Review: Blood Rage
2-4 players in Blood Rage control viking clans, fighting for glory in the final moments before Ragnorok shatters the world and drowns it beneath the sea. Your goal is to pillage the board’s villages, undo your friends’ plans and lay claim to the prestigious central area containing the great tree Yggdrasil which connects the 9 worlds of Norse mythology. Then you pillage that, too.
Once again: I have absolutely no idea.
On to the miniatures!
The four clans are the Bear clan, who use hammers, the Wolf clan, who wield a weapon in each hand, the Raven clan, who use spears, and the Serpent clan, who have their boobs out.
But wait! We have not yet begun to underboob. Below are the four heroes that any clan can claim (more on that later). The men are on the left, the women are on the right. Notice any difference in how they’re dressed?
Obviously board games are allowed to be sexy. There is literally no board game review site with less of a hangup about sex than us. Blood Rage’s problem is that its male sculpts look plausible, and are a diverse roster of old men, slim men and ugly monsters, while the women look like they came straight from the set of a viking-themed porn film. Blood Rage, moreso than any game SU&SD has ever reviewed, is representative of the unlabelled and embarrassing gender bias in the board game industry.
Worse, there’s no hint that this is what you’re in for on game’s box! You don’t know that the sculpts of women in Blood Rage are running around in boots and briefs until you get it home and open it up.
Aside from this crap Blood Rage’s miniatures are excellent. I’m a big fan of slotting coloured rings onto the base to denote who a mini belongs to, partially because of the satisfying “click” it makes, but mostly because it makes miniatures heavier. More satisfying.
Did you know Bang & Olufsen literally put weights in their high-end speakers and headphones to increase their perceived luxuriousness? It’s that, for minis!
Don’t buy any of their stuff though, it’s rubbish.
Actually talking about the game now
The gory game of Blood Rage is divided into three ages, but each one begins with a vitally important round of “card drafting”. This is where each player is dealt a hand of cards, each of you simultaneously chooses a card to keep, passes the hand clockwise and then chooses again, until all the cards are gone.
At this point you’ll have a custom-built hand of cards that you’ll be very excited about, but equally full of dread for what your opponents drafted. So you’re excited! But nervous.But excited.
The Age proper sees players taking turns to spend their precious Rage resource influencing the board, making Blood Rage a literal game of anger management.
You can pay Rage to have miniatures arrive on the board, pay Rage to move them around, pay Rage to upgrade your clan with cards you drafted (including heroes and monsters), or you can spend your turn playing quests you’ve drafted and are now officially trying to fulfill, but at some point someone’s going to stop all this maneuvering and declare they’re PILLAGING SOMEWHERE. The manual doesn’t say you should slap the table when you announce this, but you absolutely should.
Theoretically pillages can go unchallenged, at which point the player would flip the tile in the pillaged area facedown and increase the corresponding stat on their clan. Rage is how much Rage your clan gets each age, Axes is how many victory points you get for winning a fight, and Horns is how many miniatures you can have on the board before your HR department gets overwhelmed, or something. Pillage Yggdrasil, and you improve all three! Max out your stats, you get victory points!
Here’s the problem: whenever you declare your intent to pillage, every single other player can move units in from adjacent regions, for free, triggering a fight between all of you.
In other words, announcing a pillage creates a tiny vortex on the board that might suck in all of your friends’ miniatures, boredom, violence and opportunism. Better hope you can weather the storm!
If people do stand up to you, fights are nice and simple. Competing players all choose a card from their hand (that they previously drafted). Players place their chosen card face-down and then reveal with a flourish (just like in Kemet, Cosmic Encounter or the Game of Thrones board game).
They might have played a vitally useful combat card, some trash, or even something that wasn’t even a combat card, which then returns to their hand. The winner is the player with the most strength in miniatures plus card strength. Nice and easy! Except without the nice part, because losing a fight means losing EVERY miniature you had in the fight. Unless there’s a draw, at which point EVERYONE loses their minis and you get a segment of the board which is completely empty. Ripe for plunder, in other words. What could go wrong?
Defeated units get carted off to Valhalla, which is a decidedly impermanent afterlife. Each Age Valhalla will get filled to bursting with dead things, but between each age all the units in it are flushed out and return to their owners like tiny drunks spilling out of a club at closing time (or, if you’d prefer, like the multi-ball bonus of a pinball machine).
So there you have it! Blood Rage is a game of drafting, careful positioning, timed aggression and gambling, with players sliding their soldiers across the board like so many poker chips.
…But mostly it’s a game of card drafting. Winning fights, figuring out a quick path to victory points or stopping your friends’ own plans mostly comes down to the cards you draft or “hate-draft”, which is where you select cards specifically so your friends can’t get them.
Make no mistake- these cards are ludicrous. If someone manages to get all of Loki’s upgrades they get unbeatable amounts of points from losing fights. If someone plays their quest cards right and snags the “double VPs for quests” card in the final act they can make everything anyone earned in the previous two acts look like loose change. And obviously, knowing the kind of combat cards floating around each round is vitally important when it comes to committing your forces. If your entire plan hinges on pillaging Yggdrasil, you’d better know you can win.
At times, cards are so powerful and there’s so little opportunity to be clever on the board that Blood Rage feels like an area control card game where the tokens and board have been injected with human growth hormone. You’ve got these giant miniatures, but they come onto the board with a card, you want them to achieve a goal hidden by a card, and then can be taken off the board just as quickly by third card. Which is fine! My main problem with Blood Rage is that it’s not a good card game.
Doing well in Blood Rage isn’t about minute-to-minute clever plays. It’s about drafting cards that come together to create a plan, and then playing cards in the order that squeezes the most points out of them. But doing all this planning means you need to predict your friends, too, which in turn means you have to know what cards are out there. Problem is, every card in Blood Rage’s three decks are different. So you need to plan, but your plans are going to be skewered by cards your friends play that you either didn’t know they had, or worse, you didn’t know existed.
To top it off, the cards are tiny half-size things so that they can fit in your player board, which makes holding them absolutely no fun.
I know that you’re looking at these pictures and thinking that you want to play with these cool miniatures. So would I! That’s why I feel that this is such a weird box.
The solution, then, seems to be not planning at all. To draft cards because they seem cool, to bear grudges, and lose yourself in the chaos of it all. Alright. I can dig it!
I’m lying, I can’t dig it, and even if I could then my ability to dig it would be compromised by the victory point track running round the board.
Blood Rage has a track tallying exactly how well all players are doing at all times, which is the other area where I found Blood Rage’s fusion of genres to be awkward. The cards in Blood Rage are ridiculous and mad, meaning play should be ridiculous and mad. Why, then, is there a track informing the players who’s in last place and can’t possibly win?
The only reason I can think of is so that players can gang up on who’s in first place, but absent from Blood Rage’s deck are any cards offering VPs for clobbering the player in the lead. As such, trying to stop a runaway player will help everyone at the table except you. Disappointingly for a game entirely themed around finding a glorious death in battle, unless you drafted the few death-related cards in each age, you’re actually dying for nothing.
So there you have it! Against the odds, Shut Up & Sit Down does not recommend Blood Rage. It’s not bad, but there’s absolutely no room for it in board game Valhalla.
If you want an epic miniatures game that really DOES encourage you fight, no matter the cost, Forbidden Stars remains completely awesome. If you want a cool miniatures game that’s brimming with axes, I’d do Battlelore. If you want a chaotic card game that actually has full-size cards, I’d play Cosmic Encounter. And if you want a cutthroat game of careful positioning, we love Cool Mini or Not’s own Dogs of War.