Design by: Bruno Cathala
Published by: Ludocortex Editions
2 – 5 Players, 30 – 45 minutes
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
A game using racism and xenophobia as the central themes would likely cause a major uproar within the gaming community and amongst the gaming public. I can practically hear the justifiable cries of protest now. Such an incendiary topic strikes a raw nerve with just about anyone, especially those who have been victims of such a horrendous offense. The subject would undoubtedly be considered taboo by many, if not most, and would be a controversial choice as the subject of a game.
Veteran designer Bruno Cathala has tread into these turbulent waters with his release of Trollland. Published by Ludocartex Editions, Trollland is set in a fantasy land once dominated by a race of trolls. The land is so attractive, however, that immigrants have begun flooding across its borders, establishing a firm presence in the land. The trolls have become resentful of these immigrants, as they have customs and habits that are different from their own. They even look different. The trolls have had enough, and are now attempting to banish as many of these strange newcomers as possible. The most successful troll will be appointed as head of Homeland Security. How’s that for a political statement?
It isn’t difficult to see Cathala’s theme as what it actually is: a thinly veiled scathing commentary on the evils of racism, anti-immigration and xenophobia. If the game had not been set in a ridiculous fantasy land populated by trolls, elws (elves), dvarfs (dwarves), mean (men), gobs (goblins) and bimbos … yes, bimbos … the risk would have been tremendous. As is, it is easy to laugh at the game, yet still consider the importance of the topics presented.
Explosive themes aside, how is the game? Trollland is an amusing (I risk call the game “amusing” in light of the theme) card game. As mentioned, players represent troll chieftains attempting to rid the land of all non-trolls, known in game parlance as “intruders.” There are five races of intruders, with sixteen cards each, numbered 0 – 15. The outnumbered trolls only have ten cards, but they are quite powerful. The cards are mixed, and each player dealt a starting hand of five cards. Five more cards are placed face-up in what is known as the foreboding “loading platform”. Since this is the area where intruders are being held before being exiled, no trolls will be in this area. Two bonus cards and five vehicle cards are also revealed.
Each turn, players will choose two cards from their hand, revealing them simultaneously. These intruders will then be loaded into the cages located on the vehicles in preparation for their expulsion. Each vehicle depicts one-to-three cages, and there is a listed capacity for each cage, which ranges from one-to-four intruders. Intruders are loaded by race in a specific order, and each cage can contain intruders of only one race. For example, when a player loads a bimbo into a cage, that cage can now only contain bimbos.
Some intruder cards depict symbols which trigger special actions, either forcing the player to play an additional intruder from his hand into a cart or allowing him to exchange one of his played cards with one in the loading platform, which he must immediately load into a cart. This does give the player a smidgen more control, but not without a degree of risk. This card selection and loading process is the most interesting aspect of the game, and requires a bit of planning and a healthy dose of luck. Any cards a player could not successfully load are placed aside into the player’s “Trollgat.” These cards will cost the player two points apiece in the final scoring. Bad troll.
Adding more spice – as well as uncertainty and luck – to the proceedings is the presence of the trolls. The five different types of trolls have special abilities that allow the player to claim an intruder from the loading platform, steal the top card of an opponent’s stack, force an un-filled vehicle to depart immediately, cancel any other troll cards played that round, etc. These cards are very powerful, but their acquisition is solely dependent upon the luck of the draw. Get lucky and draw a number of trolls and you will likely enjoy significant benefits. Otherwise, you will likely fall behind your more fortunate opponents. This is problematic, even in a light game such as this.
When all cages on a vehicle are filled, the player loading the final intruder gains all of the “effort” points. He takes all of the intruders, separates them by race, and stacks them in numerical order, with the highest valued intruders atop their respective stacks. He also keeps the vehicle, which will score points at game’s end equal to the number of medals it depicts. Since being the player to load the final intruder is so important, there is a constant game of “chicken” as players attempt to manipulate their card plays and actions so they can play that last, magical card. Of course, one’s opponents are attempting to achieve the same goal, and the cards each player possesses are unknown to their opponents. So, it is a matter of guesswork and luck.
After resolving all of the played cards, vacated vehicle locations are filled and players each receive two new cards. This process is repeated until it is no longer possible to fill the vehicle row to five. The two bonus cards are assigned to the players who have the most intruders of the matching colors. Players receive points equal to the cumulative value of the top cards in their intruder stacks. If the player managed to also collect an intruder’s lovable pet companion, the points for that race are doubled. Additionally, players receive one point for each medal depicted on the vehicle cards they collected. Finally, two points are subtracted for each card in his Trollgat. The player with the most points is named head of Homeland Security and wins the game.
Trollland is a light game with a silly theme that is dominated by luck. I generally desire luck to be a small element of the games I play, but am willing to accept a heavier dose if the game is a light filler. Trolland plays to completion in about 30 – 40 minutes, which is on the edge of what I consider a filler. As such, the luck element doesn’t completely doom the game for me.
In spite of the luck and relative airiness of the game, there are still decisions to be made. The special ctions on numerous cards coupled with the troll cards give the player some latitude in implementing lever moves. Of course, this is all dependent upon the cards a player is lucky enough to draw and the actions of one’s opponents. These factors are beyond a player’s control. So, don’t delude yourself by thinking there is a significant element of control here. Luck rules the day.
While Trollland is amusing and has some fun interaction and game play, it isn’t going to set your gaming world afire. It is another entry into an already overcrowded field, and there simply isn’t enough fun or cleverness to make it imminently memorable. I’d certainly play if others requested, but it will not be a game that will make regular appearances on the gaming table. That’s fine, as those nasty trolls probably wouldn’t want me in their homeland anyway.
My rating: 2 (Neutral)
Doug Garrett: Though I only have one play under my belt due to the fact that I have only played a friend’s copy and failed to snag a copy for myself, I enjoyed my one playing of this fantasy-themed game quite a bit. While I can see Greg’s concerns about the underlying aspects of the theme, I must say I did not jump to those connections like he did, and just enjoyed the interplay of the cards. I liked it