Designed by Eric Lang
Published by Cool Mini or Not (CMON) - 2015
2 - 4 Players
60 - 90 Minutes
Let’s get this out of the way up front. This is a review of the base copy, retail edition of Blood Rage. This isn’t the fancy kickstarter edition, there are no exclusives, expansions, or extras. And you know what? It’s fine! Totally does not feel like it is missing anything.
In my estimation, 95% of the internet's questions about this game just got answered. For the rest of you fine folks, let’s get cozy and talk about a delightful game involving some rather spicy vikings.
In Blood Rage you control a faction of Vikings trying to earn glory before Ragnarok, the viking apocalypse. Glory is earned primarily through winning battles, completing quests, upgrading your stats, and having your units present in the region that blows up at the end of the round. Yes, your spicy vikings died, but at least they died in a glorious inferno. They’re cheap anyway, you’ll get them back.
The game takes place over 3 ages (rounds) which starts with drafting cards from that age’s deck. Blood Rage really showcases how great drafting can be because each time you pick a card, you are handing a fistful of equally awesome cards to your opponent. When the hand comes back to you, your fears are confirmed, someone took those spectacular cards that you’d never want used against you. Your insides give a quiver of unease and anticipation because you know what you will inevitably face... and that's how everyone feels at the start of each round!
Players alternate taking actions including upgrading their faction, recruiting and moving units, and most importantly, pillaging. Pillaging is neat because you initiate battles against the region rather than specific other players.Once you declare a pillage, players can send in troops from adjacent regions until everyone passes or there are no spaces left. At that point, if there are two or more players at the pillage, a battle takes place. Battles are elegant and fierce; select a card from your hand, resolve its effects, add its value to your unit strength, and highest total wins.. That’s it, clean and simple. Oh, and every viking who lost is sent to Valhalla. Oh, and tied players both lose. Everyone dies!
What I like most about Blood Rage is it circumvents two barriers that many people have with “combat” style area control games. First, like Patrick Swayze in Road House, your spicy vikings are vagrants, never really having a place to call their home. Because of this, you always feel like the board is a play area you are entering, not specifically trying to control; you don’t feel burnt when you lose your “home turf”. Second, units are cheap and you have enough control through the cards you draft and the upgrades you pick to adjust to a playstyle that suits you. If you hate combat, you can pick cards that gain you massive points through losing battles and having units in valhalla! Blood Rage wants to empower you to find clever ways of getting points within its overall simple systems.
Speaking of what Blood Rage wants, the game clearly aims to make an impression on the table. The production quality and artwork of the game is through the roof. Every aspect of the game has gorgeous artwork dripping with theme, the iconography is intuitive and smart, and the monster minis stand like tiny behemoths on the table, impressing your friends and intimidating your enemies. Even the basic units for each faction has a few different sculpts, and the detail is at times awe striking. You will want to pick up and examine each mini closer. But… the game’s thematic and artistic elements aren’t without their issues.
It feels like Eric Lang finished his incredible game design then handed it to a hormone addled 15 year old to add some last minute polish. Every woman depicted in Blood Rage is wearing what looks to be battle lingerie; the men are hulking brutes of testosterone, whose chests scream to the world “Might makes right!”; the use of “rage” as your currency in the game; and even the title of the game “Blood Rage” feels preposterous. The elegance of the game and the incredibly grim yet intriguing world it presents is undermined by including such over the top elements. When I played it for the first time, I was taken aback by how much this broke the theme for me. Eventually, I realized I could let the ridiculous schlock taint my otherwise fun experience, OR I could embrace the whole game as a tongue-in-cheek affair. I reconciled it all by deciding that it really doesn’t matter much when spicy little vikings are fighting tooth and nail, only to blow up like lemmings running off so many cliffs. Somehow I think Alice Cooper would be proud.
Overall, I think Blood Rage is a brilliantly designed game. It is fast, fun, tightly balanced, and in spite of all players having identical factions at the beginning, you can branch out in interesting and rewarding ways. Players are given lots of options without being overwhelmed, and you will feel like you are making meaningful decisions every turn. I do wish the game were a little less silly in its adolescent view of a culture, war, and the human body. But when I choose to view the game as a little self aware, then it’s a bit easier to embrace my spicy vikings and enjoy what has been one of my favorite games of 2015.