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Blood Rage Review

Charlie & Michael

What does this rating mean?

Posted by Charlie & Michael on Dec 30, 2015

Charlie:

Michael:

CT: It’s been six long years since Eric M. Lang has released the modern classic Chaos in the Old World. Blood Rage is the first medium weight strategy game he’s worked on since, and it comes across as a very measured and wise design that’s learned a great deal from those who’ve tread before it.

MB: That is what really strikes me the most about Blood Rage. Unlike so many games coming out of crowdfunding these days, this is such a disciplined, refined design. In some ways, it’s almost an apotheosis of the kind of hybrid designs we’ve been seeing for the past 12 years after Age of Mythology and Game of Thrones sort of started bridging the gap between American hobby game design and the European style that was popularized in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I feel like Lang has really filed the concepts of Chaos in the Old World (and Midgard) to a fine point- there’s some loss, but I think the gameplay makes up the balance in gains.

CT: Game play leans more towards the elder Midgard than it does Chaos, but you can certainly see the Old World’s burnt fingerprints charred into the rough Viking flesh of gathering clans. This design feels evolutionary in a sense, stemming from recent hybrid Euro and thematic titles like Kemet and Cyclades. It manages to surpass its peers by standing upon their broken backs and offering an immediate sense of gratification. Blood Rage boasts tremendous depth while not saving the joy for later turns or making players work for it. You can be hurling axes and slamming down magnificent trolls five minutes into play. It’s marvelous.

MB: Well, that is certainly some colorful language Charlie, I’ll just follow that up with “Blood Rage rocks”. But you are absolutely correct about the immediacy of this game- it just wastes no time in making an impact. From turn one on through the tight, three phase structure it’s like the game is just constantly funneling you toward conflict. It’s close quarters, geography is limited and over the course of the game it gets even more restrictive. And you’ve got these incentives to fight- and die- like the pillaging mechanic, where players in adjacent territories are practically invited into the region you are raiding to fight you. It’s such a no-frills, aggro game but you’ve still got to find time to manage your limitations, develop your clan and work out the effective combos in your draft hand.

CT: For sure, it’s one of those games where you’re pressed against the wall trying to accomplish a great deal with the clock ticking and everyone at your throat. I think what really amazes me the most is how the three strategic arenas intersect and support each other.

The draft forces your hand in making tough decisions towards what combos you want to pursue while also pressuring you to deny your opponents. The area control board play is the impetus for speed as you try to pillage regions quickly to gain the reward before your enemy can amass board presence. This dovetails perfectly with the final aspect which is the tempo. Blood Rage hits you with a rapid pulse in the background as the Age will end immediately once every area on the tight board is pillaged. A crafty player with a Rage advantage will manipulate positional play to box people out of a region and do his best to control that pace to separate himself from the others and give him an edge towards victory. All three of these form a symphony in harmony and it’s beautiful.

MB: The draft is also one of the elements where this game really feels more in line with Eurogame design idioms. The agenda there is to effectively control the range of decisions available to the player, but it also borrows quite effectively from the CCG drafting notion of developing combinations. That’s definitely a more American design style, but the sense of discipline and restraint keeps everything so tightly controlled. And I love that there are three drafts, which means that you can develop tactical plans for a round- which may be to go all-in and fight to win (or lose), go for the Quest cards or work on upgrades- and then you can shift at two other critical points in the game to either an entirely different or an evolutionary posture. It’s all in that draft, which is actually far more effective than I expected it would be.

CT: Those combos you can build are extremely fulfilling, which is important as you can pull off huge bouts of momentum with very little effort, at least in comparison to other similar conflict oriented games.

Unfortunately I do think those combos reach a point where you’ve seen the majority of the paths to victory. There will always be a subtle command necessary to influence major strategies, but I definitely think the game could use an alternate set of decks for each Age with an expansion down the road. Kind of like what Mr. Lang brought to the table with the Horned Rat expansion for Chaos in the Old World. New combos and nuances in the draft, via an alternate card set, would provide the variety needed to keep this game relevant for years.

MB: The tempo is just nuts, even with typical speedbumps like sorting out these combos and the tough decision points. Folks always like that “turn angst” feeling, of having X actions and needing to do X+1 actions. This game gives you just one action per turn and each vector is equally essential on top of calling for the players to execute plans with smart timing while everyone else is scrapping or getting stronger for the next turn. It’s so balanced, everything is so focused. No fat, no filler and the whole thing just moves like a shark.

CT: Absolutely. That focus and sense of refinement really reigns in the play time and makes this one of the easiest games of its type to actually get to the table. I played a three player game last weekend that literally took 60 minutes. We’re not talking box cover huckster 60 minutes, but honest to goodness one hour play time.

MB: See, I am always the guy that gets looked at cockeyed when I say how long a game is going to be. There exists in one of my groups a concept of “Barnes Time”, because this particular gang (and two players in particular, neither of which is me) adds an hour to just about anything. So when I told them we’d be done with it in 75-90 minutes tops, they didn’t believe me. But they locked down in a four player game and I think it was about just at 90 minutes with rules and with new player fumbling about. But yes, now I am seeing three player games in about an hour.

I think that’s really kind of remarkable given the depth of the game and its scope. But it gets back to this game being so disciplined in its design, so refined and editorial. I think if this game had come out just three or four years ago, it would be a two to three hour game with more of a focus on process, mechanics and detail. But here it is now, almost perfectly whittled down to these core elements. I know some folks have said that it didn’t grab them because it was so anti-baroque, but that is exactly what I want out of games these days. Especially when the return on investment in terms of fun and action is so high.

CT: Anti-baroque is a good way to put it. I think the gorgeous miniatures and box cover can give off a sense of “heavy Ameritrash design” that you won’t find here, and that can certainly be a downer for misaligned perceptions. I love the inclusion of the huge minis which have some of that Cthulhu Wars oomph and reinforce the impact of tearing up a space with a Fire troll and destroying all of the enemies nearby.

Really, it comes down to everything feeling just right and perfectly placed. Everything acts as it should in the design space and it feels like it’s on the edge, expertly straddling Euro and Thematic with ease. I really think this game is a special title and one we’ll be talking about for years.


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