It’s now 2018, more than a year after the relentless progression of video blogging, I, currently the sole surviving Battlehamster in this once sacred place emerged from wreckage. Taking a moment to compose myself, I looked around at the derelict and unfortunately forgotten posts that were once part of a bustling and innovative hub of depravity and gaming filth. They, and the hub itself stand intact, with the eerie ambiance engulfing every word that dares to invade this once sacred place once again. Yet, upon surviving the carnage of modernisation, death has not released me from my responsibility and as such my burden is heavier than ever! It is my duty to light the way for the other Battlehamsters and let them know it is safe to return to their previous home.
The era earmarked by extensive video blogging, yielded a number of fantastic games; Blood Rage, Rising Sun, Gloomhaven, Energy Empire, just to name a few.
Armed with this wonderful inspiration, I have decided to compare two of these masterpieces; Rising Sun and Blood Rage. Please sit back and enjoy, as I share with you my opinions of these games. As always, comments and feedback are appreciated, especially now to let me know that I am not alone in this once holy sanctuary.
In what box do I get the best minis?
Simply put, neither! Both games have kicked out gorgeously detailed minis for a stand-alone board game. I have heard a lot of bad opinions about the quality of minis from CoolOrNotMini, but this simply leaves me wondering what people expect? In games like these, the minis are simply tools to represent units and enable you to play the game to its full capacity and add some beauty to the game on the table. Although there is nothing stopping you doing so, they are not the type of minis that you would paint and build an enormous army with (like forge world or GW minis). Whilst there are expansions with additional costs for these games to get the extra monster figures (unless you Kickstarted it), I feel that it completely unreasonable to expect GW or FW quality minis in a board game. If you really do, I suggest that you consider what the price tag on a game like that would be! Rant over, I honestly love the minis in these games equally, therefore I think it’s a simple matter of styling preferences.
As you can hopefully see, they are pretty well detailed and there is certainly no lack of them in either game! The Vikings minis have a very barbaric and Viking like feel to them and the monsters in Blood Rage are all about size and intimidation, Whereas the Dynasty warriors as you would expect have a graceful and honourable feel to them. Interestingly, even though some of monster minis in Rising Sun are larger than those in Blood Rage, it is not their size that most impresses me. As Asian dynasties were very superstitious and feared evil, corruption and dark magic far more than any blade, in Rising Sun many of the monsters are very surreal looking and give you a real sense of unstable and tainted power.
Which game is most beautifully produced?
For me this question was a difficult one to answer. Again, I figure it is a matter of preference. Although I prefer the visuals of different elements in each game, I feel confident that my final overall decision goes to Rising Sun.
When choosing between game boards, Blood Rage snatches my vote. Just look at its beauty and simplicity.
The colour scheme may seem like a bizarre reason to hold a preference over one board to the other, but I am afraid that it’s the small details that make up the bigger elements. I do think that the colour scheme chosen for Rising Sun, suits the dynasty genre very well indeed, however I still love the realistic colouring and use of rich and deep colours on the Blood Rage game board. From a more rational point of view, I greatly prefer the simplicity of the Blood rage game board; it is significantly smaller as it does not need lots of additional components placed on it (excluding figures as you play). Also, it is crystal clear which provinces are connected where as the Rising Sun board adds some ambiguity to this by having a series of ship route. I understand that some people may love this element of the game, but I feel that coupling it with the flags, political mandates, temples, figures and war tokens, the board soon gets messy and overwhelming.
Now when it comes to the box art and artwork in the rulebook (excluding the artwork book available in the Kickstarter), my preference shifts. I’m sorry, but how can you think that the artwork dotted around most components of Rising Sun is not just stunning?
Adrian Smith has just covered every basis here, from the masterful detailing of the monster images themselves, to the backdrops and even the choice of font (making it look and feel very Asian). This does not mean that the artwork on the Blood Rage components is not fantastic, as it is.
I feel that the art scattered around Blood Rage is also amazing. The images are detailed depictions of the entities they represent and create the right vibe for a Viking based game and are gorgeous in their own right. However, I just can’t help to feel that Adrian Smith just brought it to a whole new level in Rising Sun.
Finally, if you were lucky enough to have the funds to get the upgraded Kickstarter version of the game (with plastic flags and mandates), I am sure that you would agree that the Mahjong tile styled Political mandates are just phenomenal. It is easy to create things in plastic rather than card. Any company can do this and with enough backers and orders it’s probably more cost effective. However, again it is the little touch; in this case the Mahjong style of the plastic mandates give them a real Asian feel once again. They even make a similar noise to real Mahjong tiles when you bang them together.
Are the fractions diverse and balanced?
Yes, and yes in both games. Both games have done a fantastic job of achieving balance, but still enabling differences between the playable fractions. They have however, gone about it in very different ways. Rising Sun clans come straight out of box and are different from one another.
Each clan has their own talent (seen in middle of clan card), a different seasonal income, home province and starting honour rank. Of course, like every other game, you will always get some cry babies claiming that one clan or talent is broken and over powered. I disagree in this case as I strongly believe they are well balanced and each talent is situational at best. For instance, the Bonzai Clan talent means they only pay a maximum of 1 for and purchase but start with a much worse honour rank and less seasonal income. As such in Rising Sun your clan choice is an important one; choose the clan that suits the style of play you want to adopt.
On the other hand, Blood Rage clans start identical from each other but then are customised as the game progresses.
After selecting your clan, clan cards are then death to each player, the player takes 1 and passes the other 6 to their left, take another from the deck they are given by the player to their right and pass the remaining 5 to the left again. This carries on until each player has the right number of cards (sorry I forgot exact numbers). These clan cards contain upgrades, quests, monsters and combat cards that enable a player to fully customise their clan and play style.
Because all players have access to the same cards but must take one and pass them around it becomes evident what has been taken and remains, thus allows players to not only devise their strategy, but also consider how the other players may be shaping their clan. On the flip side, I can see how this can get frustrating if no cards that suit the way you want to play are drawn or are taken by the other players before the deck containing them reaches you. Especially bearing in mind that this card drawing phase happens every age (3 times) in the game. So, for instance, let’s say you have chosen to play a Loki game (in which you die for honour) in the first and second age, but in the 3rd age when the stronger cards are dealt you get nothing that fits your tactic it can quickly spoil your fun. With that being said, it also promotes flexibility of tactics.
I personally prefer the customisation of Blood Rage to Rising Sun. Part of what I miss from my days of playing Warhammer 40K was the army building and points systems. I know it takes time, but I feel it allows you to add your own personal touch to your army, or in this case to your box standard clan. I feel that the time is worth it. After all, a personal touch is what makes things more unique and diverse adding huge amounts of replay value to the game.
Equally, this method of making the clans different, but effectively balanced by enabling players to make choices (with some luck if you get the card you want in the first deck before anyone else can see or choose it) means that clans differ in many ways and not just the 1 or 2 different ways they do in Rising Sun.
Am I free to make many different tactical decisions?
In Blood rage pretty much yes, but in Rising Sun you are more restricted.
The beauty of blood rage is that it uses a resource spending system, meaning that you are given a resource (in this case) rage, which you can spend as you like to perform whatever one of the available options you want on your turn and turns keep on cycling until all players have spent their rage or all provinces have been pillaged. Actions include, playing a card (upgrade, monster or quest), invading a province, pillaging a province, moving units from one province to another. This enables players to choose how they wish to spend their rage in line with the cards they chose and the playstyle they are aiming for.
This is very different to Rising Sun in which players take turns to draw 4 political mandates and select 1 to play, returning the other 3 to the deck. When a player plays a political mandate, that s what every player must do. If a player does not want to perform that mandate they can opt out but cannot do anything else.
Players take it in turns drawing and playing mandates until they cycle through the mandate slots and end the season with a war which resets the resources and some unit placement ready for the next season that continues the same. While this may sound like you don’t get to make any decisions, that is not true but in this game you are not making only choices for yourself, instead you are choosing for all players and even within a mandate you do get choices of your own, such as which temple you wish to send your Shinto (worshiper) to or where you will move during a marshal call or what you will buy during a train mandate.
However, now I come to element of Rising Sun that I feel is crippling it; it’s movement mechanic. I feel that this has a catastrophic impact on the fluidity of the game. In Blood Rage on your turn if you have rage left you can move any number of units from 1 province to any other (even if they are not next to each other) on your turn. Whereas in Rising Sun only when a Marshal mandate is played or if you have a control of a particular temple during what they call a kami turn. Even then, a marshal mandate only allows you to move to adjacent provinces (or ones connected via ship routes) and the Shinto temple enables moving 1 unit 2 provinces or 2 units one. Bearing in mind that the Kami phase only happened after 3, 5 and 7 mandates its not every turn, thus movement is slow. Equally some provinces are not interconnected so going from one side of the map to the other would take 2 of the same mandates and 1 Kami phase, which is just too slow for me. A simple correction may be to make marshal enable movement to any other province for 1 unit.
Another frustration for me with Rising Sun strategic decisions is the ability to change the outcome of war (which happens at the end of every season). In the war phase, you are called to allocate your coins to each action you wish to perform, and if you have spent more coins on that ability than your opponent you can perform that action.
Unlike Blood rage, Rising Sun is not combat dominated, but still it would be nice to not already with complete certainty know the outcome before resolution. More specifically, during mandates, coins, Ronin and hired monsters are kept visible to all players meaning that they know how much everything you have. When the war phase comes you hide your war advantage card behind your clan sheet and secretly allocate coins to your available options. However, the options available are not very effective (with the exception of Ronin) in modifying the outcome of the battle. Taking a hostage only modifies the enemy total by 1 as you can not take monsters or leaders as hostages and any player that is even half aware would know how many coins and Ronin counters you have. I love that war is not everything in this game, but when 1 force has a total of 10 and another is 5, a single glance at coin and Ronin counter totals tells us all who is victorious with almost complete certainty. This disappoints me as there is no surprise outcomes in this element of the game.
It may sound like I am trashing Rising Sun hard for its limitations in free choice, but Blood Rage also has some frustrating restrictions. The purpose of war in Rising Sun is to dominate other provinces and collect war tokens from that province (with duplicates not counting for anything). Consequently, there is no value in just staying in your home province, which encourages movement (be it very slow) around the board through out the game. Conversely, Blood Rage does allow duplication of rewards and as such promotes camping and a lack of engagement with Viking ideals. Sadly, 2 rules in Blood Rage not only encourage camping, they actively facilitate it. The first of which is that the player is given a choice if they want to engage in the battle that occurs as a result of another player pillaging an adjacent province. Could you imagine a Viking saying, “oh no thank you, I don’t want to get hurt in a battle I might not win, instead I think ill stay safe and just stand around in this province, but thanks for asking…”? I feel that if a potential chance for a glorious death presents itself a Viking would not turn this down and as such, a rule modification that forces combat by all participants that ‘can’ participate would only enhance the Viking feel and add more tactical choices to the game.
The second rule, which is something Rising Sun doesn’t suffer from, is a limited number of units (5 in the example) in all provinces (with the exception or Yggorasil). This means that players can fill all slots in a province so that no other player can oppose them or amount a force large enough to defeat them when they choose to pillage in complete safety. A viable tactic? Yes…. Viking like? Absolutely not! Enjoyable for other players? Again, absolutely not!
How do other players influence my game?
Well the camping I just discussed in Blood Rage means that a player can play an entirely isolated game and have minimal interaction with the other players. There is no way to entirely stop the influence of other players (e.g., they may choose the cards you want or kill some of your units) which is a wonderful thing. Who would want to play a multiplayer board game in which the people you are playing with add nothing to the gaming experience? And if you do…. Why the hell did you come out of your cave? I have had many enjoyable games of Blood Rage full of surprises and an abundance of forced and unexpected tactical choice by myself and my opponents. So, if you don’t play with a bunch of lame and over competitive campers Blood Rage’s player interaction can be a lot of fun.
Now, Rising Sun has tried something rather dangerous and has, in my opinion pulled it off. Rising Sun has strongly integrated player alliances. In terms of game play, this means that when your ally plays a mandate you gain additional benefits and that when shaping alliances during the tea ceremony of each season, players can negotiate with each other and rivalries can emerge between pairs of allies. It is not uncommon for allies to not really help each other but utilise the loyalty and trust of their ‘ally’ to get what they want. The inclusion of betrayal mandates can make this surprisingly funny and unpredictable, making up for the piss poor movement and combat mechanics. Because of this component of the game, it is a game that requires a certain kind of player to be enjoyable. For example, if you were to play with players who took offense to any betrayal it could quickly turn sour.
So, which one do I choose?
Most of the time I would choose Blood Rage, but if you want a game that is more than just combat and forces more player interactions I would say that Rising Sun would likely be your preference. They are both amazing games and it is their differences from each other that gives us gamers such a fantastic choice. I am not sure if the other members of the Battlehammer share all of my views on these 2 games, but I do know, just like me they love both of them and appreciate their differences.
Hope you enjoyed this post, hopefully my flare will be seen by other Batlehamsters.
Disclaimer: Copyright of most images used in this blog remains with the game designers, manufacturers and distributors. Images were only used in a fan -based manner as illustrations within the review.