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Losing on purpose with the Loki strategy
Card drafting and winning Blood Rage by losing battles
Most people assume you want to win your battles, but this week we look at Eric' Lang’s Blood Rage and why losing might be the best strategy!
In Blood Rage, each player controls their own Viking clan’s warriors, leader, and ship. Ragnarök has come, and it’s the end of the world! It’s the Vikings’ last chance to go down in a blaze of glory and secure their place in Valhalla at Odin’s side! For a Viking there are many pathways to glory. You can invade and pillage the land for its rewards, crush your opponents in epic battles, fulfill quests, increase your clan's stats, or even die gloriously either in battle or from Ragnarök, the ultimate inescapable doom.
Players compete as mythic Norse clans to achieve Glory (victory points) by pillaging provinces surrounding Yggdrasil. Rage is the currency of the game, and allows players to take actions.
There are three Ages that begin with drafting a set of cards that can be used in battle or to upgrade your clan. At the end of each Age, Ragnarök destroys a province and kills everyone there, leading to an ever shrinking map.
Dying in Ragnarök isn’t a bad thing though, because Glory is awarded for each unit killed. Anyone killed goes to Valhalla, only to be released and join back in during the next age.
Eight years old, Blood Rage is still the game I use to introduce new players to card drafting and area control. It’s simple enough that those without board game fluency can pick it up, but also has meaningful decisions and strategies that are satisfying for experienced players.
Let’s take a look at losing on purpose in Blood Rage!
Losing to win
As players compete to pillage the nine provinces (Manheim, Alfheim, Jotunheim, Yggdrasil, etc.) battles are common. Not only are the clans who are in the province part of the fight, but there is also a chance to join in during the Call to Battle. Clans who are in adjacent provinces can move in, if there are available spaces.
Each participating clan chooses a card (photo above), and then everyone reveals at the same time.
Battle strength is the sum of units in the province plus strength added from any cards played. Highest strength wins, and everyone else is killed and sent to Valhalla. On a tie, everyone loses and all units are killed.
The interesting twist comes in the form of the Glorious Death and Loki cards that are in each of three decks. Here are just a few examples:
Glorious Death! - Have at least 4 figures in Valhalla (before Ragnarök). If completed, worth 11 points and raise a clan stat by 1.
Loki’s Trickery - Worth +0 strength in battle. If you lose, steal 1 rage from the winning player.
Loki’s Wrath - Clan upgrade. Gain 3 glory for each figure you release from Valhalla.
Loki’s Poison - Worth +0 strength. If you lose, take the winning player’s revealed cards into your hand.
While you can gain Glory (victory points) by winning battles and successfully pillaging, the Loki cards flip that on its head. Instead, you gain Glory by losing battles, having your units killed and sent to Valhalla, and intentionally getting wiped off the map!
This instantly changes the dynamics of the game. Rather than everyone focusing on strength and winning battles, they need to consider the motivations of the other players. Perhaps they want you to attack, just so they can lose? Do you let them pillage uncontested, or do you kill them and give them points?
By moving away from “victory is good and defeat is bad” to something less clear and more mutable, Blood Rage turns each battle into something more interesting.
The challenge of card drafting
Blood Rage has 102 cards divided into three decks of 34 for each Age. After players become familiar with the game, drafting of these cards becomes an important strategic element.
If left unchecked, a player can draft all of the Loki, Glorious Death, and other cards focused on losing battles. Other players will quickly realize that the player wants to lose battles and will be reluctant to fight them. This leads to being able to pillage uncontested.
This is called The Loki Strategy and can be extremely hard to beat.
A method to defend against this is for you to draft the cards required for the Loki Strategy, preventing others from using them (i.e. “hate drafting”). Also, other cards exist that can “cancel all text” on opposing cards, neutralizing some of the Loki cards.
I’ve found that trying to both implement a strategy and counter others can lead to some problematic card drafts. When playing with experienced players, the draft can almost become mechanical, with everyone knowing which cards need to be drafted in which order.
Is the game still fun? Absolutely, but it becomes a different kind of game. One where it is less about combat and more about positioning your clan with proper card drafting.
Some things to think about:
Consider ways to modify “victory is good and defeat is bad” in game designs. This can be hard to do, especially in roleplaying games with permanent character death. Blood Rage solves this by easily coming back from Valhalla, and similar mechanisms might work as well.
Reducing consequences allows players to take more risks. Some of the best moments in Blood Rage are the giant, mid-game battles in Yggdrasil. These happen because players know their units are just going to Valhalla, and will be back during the next age. Permanent loss would cause players to be more conservative in battles.
Card drafting changes with experienced players. The first time players try Blood Rage, they may not know what cards are coming in later ages. They pick the best from each hand and move on. Experienced players are looking for specific cards and planning far ahead. Both are fun experiences, but designers should be aware that they can lead to very different styles of play.
See you next week!
— E.P. 💀
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