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Tom Vasel
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Unless you’re a huge fantasy fan, the name “Cave-Troll” probably conjures up images of the massive beast in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring movie. And who didn’t like that massive fellow? (Well, perhaps the people he was throwing around.) So it was with high hopes that I played Tom Jolly’s Cave Troll board game, hoping for a romp in a dungeon, slaying cave trolls and other foul minions.

Well, that wasn’t quite the way the game played. It was not a version of Heroquest, where you slash and hack your way through hordes of evil beasts. I was a little disappointed, but was determined to see if the game good anyway.

So is the game worth playing? The short answer is that it is a fine tile laying/moving game with a fantasy theme layered on that actually makes it fun! The longer answer follows.

First, a short description of game play: Two to four players are seeking out the most gold (points) in a dungeon. The dungeon is a small, interlocking board, with thirty-three rooms. Each room has several doors leading to other rooms, and has a value of gold coins (1-5). There is a lot of little things visible, such as cobwebs, coffins, and skeletons, but they are just eye candy. Around the edge of the board is a scoring track, from 0 – 99 points. A triangle from each player’s color (red, yellow, green, and blue) is placed pointing at the zero.

Each player gets twenty round counters with different pictures on them. These are shuffled and placed in front of each player, face down. On his turn, the player may do four things. He may draw a counter from the pile and play it, move a counter, or play an artifact. He can also do any combination of these things. For example, I can draw an adventurer, place it on the board, and then move it three spaces. Or I can move a counter already on the board 4 spaces. Or I can draw 4 counters and put them on the board. Each counter has different abilities.

Explorer (10) – These are your run of the mill heroes, with no special abilities. You want to have the most heroes in a room to claim the treasure (points) there. Heroes are placed on one of four sets of stairs, where they can then move into the rooms. Heroes do not fight one another, you’re just trying to get a majority of them in as many rooms as possible. There can never be more than five heroes/monsters in a room.

Barbarian (1) – This guy is just like a hero, except that when scoring occurs, he counts as two heroes.

Dwarf (1) – This guy counts as a hero, but he also doubles the value of the room he is standing. Of course, if an opponent controls the majority of the heroes in the room – you are giving them those extra points!

Thief (1) – This lass can move anywhere on the board for one action. She also counts as a hero.

Knight (1) – This hero keeps anybody else, both monsters and opponent’s heroes, from entering his room. Only other knights may enter. Knights also kill any orcs in a room they enter.

Wraith (1) – This is a monster that can move a hero out of a room when it enters.

Orc (1) – This monster can spend an action to kill (discard) a hero in the same room as it.

Cave Troll (1) – The game’s namesake. When you draw the Cave Troll, you place it in a room, and everything must move or die. Then, nothing else can move into the room for the remainder of the game. I suppose the Cave Troll is quite invincible.

Treasure (1) – Putting this counter in a room adds 4 points (gold) to that room.

Find an Artifact (1) – When you draw this counter, you draw one of 6 different artifacts. Each artifact can either be played for a special ability during the game, or can be kept until the game is over for bonus points.

Count the Loot! (1) - Whenever any player draws this counter, the game is scored.

The game is over when any one player draws and uses their last counter. The board is scored again. Each player gets points for every room they control (have the most heroes in), and moves their marker on the scoring track. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game is the winner!

Some comments on the game:

1). Components: First of all – I love the box. Fantasy Flight makes all their small box games the same size, and they fit neatly on the shelf, and stack quite well. All the components fit easily inside. There are no trays for the pieces, however, so I had to bag each of the colors separately. The board is very nice, coming in 4 pieces that fit together puzzle-wise. When the whole board is flipped, it has a beautiful drawing on the back. It’s certainly not important, but adds a nice touch. The game board itself is really quite a treat to look at. Each room is clearly defined, the doors are easy to see, and the gold coins are easily distinguishable. All the “Easter Eggs”, such as the coffin in one room, are nicely drawn, and don’t distract from game play at all. The counters are sharp, and are language independent. It is a bit of work at first to look up the pictures on the reference sheet to see what each counter means, but after one game play, I don’t think you would forget them. The artifact counters are a bit small, but not horribly so. The only counter I don’t like is the scoring counter. They are triangles that point towards the number on the scoring track. This means that any jostle can move them around rather easily. It’s only a minor quibble, however, for overall, this game is a work of art.

2). Theme: While this game is certainly not a dungeon romp, and is more like a tile game – the theme fits very well on it. We find ourselves immersed in the theme after a while. The only thing that is strange is the huge amount of heroes and relatively few monters. But it doesn’t seem to matter that much, as the monsters are quite powerful.

3). Artifacts: The artifacts are a strange bunch. One of them, the Idol of El’darr, is so powerful, that I can’t ever imagine not keeping it for points at the end of the game, rather than playing it. Others are so weak I can think of few situations that I would ever play them. But that’s okay, they fit the theme well, and the Idol isn’t a game breaker, so I don’t mind them that much.

4). Time: This game is very, very quick. There isn’t really much chance for analysis paralysis – just make your decisions, and move the pieces. It usually lasts around half an hour, which makes it a good filler.

5). Rules: I really like the rules that FFG puts out. They are printed in 7 languages, and each set of rules only takes two pages. Why don’t more companies do this? The rules are very clear and concise – with a nice map laid out for examples.

6). Fun Factor: Without a theme, this game wouldn’t be quite so much fun. There is a good bit of randomness in the game, but a lot of strategy. It’s a fairly good romp, and everyone has a lot of fun. The fun factor is high in this game!

This can easily be classified as a “filler” game, but I’ll play it regardless of time, frankly. I really like the game, the theme, and the cave troll. It really stinks when someone else steals both my dwarf and my treasure, but the joys when I kill their thief with my orc!

This game is inexpensive, nice quality, quick, and fun. I highly recommend this game for all players. The fantasy theme may put off some, and draw in others – but the game is fun nonetheless. Stay away from cave trolls, but make sure you don’t hide from Cave Troll, it’s a winner!

Tom Vasel
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