Blood Rage is one of the smash hit games of recent years. Bringing together the people who brought you Zombicide (Cool Mini or Not & Guillotine Games), with a top designer (Eric M Lang – Game of Thrones the Card Game, Dice Masters and many more), Blood Rage is a Miniatures game of Vikings, Monsters, Pillage, Glory, and the End of the World.
Blood Rage is already firmly settled in the Board Game Geek rankings as one of the top 10 games out there, but can it live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
Blood Rage: A box full of Vikings- but no dice!
As you’d expect from a Cool Mini Or Not game, Blood Rage comes in a hefty box that’s jam-packed full of miniatures. There are 4 clans, each of which come with 8 warriors (in 2 different poses), a leader, and a ship. There are also 8 monsters, who have no particular allegiance and can be claimed by any clan for the course of a single game.
The miniatures in Blood Rage are all well-sculpted, there’s plenty of detail and variation in the standard warriors, and the monsters are good too: the 4 large monsters are particularly appealing, towering over the Vikings as they do, and they make for a great visual spectacle. I had one or two arrive looking slightly wonky, or with spears a bit bent out of place, but a few seconds with a hairdryer and tub of cold water soon sorted this out.
The miniatures are the vast bulk of this, but there’s also a large game board, a variety of tokens, and 3 decks of cards which determine the game. The biggest surprise for me was that this game didn’t include any dice. Having seen the various groups responsible for it, I think I was expecting Viking Zombicide, hurling bucketloads of dice: instead, what we’ve got is a much more measured, strategic game experience for you to use your miniatures in.
The visuals of Blood Rage are generally very good, although it does succumb to a few fantasy tropes including the all-female tribe whose figures seem to have left home in a hurry before they finished getting dressed. The game does state that it’s for ages 14+ only, and the complexity of the game means that you probably won’t have young children playing this, but after Zombicide Black Plague, which had offered an eminently sensible set of female outfits, this was a bit disappointing.
So what do we do? Gain glory!
The object of Blood Rage is to gain glory: how you get there is up to you. One of the great things about Blood Rage is that there are multiple different pathways to glory. You can defeat your enemies in battle, of course, but you can also gain glory for dying in Ragnarok, for completing quests, or for triggering the powers on special cards.
You start the game with a board to represent your clan. It contains the basic information about your leader, your warriors and your ship (all 4 clans start the same, only distinguished by the sculpts of their minis and the colour of their bases), and contains spaces for various upgrades.
The board also has 4 tracks. The first monitors how much “Rage” you have – Rage is the basic currency of Blood Rage, and you will expend it as you Invade (add troops to the board), March (move them around), or Upgrade aspects of your clan structure. Some actions cost zero rage: However, once your rage is gone, you cannot perform any actions for the remainder of the age, other than responding to attacks, so you need to be careful with how you marshal it.
The other three tracks are your “Clan stats”: Rage, Axes, and Horns. The Rage track determines how much Rage you start the next age with, so increasing it is vital to being able to perform actions in later rounds. Axes are “glory” – specifically the number of points you get for defeating an enemy in battle. Lastly, Horns limit how many units you can have in play, so you need to raise it before you can expand your army.
On your turn you will spend your rage to position your forces, and to pillage provinces. A province can only be pillaged once per age in Blood Rage, and when you make your attempt, other players will have the opportunity to send in their forces to defend. Pillaging an undefended province is an automatic process, gaining you the reward (typically a boost to one of your clan stats), but you won’t get any glory. If somebody tries to fight you, then you will have to expend cards to win the battle, and run the risk of being defeated, but the rewards in glory are all the greater.
Sounds glorious! – How does it play?
One of the most novel aspects of a game of Blood Rage, is the card-drafting. At the start of each age, in the “god’s gifts” phase, players are dealt a hand of cards to play over the course of the coming rounds. However, rather than simply taking the hand they have been dealt, players draft them instead: each player selects 1 card to keep, then passes the remainder on to the next player. This process repeats until each player has chosen 6 cards, with the remainder discarded.
Once everyone has drafted their cards, each player takes one action at a time, going around the table. The round ends only when each player has passed and/or had their Rage reduced to zero. After this comes “Ragnarok,” (see below for more detail) and a little book-keeping before the start of the next Age. Each of the 3 ages plays out the same way, although the card effects players are able to trigger will grow more powerful with time.
What’s on the cards: Destruction or Glory?
The cards are key to a game of Blood Rage, and they come in 3 types: Battle cards, Quests and Upgrades.
To play a Quest in Blood Rage, simply use your action for the turn to place it face down on your clan sheet. At the end of the age, if you have met the requirement of the quest, you gain the reward indicated on the card (typically some glory, or being able to increase a clan stat). The most common quest type requires you to have the most strength in one particular area of the board at the end of the round, but there are others, such as cards which reward you for getting all of your warriors killed.
Quests won’t do anything to improve your board state, so playing all your quests early on can leave you with no warriors in the world when the important fights start happening. However, even though committing to a quest doesn’t cost you any Rage, as you cannot do anything once your Rage has been reduced to zero, be careful not leave playing quests until it’s too late.
Upgrade Cards allow you to enhance the stats and abilities of your units and your clan. Each player board in Blood Rage has space for a fixed number of cards of each type, so you need to choose carefully. Upgrades will have a rage cost (the number in the red circle) and in return they bring significant benefits, such as making your forces stronger, or allowing you to reap additional glory for battles fought victoriously, or lost heroically.
Rather than boosting an existing stat or unit, Monster Upgrades allow you take control of unique monsters and add them to the world. Aside from being mighty fighters in their own right, the special abilities add whole new dimensions to combat.
The final type of card in Blood Rage is the Battle Card. When you are facing off against an opponent in battle, you will first compare the strength of the units you have each committed to the battle, and then each choose and reveal a combat card. This will typically add a number to the strength committed, as well as often having an ability, either increasing your glory for victory, or stealing something from your enemy in defeat.
Ragnarok: it’s not the end of the world
At the end of each Age Ragnarok, the Mythical Norse “Twilight of the Gods,” happens and one territory on the board will be utterly destroyed (don’t worry, you get warned in advance which one). This makes the board functionally smaller in each subsequent round, but it also allows a chance for great glory, with the controlling player receiving a bonus for each warrior lost this way.
Blood Rage is already much more than an area-control game, but this mechanic heightens the tension and pressure on spaces available in the game, as well as offering a strange incentive to be in control of an area, even if doing so will wipe out half of your army (and cost you Rage to re-deploy those units in the next age).
There is a lot going on in Blood Rage, and that makes it easy for players to lose track of very simple rules, as well as the more complicated things. Lots of players in their first few games will forget to play zero-cost cards before exhausting their rage supply, or invade with too many units and only belatedly realise they have exceeded their horns limit. Blood Rage is both a highly Strategic and highly Thematic game, and I think this is definitely a major part of its appeal. Blood Rage does a great job of evoking the Viking flavour, rewarding glorious death just as much as successful conquest. Pillage, of course earns no glory, for there are few songs to be sung of the burning of villages and the culling of women and children, but it provides for the supply of the tribe. Lastly, the monsters offer a chance to do something very different with combat effects, as well as providing plenty of scope for future expansion.
For all the flavour though, Blood Rage doesn’t stop being a very strategic experience. You have to plan ahead, you have to ensure that you have increased your clan stats sufficiently to keep pace with your opponents, but you also need to be paying for upgrades in order to win the fights. Lastly, you need ways of turning general prowess into glory, or else you’ll find that your dull efficiency is mocked by those who have accomplished legendary feats. For our group, Blood Rage leant a bit too far in the strategic direction, and it is a difficult game to just dip into, especially if you pit a new player against experienced opponents.
The Verdict: Death or Glory?
If you are looking for an in-depth wargame that is both strategic and dramatic, then Blood Rage is a good option. The visuals are great, the miniatures are really nice (especially the Monsters), and the lack of dice definitely makes for a more strategic experience than something like Age of Conan. Personally, I think Blood Rage plays much better as a 3 or 4-player game, where you can bring in an element of table-talk and convince your rivals to fight each other, but it is still playable with 2, and if you have an evenly-matched opponent who is willing to take you on, it could offer a good “Viking Chess” experience.
If you’re looking for player-vs-player Zombicide with Vikings, then this is not the game for you, it doesn’t have that level of accessibility or the exhilaration of chucking the big pile of dice, or revealing that spawn card.
What Blood Rage is going to offer, is lots of re-play value, with different strategies to try, the need to adapt your strategy to the cards you are able to draft, and constant interactions between players: If that sounds like your cup of mead, then give it a go.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.