cards that you can draft. Each god brings a different strategy with their cards. For example, Loki’s cards will give you points for losing battles or specific units or Frigga’s cards give you amazing clan upgrades like reducing the cost of all upgrade cards by one rage. This leads to a lot of really hard decisions in the drafting phase when you’re only able to select one of the amazing cards in your hand. It’s these tough decisions that will shape out your strategy. Do you want to try to invest heavily into one god or balance it out and get cards from each god to give yourself more choices? These cards are what will make your clan unique from the rest of the clans competing for getting the most glory.

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One of my favorite parts of the game is that only the winner discards their card in a battle, which allows all the other players to see what card the losing players have in their hands. This is significant because you’ll have to consider if they’ll use that same card against you in a battle or if they’ll use one you haven’t seen before. Should you play the perfect counter to a card they played earlier even if it doesn’t add as much strength to your units or do you go for brute force and hope for the best? One of the best moments I’ve experienced in the game was when someone tried to pillage Yggdrasil, which caused everyone to come into the middle to defend, only to have a card played that causes everyone to lose all of their units except for one for an epic battle.

Ragnarok And Never Look Back
Although there are three ages in the game, it seems like the only one that really matters at the end is the third age. The reason for this is because every age introduces stronger cards that have betters effects and are worth more points. In most of the games I’ve played it seems the majority of the total points scored by a player is done in age three.

With that said, you’ll just have to keep in mind that even if you have a 20+ point lead at the end of age two it doesn’t really mean much. I was originally going to say this was a negative, but I think it rewards players who establish a good long term strategy with board positioning and those that can develop a good point scoring engine in the first two ages that gets enhanced in the third phase.

The problem with this is that if someone’s plan gets fully executed, there’s not much other players can do to catch up with them since there aren’t any catch up mechanics for players who are behind to catch up quickly. So there’ll be times where you’ll know the outcome of the game already, but still have to play it out because you’ve already played 2/3 of the game. Most of the games we’ve played have been fairly close, but there have been a couple where it’s pretty apparent who’s going to win early on in Age III, which is kind of demoralizing.

With that said if all players are around the same skill level, the games should be pretty close. A big part of drafting games is knowing what cards are available and this game is no different, which is where experience with the game will go a long way. It’ll typically only take one game for newer players to develop a decent strategy or model one based on what they saw other players do the game before.

To Valhalla!
IMG_1233 (2)I really really like this game and it’s been one of the most played games in our collection this past year. It plays well at all player counts and is pretty easy to teach since the game boils down to managing your rage to spend on five possible actions. The two player game has slightly modified rules with each player drafting two cards at a time rather than just one. This allows players to more easily set up combos which is nice, but if the other player gets a better combo than you they can win the game by quite a large margin.

Other than that the three and four player games have always been a blast. The different monsters and  upgrades that can be added to your clan really help make your units feel unique, which adds a lot to the replayability of the game. If you enjoy “Dudes on a Map” games, then I think you should definitely give this game a try.  Hopefully you’ll have as much fun with it as I’ve had so far.

She Said:

Like Calvin, my first exposure to a game similar to Blood Rage was the game Risk. After playing that game to death, I’d gladly never play Risk again, but Blood Rage adds different elements that make it a more interesting variation of an area control game.

Myth Busting
All types of mythology has always been an interest of mine, so the theme of playing a Vikings clan utilizing gifts (cards you draft) from Norse Gods really hits on some of my interests. In fact, the card drafting element is one of the more successful elements of this game that differentiates it from Risk. It adds more variability to the game because you never know what cards you have to choose from.

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The addition of the intricate miniatures also make it easier to get behind the concept because it makes it feel more real to see an actual warrior on the board instead of a little token that is supposed to represent a person.

Ideally, as Calvin stated above, we would paint these miniatures, but who has the time for that? Although, I did once catch Calvin watching a video on how to paint miniatures and informed him that he’s essentially watching paint dry. But I digress.

Rage Against the Mundane
IMG_1234This game has been one of our more popular games in 2016, and although I have enjoyed this game the many times we’ve played it, I do find it can get a little repetitive. Although, this could just be because I implement the same strategy every time. Typically I go the route of just having all my units commit suicide to get points for having them in Valhalla. And while this strategy has worked for me a few times, I have been less successful with it in recent games.

I have tried other strategies, like trying to win every battle to up my stats, but it almost never pans out for me. So this is likely a user error issue than an actual problem with the game, but either way, it is a negative in my book.

Running Away with the Game
In Blood Rage, I’ve found that the first two ages really don’t matter too much. It is obviously important to set up a base in order to gain points, but that’s incredibly challenging if someone takes all the good cards to draft and then you’re stuck with nothing. Also, many of the cards you draft in the first two ages are not great and don’t provide a ton of benefits throughout the game.

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Most of the best cards that offer the most points are drafted in Age III. We’ve played a few games where one player has just run away with the game, making it not as much fun to play when you know you’ve already lost.

You really have to balance the way you play this game by drafting effective cards and not being 100% committed to one strategy. You need to be able to adjust your strategy based on what other players are doing and on what cards that are available to draft.

The More the Merrier
We’ve played Blood Rage at all player counts, and it is significantly more fun with four players. The two player variant of game isn’t great because battles become a lot less interesting with just two people. When you have more players, you can sometimes have all four players involved in a battle, which makes it a bit more exciting and impacts the game a lot more.

Also, in a two player variant, if a player invades Yggrdrasil, it is a lot harder to defend against. So some may find it a positive that invading the middle province is easier in a two player game, but I think it’s more interesting when it’s challenging.

Final Thoughts

IMG_1223 (2)Overall, the concept of this game is cool, but it falls short in some areas for me. There are elements of this game that I like, such as the strong theme and the miniatures, but this isn’t really my favorite type of game. I find area control games to be fairly repetitive, and while Blood Rage attempts to shake things up with the card drafting element, it doesn’t fully sell me on this type of game.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
– Great components
– Battle mechanism
– Lots of different strategies
– Plays quickly with little downtime
– Easy to teach

Cons:
– Run Away Leader/No Catch Up Mechanic
– Third Age is where most of the points are scored
– Makes it seem like the points in the first two ages don’t really matter much
– Can be repetitive
– Two player variant isn’t great

The Verdict

He gives this game 9.5  Battle Axes out of 10.

She gives this game 6.5 God’s Gifts out of 10.

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