Cool Mini Or Not is known for their many premium board games with lots of awesome plastic miniatures and components, and Blood Rage is one of their most popular ones. The designers would later go on to use its mechanics as the basis for two more games: Rising Sun, and Ankh: Gods of Egypt.
Capitalizing on this popularity, CMON teamed up with Asmodee Digital in late 2018 to crowdfund a digital version of Blood Rage. Unfortunately, the end result was clearly taken out of the oven way too early.
Blood Rage: Digital Edition
Publisher: Asmodee Digital
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), Mac
Release Date: May 27th, 2020
If you clicked on this review, then chances are you already know what Blood Rage is, and just want to know how the digital version stacks up. I have to be honest with you guys, it isn’t very pretty. For everyone else, allow me to walk you through what Blood Rage is, why it’s a very fun board game, and why this theoretically should have been an awesome digital adaptation.
Blood Rage is a strategic board game where clans of Vikings compete to earn the most Glory during Ragnarök. The game features elements of resource management, area control, card drafting, and bluffing. It’s a fast paced game that doesn’t skimp on strategic depth, giving players the freedom to craft a variety of different playstyles.
The game is set on a map that features eight provinces, with a ninth province in the center that represents Yggdrasil. A full game of Blood Rage is set across three Ages, during each of which players will take turns performing actions until they are out of resources, or simply choose to pass their turn.
At the end of each Age, Ragnarök happens, which is a fancy way of saying one of the provinces will be annihilated by a giant fireball. Any figures in that province are sent to Valhalla, players gain some extra Glory for having their miniatures destroyed in such a heroic way, and the province is rendered unusable for the rest of the game.
Each Age starts with players taking turns drafting a hand of cards. The cards will be passed around until everyone has six, and the cards get progressively stronger between Ages. Once everyone has their cards, they take turns performing an action until everyone is out of resources, signaling the end of the current Age.
Each clan has three stats: Rage, Axes, and Horns. Rage is the game’s currency, which is used to place miniatures on the board, move your forces around, buy upgrades, and so on. Axes determine the amount of Glory you gain in combat.
Finally, Horns is essentially your population cap. The higher your Horns stat, the more troops you can have on the board at any given time. After your stats reach certain thresholds, they will also give you extra Glory points at the end of the game.
One of the main actions players will be performing in Blood Rage is pillaging provinces. If you are successful, you will get a chance to raise one of your clan’s stats. Yggdrasil is extra desirable because pillaging it raises all three stats, but its central location makes it hard to defend.
When you choose to pillage, players with troops in adjacent provinces can attempt to stop you by taking turns sending in their own miniatures. Each miniature has a Strength rating that is added together to show how much combat power you have in the province.
Once players have had a chance to figure out what miniatures they are contributing to the fight, they then take turns playing battle cards to modify their final Strength totals. Some battle cards have additional effects, like stealing resources from your opponent, or outright destroying miniatures before Strength totals are finalized.
Other battle cards can be played after the first round of cards are played, allowing you to add more Strength to your army. Once the totals are finalized, the player with the most Strength wins, allowing them to successfully pillage the province and send their enemy’s troops to Valhalla. Winning battles will also give you some Glory in addition to that province’s stat buff.
Each player starts with one Leader miniature that has 3 Strength, eight Warriors that have 1 Strength each, and a Ship that has 2 Strength. Ships are unique in another way because they can only be placed in one of four fjords on the map. While this limits where you can place them, they can provide their combat power to two provinces at once.
Besides raising your three core stats, you’ll also be spending Rage to play upgrade cards. Each clan can have 1 Leader upgrade, 1 Warrior upgrade, 1 Ship upgrade, 3 Clan upgrades, and 2 Monster upgrades. Leader, Warrior, and Ship upgrades only apply to those specific models, while Clan upgrades typically apply to all your troops.
Monster upgrades allow you to call in various mythological beasts, like trolls, fire giants, dark elves, and more. Monsters tend to be quite a bit stronger than your standard Warriors, and usually come with unique and powerful effects.
The final type of card that I briefly touched upon are quests. These basically represent one of your main objectives for the turn, and usually revolve around controlling provinces, or having miniatures in Valhalla. Completing a quest gives you Glory at the end of the Age, and allows you to raise one of your stats.
That’s more or less the basics of Blood Rage. The drafting system means that you are constantly having to think about your strategy, and adapt depending on what cards you pick. This ensures that there are plenty of “builds” you can go for depending on the cards you decide to draft.
There are also lots of interesting cards in the game, allowing you to build some rather unorthodox strategies. Loki’s cards, for example, tend to give you benefits for losing fights, allowing you to craft a viable strategy around just being a nuisance that intentionally loses fights to disrupt your rivals’ plans.
Ragnarök adds another interesting dynamic to the game because in ensures that players are fighting over a shrinking number of provinces and resources. This gives the game a gradual intensity curve, where the first Age is mainly focused on getting your upgrades and forces onto the field, while the final Age is an all-out brawl between everyone as they rush the earn the last Glory points they need to secure their lead.
Ignoring the core gameplay concepts that make Blood Rage so much fun, the digital adaptation is a bit of a mess right now. Sure, it faithfully recreates the game’s mechanics in a digital format, and it can even be just as fun as the physical version at times. Given some more polish and development time, I could see it being a pretty good adaptation eventually. The key word there though, is “eventually.”
I must admit that my initial response to this digital port was moderately positive. The overall presentation is fairly decent. The graphics and special effects, while not exactly spectacular, get the job done. There is even some nice Norse-inspired music to set the mood.
The biggest problems with the graphical presentation overall is the inability to rotate the map, and that it can be a bit difficult to distinguish between some units and player colors at a glance. The camera scrolling also jitters and jerks a lot. It doesn’t seem to be framerate drops, just janky camera movements that don’t feel very responsive.
The UI looks decent enough, and the game does an admirable job of walking you through how to play. Most of the information you need to know is presented relatively clearly, and there’s lots of rules references you can quickly pull up during a match if you need them. There is even a helpful section that gives newbies tips on builds and card drafting.
The UI and controls aren’t without issues, however. A few buttons, like “pass turn,” are hidden away in a side menu and can be easy to miss. The UI also just doesn’t feel particularly snappy or responsive. The cards don’t always drag and drop the way they should, and other actions just take too many clicks to get through.
There was even one instance where the UI became completely unresponsive for me. The only thing I was able to do was just quit out of the game. A related problem is the general flow of some phases. Much like the UI requiring too many clicks in some places, some phases could be streamlined to speed things along, particularly the combat and quest phases.
The quest phase in particular very slowly reveals each quest every player had in their hands, before tallying up the Glory point scores one card at a time. A lot of these actions could be streamlined to be simultaneous.
One of the benefits of a digital game is the potential for AI opponents. Blood Rage: Digital Edition features four AI difficulty levels and around eight or nine behavior archetypes. That said, the AI isn’t particularly amazing, so don’t go into Blood Rage expecting a satisfying single player experience. They serve as a good place to practice new strategies, but are hardly why you would want to buy this game.
Which comes to the most damning problem with Blood Rage: Digital Edition. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most people want this game for multiplayer, particularly now, at a time when most game stores and clubs are closed. Maybe you just have a lot of online friends and you are looking for something to play on game night.
As with all Asmodee Digital games, Blood Rage requires an Asmodee.net account to play online. You can link it to your Steam account to populate your friends list. There are some basic matchmaking and ranking features implemented too. This normally wouldn’t be an issue in and of itself. I’ve played other Asmodee Digital games that worked relatively fine online. Blood Rage: Digital Edition is not one of those games.
Obviously I couldn’t test the online portion before release, which lead to my relatively positive initial reception of the game. There are plenty of things that need to be addressed, but this is Blood Rage. Its a fun board game and the digital adaptation was functional enough to scratch my itch. Sadly, I must be the bearer of bad news and report that Blood Rage: Digital Edition‘s multiplayer is nearly nonfunctional right now.
A quick glance at the Steam reviews as of this time of writing show the vast majority of them are negative. Barely anyone can get through a full match online. I’ve seen people complain that they can’t invite friends.
I’ve seen people say that the matchmaking system simply doesn’t connect them with any matches. I’ve seen people complain that connections keep cutting out, or something else equally disastrous happens to end an online match prematurely. I’m somewhere in the middle of those second two complaints with my experiences.
It doesn’t help that the game is also really, really buggy. In my own experience, the only major bugs I encountered were AI players locking up during their turn, forcing you to quit the match. This has happened around three or four times for me.
A quick glance at the forums show that I seem to be the minority when it comes to game-breaking bugs, because other people are reporting far more serious issues. I’ve seen some people claim that they can’t even get past some of the tutorials due to crippling bugs.
Blood Rage: Digital Edition is one of those games that I was initially feeling okay about, but my perception of it took a complete 180 following its disastrous launch. I didn’t find too many bugs in my pre-release playtime, and while the UI, AI, and general playability have their flaws, I was kind of excited to get some friends together to play online.
At that stage it was looking at around a 7/10 from me. Certainly room for improvement, but there is the core foundation of a decent enough digital adaptation of an awesome board game. As it turns out, most of the issues were hiding in the multiplayer mode, which I and everyone else with a pre-release press copy were unable to really test before release.
Your mileage may vary when it comes to the actual bugs and glitches, but the current server issues effectively render Blood Rage: Digital Edition a single player comp stomp against some rather mediocre AI opponents. While it’s functional at this purpose, it isn’t what you are going to buy the game for. I may revisit this one should things improve over the next few weeks.
Some Images: Steam, emailed press kit
Blood Rage: Digital Edition was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Asmodee Digital. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.