WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 2-4
Published by: Cool Mini Or Not
Designed by: Eric M. Lang
This is the reviewer's copy. See our review policy here
As a note, I’ve painted my minis. I’ve also upgraded a couple of things as well. So the tiles I’ve used to denote destroyed provinces are ones that I found on board game geek (here) and laminated.
As much as I love this game, even I have to admit that the title sounds like the name of a death metal band I would have come up with in school and then doodled on every surface I could get a pen to.
How to survive Ragnarok.
Each player takes a clan, clan board and sets their rage marker to 6. Then shuffle the province tiles and reveal and block off a number depending on your player count. Then, of the unused ones, place one on each of the ages on the round board face down, then reveal the first one and place the ragnarok token in that area. Then take the age one cards and deal out 8 to each player.
In the first “Gods gifts” phase players will be drafting cards to make up their hand to be used in the next phase. Players will draft one card and pass the rest on. This will go on with each player drafting one card until everyone has seven cards in their hand. The last card you’re passed will be discarded unseen.
Next you’ll go into the action phase. This phase will go on until either everyone is out of rage, has passed or when all of the open areas have been pillaged.
On your turn you can take one of five possible actions.
To invade, you place one of your clan onto an empty village on the map. Each figure has a strength number on them and when you place them on the map you need to pay that cost in rage.
To march you pay one rage to move any number of your figures from one province to another on the map.
You can upgrade your clan by playing an upgrade card in the appropriate space on your clan sheet and paying the cost in rage. If it’s a monster, ship, warrior or leader upgrade then you can immediately invade with them for free. Clan upgrades will give you permanent, unique and fun abilities that help flesh out your clan.
Questing is a free action and here you'll place a green quest card face down. These will score you points at the end of the age as long as you achieve it.
Finally pillaging is where you get into fisticuffs. Call a pillage in the province your in. If there are villages free in that province then anyone with figures in adjacent provinces can come and join the fight. Provided there are other players units to challenge you, each player counts up their total strength in the fight. Then everyone secretly chooses a battle card. These cards will add to your strength and will sometimes have other abilities on them. Players will reveal their cards, trigger any abilities then total their strength. The losers will have their units sent to Valhalla and the winner will gain glory points. If the winner was the player who called the pillage then they’ll win the clan stat upgrade that was in that province.
The stats you can upgrade on your clan sheets will be, Rage, which will determine how much rage you start each round with. Glory will be how much glory you get from winning a fight and Horns will determine how many units you can have on the map at any one time. At the start of the game there is a four figure limit. For us this one tends to be the most forgotten rule of the game. As you reach the end of the tracks, these upgrades will be worth points as well.
At the end of the round players discard down to one card, score quest cards, then ragnarok. The province marked with the Doom token is destroyed and any units in there along with it, however you do get points for everyone killed during it so it may be an idea to stick around. Especially in later rounds where the points for this increase each round.
Ages two and three will play out the same as age one and after the end of age three the player with the most glory wins.
Drafting, just like the Vikings used to.
Blood Rage is my favourite drafting game. It’s a weird statement to make right? A game with all those big monster minis and I’m here talking about drafting. It’s easy to think that the drafting phase is just a fun, quirky way to choose your cards each round. But it’s actually just as integral to your entire game as what goes on during the action phase. It’s the backbone of your entire round and your opportunity to plan out what course it’s going to take. Sure, it’s drafting so not every card that comes your way is going to be gold, but just having that level of control is, for me, essential. It’s such a tactical part of the game. Not only in how you build your hand of cards in preparation, but also what you don’t let your opponents have access to. Now this does have a twinge of hate drafting to it. But usually you’ll be denying players those cards because they’re really great cards that are gonna help your game just as much as theirs. This will come into play more and more as you play the game more and with the same people and as you start to learn their preferences. It really rewards those multiple plays which you may only get a small taste for in your first couple of plays.
The drafting brings with it this wonderful feeling of tension. As cards get passed round you’ll find yourself having to agonise over passing round some really good cards which you know will come back to bite you on your Asgard later in the game. The tense part is waiting to see who plays them and when. It’s the constant living in fear that some will play a Troll (who destroys other players' soldiers in an area when played) and literally wipe out all of your best laid plans. This usually evokes a “argh I forgot that card was out there”
At first, drafting and a “dudes on a map” game about Vikings feels as weird a combination to me as a deck builder and a war game. But it really works. So well in fact that I couldn’t see the game working any other way.
It’s such an important part for me that there is a rule that I begrudge using. It says that if you have new players then you should just give everyone eight cards and just use what you’ve been given. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it’s there to give people the chance to familiarise themselves with things before throwing them into drafting. But I also think it takes away their agency and chance to plan their own game and in a three round game that’s a lot. I personally tend to give people the option if I’m teaching but I do appreciate that it’s probably more useful if you’ve got the majority of new players.
Gods of War.
The action phase is quite aptly where all the action is. This is where you get to put your cunning plan into action and march your Viking hordes and monsters around the board. It’s also here that you get to see what your opponents have been concocting with their drafts. But with your cleverly planned out draft nothing can go wrong…right?
This is board games and, let’s be honest with each other, if we knew our plans were always going to work out every time things would start to get boring. Well there's no fear of that happening here. Having that plan in your head and your hand is all well and good. But it’s the executing it that’s going to present the real challenge, because for some reason your opponents don’t want you pillaging and scoring points.
Much like the drafting phase, the action phase is as much about reacting as it is putting your own plan into action. For example, you may not want to get into a fight in that neighbouring province, but it might just be worth it to stop someone shooting up those upgrade tracks. Of course the best thing about that scenario is that it could all be a bluff! Considering that some cards reward you for losing fights this could all have been a clever ploy and that’s what I love about this game. Because of the variety of cards and how differently they all play, you can’t really be sure of people’s motivation and it's brilliant.
A Variety of Vikings
Whenever I show Blood Rage to new players I always tell them that it doesn’t matter which clan they take because they’re all the same, and yes there's that little look of disappointment on their face. But as the game goes on and people play upgrades and clan stats start to rise, you start to see just how asymmetric this game can be and the vast amounts of combinations you can use to shape your clan. More than anything it’s a lot of fun watching your clan evolve throughout the game. Just as you think how great you’ve made your clan, you can’t help but look over at your opponents clans and think how much cooler they are and how maybe you should have kept a particular card.
Thor, Loki and all your favourites.
Each god will give a different type of upgrade. Loki's upgrades for example are all about losing battles and getting points for being in Valhalla. As logical it would seem to try and get all of one god's upgrades (in fact a Loki heavy strategy is considered quite powerful) they all do mix pretty well together and again this is all about trying to craft a good combination together. In fact the Loki cards and a few other quest cards are one of the reasons I think this game works so well, even if you don’t usually take to this style of game. I’m not actually that great at this type of game, but the fact that I can employ a strategy that essentially rewards me for not doing well is something I kinda love. So many games will reward multiple plays and often a new player will lose purely due to lack of experience. But the idea that you can take advantage of losing can really go a ways to balancing things out. That being said you do have to get those cards to be able to do that.
Having said all that about a potential balance, I do think this game has a learning curve. Not the actual rule set, but more in terms of learning the strategy to do well. I know that’s the case in most games, Blood Rages' combination of drafting and area control game has seemed to present some difficulties with some of the new players I’ve played with in the past. The coriolaton of the two mechanisms seems to throw people and it’s not until at least the second round that people really see how the two work together and can make a properly informed choice when drafting next. Which in most other games would not be too much of a problem. But this only being a three round game means that you're already a third of the way through before it all starts to make sense and in a game where you really need to start scoring as soon as possible, it can be a disadvantage. I’ve seen this happen with quite a few new players, myself included when I first played it and normally it probably wouldn’t be something I’d mention, buuut I do think it’s come to colour a few peoples experiences with the game. Because of that struggle with grasping it and because of the high potential for those huge point differences, I think a lot of people have been put off from trying the game again which for me is a big shame. Now I’m not going to force anyone to play a game again if they didn’t enjoy it but it took me a couple of games before it really started to shine. Even Sam Healey, formerly of the Dice Tower gave it a review that, while still good, didn’t reflect a score for what would eventually go on to become his favourite game! Having said all that, it’s not going to be that way for everyone. In fact the last time I played a new player absolutely wiped the floor with us which I’d like to put down to my expert teaching skills but I don’t think anyone would believe that.
I’ve not played the game with two players, but it’s not well renowned for playing well at that count though. I wouldn’t normally mention something like this if I’d not tried it myself but this seems to be one of those game that is famously not great at two (much like 7 Wonders not working at two players) that I thought I’d mention it just in case you largely play at two. It’s at least something to be aware of and look into before spending your money. If you have played at two and enjoyed it then let me know.
It took me a couple of games to get into it but when Blood Rage finally clicked with me it clicked hard. The wonderful tactical combination of drafting and area control is one that I never knew would work as well as it does and now that I do I need more of it. Couple that with the joy of playing a fire giant and then seeing the worried look on your friends faces as you hover it over the board just before you slam it down and ruin one of their days is glorious fun.