The game: Troll Hunt by Veli-Matti Saarinen, published by Roll D6 in 2014, after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Elevator pitch: Place and move mirrors on board so that the light rays from your lanterns hit the trolls on the board in the eye, petrifying them.
What’s in the box? A modular board built of small pieces to add to replayability, a deck of cards, a bunch of cardboard chits, couple of dice. No actual light rays included. The art is a bit gloomy, but all in all the game looks neat.
What do you do in the game? The goal is to petrify trolls. Trolls pop up on the board during the game, and you petrify them by guiding the light ray from your lanterns on the side of the board to the eyes of the trolls (ie. one hex side of the troll chit), with the help of mirrors on the board.
Mirrors reflect either 120° or 240°, each player also has a prism that splits the light to every direction. In the beginning you only have two lanterns on the side of the board, and each turn you can add one mirror (or prism) on board. Instead of placing a mirror, you can also move existing mirrors: two steps if you still have mirrors left, or four steps if you have all your mirrors on the board already. It is also possible to rotate and flip the mirrors (they’re 120° on one side, 240° on the other).
In the end of your turn, you collect all the trolls you manage to petrify and add new trolls to replace them, so that there’s always the same number of trolls on board. The game is over when enough trolls have been petrified.
Lucky or skillful? There’s nothing lucky about player actions. The board is randomly built, but that doesn’t add any luck to the game. The only luck element is the appearance of new trolls: there are bunch of troll nests on the board, and each one can get one troll during the game, but the order is randomly determined. When a troll appears, the active player rolls a dice to determine the heading and can then place the troll anywhere around the nest hex, as long as it has the correct heading (that limits the options somewhat). So, there’s a possible luck element: if trolls appear better for one player, that player is going to win.
Most of the time, the winner should be determined by the skill with mirror placement, though, but I can see sometimes luck of the troll draw affecting the result.
Abstract or thematic? Abstract – the troll theme may be classic fairy tale stuff, but it would be really easy to switch it to something else. The game would also make sense as a themeless abstract.
Solitaire or interactive? More on the solitaire end of the scale. You do your thing, and hope you’re faster than the other players. You can use mirrors placed by other players, but there are rules that prevent you from blocking the links other players have built.
Players: 2 or 3. Both work fine. It’s unusual to limit the player amount like that, but it makes sense – I don’t think this would be a good four-player game.
Who can play? Publisher age rating is 8+, which sounds good. There’s no reading required, so smaller children can try this, but the level of planning and thinking required means that smaller children can’t do well.
Length: Box says 45 minutes, which sounds ok. You can certainly play faster than that – our game took only 30 minutes – but there’s also potential for really slow play, if players like to ponder their options.
What’s to like: Simple idea, easy rules; while the idea is familiar, there aren’t many games like this; petrifying trolls takes enough work to be quite satisfying.
What’s not to like: The spatial challenge is not for everybody; plays only up to three players; the art is a bit muddy.
My verdict: It’s nice to see more Finnish game designers enter the market. Troll Hunt wasn’t a huge Kickstarter success, but managed to get the funding it needed, which is great to see, as it is an interesting and somewhat unusual game. It’s quite abstract, but with the familiar fairy tale theme tacked on, it’s also approachable.
It’s unusual to see games to only support two or three players, but it’s better that way than to just slap 2–5 on the box, no matter how well the game works. Here, while a four-player game might work somehow, it would also add way too much downtime.
This game is not for everybody: there’s a spatial element that some people are not going to like. I have no complaints on that, but I did find the game slightly dull. You choose a troll, then try to align your mirrors to hit it, then repeat that six times. There’s certainly room for clever play in placing your mirrors, but I didn’t find it that intriguing.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Troll Hunt gets Indifferent, bordering on Suggest – I wouldn’t say no if someone suggested this.