When the tabletop game Blood Rage first hit board game shelves in 2015 it was met with heaps of praise and acclaim for its innovative game mechanics, high replayability, and gorgeous miniatures. With players taking the role of opposing Viking clans battling before the age of Ragnarok, the game, designed by famed board game designer Eric M. Lang, combined card drafting with area control to create a one-of-a-kind board gaming experience. The digital implementation of Blood Rage, which hit Steam on May 27th, should have been a home run, but buggy implementation, an unclear UI, and muddy graphics have all but ruined a near-perfect board game.
First Off, What's So Great About Blood Rage?
Blood Rage is a game about trying to attain the most glory at the end of Ragnarok when the entire world is destroyed in a fiery cataclysm. And Blood Rage (both the tabletop and digital version) combines two of the best game mechanics in modern board gaming — card drafting and area control — to make that dream of glory a reality. You choose from one of several Viking clans (like the Bear or Serpent clan) and start the game by drafting cards with your opponents. Each player gets a hand of eight cards which include upgrades for their clan, mythical monsters they can summon to help their cause, and quests which award points. Players then take that starting hand and choose only one card from it, and pass the rest. They continue this process of picking one card and passing the rest until everyone has six cards, and the main phase begins.
This process, in and of itself, is a fun preview of the action to come. But Blood Rage really shines in its main phase. The game plays out in three ages, and each player starts the first age with a limited number of "Rage" which dictates how many actions they can take for that round. Placing a warrior costs one Rage, for example, while summoning a Frost Giant to help bolster your forces costs four Rage (an extremely high price). And the name of the game is all about battle, as you move your forces into open slots on different territories, you attempt to pillage those areas to gain either more Rage, more points per victory, more slots to place figures on the board, or pure victory points. Once you "call to battle" and announce you're pillaging a region, your opponents can rush their figures into empty slots on the board to fight you. There's no luck in this game, as battles aren't resolved with dice rolling. To resolve a battle, each player secretly prepares a card and reveals simultaneously. This creates a tense atmosphere of battle full of twists and turns (some battle cards inspired by Loki even give huge benefits for losing the battle).
There's so much more to say about this board game, from its beautiful highly-detailed miniatures to the various ways that cards can combo off each other and how interesting strategies unfold, but this isn't a review of the board game (which would be glowing), this is a review of the troubled digital implementation that just hit Steam. Everything I stated above that's fantastic about the game is still present in the digital adaptation, but you've got to do a lot of work to get to the fun.
What's So Wrong About Blood Rage: Digital Edition?
Playing over the past week on a Mac, the performance issues were overwhelming. The graphics, which were pitched as highly evocative of the original miniature sculpts from the board game, are choppy and look unfinished. Much work was clearly put into the design of each asset in the game, but they came together haphazardly, with some elements looking sharp and crisp while others looked slap-dash. This, when combined with an erratic frame rate that skipped and leaped from "basically normal" to "slow chugging train with a bad engine," created an atmosphere of play that was distracting to the point of frustration.
Because I knew the rules and turned the display settings down to their crudest and lowest configurations, I was able to muddle through and even enjoy many solo games of Blood Rage: Digital Edition. But I do not think I could have understood what was going on in this game if I wasn't intimately familiar with its tabletop counterpart. This is due, in large part, to two major problems: the graphic design and the UI.
Design-wise the game is a mess of bland colors: brown, yellow, and olive. Distinguishing which character on the board belongs to which player is crucial to understanding how much of a threat each section poses to your figures. And as I played the game, I found myself frantically zooming in and out to make sense of who was who, and how those figures affected the board (more on that below). The game allows me to zoom in close to see more detail on each figure, but the game wants to be played from a top-down view, so I can have a better sense of the state of the board as a whole. This tension between needing to see detail and needing to understand the larger scope of the game isn't a fun or even gamified aspect of Blood Rage, it's just the result of a design that doesn't encourage the differentiation essential to understanding the board state.
To this end, the UI offers no help. Hovering over a character offers no information other than their raw power, and many of the characters have special abilities that are crucial to understanding if you want to play properly. To see these special abilities, you have to click on your opponent, look at their board of cards, and find the card that corresponds to the character you're interested in learning more about. This process is tedious and could have been solved with a simple pop-up fix. All the above being said, after a few patient days of play I got into a groove with solo play.
Then it was time to try out the multiplayer, which is a disaster. Lobby queues to play the game are (for now) surprisingly short, but beyond that, the multiplayer experience is extremely unreliable. In several games I played online, the match quit out or crashed within the first ten minutes. Reports are coming in from Steam user reviews that my experience here is not an isolated, not just a quirk of faulty wifi, but a widespread problem. The game, when played online, also constantly asks players to confirm an action during another player's turn, but it doesn't do a great job of making it abundantly clear that action is needed, often resulting in minutes going by before someone chimes in saying "Sorry! Didn't realize the game was waiting on me!" Blessedly, if players quit out of the game early (or are dropped), their spots are taken over by AI, so a game can progress even if one of the opponents drops.
Blood Rage: Digital Edition Review | Final Thoughts
Whether this was rushed into publication or barely QA tested, the fact remains. Blood Rage: Digital Edition utterly fails the board game it was intended to represent. I can't recommend this game even to diehard Blood Rage fans until serious patches and fixes have been made to the product. Honestly, if you're interested in the mechanics and gameplay I described above, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the tabletop original.
TechRaptor reviewed Blood Rage: Digital Edition on macOS via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC via Steam.
- Core Mechanics Are Incredibly Strong
- Buggy, Broken Interface
- Multiplayer Constantly Crashes
- Completely Unintuitive User Interface