I’m a little late. I know. It’s not a new game. I know. There are already more than a hundred reviews of this game on bgg. Yes, I know. However, I still would like to give you my opinion about Blood Rage, a game from Eric M. Lang and CMON Limited. A game of broad-shouldered men and an unhealthy collection of underboob. A Viking saga where dying in battle is the most glorious thing you can do.
Look at the cover of the box. Thunder, lightning, fire and axe. A last battle cry before the earth swallows the Viking warrior. The end is near.
In Blood Rage Viking clans battle for control over the provinces while these same provinces are one by one destroyed.
When you open the box you’ll find a nice set of miniatures. Every player has its own set of warriors, two different types per player, a ship and a leader. In addition to these minis there are some monsters and heroes to play with.
With your clan comes a player sheet where you find the strength of your warriors, leader and ship. Plus, there you will keep track of your stats and the upgrades you acquire throughout the game. Your clan will get better in certain aspects of the game. Your leader, warriors and your ship will get special abilities. You might even recruit a monster. At least, I hope you do.
You’ll get these upgrades by playing cards and these cards are acquired during the drafting phase of the game. Drafting, in addition to area control, is the most important mechanism of this game.
You want to get the right cards in your hand. Cards that fit your strategy. Cards that allow you to gain as much glory as you possibly can gain. Through fighting, controlling areas or just ending up dead on the ground. Glory is what you want and glory is what makes you win the game.
So, during the drafting phase you will get cards; battle cards, upgrade cards or quest cards. After that you’ll spend rage to execute actions on the board. You can invade a province with one of your units for an amount of rage depending on the strength of that unit. You can move from one province to another, or even march into Yggdrasil. You can play upgrade cards, you can commit to quests and if you feel a little bored you can try to pillage a village.
This last action is the most important action, as this is where the fighting happens. Here you will gain glory or die, or maybe both.
There are eight outer provinces, three blue, three yellow and two grey. All these provinces have an amount of unit slots. When all slots are filled, no units can be placed in that province any more. In the middle of the board you find Yggdrasil with no slots. You can place all the units you want there when executing the march action. In every province you find a village. This village token shows which bonus you’ll get when you successfully pillage. You gain more rage, you are allowed more units on the board or you get more glory if you win a battle. Yggdrasil has a bigger bonus, namely you get all three benefits.
Pillaging is simple. You declare you want to pillage a particular village. You then ask the other players to join. They can, if they have units in neighboring provinces and if there are slots available, move units to the province you are in. All involved clans play one card from their hand. Face-down. That can be a battle card, which gives you more strength and sometimes a special ability, or any other type of card, if you try to bluff or you don’t have any battle cards. Cards are revealed, abilities take effect and most importantly the strongest player, unit strength plus card strength, wins the battle.
When you win a battle you get glory. All losing player’s units in that province die and go to Valhalla. If you initiated the pillage and you win the battle, you get the pillage reward. If not, the pillage token remains face-up and clans can try to pillage that village again later to claim the reward.
After all players have spend all their rage or have passed, the round is almost at its end. The Ragnarök phase begins. One of the provinces is wiped off the board. All units present there when this happens get glory points for dying during Ragnarök. Don’t worry, you’ll know up front which province will be destroyed.
After this destruction, all player will get their units back from Valhalla and a new age begins. You get a new hand of cards, more powerful ones, you draft, you act, you die and get resurrected in a new age.
After three ages the clan that obtained the most glory points is the winner of Blood Rage.
This game has issues. This game is far from a perfect balanced game. This game is, however, very fun. It replaced Kemet in my collection. Not that mechanically the two games have anything to do with each other, but, together with Scythe, Blood Rage is as Ameritrash as I can get and fits my euro taste better, although Kemet is a very fine game as well.
And to be honest, Blood Rage is not very Ameritrashy. Blood Rage, like Scythe, is a euro game in disguise. I’m pretty sure that if you would replace CMON with a more traditional German publisher, for instance, and the miniatures with cubes of different (shapes and) sizes, the game would have got less attention. Maybe I would have become an insignificant fish in the vast board game ocean that gets even bigger and deeper every year. Who can tell?
Blood Rage greatly benefits from its looks and components. I’m not a miniatures expert, far from that, but I think the minis look really good. The board, the illustrations, the box-art, all look fantastic. The Viking mythological theme really comes to life. Although, there are probably games out there with a stronger Viking theme.
I say that the game greatly benefits from its looks, because it kinda masks its flaws. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the game despite it’s flaws.
The game has a minor runaway leader problem and that leader can only be efficiently fought with a strategy that is less fulfilling, but, if executed correctly, very powerful.
Why does it have a runaway leader problem then you might ask. Well, once you get ahead on the different tracks on your player board, the tracks that give more rage to spend, more units to deploy or more glory to gain in battle, you are very hard to catch by the other players. You have more money to spend and you are allowed to have more units on the board. Therefore you can engaged in more battles, try to raid more villages and as a result enhance your stats even more, plus get glory while you do it. Making it even harder for the other players to compete.
The reason, or one of the reasons this can happen is how pillaging works. When a player initiates a pillage, other players can join. For free. So, while you were trying to catch up, you also gave other players, including the leader, the chance to profit from your actions. If you lose a pillage, or more accurately the battle before the pillage, you get punished in two ways. One, you don’t get the pillage reward. Two, you lose all your units in that provinces.
A strong player can then make you weaker and later try to become even stronger by pillaging the same village, before you got the chance to get back on the board.
Another benefit from having loads of units on the board is that you can complete many quests. A quest can be having the most strength in a yellow province, for instance. Completing it gives you glory points, but also allow you to advance one step on a track on your player board. The strong get even stronger.
This strong get even stronger problem is solved, or kind of solved, by the monsters you can acquire. Some monster allow you, when you use them to invade, to remove a lot of units from the board at the same time, which (temporarily) changes the balance of power on the board.
Another way, and the only efficient strategy you can use to counter a runaway leader is to use the Loki strategy. Clan upgrade cards belong to Norse deity. Loki cards focus on losing battles and dying. You get glory for every unit you have in Valhalla at the end of an age. Loki cards make you win something, even if you lose a battle. Combined with the quest cards that give you points for having units in Valhalla this can be a very good way to gain a lot of glory without winning any battle
The thing is that in a battle there is only one winner and there can be multiple losers. So, to be successful using Loki you just have to be present in a battle and let yourself be slaughtered. Bye bye precious head. Hello, glory points.
This strategy sounds less fulfilling and I also think it’s an easier way to go, but it’s a drafting game, so you gave these Loki cards to your neighbour. You chose to not take it yourself. That can happen during the first age, you just don’t know what other people are planning to do, but once another player reveals a Loki card you should be on your guard.
That’s the thing about this game. I really think that it gets better the more you play it. The first few games you may allow a leader to run away, allow one player to get all Loki cards, but the more you play it, the more you will know the possible combinations of available cards, you will recognize patterns and then you can prevent the things that are the reason that some people call it a broken game to happen.
So, yeah, there are issues, but I feel that these things are more apparent in games with new players. The more you play it the better it gets.
You have to think about how to spend your rage. How to position yourself on the board. Not only during the current age, but also for the next. Move into provinces that will be destroyed in the next Ragnarök phase. Or think about the timing of the arrival of your monsters and heroes on the board. These little things make you a good or bad Viking.
So yes, I really enjoyed playing Blood Rage. It makes you think about long-term strategy and requires you do adjust once you see what other players have cooked up. The game has Euro mechanisms, but the minis give it just a little extra. If you like minis you get your money’s worth. If you don’t care about the shininess of tiny Viking lookalikes, then I understand that the price of the game might frighten you and then I recommend playing Blood Rage first before you think of buying it. I also would say that the game is pretty easy to learn, and play. You wouldn’t know all the possible strategies of course, and more experienced player might outplay you with clever card combos, but you can play along nicely and maybe even surprise the experts yourself.