“You dare threaten Thor with such a puny weapon?”
This is going to be one hefty review. Blood Rage is a big game, yet it is surprisingly simple. It has a lot of unique components, but not too many rules. It has been nominated for so many awards that I am just going to take a screenshot of the Wikipedia Awards section and post it below:
Yeah, that is a lot of nominations, and to be blunt, rightly so. Blood Rage is made by CMON (Cool Mini or Not) and was initially backed on Kickstarter. They were looking for $50,000 on Kickstarter, but managed to launch it after raising $905,682, over 18x what they were asking for. This is a review of the non-Kickstarter version, as we got our version at the UK Games Expo.
It is a fantastic game, so if you want the TL;DR version of this review it is this – BUY THIS GAME. IT IS SO FREAKING AWESOME.
Okay, nice and neat. Let’s get into it.
THE PREMISE OF BLOOD RAGE
Blood Rage is a Viking themed strategy board game. Ragnarök is coming. You take control of one of the last Viking Clans, looking to seek glory and get sent to Valhalla, where you can live forever…with other Vikings…having a great time…partying or whatever.
The game is played over three rounds, with Ragnarök getting closer each turn. Each turn the players compete to win Glory by spending Rage to fight over villages and regions on the board. Each turn you call on the power of the gods to make your clan better, to gain quests, or just wage war against other players.
The game is over when the three ages are complete, victory points are counted up, and the winner gets all the glory. It is heavily based in Norse Mythology, with a a strong theme running throughout.
There are so many aspects to the game that I am going to have to structure this slightly differently to my normal reviews. With that in mind I’ll break this down into more detail.
There is a really nice mechanic with Blood Rage at the start of each phase (also called “Ages”) the players are dealt 8 cards each from the cards for that Age. They pick one card (two in a two player game) and pass their hand to the player on their left. That player picks one card and it moves round. It goes around until each player has 6 cards, with two cards from each of the original hands being discarded. This is really well designed card drafting mechanism, with all characters being kept wondering which cards were discarded, so they never know the other players’ hands.
The cards themselves are incredible, falling into three categories. These are upgrades, actions, and quests.
The actions are the simplest to explain. One action ‘Battle’ card (with the exception of some Heimdall cards that can be played alongside other action cards) gets played by each player in each combat. These are added to the final combat score to decide on an overall winner.
Quest cards have certain criteria for the end of each Age. These add victory points upon completion and mostly fall under the “most warriors in a given area” formula. Sometimes, on rare occasions, this can be the most warriors in Valhalla, which means they must die a glorious death to gain the points.
Upgrade cards, in my opinion, are the coolest cards in the game. These cards augment your force in some way or another. They may add effects to your troops, your ship, your warriors, your entire clan or, and this is the really cool bit, enlist the help of monsters to fight by your side. That are really really cool. More on those in a bit.
The cards are themed by Norse gods with each giving a special ability. Tyr, for instance, does the most damage, Thor gains you extra Glory, and Loki gives you powers if you lose battles. These themes are incredibly well done. They feel organic and really add to the mythology and back story of your clan. The only criticism, if it is even a criticism, is that it is recommended in the rules to find one or two gods you like and to stick with them. This means you can’t really play mix-and-match but instead need to focus your efforts. Tyr and Heimdall go very well together, as does Freja and Tyr. I also like Odin’s upgrades which seen to mainly act as Glory multipliers.
Blood Rage runs on a few core statistics that start relatively low but increase rapidly throughout the game. These are Rage, Axes, and Horns.
Rage are the Action Points for Blood Rage. It’s in the name. They are spent each turn to do actions. These include:
- Invading: Moving a figures onto the board. Warriors cost 1, Ships cost 2, Leaders cost nothing, and Monsters vary from nothing to 4.
- Marching: Costs 1 no matter what, and moves figures from one area to another.
- Upgrading: Improving your clan with additional goodness.
There are other actions that are free and do not require Rage. This includes Pillaging. A character who is entirely out of Rage cannot do any actions bar defend themselves and respond to other players’ pillaging attempts.
Axes are the Glory you get for winning battles. This means that you start winning a small amount of Glory per battle, but as it progresses you win more and more. These are victory points.
Horns dictates how many figures you can have on the board at any one time. This starts off at 4, but can go up to 12, which is all of your figures at any one time. With that many figures on the board, it can become a very interesting game.
Combat is incredibly easy in Blood Rage. Each character, each model, has a strength score. This is usually 1, 2, or 3 (there are a couple of exceptions like the Fire Giant, who is worth 4). When an area is pillaged then all players in subsequent regions get the option to, assuming there are enough spaces in the region being pillaged, move some warriors/monsters into the mix. This means it takes a very gutsy player to try and take a region by one warrior alone.
During combat all players are allowed to play one modifier (with a couple of exceptions, like Heimdall cards and one Loki card). These are revealed simultaneously and added to each player’s strength score. The winner claims the zone (although if they were not the initial pillager, they will need to pillage for themselves on their own turn) and gains the reward (see previous bit in brackets). This then gives the winning player (no matter if they were the pillager or not) Glory equal to their glory score, and (if they pillaged) an additional statistic.
In my opinion, the monsters are something really unique that Blood Rage does incredibly well. Not only are they stunning to look at, extremely well made by Cool Mini Or Not (CMON), but they are also exceedingly well balanced. There is no monster who is too overpowered, no monster who cannot be defeated with the right strategy. These range from Trolls to Giants to Dark Elves to Dwarf Kings. Each has their own ability, for instance the Dwarf King is STR 2 (the same as two warriors), but is free to deploy when invading.
QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF BLOOD RAGE
Blood Rage is such a good looking game. Every part of it is well made, from high quality cardboard tokens, to beautiful miniatures.
I’ve spoke about the Monsters above; however, the clans look just as amazing. There is a unique leader per clan, holding a totem, with two different sculpts for the warriors (there are 4x each sculpt) making each team unique and visually interesting.
To make it easier to distinguish the minis, there are bases provided of different colours. They’re pretty snazzy.
WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING BLOOD RAGE?
Blood Rage is an incredibly fun and fast paced game. Each player can do one thing on their turn, assuming they have Rage left, and this is a great way of limiting the Age (round) lengths. Once a player is out of rage they cannot do anything else bar defend and join in fights. That’s it, so it is a great way of keeping the game concise.
The game is great fun. The whole card drafting, and I touched on this above, is really well done, with points often going to the players who lose battle as well as the players who win. All of the above, and these reasons here, are great reasons to play the game.
If there is one criticism it is that the game often comes down to who has increased their statistics the most. This is fine; however, they can be worth so many points at the end that it can feel like the game is unbalanced a bit. Gaining resources can be worth as much as 60pts at the end of the game and that is a lot. This got us wondering if it is possible to win the game without collecting Rage and, I have to admit, I don’t think it is.
Then again, why would you not want to increase your Rage? It allows for you to do so much in game that it is worthwhile increasing it just from a fun perspective.
All in all, it is highly enjoyable, with rounds being brutal and fast paced fun.
VERDICT FOR BLOOD RAGE
Like I said at the start, you need this game in your collection. It’s great. There is something incredibly fun about being one of the last Viking clans, fighting for Glory before Ragnarök. It is invigorating, and because of that I would highly recommend Blood Rage – you know – for the sake of eternal life in Valhalla.