Designer: Kalle Krenzer
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games (2013)
If you went up to a member of my gaming group and asked them what they thought about Blood Bound they would look at you with an exaggerated expression of pure confusion. If, however, you ask their opinion on “Stabby-Stab” AKA “Crazy Clown Vampire Game” their eyes would widen and they would give you a “Sweet Jesus!” While boasting the most horrific art since original Glory to Rome, this game manages to stick its head above the ever burgeoning wave of Social Deduction games and stand out as a unique and clever design that is absolutely worth your time and money.
I have to get the huge ugly elephant in the room out of the way first: the components for this game are phenomenal from a quality perspective (it is FFG after all), but the artwork is unbelievably horrific. I dug up this ad Christian T. Peterson posted on Craig’s List to recruit “actors” for the artwork:
Disturbing Vampire Clowns aside, this game seriously delivers. It’s a hidden role/social deduction game the likes of The Resistance, Werewolf, and Mascarade but it offers a unique take with some solid new ideas.
At the beginning of the game each player is dealt a card which has several pieces of information on it:
- It has your team (Red or Blue) in the top left of the card
- It tells you your role (numbered 1 through 9)
- It has a team symbol on the bottom right which usually, but not always, corresponds to your actual team color
One of the “better” card images. I would show you the Blue scribe but it might scar you permanently.
Before the game begins you show the bottom right symbol on your card to the player on your left. Then, a random player is chosen to start and receives the stellar cardboard knife piece. On your turn, you either pass the knife to another player, or you stab a player. Distance and seating do not matter for these actions, you can stab someone on the other side of the table or the person whose team you viewed. When a player is stabbed he takes a wound token from the middle of the table. Wound tokens show either your team color, a question mark, or a number. While every player may take the number wound token corresponding to their role, different roles allow you to take different combinations of question marks and team tokens (i.e. the Scribe may only take his team’s color token and no question mark tokens).
When you take your number token, your role’s special ability occurs which is typically pretty powerful and alters the game state significantly. The Assassin may cause two wounds to anyone they want, the Guard may give out a Shield card to any player which means they are protected, the Berserker may cause a wound to the player that attacked him, etc. There are 9 roles available for each team, and the powers vary wildly. What is absolutely crazy, is that each team is made up randomly of the 9 available roles and no one knows which ones are in the game. So the Red team may have the Assassin but the Blue team may not – no one really knows for sure until more information is revealed. This adds a tremendous amount of depth and asymmetry to the game while shrouding the table in mystery. This is maybe my favorite element of Blood Bound and it is worth emphasizing just how unique and interesting this is.
Great component quality and quantity for a cheap price.
After you are stabbed or the Knife is passed your way, you then choose to stab someone or pass the blade. The game continues this way until a player receives his fourth and final wound. The player is then “captured” and everyone at the table reveals their role card. If the captured player is the lowest number on his team he is the Leader and the team that captured him wins. If he is not the lowest number, then the capturing team loses. Think about this for a moment – since the roles included on each team are random, the Leader is not known. You do not even know if you are your team’s Leader unless you have the Scribe (#1) card. This is a mind-blowing mechanic that completely shifts your goals from all out offense on the enemy to prodding other players at the table and trying to ascertain their allegiance as well as their number. You have to play hunches early in the game until people start to reveal their team or role numbers via taking wounds – and then you pounce.
There is one more important mechanic that forms a central part of the strategy – when a player is attacked he may ask the table if anyone would like to Intervene. If a player offers to Intervene, the targeted player may accept the Intervention or decline it. If you Intervene for another player you take the wound instead of the original target, and the wound token you take must be your number token which allows you to immediately perform your role’s special ability. This is doubly important because if you are wounded via another role’s special ability (as opposed to a direct attack with the Knife) and you take your Number Token (typically because it’s your third wound) you do not get to perform your special power. Also, if you have already taken your number wound token then you may no longer intervene for anyone which has a large impact on your team’s flexibility in diverting attacks on your leader.
This is a relatively simple game and is easy for a newcomer to pick up. At the same time, the depth is astounding and repeated plays are a must. Blood Bound only takes 20-30 minutes to complete, so you will find yourself sitting down for a couple games and all of the sudden a couple hours will have passed as everyone will be clamoring for more. When people first get dealt the Harlequin (#3), which shows the opposite team’s color on the bottom right, they will light up and energetically engage the bluffing aspect present. Other times players will announce what team they are right from the start, or announce the creepy Clown’s allegiance to their right. Are they telling the truth? What if they’re playing you?
What works exceptionally well is the fact that the game is not merely playing off emotions and reading your opponents. Information is leaked out in manageable doses as players take wounds, intervene, and perform attacks – all three of which offer plenty of information. Logic is your most vital weapon when playing, not instinct as is often the case in The Resistance. What this means is that sitting down to play Blood Bound will appeal to fans of the genre, but will also feel fresh and different.
This is an innovative game that absolutely has my group enamored currently. The only drawback here is that the game requires 6 and plays best with 8-12. If that is not a problem for your group and you are a fan of this genre of game (which you damn well should be), then run to your local store and pick this up. Even if you end up hating the game, you will walk away with 20 large cards featuring disturbing Vampire Clowns and a sick cardboard knife; you just can’t say no.