As this review is being published at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the release of a digital version of a popular game has more significance than it might otherwise. Fans looking to play a board game will usually look for versions on Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, or other digital platforms such as Board Game Arena or Yucata.de. The question always comes down to the overall experience and whether the digital version captures the same engagement and ease of play as the original.
Blood Rage is just such a game that needs this judgement. It’s a card drafting, player conflict, Norse mythology themed game that gained enormous funding on Kickstarter and an extremely high ranking on BoardGameGeek from thousands of ratings. Whether or not the digital version deserves the same praise is the question. The board game itself is best at 3 or 4 players, but can also play 2 or solo with AI playing other sides in the digital version.
The gameplay is driven by 2 primary phases over 3 rounds (ages) of play. The goal is to earn victory points from conflict, objectives from quest cards, and generally increasing the ability scores of a player clan. As the game progresses, the stakes are raised from cards that provide more points and a board that shrinks thereby tightening the space for engagement. The game end is the final stage of Ragnarok thereby filling Valhalla with victorious heroes.
In the first phase, players will draft cards similar to 7 Wonders or Sushi Go. They’ll receive a hand of cards, choose one, and pass the remainder to their neighbor. With each card choice, players form a strategy by selecting cards worth points, bonuses in combat, ability upgrades for their clan, or monsters summoned from all manner of the mystic realms.
During the second phase, players will take actions, turn by turn, until they pass. Some of these actions require Rage points which are provided by a player clan’s Rage ability score. Actions range from playing units to the board, moving them, upgrading them, or fighting other players (pillage).
Pillage is the main conflict action. Each player’s strength is determined by the units they have in the province or they have moved in from adjacent provinces. Additionally, players can add to their strength any combat value from one card in their hand. The winner of the battle gains victory points equal to their Axes clan ability score.
Once all players have passed, Quest cards are resolved, a single province on the board is destroyed, and then a new round begins. After 3 ages, final points are tallied and the highest score wins.
Digital Game Experience:
Functionally and artistically, there’s nothing wrong with this implementation. The graphics are excellent, but the “animated” figures feel more like animated plastic figures on bases than living creatures. There really is no animus to any of the unit presentation. For the game to function, this isn’t absolutely necessary, but the lack of this is part of how this game overall feels like a good conversion of a tabletop product to a digital one rather than standing on its own as a first choice to experience the game.
The other element that this reviewer has two opposing views on is the tutorial and player reference resources. The card reference and the rules reference are well done, making it easy to look up specific mechanisms for experienced players. This tutorial tries hard to teach the game in a step by step manner, but it chooses to introduce concepts in a non-straightforward path. For example, one of the first topics the tutorial goes through is invading and then pillaging.
This is one of the most combative parts of the game, and it could be that since players have limited time on steam to get into a game before they have a chance to get a refund, Asmodee Digital wanted players to get into the action as fast as possible. This also helps because knowing what actions are available is necessary to choose the right cards to play. It’s understandable, but it forces players to learn a more complex part of the game first before more basic ideas are introduced.
Forgetting the bells and whistles of the digital experience, players who aren’t familiar with Blood Rage are in for a treat. The gameplay is exceptional with strategic and tactical choices that indeed validates the rating it gets on BoardGameGeek. When played at a full player count, it’s an exciting brawl of epic proportions.
New players might be thinking that the gameplay in two parts with a drafting round and an action round may mean the game favors one or the other. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some players enjoy the drafting of cards more than the action phase. The best laid plans from the drafting round is thereby carefully poised against the angst of the action round when those plans go awry.
The main criticisms of Blood Rage often come to what the game isn’t. The rather “Euro” style combat resolution and victory point mechanisms over a traditional area control with dice slugfest. Blood Rage isn’t meant to be a true wargame even though the presentation might display otherwise. Until players see how elegantly the interaction works with the card decisions, they really can’t see the elegance here. Luckily, the digital edition is only $20 and that’s a great entry price for getting a decent online experience for a game as polished in mechanisms as this.
Blood Rage is a great game. Overall, this digital implementation is pretty good, but not perfect. There are a million ways to teach a game, but in this reviewer’s opinion, the tutorial could be better. That’s not a huge negative because, after a few turns, new players should be able to pick it up. Even with the high level of interactivity in the game, it feels like more could have been done to improve the user experience on some elements of the presentation. Overall, it still gets high marks but feels like it’s just shy of a perfect experience.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – Players who are already familiar with Blood Rage and looking for a good online implementation will find it here. Newbies to Blood Rage will have some stumbles but with perseverance can get past them.
• Unengaging animations and limited view options
• Tutorial takes a stumbling approach to teaching