After a couple of actual reviews, it’s speculation time again. This time, I’ll be talking about Trollhalla, the new troll-themed game from designer Alf Seegert. I was never all that interested in Seegert’s first offering, Bridge Troll, partly because auction games in general don’t really appeal to me. Trollhalla, on the other hand, has some worker placement elements, and I’m more attracted to those. The game is coming out from Z-Man (another plus), features art by Ryan Laukat, is for 2-4 players aged 8 and up, and takes around 60 minutes to play. The basic premise is that you and your troll cronies are sick of guarding bridges, so you switch careers and become Vikings. You’ll be trying to gain the most plunder while watching out for the dreaded Billy Goats, the troll’s natural enemy.
Each player will be controlling a group of trolls – 16 tokens in one color. Each player also gets a private boat board to hold their plunder. There are 16 chief troll tokens that are not controlled by any player. There are three cardboard ships that will get placed around the outer islands of the board so that none are on adjacent islands and none are on the center island. All ships must be facing west (indicated by the compass rose on the board). Plunder tiles are thrown in a bag (two of each type are removed in a two-player game). Tiles are then drawn to fill the empty spaces on islands that do not have ships, filling them from west to east. Some other board features to mention – on the west side is the Chief Troll’s ship, with five smaller ships beneath. The bottom two ships will be covered with Chief Troll tokens at the start of a two-player game, and the bottom single ship will be covered at the start of a three-player game. In the northeast corner, there’s a +10 and +5 bonus space. The +5 is covered in the two-player game. Also around the board is a score track. You will not be using this until the end of the game.
To begin, you apparently need to hold a grunting contest to determine who can grunt most like a grog-addled sea troll. I don’t know exactly how that can be determined, having never heard a grog-addled sea troll myself, but hey – kudos for coming up with a thematic start player mechanic.
A game turn works like this: place two trolls (mandatory), play two matching weather cards (optional), and roll the die to activate a ship (mandatory). You must place two trolls during each turn. If you ever run out of trolls, you’ll need to take one from somewhere else on the board. Trolls can either sit in a ship, or scout the sea. To sit in a ship, place your troll in the first seat available that is closest to the front of the ship. You may not place two trolls of the same color right next to each other on a ship, but there can be a different colored troll between. If the ship is full, you can’t place there.
To scout the sea, place your troll on any sea space (marked with a sun, wind, or a storm cloud). The troll tokens are double-sided, and you’ll place your troll token spyglass side up. If a troll token is already on the space, you can still place there – put your troll on top, though slightly skewed so you can still see the colors underneath. Again, you can’t place a troll on top of another of troll of the same color, but there can be a different colored troll between. Immediately after placing, all trolls on the space collect one card that matches the symbol.
Cards can be played at any time before you roll the die, even during the troll-placing step. Discard two wind cards to turn a ship around so it is facing the opposite direction. Discard two storm cards to remove all trolls from any one sea space (they go back to their owners). Discard two sun cards to place one extra troll during this turn. You can play more than one set of cards per turn, but you can only play each type of card once during a turn.
Once you’re done placing and playing cards, you roll the die which will show a color of one of the three ships. This is the ship that will be activated. If it isn’t full, place a Chief Troll in the first available space and end the turn. Chief Trolls can be next to other Chief Trolls.
If the ship is full, you sail. Each island has several sea lanes (dotted lines) leading to other islands. To determine which one to use, first look to see if there’s a ship already on the island you want to head to. You can’t use that one. Next, count the trolls in the open sea lanes and use the one with the most trolls. If there’s a tie, the ship won’t move, but you get to place a Chief Troll token on top of one of the tied spaces, effectively breaking the tie.
If the ship moves, you’ll clear the sea lane, removing all trolls and placing them (bottom to top) on the track beneath the Chief Troll’s ship. If there are more trolls than empty spaces, the remainders all get placed on the top space, maintaining their order. Chief Troll tokens are not placed on this track, but are returned to the supply.
When the ship gets to the new island, it’s plunderin’ time! Based on the orientation of the ship, each troll will take the plunder tiles from the matching space (the westernmost troll takes the westernmost tile). Any Chief Troll plunder goes to the Chief Troll boat. Some trolls will actually get two tiles, so ship orientation is important. You’ll take back your troll (meaning the ship will now be empty), and the plunder will go into your private boat. Plunder tiles will generally score 2-6 points at the end of the game. Grog & Gold is a wild tile that can be placed in any space. Billy Goats go crazy and kick one tile out of your largest set – that tile goes back to the bag.
After taking your plunder, check for bonuses. If you are the first to collect a full set of one type of tile (3 in a four-player game, 4 in a 2-3 player game), you can use a troll tile to mark the bonus. Bonuses are claimed as you disembark from the boat (stating at the front in case there’s a tie). If a Billy Goat causes you to lose a bonus, you’ll remove your troll marker, which could allow someone else to claim it. You can also claim a previously claimed bonus if you exceed the other player’s current number. If you are the first to claim one of each type of tile, you can claim the +10 bonus. The second can claim the +5 (not in a two-player game). These bonuses cannot be lost.
If all the ships below the Chief Troll ship are full of trolls, the Chief Troll shares his plunder. The player with the most trolls can choose first (ties are broken by the one closest to the top). You get ONE tile. After taking it, remove all of your trolls and take them back to your supply. If there are still some remaining after everyone has taken one, return them to the bag.
The island landed on is now occupied by the ship, and the newly vacant island it just left gets refilled from the bag. It’s now time for the next player’s turn.
If there are not enough tiles left in the bag to refill an island, the game is over. If there are any trolls under the Chief Troll’s ship, score it one final time. Add up your scores from your bonuses and plunder, marking your score on the score track. Subtract one point for each card you have left in your hand. The highest score wins.
So what am I thinking? Well, it seems like a pretty light experience. You’ve got worker placement, but really you just need to decide between two options – ship or sea. There are choices within those choices – which ship, which sea space – but it’s not the avalanche of choices you get in some of the bigger worker placement games. These choices are tied in to your strategy – do you want to be in a position to take those two tiles on the center island? Then make sure you’re in the right spot, and that the ship is facing the correct way, and that there are enough trolls between islands that this is the choice should the die determine it’s a particular ship’s turn to move. And that’s the thing – it doesn’t matter how well you strategize, the die is all-powerful and could dash all of your plans in an instant. But I think Seegert made an effort to balance that by allowing you to collect stuff even when it’s not your turn. So, even if it’s not ideal, you’ll still get something if you’re on the ship. And if you’re in the sea lane, you’re in a position to collect more stuff when a ship moves.
The theme of this game seems pretty silly. Not that this is a bad thing (I happen to like humor in games), but the rules definitely go out of their way to make sure you’re getting into the theme. Not only do you have to have a grunting contest to determine the start player, but you’re also encouraged to grunt your choice during the die roll, and you’re supposed to grunt with glee if you win. It’s corny, and probably unnecessary…I feel weird when rules tell me how to get into the theme of a game. It usually means that the theme really doesn’t matter, and I think that’s the case here. You could have had real Vikings, or even pigs (this video was cited by Seegert as an inspiration for the game).
I think this is going to turn out to be a pretty good family game. There seems to be a good amount of strategy, even though that one bit of luck could ruin everything. But that’s kind of like life, isn’t it? There’s tons of stuff you can’t control, and this game might help to teach that lesson, especially with kids. Unlike Oh Gnome You Don’t!, I think this game nailed the age range.
So I’m looking forward to playing. I think it will be fun, and I think there’s a good enough mix of strategy and luck to appeal to more casual game players. Thanks for reading!