Game Buzz: Cool Mini…or Not?

Cool Mini or Not is not really a new company.  They’ve been in business as a miniatures manufacturer since 2001.  However, they are relatively new to the board game market, having made a big splash in 2012 with Zombicide.  They now own Kickstarter, with their games regularly making over $100,000, and often over $1 million.  Zombicide: Black Plague is the highest earning tabletop games project on Kickstarter, having made over $4 million (to be fair, Exploding Kittens made twice that, but it’s listed in the Playing Cards category).  So it’s worthwhile to take a look at their games.

This year at GenCon, CMON had two games that are getting a decent amount of buzz, and I wanted to take a look at them today.  One has cool minis, and the other does not.  Let’s start with the cool minis of

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Blood Rage is a game from designer Eric Lang that is for 2-4 players and plays in about an hour to 90 minutes.  The game is about Ragnarök, the end of the world, and Viking warriors trying to go out in a blaze of glory to secure their spot in Valhalla.  The game funded on Kickstarter back in March, making $905,682.

Blood Rage comes with a board, 99 cards, an age track sheet, a Valhalla sheet, four clan sheets, various tokens and markers, and 46 highly detailed miniatures with plastic bases to mark your color.  Take a look at a few of them:

image by BGG user Mad Scientist
image by BGG user Mad Scientist

They aren’t called Cool Mini or Not for nothing.  Each player takes one clan, which consists of eight warriors, a leader, and a boat.  Each player also begins with stats of 0 Glory, 6 Rage, 3 Axes, and 4 Horns.  Eight Pillage tokens are placed on the board in the provinces surrounding Yggdrasil, and three Ragnarök tokens are placed on the corresponding spots of the Age Track.

The game is played over the course of three rounds, and each round follows the same sequence: Gods’ Gifts, Action, Discard, Quest, Ragnarök, and Release Valhalla.

GODS’ GIFTS: Players draft a card from a hand of eight, then pass the rest to the right.  Once you have kept six cards, you discard the rest.

ACTION: Here, you will take turns taking one action, paying the appropriate amount of Rage.  If you have no rage left, you must pass.  There are six action options:

  • Invade.  Place a figure from your reserve into an empty village.
  • March.  Move any number of your figures from a single province to any other province.
  • Upgrade.  Play a card to upgrade your Warriors, Leader, Ship, Monsters, or Clan.
  • Quest.  Play a Quest card from your hand, committing to fulfill it.  There is no penalty for failing to complete a Quest.
  • Pillage.  Attack a village, playing cards to increase your strength.  Other players can move into adjacent provinces and play cards to try to stop you.
  • Pass.  This costs all of your remaining Rage, and you can take no further actions this round.

DISCARD: Once all players have gotten down to zero Rage, or when all provinces have been successfully pillaged, the Action phase ends and the Discard phase begins.  You must discard all cards you did not play, but may save one for the next round.  In the third round, discard all cards.

QUEST: Reveal any Quests you played and gain the reward if you have fulfilled the condition.  All quests are then discarded, whether completed or not.

RAGNARÖK: Take the Ragnarök token for the current round, and place it in the corresponding province.  This province is now destroyed and out of the game forever.  All figures that are there go to Valhalla, earning Glory for their owners.

RELEASE VALHALLA: All figures in Valhalla go back to their owners.

The game ends after Valhalla is released a third time.  The player whose clan has collected the most Glory is the winner.

I like the Viking theme in general, though I don’t know that I’ve really heard of a true Viking game that has been that interesting to me.  Vikings is one of my all-time favorite games, but I think of that more as a pasted-on theme than a true Viking game.  However, this one does seem good.  I see shades of Cosmic Encounter in the battle mechanism.  I like the thematic touch that it’s the end of the world, so everyone is going all out.  I like that there’s drafting, and I like that it’s a point-based game.  It’s not a “kill ’em all and let Odin sort ’em out” type of game, but rather a “let’s get into position to try to die in order to gain more Glory.”  I’ve heard lots of good comments about this game (mostly from Tom Vasel), and I think it’s one I’d like to try out sometime.

Grizz

The Grizzled (originally released in French as Les Poilus) is a cooperative card game set in World War I.  It was designed by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, with art by Tignous (more on that later).  Unlike many CMON games, this is all cards and tokens, putting it solidly into the “OR NOT” category.  There are 6 Grizzled cards, 59 Trial cards, 16 Support tiles, 5 Speech tokens, a Mission Leader token, a Peace card, a Monument card, and a game aid.  Each player gets three support tiles.  25 cards are placed on top of the Peace card as the Trials, and the other 34 are on top of the Monument as a Reserve of Morale.  The Mission Leader token goes to the hairiest player (Les Poilus literally translated means the hairy ones).

During each mission, the Mission Leader first determines the intensity of the mission (a minimum of 3 on the first turn).  The intensity determines how many cards will be dealt out, beginning with the Mission Leader.  You will then try to get rid of the Trial cards in your hand.  Each player will take turns taking one action:

  • Play a Trials card.  Threats are played to the middle of the table (No Man’s Land).  Hard Knocks are assigned to the player and immediately happen.
  • Use a Good Luck Charm.  Each character has a Good Luck Charm that is associated with a Threat.  To use, discard the Threat and flip your Good Luck Charm.
  • Make a Speech.  If you have a Speech token, you can make a Speech to cause everyone to discard a specified Threat from their hand.
  • Withdraw.  To do this, you will give a secret Support tile to any player.  You can no longer take actions in this mission.

If all players withdraw, the mission is successful, and the cards in No Man’s Land are discarded.  If there are three identical Threats in No Man’s Land, the mission fails and the Trials cards are shuffled back into the deck.  Once the mission is over, Support tiles are revealed and could allow you to get rid of two Hard Knocks or recover your Good Luck charm.  The round ends with the Morale dropping.  Count the number of cards in player hands, then move that many cards from the Morale Reserve to the Trials pile.  The Mission Leader passes to the left, and the former Leader gets a Speech token, if any remain.

Players win if no one has cards in hand and the Peace card is revealed because the Trials pile is exhausted.  Players lose if Morale drops so low that the Monument is revealed, or if a player ever has 4 or more Hard Knocks after the resolution of Support tiles.

World War I is an odd beast that doesn’t draw nearly the attention in gaming that World War II does.  Here, there’s a good little story about a group of lifelong friends who are just trying to all survive long enough to make it home again.  The game really looks like it emphasizes that War Is Hell attitude, and sounds like it will be pretty challenging, especially for what is a pretty compact game.  For $20, this is definitely very different than just about anything else in CMON’s catalog, and I’m glad to see them branching out.  I think bringing in other games like this is what will broaden their appeal so that they’ll eventually overtake Fantasy Flight in the American market.

The real reason I wanted to look at this game, beyond the good buzz, is the art.  It’s cartoony, not in a silly way, but in the stylized political way.  A lot of the pictures are fairly poignant – for example, there’s a picture of the six friends on the back cover that looks like a photo before the war, and can be compared to the front cover mid-war photo.  But the real reason I’m even looking at it is that is was drawn by Bernard Verlhac, aka Tignous, one of the 11 people killed in the Charlie Hebdo shooting on January 7, 2015.  I’m glad to hear that the game is mostly being discussed on its own merits as a work of art, but I’m also glad Tignous’ art is getting a new chance to reach people.

I’ll close out with a couple of quotations.  From Bruno Faidutti:

I’m a bit bored with cooperative games, but I’ll buy this one, because its setting sounds new and provocative, and as an honour to Tignous killed by guns when he only had pens to attack.

And from the last page of the rules:

It’s hard to imagine a game on friendship and brotherhood other than with a real friend.  Your joy and enthusiasm, Bernard, were as needed as your talent.  Hasta Siempre Tignous.

Thanks for reading!

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