Overview: Who wants to sit under a damp bridge waiting for travelers to cross? Not these trolls! They’ve decided it’s a much better deal to sail away in search of plunder: livestock, yummy people, gold and grog. Those darn Billy Goats are still around so you’ll have to keep an eye out for them. Still, with all this loot, it’s like paradise — Trollhalla!
Players: 2 to 4
Ages: 8 and up
Playing Time: 45 to 75 minutes
Rating: It’s not quite paradise, but it’ll do. Complex strategies in a quick-playing game.
Who Will Like It? Trollhalla is a bit hard to categorize, but ultimately it’s about making the most of limited actions to get the most plunder. Despite sharing the same designer and artist as Bridge Troll, this is a complete new game with entirely different gameplay. That said, if you liked Bridge Troll, you should certainly check this one out because designer Alf Seegert has a pretty good brain between his ears.
The idea is that trolls either get into boats (in order to sail to various islands for plunder) or act as “spotters” to point out the direction a boat should sail. Collecting plunder gets you points, and having the most of any particular type of plunder gets you bonus points. You can also call upon the weather gods for various effects — extra trolls, spinning around boats or clearing away spotters.
While the boarding and plundering and spotting do make some thematic sense (as well as sharing in the Chief Troll’s plunder), some of the way the game works is a little more abstract and it can be hard to see the connection exactly: putting a spotter on this space gets me a Sun card, which I can use to call upon the Sun god to place an extra troll. Hmmmm. Nevertheless, the game is still fun to play and the collecting of plunder can be fun regardless of whether all the mechanics closely depict the actions they purportedly represent.
- 1 game board
- 36 weather cards
- 3 Troll ships
- 64 Troll tokens (16 each in four colors)
- 16 Chief Troll tokens
- 4 private boat boards
- 63 plunder tiles (7 different types, in differing amounts)
- 12 weather tiles (for use with variant rules)
- 1 drawstring bag for plunder tiles
- 1 six-sided die showing the three different-colored ships
All of the tokens mentioned above are cardboard punch-outs, pretty good quality with nice illustrations on them. Several of the Plunder tiles are people with shocked and startled faces (after all, they’re being captured by trolls). There are three ships but four colors for the players, which might be a bit confusing at first — it appears that the green player doesn’t get their own ship, but it turns out all three ships are used by all players. I might have recommended having the three ships be colors that were not the same as player colors, but once the game gets going it makes more sense and you won’t really get confused.
The cards are fine, if a little bit on the flimsy side. The die is a little disappointing: it’s a six-sided die with recessed circles on each face, and you have to stick the little colored boat stickers on the faces yourself. One thing I did appreciate is the tiny resealable bags included so that you can sort out the various types of tokens and bag them up. It’s a small thing, but a nice touch.
The game board itself is pretty large and so are the private boat boards, so expect a four-player game to take up a good bit of room. The artwork by Ryan Laukat is excellent, featuring the same ugly trolls as Bridge Troll, only now they’ve taken to the seas. Everything feels like it’s maybe a little large than it really needs to be, which might fit the theme but sometimes it’s a bit of a reach across the board.
One last quirk which I noticed as I was preparing the images for this review: for some reason the blue troll pictured on the box cover is yellowish colored (like the yellow troll) in the game. The pieces have blue borders but he’s clearly not a blue troll. Dunno why.
Mike Compton, a fellow member of the Board Game Designers Guild of Utah with Seegert, created this Trollhalla video tutorial for Z-Man Games which is quite thorough and explains the rules pretty well, though it is a 15-minute video so it will take some time to view. I’ll give a briefer account of the game below. Also, the full rules can be downloaded from Z-Man Games.
The ultimate goal of Trollhalla is to get the most points by collecting plunder. All the plunder tiles (except for the Billy Goats) are worth points, but you can also get bonuses for having the largest set of any given type or for being the first to collect at least one of each type. Individual tiles are worth between two and six points (as indicated by the shield icon below each tile on the private boat board), and the bonuses for collecting the largest sets are shown at the top of the game board. The game has slightly different rules depending on the number of players — I won’t get into all the details here, but there are minor adjustments made that affect the size of sets required, bonuses available and plunder tiles used.
The game is set up with the three boats placed on non-adjacent islands and the remaining islands filled with plunder tiles. Each player receives a private boat board and their stack of troll tokens.
On each turn, you do the following:
- You must place two of your trolls on the board, either in ships or on the sea spaces marked with weather symbols.
- You may play two matching cards to call on the Weather Gods before, during or after you place your two trolls.
- You must roll the die to activate one of the three ships.
Place your trolls: Ships must be filled from the dragon’s head to the back of the ship, and you may not place your trolls next to another of the same color. Sometimes the ships can be spun around to face in the other direction (and then they’re upside down) but you always start from the dragon head and move back. Each ship can only hold four trolls and once filled will not be emptied until after it sails and plunders an island.
You may also play trolls to scout at sea — basically a ship will sail along the path with the most scouts on it, so this helps to set the direction of the ships. You can stack multiple trolls on one space, but again you cannot place two of your color directly on top of each other. Also, every time you play a troll on a sea space you collect a card of that weather type, which can be played immediately.
Technically you use one side of the troll token in the ship and the other (showing the spyglass) as a spotter, but it doesn’t really affect gameplay at all, and the double-sided tokens are just an extra detail.
Play weather cards: You can call upon the Weather Gods for help by playing two matching cards. You can call on all three types of Weather God but you may only call each type once per turn. Wind cards can be used to either turn a ship around (thus changing the order of the trolls) or to flip over a stack of trolls on a sea space. Storm cards clear out a sea space — all the trolls on it are returned to their owners. Sun cards allow you to place an extra troll on your turn.
Activate a ship: At the end of your turn, you roll the die to see which of the three ships is activated. If the ship isn’t full, then you add a Chief Troll token to it and end your turn. (Chiefs can sit next to each other.) If the ship has four trolls in it, then it attempts to sail. Ignoring any paths that lead to islands already occupied by boats, you look for the path that has the most trolls on it and sail in that direction. If there is a tie, then the trolls get confused and just sit there. Instead, you place a Chief Troll token on one of those paths to break the tie and then end your turn.
If the ship is full and there’s a clear path to take, then the plundering begins! Any trolls which were in the sea space on the path taken get moved to the small boats below the Chief Troll’s boat, with the bottom-most troll placed on the bottom-most boat and then filling up from there. (Once the last boat is reached all remaining trolls are placed on the top-most boat in a stack in the same order they were in the sea space.) The ship moves to the appropriate island, and each troll disembarks (from head to tail) and collects the plunder on the corresponding space on the island. Players place their plunder on the appropriate space on their private boats, and any plunder taken by the Chief Troll goes into the Chief Troll’s boat which is on the left side of the board. Anyone who has collected appropriate sets marks their bonuses on the board with troll markers. The island the boat just left is replenished with plunder tiles.
Finally, if all the boats below the Chief Troll’s ship are filled, then the Chief shares his plunder — players who have trolls in the small boats will get to pick one tile each from the plunder in the big ship, and then all the trolls in the small boats are returned to the players and any remaining plunder tiles are returned to the bag.
The game ends when there are not enough tiles left in the bag to restock an island. At that point, the Chief Troll shares his plunder one more time, and players count up their scores (using the handy scoring track around the edge of the game board). You lose one point for each Weather card left in your hand. Highest score wins, and ties are broken by most bonus points scored. “If players still tie, they groan in frustration and grudgingly share their victory.”
The weather tiles can be placed on the board in place of the printed symbols to mix up the game a little bit. There’s also a Maelstrom Variant which lets you play one of each weather card to exchange two stacks of spotter trolls.
Trollhalla is one of those delightful surprises that feels really different. It’s hard to compare to other games because it just doesn’t easily fit into a category like “resource management” or “tile-laying.” It may be a little bit like Agricola in which you have to choose what role each of your trolls will take per turn and because it’s hard to directly attack any other player. Just reading the rules, you may not get a feel for how the strategy works and how fun it is to play. I tried this out with a couple of friends and after the first game they were ready to play it again. It will certainly take many more plays to build up a strategy, but even with just a few plays I’ve already discovered that there’s a wealth of choices to make on each turn, each with its own repercussions later.
The tailoring of rules for 2, 3 or 4 players helps to keep the game balanced, and the scoring on the plunder tiles is also well-done. For instance, the cows (which are rarest) are worth the most individually at 6 points each, but they also have the smallest bonus at 4 points. The Billy Goats are pretty interesting, too: each time you get a Billy Goat, he kicks out a tile from your largest set of tiles. And Billy Goats are not worth any points individually — but if you get the biggest set of Billy Goats you get a whopping 25 point bonus. You can also collect a 10-point bonus for being first to collect one of each type, so you’ll have to get a Billy Goat for that.
Although the gameplay starts to make sense once you get going, I found the rulebook to be a bit confusing and I highly recommend either watching the video or reading through the whole rulebook on your own before trying to teach new players. I hadn’t gotten a chance to even look at the rules before trying it out, and the initial setup and explanation took quite a long time. Part of this is the layout of the rulebook: there are pretty handy boxes giving an example of how the rules play out, but sometimes these boxes appear before you get to the actual rules they’re explaining. Not knowing this on my first read-through with my fellow gamers, I often found myself reading the clarification before the rule itself.
But rulebook gripes aside, I think Trollhalla is a lot of fun and quite fascinating to play. I love the way that you need to have trolls in the boats to collect plunder, but also in the sea lanes to direct the boats — and the fact that the spotter trolls will get to share in the Chief Troll’s plunder makes them quite valuable, too. I think the die adds just the right amount of luck to the game, because you’re never sure which boat will get activated and if you’ll be able to get the seat you want in a boat before it sails.
Pick up a copy of Trollhalla from your local game store, or order it online from Z-Man Games, Amazon or your favorite games website.
Wired: A surprisingly complex game that’s a lot of fun to play; well-done artwork supports the theme.
Tired: Kind of a clunky rulebook; large boards take up a lot of space on the table.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.