Back in Sussex I had the good fortune to have a first play of Blood Rage, a game about vikings, monsters and Ragnarok. This seems to be have been selling like hot cakes, despite its expense. It does boast some lovely miniatures, which are examples of how far we have come in both the manufacture of game components and the quality of plastic miniature sculpts. I know silly sums of money are being spent on 1980s Citadel figures on eBay, but really, the modern equivalents leave them in the shade, both literally and figuratively.
Blood Rage seems to combine mechanics from a number of different strategy games. The game is divided into three ages, in this respect reminiscent of Fire and Axe, another game about ravaging hairy Norsemen. Each player controls a mixed crew of warriors with a leader, supplemented by monsters from Nordic myth.
Each faction is measured by its ability to rage (action points), deploy troops (a capacity dictating the number of figures on the board) and earn glory from winning battles. Like many Eurogames, progress is tracked via glory (victory points) using a track around the board.
The board itself has a limited number of provinces, similar in feel to Chaos in the Old World. At its centre sits Yggdrasil, the World Tree, which is distinct in that there is no limit to the number of warriors / critters than can occupy this space, thereby encouraging violent scrums at the centre of the game. Slain warriors go to an off-board space, Valhalla, where they can be cycled back into the game in the next Age. Other provinces also hail from Norse myth, but have stacking limits in terms of the number of protagonists who can congregate their to belt the living daylights out of each other.
Did I say there was an emphasis on combat in this game?
Each Age is started with a card drafting phase, with players picking from hands of Age-specific cards. These help to upgrade your clan (e.g. improving the fighting characteristics of your warriors, or the ability of your leader), provide combat abilities (cards are used instead of dice to deliver combat results) or recruit monsters like the Troll or the Fire Giant. The cards are also a source of quests to be completed, which can provide further glory for players.
The card-drafting phase is fairly vital - in two phases of the game I managed to out-think myself, neglecting to take enough quest cards in favour of beefing up my combat capabilities and generally upgrading my clan. This proved to be too expensive a process for my available Rage, costing me the ability to carry out other actions, and indeed leaving me sitting on the sidelines towards the end of the Second Age. I still can't figure out whether the game wants you to pursue a balanced strategy, or focus on particular aspects or capabilities of your clan.
Winning battles is not the be all and end all, even in Ragnarok! Losing battles can also earn you glory, as the Norse recognise a good loser (i.e. someone who can take as many enemies as possible with them - they would have liked Lehman Brothers!)
|The truly awesome Fire Giant!|
Placing troops in harm's way can be an effective tactic (e.g. there is an upgrade for your clan's long ships which scores you considerable points if they are destroyed). The game begins with all clans created equal, and they start to become more unique as they upgrade various areas (e.g. Rage or Glory) and recruit monsters. But ultimately it is your hand of cards and how you play them - and how they interact with other players' cards - that really makes or breaks your strategy.
I certainly enjoyed this more than Chaos in the Old World, which is its older cousin in many respects. It does drive players into long periods of analysis, particularly in the card drafting phase, which is so vital in the determination of the outcome of the Age. I will reserve final judgement after I've played it again. As a viking-themed game, I think it plays second fiddle to Fire and Axe. I felt the board was a little limiting, although I understand that this is mainly to encourage the vikings to brawl with each other.
We have also been discussing the controversial Third Age card, Odin's Throne, which doubles any victory points earned by its holder from quests at game end, which seems to be a tad over-powered, particularly in the right hands. It may get dropped in future games.