Northern Lights – Troll Hunt review

Troll Hunt Cover

One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time in the past year was Troll Hunter, a Norwegian effort which plays on the country’s slightly curious historical obsession regarding these mythical monsters. In it a bunch of film students plot to catch some footage of real life trolls up in the wilds of Norway and stumble across a guy from the Wildlife Ministry who naturally winds up being a lot more than he initially seems. It’s full of ludicrous and wonderful scenes that balance out the more horrific moments in the movie (Catholics in particular could end up being quite offended), but despite its’ gory nature – seriously, an exploding troll is not to be witnessed more than you have to – I found that it kind of plays out as a love letter to Norway’s favourite monster.

And now, sat before me on my gaming table, is a copy of a game called Troll Hunt from a company called Roll D6 Games who are based in… Finland. Ah well, can’t win them all. Thankfully, like their Scandinavian brethren, the Finns also have strong attachment to trolls and many of the myths discussed in the movie are repeated in the game – the most important (in game terms at least) being their aversion to sunlight.

You see, should a troll catch even a glimpse of sunlight it will immediately turn to stone. You may think that’s something of a design flaw on a monster that can grow to immense heights, but I suppose every beast requires a weakness of some sort. Regardless, it works perfectly in the film where the hunters use an overpowered UV flash gun to blind and petrify the monsters, and a similar set up is used in Troll Hunt. It’s just a little less hi-tech. You and your opponents use… lanterns.

Either two or three players enter the fray, with play beginning with the creation of the arena in which the hunt takes place. Made up of hex pieces that form an immense hexagon when all are put together, the first thing you’ll notice are the large towers that dominate each corner of the board and are numbered from 1 to 6. Letters are also dotted across the playing field which represent the troll dens, and the board is split into four different land types: ground, sand, impassable mountain and troll-only water.

Before play starts, a handful of trolls are needed to populate the board – every hunter needs their prey, after all. Their locations are generated randomly by drawing a card from the stack that matches one of the letters, then a player rolls the dice to determine which way the troll will be facing. Each troll marker is marked with a line that makes it clear which way this is; all the better to turn them to stone.

Each player places their two lanterns on the outermost ring, depicted as being entirely made up of sand hexes. Once a place is chosen, the lanterns can’t be moved, so ensuring that their beam of light will reach a decent distance is a necessity. You’re also armed with seven mirror tiles that are two sided: one showing a beam of light reflected 120º, the other side 240º – in other words, your beam bounces either one or two clicks around. Armed with these, you should be able to manipulate a beam of light in any direction, but you also have a very useful prism at hand that splits the beam into all six directions.

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The full set up will allow for a huge amount of different game maps – ideal for when you want to go back and hunt those trolls again and again.

The objective is simple: guide your beam of light using the mirrors in play – not just yours, by the way – into the eyes of any troll on the board. Doing so turns them to stone and you get to claim them as a trophy. First person to collect a set number is declared the King of the Hunters and gets a rather curious story to tell at the dinner table (“Let me tell you of the time I petrified a group of trolls in deepest, darkest Scandinavia…”).

Turns follow a set pattern with a player first placing a mirror then ‘triggering’ their lantern of choice. The imaginary beam of light is traced out across the hexes and should a troll be hit in the eyes it is removed, only to be replaced by another randomly generated family member next to another den.  Through clever use of the mirrors and prisms – remember, not just your own, anything that’s on the board is usable – it’s entirely possible to take down two or more trolls on a single turn, and when you only need eight or nine to win the game some decent planning can really give you a big advantage.

It’s not just as easy as chucking out a bunch of mirrors and hoping for the best though. Those previously mentioned mountains block all light beams, as to the backs of mirrors and the trolls themselves. Players are also given movement points in lieu of placing new mirrors on the board (two if you still have some mirror tiles, four if they’re all in play) which can be used to shift from one hex to another, rotate or even flip to their opposite side to use the other available angle. Even in a two player game things get busy very quickly and keeping track of the possibilities on the board can be somewhat mind-boggling – Troll Hunt is certainly not a game for those with a tendency towards Analysis Paralysis.

As you’ve probably worked out for yourself, this is really more of a competitive puzzle than board game but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like the idea of being able to use other people’s mirror tiles – after all it makes sense, light doesn’t decide it likes one mirror type over another – but it can leave you open to other players muscling in on your complex set ups and blinding a troll you might have had your eye on.  There are a couple rules that warn against breaking possible light beam routes, but there’s always a way around it – even if that means literally rerouting your way around a mountain range. The need to win will always find a way!

The copy of the game I have is a prototype but the art is already complete prior to the launch of their forthcoming Kickstarter campaign and I must say I rather like the look of it. There’s a real storybook feeling throughout and it brings to my mind the story of Fungus the Bogeyman. True, there may not be many similarities but in my head, this is the link I make. Gameplay wise, Troll Hunt is probably closest to those two pathfinding siblings, Ricochet Robots and Mutant Meeples – however, when you’re trying to negotiate your way around a hex-based map rather than squares, your range of options is going to be even greater. With plenty of opportunity for brain burning, Troll Hunt certainly comes recommended; just make sure that you’re playing with the right audience. Of course, with the game only playing either two or three, that audience doesn’t have to be huge, it just has to be patient when the other players are planning their moves…

Troll Hunt, designed by Veli-Matti Saarinen and published through Roll D6 Games, will hit Kickstarter sometime this week. Keep an eye out for this fun little game, especially if you’re looking for a family friendly title that lends itself well to team play!

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