27th Sep2019

‘Clash of Rage’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

clash-rage-box

When it comes to big, flashy area control games that follow a huge Kickstarter, CMON are without doubt the most prolific publisher. Keen to follow on from the success of games like Blood Rage and Rising Sun, with perhaps more than a dash of Gamelyn Games’ Heroes of Land, Air and Sea, is Clash of Rage from french publisher Laboite De Jeu. This gorgeous game comes in a massive box that is bursting with miniatures, but is it all style over substance, or is there a proper game here? Let me tell you all about it.

Like so many other games of its kind, Clash of Rage does sell, to some extent, on the weight of its excellent miniatures and huge presence. The box may be massive, but it’s justifiable when you see the contents. Four highly individual clans feature, each of them with a host of small, medium and large sized miniatures. There are three each of the largest, about five of the medium sized creatures and then up to about ten of the smaller ones. I use approximate terms because each clan is asymmetric in many ways, including the number of units at their disposal.

One set of creatures that feature prominently in the game but do not feature miniatures are the elves, who are seen as a common enemy in every game. These elves are drawn randomly from a bag at the beginning of the game in token form and then placed onto specific forge and city locations on the board. The board itself is made up of large hexagonal tiles that each feature a fixed number of spaces. The board will be setup to feature one of these large tiles per player, joined up like honeycombs in more or less any configuration you like.

The objective in Clash of Rage is to be the first clan to achieve four victory points (or five in the long game.) There is a solo mode when playing with the basic rules, as well as a two to four player campaign that has a surprisingly large number of individual missions that come with their own components and completion requirements. The campaign mode in Clash of Rage is surprisingly well featured and whilst it’s not necessarily how I would choose to play the game long term, I could imagine my teenage equivalent relishing the chance to carry skills and experience from one campaign to the next alongside the same group of friends.

I didn’t test the single player mode, but having read the rules for it, the instructions for setup are relatively minimal and the actual automated play seems relatively straightforward. I have to admit that I’d have preferred the campaign as a solo option personally, but where I feel Clash of Rage loses points there for me personally, I think a multiplayer campaign might actually appeal to a broader audience. Most commonly, of course, you’ll likely want to experience the standard game in its multiplayer format, which supports two to four players nicely.

The first thing you’ll do is choose your clan, and there are essentially dwarves, humans, undead and what I think are basically greenskins and wargs. The first cool thing to note is that the clans are each fairly hard to classify because they are very unique. Not only does each one look different, but the combat, health and movement attributes, as well as any symbols associated with them (which I’ll explain later) make them very different to play with as well. Some tribes have lots of pieces that pack a punch and die easily, whilst others are more robust but fewer in number.

With a clan chosen, on the first turn of the game, each player will place their tribal bastion onto one side of the board. These bastions act as the initial spawn location for that player, as well as having some relevance to the campaign mode depending on the current scenario. All turn order and spawning is determined based on a unique set of cards that come with each clan. At the beginning of the round, the players will choose one card from a hand of three, then play it simultaneously.

The numbers on these card determine player order (lowest number first) and will also show which units that clan will spawn for the turn, as well as their income. All players take their income, then in turn order, they can spawn units and move them according to their movement allowance. Whenever units end up in the same space as either those of another player, or the elves, then a fight will take place – but only after all movement is complete. Once combat (which I’ll cover in a moment) is resolved, the player then has a chance to purchase equipment from a shared market.

Purchasing equipment comes in two forms, with both standard equipment (available for a cost in gold) and legendary equipment (available by paying crystals, earned by defeating elves and holding their cities or forges.) Standard equipment can be bought and then equipped to units of any of the three kinds, and each unit can take one piece of equipment into their hand and one on their body. A new weapon and a piece of armour might be a classic combination, for example. Legendary equipment works the same way once forged (which can only be done if the player holds a forge location) but also adds one victory point towards the required total.

The actual purpose of equipment, aside from adding combat strength and/or health, is those symbols I mentioned earlier. When equipped, some items bring symbols of their own, whilst others, when slotted into place on a given location, activate symbols already associated with the unit being equipped. These symbols offer both benefits and drawbacks, with some adding effects to the combat prowess of a specific unit such as rerolls, and others adding a slowness debuff that the equipped unit will likely act later in the battle.

Combat is somewhat simplified depending on which units are in the fight. In summary, whilst each side may have up to three different classes of unit in a battle, only the most powerful unit is used to calculate the base combat strength. Conversely, all units in the battle add the symbols they are associated with to the fight, so a mixed force including a very powerful unit and a less powerful unit that has a reroll symbol will use the more powerful units combat strength, but still retain the reroll that the less powerful unit brings. In this way, players can create a combined arms strategy that enables various different tactics, as required from one turn to the next.

The combat strength that I am referring to is actually just a number of dice to be rolled. From the dice rolled a number of hits will be calculated and then modified based on the shield icons shown on the defending players units. The remainder is then dealt as damage, and if it exceeds the hit points of a unit in the fight, that unit can be removed. Players trade blows in this way until either one force is annihilated or decides to retreat, at which point all remaining units will be returned to the bastion space.

When setup, the boards each have just enough space to allow the players to expand themselves far enough (over the first few turns) to establish a bit of a foothold, assuming that they chose a sensible starting point for their bastion. With this in mind, each game of Clash of Rage begins with the players focused somewhat on their own expansion. With perhaps one city and one forge under their control however, it quickly becomes obvious that four victory points is practically impossible to gain without tackling the holdings of a nearby rival.

This results in a very directly confrontational experience – perhaps more so than any other game of this kind that I’ve played. That said, nothing about Clash of Rage feels underhand or like a “take that” game, because the need for combat is advertised right from the outset – including in the name of the game. Players don’t disrupt each others plans out of turn or frustrate each other (often) but it is possible for one or more players to fall badly behind in terms of board presence, especially at the much maligned count of three players.

Clash of Rage does have some inbuilt measures that prevent this from becoming too much of a problem, such as the fact that reinforcements arrive every turn up to the number of units of each kind that there are models in the box. This means that a large army on the field will not be reinforced, whereas any player who is wiped out can quickly rebuild. Retreating also offers the chance for units to get back into the fight elsewhere with relatively few losses.

The real problem comes in uprooting the player (or players) who have established large, powerful forces in key locations. Defensive units have a slight initiative advantage in combat (where armies are tied for initiative) and therefore, attacking can be risky and often challenging if the forces are evenly matched. With that said, this is a combat focused game and so it’s natural that the ebb and flow of combat yields appropriate risk and reward, and the luck of the dice favours no one in particular and unpredictable outcomes can often break the deadlock.

When assessed against other, similar games, I think Clash of Rage holds its own in several surprising ways. Firstly, the quality and volume of the miniatures is second to none, and the supporting pieces including the boards, cards, manual and tokens are all excellent. This gives Clash of Rage a lot of table presence and more or less justifies what is, admittedly, a very high price tag.

The gameplay is straightforward and unashamedly combat focused, but the way units are built out and equipped makes for a lot of interesting and enjoyable possibilities, as does the asymmetry of the forces. It might surprise you to hear it, but Clash of Rage is up there with the best, and it’s well worth a look if area control and miniatures or dice based combat are your thing.

**** 4/5

Clash of Rage is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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