GAME REVIEW: Blood Rage

So……. I actually had my hands on a copy on the first day at Gen Con.  I looked at the back of the box, and it just didn’t intrigue me.  You might say I’m more of a Euro gamer, or that I like more fun, Euro themes.  I’m not that into fantasy or miniatures games a whole lot, though I do really like Star Wars Imperial Assault.  So I ended up putting the copy back on the shelf, where it was immedietly grabbed by an eager gamer.

Since that day, I have regretted putting the game back.  I should have got it.  Not only was it one of the more sought after releases of the Con, but it ended up being one of the best reviewed.  Tom Vasel over at the Dice Tower said that it was probably one of the 20 best games he’s played… of all time!  So yeah, that got my attention.  Reading more and more opinions about the game (without really reading what the gameplay was like),  I knew I had to get this.  Well, finally, last Thursday it became available.  I didn’t have the money to pick it up yet, but my gamer buddy Sam picked it up.  So on Friday night, I got to play Blood Rage!!!!!!!  Was it actually good?  Did it live up to it’s hype?   Let’s find out!

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Blood Rage plays from 2-4 players, 60-90 minutes (probably closer to the latter), and for ages 12 and up (I’d say).

This game takes place during the age of mythical vikings.  The end of days has come (Ragnarok).  There isn’t much time left.  Each player will control a viking clan and will attempt to pillage the land before descending to Valhalla.  The Gods will reward you for gaining the most glory during the game (hence being the winner).  You gain glory by completing quests, conquering provinces, and battling other clans.

Looking at the back of the box, I just assumed this was going to be a straight up battle game, but it’s more of an area control game (with some battles).

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Each player receives 8 warriors, one ship and one leader of their clan (Wolf, Serpent, Bear, Raven).  You also get one clan sheet, which is where you will keep track of your Rage, which pretty much determines how many actions you can do during your turn.  The more Rage you have, the more things you get to do.

Also on your Clan sheet are charts for 3 stats: Rage, Axes and Horns.  I already explained what Rage does.  This rage track tells you how much Rage you get at the start of your turn.  It starts at 6, put can go up to 12 (or something like that).  The Axes track is determines how much Glory you get for winning a battle.  And finally the Horns track determines how many fighters you can have out on the map at a time (you begin the game with a limit of 4).  There will be various ways to raise these tracks throughout the game.

The game is set over 3 rounds.  During each round there are 6 phases: God’s Gifts, Actions, Discard, Quest, Ragnarok, Release Valhalla.

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Phase 1: God’s Gifts – Player’s will draft cards (picking one, passing the remaining cards clockwise,etc.) until everyone has 8 cards.  The cards will have attack bonuses, upgrades for your troops and clans, there are monsters you can recruit to join you, and also this is where you can get quests (which are pretty much hidden objectives, that could involve taking over territories, winning and even losing battles).

Phase 2: Actions – This is the bulk of the game right here.  Players will spend rage to perform actions.  Here are the actions: invade (placing one of your clan in a province), marching (moving from one province to another), Upgrade (playing an upgrade card from your hand), Quest (playing a quest from your hand face down, revealing the card later), Pillage (attack a province and plunder it’s bounty (either glory, axes, rage, or horns).   And finally pillage.  When a clan pillages, another player from an adjacent area can attack to steal the bounty from them.  Most of these actions cost rage, so it’s good to find a way to get your rage up early in the game (which I didn’t do, heh).

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The way a battle is resolved during the pillage phase is pretty simple.  On the upper right hand corner of  each player’s character, is its listed Strength.  Both players add all of their clan’s Strength together and the the player with the most strength wins the battle.  You are also allowed to play one attack bonus card that may add to your strength.  The losing player will lose all of their characters in battle to Valhalla.

Phase 3: Discard – Simply discard all but one of your cards from the game.

Phase 4: Quest – Reveal your quests and gain your reward, if you achieved the objective that is. (Glory points, and going up on any of your tracks).

Phase 5: Ragnarok – All characters who are in the province that is being destroyed by Ragnarok (which is determined at the beginning of the round), go to Valhalla and receive glory.

Phase 6: Release Valhalla – All players get their characters back for the next Age.

After 3 rounds of this, players will also get bonus points if any of their 3 tracks reach a certain spot.  The layer will the most glory wins.  Most likely, their won’t be a tie (more on that in a sec).

Like I said before, this isn’t my type of game, or at least I didn’t think so.  I thought it was going to be one of those battle games where you’re rolling dice while trying to figure out hit points, defense points, stuff like that.  I’m not really into that.  But this game turned out to be different from what I thought.  It’s mainly area control with some card drafting.  There are battles, but it’s resolved by comparing strength and playing an attack card.

I really liked playing the attack cards, because you’re not really sure what your opponent might be playing on you.  It’s a fun, push your luck element of the game I enjoyed.  I also love games with hidden objectives, so I loved doing quests.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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First of all, the game looks gorgeous.  Well, the components anyway.   The artwork has a very mature, detailed look to it.  The miniatures are great, though you are probably going to have to paint them, because the details aren’t as distinguished between the clans when they’re unpainted.  I had to ask who was who from time to time.  Not that big of a deal.  The monster mini’s that you can acquire throughout the game look terrific.  They really add a lot of thematic flavor to the game.  The only negative cosmetically for me is that the board is a little generic looking.  It’s functional, but could have used a makeover.

The gameplay itself is deceptively simple.  I was expecting something a little more grandiose.  But it’s relatively easy to catch on.  Draft cards, move characters on the board, perform quests, pillage, die in the right place.  That’s it.  Okay, so there’s a little more to it than that, but I guess I thought it was going to be more complicated.  There is quite a bit to think about, like figuring out the best combo and upgrades to play.

Which brings me to what could be a negative.  The game can have some pretty big swings, scoring wise.  I haven’t played it much yet, but I’m not convinced it’s entirely balanced.  My friend Ben laid a combo on all of us at the end of the game that gave him over 80 points!!!  That’s ridiculous.  I wasn’t mad though.  I thought it was pretty funny.  If some players don’t know what they’re doing either, they can dangerously get so behind that they will never ever be able to catch up, even if there are 2 rounds left.  So if you have problems with big swings like this, you might want to pass on this.

But the real reason to play this is for the theme.  Even though I lost (by a huge amount) I had a great time because the theme is really alive here.  I really felt like I was leading a viking clan conquering provinces.  And when those big monsters come out……WOOOOOOO!  That’s cool!  If you play with some friends that get into the theme, you will all have a great time.  There’s a lot of player interaction where you can really mess with your opponents.  That’s a turn off for some people, and usually not my favorite thing either, but the theme makes it a blast.

Now, is it a good game?  Yes.  It’s fun.  Does it live up to the hype?  No.  How could it?  The hype was sooooo huge.  So it’s probably not fair to compare it to the hype.  But, I kind of wasn’t expecting it to live up to the hype, so I wasn’t let down.  I was pretty pleased with the game.

If Blood Rage sounds like it has a theme you can get into, I’d check it out.  If you like card drafting and area control with some battling, check it out.  But if you don’t like  games that are very confrontational, or have big swings when it comes to scoring, you might want to stay away.

It won’t make my top 10 of the year, but I consider this a fun, solid game.  I’ll eventually pick this one up.

 

 

 

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