Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not
Game Designer: Eric M. Lang
Artwork: Henning Ludvigsen, Mike McVey, Adrian Smith
Players: 2-4 (5 with expansion)
Ages: 13 & up
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes
Game Mechanics: Action Point Allowance System, Area Control / Area Influence, Area Movement, Card Drafting
Contents: Age Track, Valhalla Sheet, 4 x Clan Sheets, 99 x cards, Doom Token, 9 x Pillage Tokens, Saga Token, First Player Marker, 16 x Clan Tokens, 4 x Glory Markers, 8 x Ragnarok Tokens
Suggested Retail Price: $69.99
I recall a time in the not too distant past when my cynical self was granted a little exercise. With self-righteous smug mode prepped and at the ready I chided a friend “Yeah, well if you want to persist on greasing the wheels of the CMON machine!” – Blood Rage had hit the table, the conveyor belt of miniatures games had spawned another… and of course it was going to be just like all the Zombicide clones that had come before.
“Yes, I will play.” I acquiesced. After all, the owner plays some of my more euro-ey games, and he doesn’t always like them; Guilds of London – I certainly owed him for that. While I loved the experience, it is safe to say he did not.
Jason, we’ll call him that on account of it being his name, decanted the game ‘goodness’ from the box, boxes… the insane amount of boxes. Desperate to sway me to his side, showing me all manner of extra goodies, KS exclusives – even those that we weren’t using. Outwardly I was making what I assume to be the correct cooing sounds, inwardly I was just waiting for Ragnarok, because in Valhalla they play abstract games (Oh yes they do… hnefatafl).
What is all this sh*t before me…
The KS campaign proved to be well and truly great value for money! Even if you aren’t a fan of the final product. The KS version commands a far higher price than its retail counterpart. It has a few blinged up components, additional figures, an expansion and maybe one or two other bits n bobs. There really are no losers among those who backed this. I have no idea how the retail release is fairing in comparison, but you can almost fund a house purchase on the back of this KS.
As an aside, I wonder what would happen if a CMoN campaign ever just scraped over the line? Many of the SGs add to the base game and are not KS exclusive mini’s or add-ons… would you just end up with a board, a box and one figure per player?
My first thought was “Well this doesn’t look like Zombicide,” and I breathed a hearty sigh of relief. Love Zombies, don’t like co-ops, don’t like miniature games much either.
The basic premise is simple. Ragnarok is coming, that means we all die, but need to make sure our deaths are both glorious and violent – and preferably at the hands of our enemy. As a clan leader each needs to engineer the wonderous demise of their clan members. There are a couple of ways to do this, first by finding unsuspecting villages to pillage and enemies to fight, or secondly, by defending unsuspecting villages that are about to be pillaged by opposing clans. Death results in glory, and glory means victory points. And only the most glorious shall triumph… which is scant consolation when your skull is cleaved from your body, and your limbs lie bloody and broken in the dirt.
Still, you got some VP (unless your annoying opponent did something to take that from you too, in which case you just have a… a… a… you have nothing).
The game is played over three ages and points are scored for various activities during, and at the end of, each age (victories, quests, etc.). There is also a final scoring for meeting certain end game conditions. At the end of approximately 90 minutes of murderous rampaging the winner is the clan that has achieved the most glory (Victory Points).
Blood Rage masquerades as an area control game. The board (see pic further down) is made of four different regions, and each region has two or three different areas to control within it (except the centre of the board which depicts Yggdrasil and is one large area). In all, there are nine areas to fight over. The game is played over three ages and at the end of each age one area is taken out of contention; Ragnarok is coming and the area, and any figure in it, is destroyed. I am not sure why, but this is seen as a glorious death and VP are awarded. To me this is the equivalent of those folk partying atop the Empire State Building in Independence Day. It all seemed like a good idea until they were obliterated, there was no glory, in fact it all happened so quickly that nobody would have noticed were it not for the building being obliterated beneath their very feet.
Sorry, I have gone a little off track again. Before the start of each age comes the game’s other main mechanism – the card draft. Each player is handed 8 cards and chooses one, then passes the rest on. This continues until each player has 6 cards, the rest are discarded. The cards come in a few different flavours.
- Quest Cards – Award VP for controlling an area at the end of the age (most figure points)
- Battle Cards – Played during combat to increase strength of units / or decrease effectiveness of opposition
- Unit Cards – Used to bolster your forces; bring giants, serpents and other creatures into you employ
The cards you choose from are essentially the same from one age to the next, just their power / VP gain increases as you progress.
After drafting comes the action phase. In turn players will use their rage (action points) to play cards, place their clan members on the board, pillage villages, move units, play a quest card or pass (not a very Viking thing to do). There are some interesting touches to this part of the game. For example, each action has a cost associated to it, though for some actions that cost is 0. However, you need at least one Rage Point available to conduct an action, even though that action is essentially free. Also, once you have passed you cannot re-enter the fray and take further actions, though you are still free to respond to attacks instigated by other players.
Throughout this phase each player will be deploying their forces on to the board. Pillaging (and defence of) villages is the heart of the game. Each Area has a token that can be claimed if you successfully pillage and these are used to increase one of the three tracks on your player board (Rage = more AP in later rounds, Glory = The number of VP you gain for winning a battle, Units = the number of units you can have on the board at any one time). It is really important to progress these tracks because as well as providing greater rewards/benefits in future rounds, there are also VPs attached to the final spaces for game end scoring.
Units can be moved around the board for the cost of 1 Rage Point. Spending a point in this manner allows a player to move all forces from one area to another area. Not all units have to move, but those that do move must travel together (you cannot split where they are going – because Vikings are like sheep in this way). Units may also move, at no cost, in reaction to battle occurring in adjacent areas. They are responding to the battle cry of their opponents and defending the village under attack. This can be a great way to move for free, but once you react you have to join the battle (and risk losing). You can’t simply enter the area, pull out your bag of popcorn and watch the carnage unfold.
Areas also have a number of spots, each spot holds one figure. The units present in an area are used to calculate combat strength during a battle. Vikings are strength 1, Clan Leaders are strength 3 and the various other creatures/units you draft are between strength 2 and 5. When combat occurs. Each participant will have the opportunity to augment their strength by playing a single card from their hand (if they have any cards left). In fact, each players has to play a card, they cannot elect not. The total strength value of each side is then calculated and the highest numbers is announced the victor. The winner of the battle loses the card they played, the losers retain their card for another battle. It is important to note that any card, not just a battle card can be played, so you can bluff to a degree here, perhaps entering a battle with the intention of losing, but making your opponent discard a card; weakening them perhaps for a future battle.
The other two options you have are to draft new units to your clan (which means they are available to you for the rest of the game), or play a quest card. Quest cards are where the Area Control aspect of Blood Rage appears. For the most part, you don’t need to control an area to win, or to win battles, as the units present and the battle cards you play have a great deal of influence, but the quest cards each refer to a specific area of the board and require the greatest unit strength to be present at the end of the round. Successful completion grants not only VP, but progress along one of the three tracks mentioned earlier. There are a couple of other quests which relate to your Viking’s dying, but most refer to most unit strength in a particular area.
Generally speaking, quest cards are probably the single most important path to victory. If you don’t take any of these cards during the draft phase, or you fail to complete those you have, then you probably can’t win the game. It’s not that these are overpowered in any way, rather they will give you a reward for things you are doing anyway, but you can focus the areas you are going to be playing in.
Play will continue around the table with players making their decisions, combat being resolved, cards being played, etc. until all players have passed. The game then moves on to the next stage. Ragnarok! One of the areas on the board will be ‘destroyed’. Points are scored for any Vikings/creatures killed in this manner and they are moved to ‘Valhalla’. The board is then set for the next ‘age’ and any figures in Valhalla are returned to their owners and can be redeployed during the next age (but their costs must be paid for again). At the end of the third age (turn) the game ends and points are calculated; the winner being the most Glorious clan.
Components, Art, Rules, etc.
I’ll start with stating the following. This is a Cool Mini Or Not production. If that doesn’t mean anything to you to then simply put, the production quality here is outstanding. In fact, it is the mark by which I judge other games. The quality of the miniatures is second to none, they are beautifully crafted and the detail is wonderful.
One criticism that has been leveled at the miniatures is the over sexualisation of the female characters compared to their male counterparts. I guess you could argue there is some merit in this; a little bit of cleavage or lack of armour, but until this was pointed out I hadn’t even noticed, primarily because the standout figures for me are the giants. (One of which you may have noticed is heading to battle with nothing but hair to cover his modesty).
The KS version, which I have been playing, also comes with replacement counters and markers for each clan. There are additional plastic pieces to replace in game markers also, but these are simply to add to the visual appeal.
The retail edition has cardboard counters for the clans and in game track markers. While they don’t have the bling factor, they are equally well produced and won’t detract in any way from the game experience.
And that is before you get to the artwork. I guess there are some people for whom it might not appeal, though I couldn’t even begin to imagine why, but for me it is exemplary. The board looks great, though I don’t think the image below does it justice, and is testament to the artists behind the game. Throughout the rule book you will find examples of the art which really aid in bringing the game to life.
Now imagine the board being populated with figures as the game progresses. Giants taking up residence, Viking clans marching to battle; you can almost hear the battle cries ringing across your dining room!
It has been a long while since I consulted the rule book, but I recall it being easy to digest and understand. With any issues or queries being easy to resolve and not break the flow of the game too much. The truth of the matter is that it is a simple game and there really aren’t that many rules anyway. Certainly, after one or two rounds you’ll have little need to go back to the rule book anyway.
A Euro in Ameritrash clothing perhaps?
I think this is my overriding feeling. There is a game here, a kind of area control game, where little cubes, or counters could easily replace the miniatures that the game offers. Yes, it would lose its stunning visuals, but they would do the job equally well. Of course, it wouldn’t have had the impact on the wider community and gained the support it did either. It would then have to stand on the game play alone and this is the weakest element of Blood Rage.
The game is simple enough: draft cards, take actions, resolve combat, score points. However there simply aren’t enough cards in the game to allow longevity in the drafting phase. This is especially true when playing at higher player counts. It quickly becomes apparent that some cards are far better than others, and each card is in the deck twice, so you know if you don’t have one of the better cards then your opponents almost certainly will. Then there are cards that are as good as game winning (I hesitate to use the term broken, for they will not guarantee a win, but they will go a long way towards helping), for example the card that doubles the VP of all completed quests! Oh, and did I say that cards are stackable?
Now you could argue that if you know one or more opponents are employing a specific strategy then you should take steps to counter that (drafting the card yourself perhaps). Well, when your card selection is limited, taking cards you don’t want will likely hurt you in equal measure. At this stage it is probably too late anyway. Each card has a variation for each age, and each age’s variant is a stronger version of the one before. So if you embark on the strategy of taking cards to simply stop someone else getting them, then you’d best hope you are able to use them effectively. You simply don’t have enough cards to afford any passengers. It could be argued that all games are like this to some extent or another, but it is ever more obvious in Blood Rage because there is a stark disparity between the usefulness of some cards, compounded further by the limited choices available.
Referring back to my earlier comments about masquerading as an area control game, well this is bound to catch people off guard. How so? First of all, it is quite often more rewarding to lose an area to an opponent than to hold it, because the aim is to earn Glory and that can found in defeat as often as victory. Controlling an area does not always guarantee ‘success’ in battle either; the battle cards played can have an affect beyond the battle. Some will steal your glory, cancel the battle, force you to lose units, etc. So those expecting this genre of game, or making that assumption from the box (as it sure looks like an area control game) might feel a little disappointed.
When I first saw the game set up I was immediately impressed by the quality of the game components, but it left me somewhat suspicious of whether there was any substance to the game play. We played the game, and well I immediately wanted to play again, annoyed that I had overlooked the Kickstarter and sad that I would have to wait a few nights for another outing of this game.
We played again, and yes, I still liked it. Perhaps a little less this time, but it still left me wanting more. With each subsequent play that feeling dwindled. After several plays, with obvious strategies coming to the fore, my desire to play is still there, but I will be happy with the occasional outing. The magic I felt the first time has long since faded and it would take more than a few extra cards to bring it back.
I have seen complaints too about the use of combat cards to decide battles. Combat cards can radically alter the outcome of the battle, so an assured victory can end in shameful defeat. Personally, I really enjoy this aspect of the game. I like games that allow a certain amount of bluffing and when it comes to combat the outcome should rarely be a given. Were this removed, and each battle was solely fought on the values present on the board, then the game would suffer greatly. Villages would rarely be contested, because there would be no point. I certainly prefer playing a card and knowing my personal strength versus the role of a dice, which gives me no clue as to how I am likely to fare.
The quality of the components is outstanding and the artwork throughout is gorgeous. The only negative, and this is relatively minor, is that some of the weapons were bent out of shape (mainly the guys with the longs spears). Nothing a little warm water and reshaping couldn’t fix.
In terms of value for money you can’t go wrong – the retail edition can be picked up in the UK for between £50 and £60. Yes, the KS price tag is ludicrous, but you will either be happy to pay that or you won’t, and I cannot imagine anyone paying the KS premium without knowing what they are getting themselves into.
Club Fantasci Scoring (weighted scale to 100):
Gameplay/Replayability: 40 (60)
Rulebook: 18 (20)
Club Fantasci Overall Score: 76
I would recommend this game if… you like games with lots of minis you’ll be quite happy; it looks great when being played! If you don’t mind conflict in games, and enjoy the odd euro, this blends the two quite well. It plays relatively quickly, provides an easy way to learn the concepts of card drafting and area control so would not be too much for less experienced players to tackle. Oh, and did I mention how impressive it looks?
I would not recommend this to players who do not like conflict in their games, or those who prefer their euro games on the heavy side. This would not satiate their desire in my humble opinion. Additionally, the use of combat cards might be a sticking point to those who don’t like nasty spear shaped surprises!
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