Raising the Stakes

One of the most satisfying feelings in gaming is the one that accompanies the visible growth of your engine. Be it a spectacular combination of cards, an impressive resource conversion cycle or a character able to take on bigger and badder foes, the basic idea is the same. We like to see our stuff develop.

Usually, the games that allow for the most spectacular and visible growth are civilization games. Still quite alive in the AAA-dominated video game market, the Civilization series has been around for over 25 years, and its newest incarnation (Civilization 6), had appeared in on many 2016 “most anticipated” lists. And if something can survive the volatility of a market filled with grand six hour experiences and broken promises, than it should easily survive within an environment that is still a bit less focused on constant change and simple distractions.

If you take a look at the Board Game Geek’s top ten you’ll quickly see that Through the Ages: a New Story of Civilization proudly occupies spot number 2, and although that game came out in 2014, it’s simply a new edition of the game that came out on 2006, making it a vastly popular game choice for the last 11 years. Quite impressive!

All that is actually only an introduction to what I really want to get to, and that is… Blood Rage.

Yes, the 2015 Cool Mini or Not phenomenon that has been on the lips of many a gamer since its smashingly successful Kickstarter, and I know I am kind of late to the table on the discussion of Eric Lang’s venture into the Viking world, but I wanted to actually see how it will stand the test of time, before I delve into why it is so good. Now, at the start of 2017, it sure looks like Blood Rage is as good as ever.

Now, you might be thinking that Blood Rage is a game that does not fit in with the civilization genre, and you would be mostly correct. It’s an area control drafting game cleverly disguised as full-blooded Ameritrash (or is it Amerithrash already), which garnered a lot of attention first and foremost due to popular theme and a pile of miniatures. Yet, I believe that the reasons for Blood Rage turning out to be simply a good game is the same reason civ games are liked – and something more.

As you progress through a game of Blood Rage, you not only duke it out in the various locations of the World Tree – you also get to make your Viking clan better. Different upgrades appear on your board, giving you access to special units (like the spectacular monsters), making your warriors tougher, or providing different game effects with beneficial special abilities. That makes each of the three eras of the game more spectacular and more significant.

This sounds pretty familiar. After all, this is exactly what happens in many Eurogames. Blood Rage, however, does a great job of making the flow of the game move as fast during its final turns, as it is when players are making their opening moves.

The carefully planned improvements of card abilities from era to era raises the stakes of the game, and while the previous age can significantly influence the actions of the next one, it is always the present that influences the positions on the score tracks the most.

Some would say that Blood Rage is what it is due to a clever illusion. You do essentially the same, but you just hit harder or gain more points than in the previous age. Yet, that is exactly what keeps the game moving quickly and makes you feel that you have done a lot – and that you have progressed far – without encumbering the game with piles of effects and extra choices. So, unlike many games that centre on development, Blood Rage does not become longer and longer as you play. It becomes more significant.

Eric Lang is a brilliant designer, but among many of his games Blood Rage will always be a very special one exactly due to the ingenuity of this design philosophy. It takes a good designer to build a game that expands in all directions, while making you feel the progress of your assists. It takes a genius to make you feel the same while still locking the gameplay at the same brisk pace it moves on turn one, right to its glorious end.

 

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