Giant Fire Breathing Robot
I was nervous about Blood Rage. Extremely hyped? Red flag. Kickstarter project based on minis? Red flag. I was very wary. But when I finally did play it, I was blown away. While battle is a central part of the game, it’s not the only part – or necessarily even the most critical.
The Basics. In Blood Rage, the players are Vikings tribes vying to earn the most glory before the world is destroyed in Ragnarok. Each tribe has it’s own miniatures and color, but has the exact same starting abilities. That wills soon change, though.
The game is played over three rounds. At the start of each, players are dealt a handful of cards. They pick one and pass. There are a bunch of different types. Battle cards can be used to increase your strength in a fight. Quest cards give you goals that provide glory when achieved. And then there are upgrades. The upgrade cards give your clan special abilities or add additional skills to your units. They can even be used to recruit legendary monsters to your side.
Once selected, players begin taking actions in turn order. Most actions cost some amount of rage. Players can place dudes, move dudes, or pillage the land. If pillaged, all players can move additional guys in to help with the battle (assuming there is room), and then they fight. No dice are used. Instead, you simply tally up the strength of the units along with any battle cards played. Highest is the winner and, if they are the aggressor, they get the pillage bonus. The winner always gets glory.
Once all the lands are pillaged, or no player has any rage left, the round ends. Another land is destroyed by Ragnarok, making the board that much tighter. Dead dudes are released from Valhalla and the next round begins. Whoever has the most glory after three rounds wins.
The Feel. Blood Rage is absolutely riveting. The initial card draft is essential to success. In my first play, I drafted whatever shiny thing I found. But that isn’t the way to go. Instead, you have to knuckle down and really think strategically. While some “hate drafting” can and does take place (especially in later rounds), your first objective should be to get cards that will help with your strategy.
And the strategies are far reaching. There’s a battle strategy, where your goal is to win as many battles as possible. Not only are you getting constant glory from your success, but you are also getting the pillage bonuses. This lets you raise your stats and become even more formidable as the game goes on. There’s also a quest strategy, where you attempt to fulfill majorities in certain areas for glory. But perhaps the best is the win-by-losing strategy.
Some of the cards fit with Loki and he wants you to lose battles. You might get bonus points for every dead person that comes back to you at the end of the round. Or maybe you steal glory after losing a battle. In other words, you can trick players into attacking you, or opposing your attacks, and get more points in the loss. And when you pull it off, it makes you feel awesome.
Nestled within the combat cards and upgrades are the monster cards. Monsters tend to be strong warriors with special abilities. And it could be as simple as being able to be deployed for free (conserving your rage) or destroying other units when deployed. All of the monsters are great, but they need to fit within your strategy. If you just grab whatever monster looks cool, you’ll be in trouble.
And then, there’s the rage. Depending on your strategy, you might need more or less of it. Not everything takes rage to complete. In fact, the main action – pillaging – is free. But playing upgrades costs rage, deploying and moving units costs rage, and when you run out, you’re done for the round. So it is vital that you manage that resource. Getting more rage is always good. But in particularly aggressive games, other players might end the round by pillaging before you have a chance to spend all your rage.
Sometimes, too, you want to get a particular upgrade down before you pillage or move in with a unit. But playing an upgrade takes your turn. Which means the action you want to take will have to wait until your next turn. And, in the meantime, the other players can add stuff to the board or contest your action more heavily. It’s a fabulous tension between playing out your position, or preparing for even better turns to come.
The one issue I have is the playtime. The game is not long. Not long at all. Probably about ninety minutes. Which is surprising. On the one hand, it’s great to see an epic-feeling game complete in such a short time frame. It makes Blood Rage accessible and it is certain to hit the table more often. But it also feels like it ends a little too soon. Just as you are finally getting your stats to appropriate levels or your clan fully upgraded, the game just stops. It’s not exactly a disappointing ending, but it does make you wonder how your fully upgraded clans would have fared in a final round of play.
Components: 4.5 of 5. For the most part, the pieces are amazing. The miniatures are fantastic. Three unique sculpts for every clan, and nine unique monsters. The inclusion of small colored bases is a fantastic way to keep things straight on the board, and makes painting a lot easier. I do have a few nits to pick, though. It’s a shame they went with tiny cards instead of big ones. And the Valhalla and Age boards are just flimsy cardstock when they could have at least been on punchboard.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. There’s certainly luck in what gets dealt to you in your opening hand. After all, you get the first chance to snag an awesome card before anyone else even sees it. But the draft does a good job of balancing out the good cards and making sure that everyone has roughly equal access. But the rest of the game is pure strategy and tactics – reacting to opponents. Even the combat is deterministic, which is great and keeps the game moving swiftly.
Mechanics: 5 of 5. I love the way Blood Rage is put together. While it has an area control core, it layers in so many additional things that make the plays so interesting. What’s more, I really like that it’s not all about conquering. In fact, one or two of the players might be seeking glory primarily in alternate ways. That the game can accommodate and make so many play styles competitive is a testament to the design.
Replayability: 4.5 of 5. The pillage rewards are randomly placed each game, and the areas that will succumb to Ragnarok are likewise random. But that’s not what makes the game replayable. Instead, it comes from the draft and the way you can pull cards to assist in your grand strategy – or foil the strategies of others. Blood Rage does a good job of merely creating a forum for you to play against the other players. And that’s always fun.
Spite: 3 of 5. There is direct combat in Blood Rage so you need to be prepared to have your pieces die. Plus, some of the cards can be very mean. You might get your combat card canceled, or even have your Glory stolen if you lose a fight. It’s not an over-the-top kind of spite, but it is present.
Overall: 4.5 of 5. Blood Rage is a fantastic design with incredible pieces. It really does a great job of blending ameritrash conflict with euro mechanics. The play time makes it approachable and easy to take off the shelf. And the strategy behind it keeps you focuses on playing against your opponents rather than simply manipulating a system. This game certainly lives up to, or at least approaches the hype.
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)