At first glance, Blood Rage– a game that consists of highly detailed viking and monster miniatures– might be assumed to be a highly aggressive meat grinder of a war game, where you battle against your opponents in bloody duels for the glory of your clan. It’s practically right there in the name! Plus vikings! I mean, come on! But if that’s the impression you walked away with after taking a look at the game box, you’d be wrong. Well, mostly wrong.
Blood Rage first and foremost relies on the emergent narrative as you control a viking clan in the midst of Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. And true to form of any “unavoidable end of the world” trope, your clan has decided now is the best time to wreak as much havoc looting shit as possible. However, the world is only so large, and plunder so limited. If your clan is going to walk away with anything worthwhile, then– by the norns– you’re gonna need to stop rival clans from looting what’s rightly yours! Even if that means enlisting the aid of monsters in the process.
But plundering and looting is just a means to an end; that end being VPs– Victory Points– or since you’re all vikings: Glory! And like all good vikings, Glory can be gained in 3 major ways: winning battles, controlling territory, and (my favorite) through bluffing and trickery. How does trickery manifest? Well, as an example: it is entirely possible to win the game even after committing every single one of your warriors to death through battles they intentionally set out to lose. Additionally, the battles themselves are simple and easy to resolve: there are no endless volleys of attrition found in other wargames. You have one shot to win, and if you don’t, your warriors dine that night in Valhalla!
It’s in these sort of asymmetric strategies that the game truly shines. Instead of being a player trying to master the mechanics of the game, you’re forced to instead anticipate the others at the table. Are they going to move their forces in to stop your viking tom-foolery? Are they trying to sucker you into a battle they are intending to throw? Are they going to attempt to piggyback on your success and in the process come out ahead? Predict their intentions incorrectly, and you could find yourself giving your opponent Glory. Judge rightly, you can stop their strategy in its tracks.
This sets up a palpable tension with each decision; tension that continues to grow through cycles of building and release, of which there are many. Thanks to quick turns using the game’s action point system, the pace of the game never drags. Player downtime is kept minimal between actions, keeping the progress frictionless and engagement high. There are spectacular moments when someone’s gambit pays off, or through grit & will you manage to pillage a province against overwhelming opposition, or just something really cool happens. Those moments and pay-offs get larger and more grandiose as the game goes on. Not only do the stakes raise with each third of the game, but the board also gets smaller as provinces are lost to the fiery cataclysm of Ragnarok, forcing more clan interaction.
Which leads me to the Norse theme of the game. Everything from the art, to components; from reference to Norse gods, to decisions you make each round resides in the sweet spot where form and function intersect. These continually reinforced concepts create a strong sense of immersion and agency with each of the players. You feel as though you are viking clan out for one last hoorah before the world literally erupts beneath your feet. This emotional core of the game magnifies the tension and catharsis all the more.
Despite being a game of strategy, cunning, and VPs, there is a low point of entry for learning the rules to the game. The game mechanics are individually simple to execute and understand the the consequences of your decisions. Also, as a result of the escalating stakes, the game is much more forgiving in the first couple rounds and allows for– if not encourages– blended strategies through the end. Those left in the dust for the first two-thirds of the game have the opportunity to come back for a resounding win.
Together, these aspects grant even first time players a fun & exciting game experience without having to understand the depth of the strategies. Learning the game is fast, and the components of the game are printed to convey many of the rules without needing to refer to the rulebook each round. And since nearly all of the challenge and randomness comes from your opponents, the replayability of the game is neverending.
This isn’t to say the game is without its criticisms, namely the way in which players choose their strategy: card drafting. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the mechanic or how it’s used, but to choose & construct a viable strategy– or block someone else’s– requires a familiarity with the cards being drafted. First time players may understand what each of the individual cards do, but it’s nearly impossible to see how they play into the bigger part of the game until you’ve seen them all in action.
The game recognizes this and suggests that players skip the drafting part and deal out cards randomly for the first round, or game, just to gain exposure. This can feel like it puts the accessibility of the strategies a bit out of reach to first-timers, despite the rules themselves being simple to learn. But in each case I’ve played the game with new players, this hasn’t been overwhelming enough that it’s detracted from the fun of playing the game. And if you’re intending to play this game more than a couple times, the issue is eventually mitigated.
Game Specs (base game only)
- Setup time: 5 minutes
- Play time: ~30 minutes per player
- Cleanup time: 20 minutes
- Number of players: 2-4 (better with more)
- Table Footprint: 12 sq. ft. (2 ft. min. each side)
- Core Mechanics:
- Action Point System
- Area Control
- Card Drafting
- Victory Points
You may like if you also enjoy:
- Vikings or norse mythology
- Games with high player interaction
- Area Control games
- Multiple viable paths to victory
- Bluffing and misdirection
- Awesome looking miniatures
You may not like if you prefer:
- Aggressive strategy/war games
- Mathy, strategic Eurogames
- Cooperative or team games
- Games that can be completed in under 1 hour
- Party games or games that can include 6+ players
All images from Blood Rage Kickstarter page.