Chaos In The Norse World - Blood Rage Review

Oh boy have I been looking forward to writing this review! The Broken Meeple taking on the hype head on and finding out the truth within the glossy pictures. Blood Rage has been one of those games where I can't flick past a podcast or video or Top Ten list and not see it there. Even at MidCon I saw at least two other copies being played other than my own. And the Dice Tower crew (well certainly Tom and Sam) have been praising this from the mountains of . . . . . Florida, ok that doesn't work out too well, but you get the point. It seems to certainly have taken the American market by storm and many people have been loving their Kickstarter packages here in the UK. . . well, those who aren't simply selling their Kickstarters for profit which I can't stand as a practise in the gaming industry but I digress.

In this case though it's double trouble. Not only am I battling against the hype (a concept which I believe can destroy someones first impressions of a game if not taken the right way), but it's also Cool Mini or Not and you hopefully know my history with them by now when it comes to their games. However, I'm here to be objective. Previous games don't impact the quality of a new one and I never get suckered by hype. Blood Rage to me looked like a decent game from the description and instantly I could tell that this was almost going to be a lighter version of Chaos in the Old World, which has a nice shelf spot in the top left hole of my IKEA unit.

So can Blood Rage match the only other CMON title I've praised greatly, Arcadia Quest and measure up to the hype it's received?



Designer: Eric Lang (2015)
Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not
# of Players: 2-4
Age: 13+
Time: 60-90 Minutes
Rank/Rating: 296 / 8.43
RRP: £64.99


Brave. . . But Stupid! 


The cataclysm of Ragnarok is coming to the world and for Norse warriors that's a good thing! You live for fighting and dying in battle and reaching Valhalla in the most glorious way possible. Players control a clan of mighty warriors and attempt to control and pillage areas on the map for rewards and glory points. During the course of the game they may upgrade their clan and unit abilities as well as recruit additional monster units to their cause ranging from the nimble Valkyrie to the colossal Fire Giant.

Of course, everyone else is doing the same thing and there's only so much land to go around. Battle other players using simultaneous card play and win glory for your side. Or lose a battle valiantly and still win points for your side! In Blood Rage, the idea is to get glory one way or the other and death can be glorious in its own right. Take on Ragnarok itself and die gloriously there also, remember I said you were proud Norse warriors, I never said you were particularly bright!



As the game progresses over 3 rounds, various areas of the world will fall victim to Ragnarok destruction reducing the space left for players to fight over. At the end of 3 rounds, whoever has the most glory points is the rightful winner of the game.


Say Hello To My Gi-Normous Friend!


OK, let's get the easy part out of the way. This is a Cool Mini or Not production and so you already know that 9 times out of 10, the component quality is high (I say 9, because let's not forget Xenoshyft). The miniatures in Blood Rage are as gorgeous as ever and at least here they're a fundamental requirement of bringing out the theme of this game (cough cough SMOG). The monsters are especially good, with the larger models being some of their best ever. Grabbing one of those giants or the colossal sea serpent is just such a good feeling, you don't even care if it's part of your strategy, you just want that piece on the board with your clan's base underneath it.

The clan models are different sculpts for each player which is neat, although it makes remembering how to store the things in those boxes when packing up a bit of a mission. One nitpick I have though is the inherent flaw of kitting most of them out with spears, javelins and banners. Long spindly bits sticking out of models means a lot of bent weapons all over the place. So after barely a couple of games, you're already going to see some odd looking warriors on the field, try as you will to keep them in pristine condition.

The board is a colourful and decent spectacle and the cards are adequate despite the slight glossy feel to them. Be warned however that this is a big box, getting up to the levels of Imperial Assault and Forbidden Stars. And if you use the boxes provided inside for the miniatures then everything will fit snugly, but woe betide you if you were one of those Kickstarter folk with all the extra parts because you're going to have to come up with a new system to get those puppies in. I dread to think what will happen if an expansion comes out for this.


Norse Mythology Comes To Life


Cool Mini Or Not don't usually have a problem injecting theme into their games and Blood Rage is no exception. Many games have come out in the past that give us vikings or Norse mythology as a theme and then turn it into an abstract game or fail to really give us that scratch for our blood thirst itch. Blood Rage however is probably one of the most, if not the most thematic game for this subject area, even though I grant that there really isn't many out there. Each clan is generic at the start, but have their own unique sculpts and look and the gods that associate with the various battle cards make sense when considering what that respective god is known for in Norse lore. Of course when I use Loki, Thor and Odin cards, it's impossible for me not to imagine them personified as the Marvel representations, but that's the superhero fanboy inside me getting in the way!

The game play is also quite smooth, borrowing heavily from Chaos in the Old World, which is probably the best comparison I can make to Blood Rage. You spend your Rage one action at a time keeping downtime to a minimum and it's not usually difficult to make your choice so analysis paralysis doesn't turn up very often either. That being said, the game will take you a good 90 minutes probably with a full complement of players, but any longer and you'll be pointing the finger at the slow player. 2-3 player games can finish in an hour if people know what they are doing although I don't see Blood Rage ever being played with two players, this is most certainly best played in multiplayer mode when the chance of 3 way battles increases.

Of course it's not just a carbon copy of Chaos - there are some unique elements such as the drafting of God cards when starting each round. Very few gamers don't enjoy the art of drafting, although I don't feel it was essential to have here. When teaching this game I typically follow their variant to just deal the cards out in Age I anyway. I think what I would have preferred is for each God to have their own respective deck and then players would take it in turns to pick from whichever deck they chose. That way they couldn't tell exactly what they were going to get, but would have an idea based on the workings of each God (i.e. Loki losing battles, etc).


We're Not So Different After All!


The big selling point for Blood Rage in my expectations was the ability to evolve your clan over time as you see fit with cool upgrades and special abilities. Now for whatever reason the clans at the beginning are all generic which seemed like a missed opportunity, but that's a minor quibble. But there are plenty of ways to diverse your clan by way of upgrading your leader, warriors and ships, but also gaining clan-wide abilities and recruiting monsters big and small into your forces. You've certainly no shortage of cool choices to make in this regard, however there aren't as many different types of upgrades as I would have liked. There's barely any individual unit upgrades at all and many of the cards in general as you progress to the later ages are just improved rehashes of earlier cards. For example you can pick up an upgrade that rewards you with 4 points for losing a ship. Then you can pick up one that rewards you with 8 and then eventually one that says 12. That's 3 separate cards for one unit that do exactly the same thing, just with a higher figure. Loki's set has a similar deal with the upgrades for gaining points for deaths in Valhalla. I found this a bit disappointing and would argue that the variety could have been improved. That's not to say they're all bad, some upgrades are sweet and let's face it I'm making a beeline for those monsters every game as they feel like so much more of a reward than anything else.

The quests have a similar problem. All of the quests are either "control this region" or "get 4 figures in Valhalla". That's it. They quickly become repetitive and the rules allow for multiple copies of the same quest to be attempted and scored independently, which is a bit odd. Drafting multiples in this way will certainly reward you better than diversification. But couldn't there have been some more options here? How about "kill X warrior models" or "kill a large monster figure this round" or "lose X figures to Ragnarok", just something! I've just come up with 3 suitable choices right there! The battle cards fare a little better though with the different god sets offering some very different ways of approaching combat. Loki rewards you for losing, Thor fits a "high risk, high reward" style, Tyr just straight up wants to win battles and Heimdall has some cool tricks to fool your opponents plans with. Being able to keep the cards if you lose reduces the impact on the defeated player though I found that Loki could abuse this concept a little too well.


Stats are also a little too easy to level up. Most pillage rewards, every single quest and even some battle/upgrade cards will level up your three stats on your clan sheet. There's only a few levels on each and you'll generally find that getting them maxed out is not very hard at all. Of course this may be influenced by your strategy, but unless you're playing pretty badly you should at the very least have all 3 within the +10 scoring bonus and likely one at least at the +20 bonus without even trying for it. As such they lose a bit of the flavour of having a unique clan


Verdict


Well well well! Throughout this review I've considered three things. Does Blood Rage deserve all the hype, does it replace Chaos In The Old World and is it a good game in general? Well the straight up answer is "No - No - Yes" in that order. `

Blood Rage is definitely a solid game underneath all the usual high quality miniature dressing that Cool Mini Or Not use. The theme of Norse combat and monster bashing is handled very well and the twist that winning a battle doesn't always result in the most points is an innovative and cool idea. Now it's certainly lighter than Chaos In The Old World and it does borrow some of the mechanics, but it's in no way a replacement. Chaos has more meat to it and the asymmetrical game play in that is predominant from the beginning and in how to win, whereas here you're starting off the same and slowly changing over the course of the game. But if you like one, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy the other as I have.

The variety in the quests and upgrades could have been a little more diverse and certainly I wish it was harder to level up stats so that you actually had to make a serious choice in how you evolved your clan, but there's still multiple paths to victory and the game doesn't overstay its welcome in length. Did it deserve all that hype and is thus the best game of the year? No way! But it's still a good, fun game, just not a great one.


If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/



YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want a game where getting beaten in combat doesn't necessarily mean you're not doing well.


You're obsessed with miniatures - the monsters in particular are excellent.


You're a lover of theme - this is one of the few games that manages to get a Norse / Viking style setting right.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:



You're low on storage space - having big miniatures comes at a price.


You're expecting this to replace Chaos In The Old World - there's more meat in that game and this is much lighter.


You were expecting a ton of variety in the upgrades. There's a fair amount, but there's a lot of repetition also.

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