“I was so very, very disappointed…”
“Doesn’t work. Broken. Will it be fixed? I can’t say.”
“Don’t buy this. The real-world boardgame is my favorite boardgame but this software is a steaming pile of !@#$%.”
And that’s just a sample of the 81% of the negative Steam reviews for Asmodee Digital’s Blood Rage: Digital Edition. It was developed by Exozet GmbH, whose only other Tabletop project has been Catan. But obviously, I wouldn’t just leave off there because you can go check Steam reviews for yourself. You’re here because you’re hoping for a more nuanced look that will help you decide whether you should spend $25.99 for this game.
The TL;DR answer is: not yet. With a few patches, BR:DE could be a great digital port of a great tabletop game. Of course, the same was true for the Terraforming Mars app that dropped a year and a half ago and they still haven’t ironed out all the bugs.
BR:DE is definitely not broken or unplayable–in singleplayer mode, anyway. As far as I can see the game implements all the rules correctly, and I thought the tutorial was quite good, actually–until it left me hanging with no prompt and I had to quit out of the game and restart (this has been patched already, along with some of the other launch-day bugs). Bot play is challenging enough. And the visuals and sound design are excellent–although I will say as far as the admittedly dramatic music is concerned it is much more Far Eastern than Norse, which thematically is just weird to me.
I do like how some of the GUI was designed: hovering over a player’s icon shows their position on their stat tracks, and hovering over a province shows you each player’s strength there. This keeps the screen less cluttered and gives you info on a “need to know” basis.
Still there are a few choices here which I think were mistaken. In the drafting phase when you want to see the map your view is needlessly obscured by the “return to hand” splash and you need to scroll it out of the way. There is no undo–misclick on a card and you are done for. Your player name and avatar (in singleplayer) are generic and don’t sync up to your online persona. There’s no play log, so if you get up from your chair and miss someone’s turn you can’t see what they did. And the default combat resolution speed is set painfully slow–a setting you can change, but I think the default should be faster.
These are all easy to patch and I suspect they will be–perhaps even by the time this review goes live. The bigger issues–and the reason for most of the rage out there–is in the multiplayer.
There are some basic expectations people now have for multiplayer. You should be able to invite friends directly. You should be able to play asynchronously (even if that experience is suboptimal). Play should not hang if a player fails to act. Currently, BR:DE fails to meet any of these expectations. Plus, in my opinion, you should be able to set a game length of more than one hour(!).
The first impression I get is that of a game rushed out before it is ready, with assets, rules implementation, and singleplayer basically in place but with multiplayer unfinished. The Kickstarter for this project was running half a year late and backers were getting cranky, so it’s very possible CMON and Asmodee Digital did a cost/benefit analysis and decided to launch it as is. That’s all too common a situation in games–both Tabletop and Video.
Look, I’ve never coded a video game before–but I have designed Tabletop games, so I know how hard a process it is. And while both types of game design share certain fundamentals, in terms of the creative process, there are aspects of each that are unique. The skill-sets are overlapping but not the same. I have to think that the best digital ports out there (Through the Ages; Patchwork; Ticket to Ride; Ganz Schön Clever) aren’t accidents: they arise from close collaboration between the original designer and the programming team.
In the case of Blood Rage: Digital Edition, I suspect that collaboration was absent, and the result is an imperfect product. And, as with video games, as long as there are enough fans out there willing to buy an imperfect product, publishers will continue to assume they can get away with releasing it.
A digital copy of Blood Rage: Digital Edition was provided by Asmodee Digital for this review.