055 – Bloodrage – 11 Exceptional Design Choices and what we can learn from them

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Hello fellow adventurers and welcome to the Nerdlab – Where we transform our gaming passion into incredible game designs and learn how to nerd like a boss. 
My name is Marvin and I am an ambitious game designer on my quest to develop a co-operative fantasy card game.
For this podcast, my vision is to take you with me on this exciting journey. Together we will explore the secrets of different game mechanics and reach the next level as a game designer.

Due to the corona virus pandemic we also had to give up our weekly tabletop round. Therefore we switched to Tabletop Simulator and used the time to play a lot of Bloodrage in the last weeks. I’d like to use today’s episode to reflect a bit about what I learned as a game designer from this great game. 

I had really great games in bloodrage and really frustrating games. From a game design point of view, this is a really good thing, because it allowed me to analyze both the things I liked and the things that were somehow not perfect.

Interesting Design choice 1: Player count specific cards

Some of the cards have a small number printed on them indicating that they are only used if at least that number of players are participating. Before the game starts you go through each pile and return to the box any cards you find with a number greater than the number of players. If you set up a 2 player game, for example, you have to remove all the 3 and 4 numbered cards. This allows you to design cards with a specific player count in mind. If one of these cards would be broken in a lower player count or wouldn’t just work from a rules perspective you can remove it in lower player games. 

Interesting Design choice 2: Removing 2 cards at the end of the draft

This removes 2 “choices” that are actual no real choices for the players. 

Interesting Design choice 3: Start symmetrical and end very asymmetrical

In an interview Eric Lang mentioned he had an asymmetrical version of the game before he changed it to start as a symmetrical game.  

Start symmetrical and go from their resulted in a much better game because people are not drawn into a specific direction. This makes the draft more strategic and more important and in the end more open-ended. 

The draft starts wide open and it narrows down towards the end.

Interesting Design choice 4: Different card types in a draft

Different card types (quests, combat modifier cards and upgrade cards). You need all of those cards in order to win. 

Interesting Design Choice 5: Key Strategy Cards only once in draft

  • Key cards are only once in the game. As a result you almost never have players in the same strategy.
  • Strategies for me are not “loud enough”. I find it very important to have cards that really explain the players in an easy way what the core strategy of that particular build is. In bloodrage I found some of those builds rather complex and not so easy to understand.  

Interesting Design choice 6: Different Draft Phases

  • Different phases to take into account different board states
  • If your game is about conflict it can make sense to divide the drafting into different rounds because it asks your player to take new board states and situations into account in every drafting round.
  • Comback Mechanic due to different strength of the cards

Interesting Design choice 7: Combat Modifier Cards

Interesting effects, not just static values as it is done in many other games. They are much more ingrained into the tactic. E.g. there are combat modifier cards that actually want you to loose combat.

Interesting Design choice 8: Innovative Tactics and Theme

I like the theme because it is about dying in ragnarok. Death is actually something you look forward to as a wiking and you want to earn as much glory as possible on your way of achieving death. 

That means dying and losing fights is actually something that is playable as a tactic. For me as player who always wants to win this tactic was difficult to digest in the beginning. And it was really mentally challenging for me to figure that tactic out. 

Interesting Design choice 9: Miniature individualization

You put coloured rings onto the base toof the minis to determine to which player they belong.

→ Good for people who want to paint their minis because they have all the same base color

→ Good for boardgamers that want a very clear and precise distincition between the different players. 

Interesting Design Choice 10: The cost of long term strategies

Blood Rage is not about minute-to-minute clever plays. It’s about drafting cards that come together to create a long term plan. It is about playing cards in the correct order to maximize the points you get from them. But for me these long term strategies rarely worked out as planned due to opponents interfering with my plans. The problem is that I often ended up with clan upgrades or quests that were more or less useless for me because my plans didn’t work out. I missed some kind of secondary use for those cards. 

The second problem that comes with long term strategies is the fact that  you need to predict your friends strategies in order to win. Hate drafting is a very important aspect of the game. But also those cards that you hate draft are often useless for your strategy. Another reason why I would have liked to see a secondary use for cards. 

And since you need to know all strategies to be able to effectivly draft your own strategy and to counter your opponents strategy you need to know a lot about the game. That isn’t a problem if all players have the same experience with the game, but if one of the players has more games played or spent a bit of time on the internet researching the dominant strategies, this information advantage cannot be caught up again. This is a problem most drafting games have.

Interesting Design Choice 11: Visible Glory Track 

Blood Rage has a track showing how all players are doing at all times. Why is there a track informing the players who’s in last place and can’t possibly win?

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