Let me tell you a tale of an ancient world teetering on the edge of the abyss, where the old gods – Slaanesh, Nurgle, Tzeentch and Khorne – spread corruption over the land and make of men their play things… Ahem. Sorry, not sure where that came from. I wanted to say there used to be a really good old Games Workshop (and later reprinted by Fantasy Flight) board game set in the Warhammer universe called Chaos in the Old World. It was a beloved early creation of esteemed designer Eric M. Lang; an area control war game in which players moved troops around various provinces, bid for power using ability cards and generally did bad things to one another. In his latest game Blood Rage, set in a crumbling world where Viking clans and monsters fight for glory as Ragnarok engulfs them, Lang has returned to the thematic and mechanical flavour of that early game.
Over three ages (turns) players will draft a hand of cards, use action points to marshal troops on the board and generally beat the crap out of one another. The structure of the game consists of a spoked wheel of areas, at the centre of which is Yggdrasil (the ever popular world tree), and whilst space is limited in the provinces, Yggdrasil can contain any number of combatants. The fact that initiating a battle allows everyone to throw in units from adjacent areas (remember Yggdrasil is adjacent to everywhere), on top of the fact that everyone can play battle cards from their hands, makes it incredibly difficult to plan things. Some people may enjoy this uncertainty, but I found it frustrating. On top of brawling quests can be played secretly for extra points if the right conditions are met at the end of the round, numerous upgrades can be purchased and terrifying monsters can be coerced into joining the fray. At the end of each round a predetermined space is obliterated and every figure on it scores points for dying gloriously in battle. This is a game in which you’ll be looking to lose a battles as much as winning them, depending on your cards. Oh those cards!
In many cases cards maketh and often breaketh the game, and this is very much one of those cases. In each age the card powers available escalate drastically, unlocking ever more potential combos for those shrewd enough to find them. Being on the receiving end of those combos, or sometimes even when you put them together yourself, they can seem horrendously overpowered. In one game we played a friend had amassed such a set of reductions for spamming out troops that he barely had to worry about rage. Meanwhile I was hit by a double whammy of rage stealing effects that knocked me prematurely out of the round (and in a game with only three rounds, that aint fun).
This is what many would call a ‘take that’ game. Someone plays a card that screws you over, so you play one that screws them over back, and generally the other players take advantage of the situation. Of course there is a draft, which gives you some control over your hand and gives you a feel for what cards other players might have, but it’s still largely a case of taking an action and hoping for the best. As with a lot of these types of games stalling until people are out of the round and then taking a ton of uncontested actions is sure to help you on your way to victory, and it feels like the person who lands the best combo to do this is going to win.
I would offer a caveat that this style of game isn’t entirely to my tastes. I had my doubts about it when I saw the incredibly intricate plastic miniatures. For me, games with lavish production values to expend on components are often trying to overcompensate for something, and it’s no surprise to see that Cool Mini or Not, renowned for producing some of the best sculpts in the business, have their name on the box. However, I’m aware I’m very much in the minority for thinking this. This is going to appeal to people who like their games fast a loose with lots of crazy twists of fate, but for anyone looking for something more tactical, Blood Rage makes Chaos in the Old World look like chess.
Designer: Eric M. Lang
Publisher: Cool Mini or Not, Guillotine Games
Number of players: 2-4 (best with 4)
Playing time: 90-180 minutes