Raiding the Troll Hole

Somerset wanted me to set up this article to spit out an audio sample of me grunting TROLL HOLE every time it was opened. If only I knew how to do that...

I’ve never thought of a “Troll Hole” as anything other than the seedy dance bar on the north side of the city. Now, thanks to Oink Games — the same company that gave us the tiny-but-sublime Deep Sea Adventure and A Fake Artist Goes to New York — the phrase has taken on a far gentler meaning. As in, a humid, stinky, and pitch-black earthen hole where a troll stashes its jewels. And it’s my task to steal as many as I can before the troll figures out what’s afoot and beats me silly with my own leg.

The troll certainly doesn't look happy about it.

Deciding how deep I want to go into the troll hole.

Like the aforementioned titles in the Oink repertoire, TROLL squeezes into a tiny box but strives to pack a wallop. And while it doesn’t quite measure up to those other two, it’s still a fantastic example of what can be accomplished within a compressed design space.

Each round opens with a scout, the player who will peek into the current troll hole and play one of their tiles for all to see, dropping a convenient hint about how many jewels they hope to drag out of the troll’s clutches. From there, everyone else gets a chance to play a tile of their own. The trick, however, is that they’re given a critical choice: peek at the troll hole and play their tile face-up, or just take a chance. They won’t get to see how many jewels are hidden in the troll hole before laying out their wager, but this time it’s placed face-down and its result will be doubled.

Here’s where TROLL gets interesting. For one thing, the decision to either peek into the troll hole or make a blind wager for double points comes down to how much you trust the information that’s already been handed to you. Was that turn’s scout on the level when she looked into the hole and bet that she could pull out four gems? Or was she hoping everyone else would also put down high tiles, perhaps getting caught by the troll and losing points? Once everyone’s wagers are on the table, they’re revealed along with the troll hole and counted upwards, with duplicate numbers counted — and caught — at the same time. Any wagers higher than the ones that were caught simply run away scot-free, making it possible to escape without losing points if you can convince the others into putting down numbers that aren’t quite as high as your own.

Thus, the question: how much do your trust the information on the table? Sure, you could play it safe and always look at what lies beneath the ground, but that would mean never doubling your winnings. Then again, while victory often rests on a few well-timed risks, failure also doubles your losings. It’s a tricky problem, and it’s one that TROLL slops onto your platter every couple minutes.

Do trolls really hoard jewels, other than in their belly buttons?

These troll holes house an improbable quantity of jewels.

There are a few other subtleties at play, like how your spent tiles are displayed in the middle of the table to dole out even more information about what everyone is up to, or how you can occasionally bid a face-down zero tile to bow out of a tight spot. For such a tiny game, there are plenty of ways to bluff, intimidate, sidestep, or just gamble your way to victory.

All in all, TROLL offers a cleverly competitive jack-in-the-box that comfortably slips into a pocket alongside a phone or wallet, an Brobdingnag crammed into a Lilliputian living space. It may not offer an infinite good time, and I still prefer the other diminutive offerings from Oink Games, but TROLL nevertheless still represents a worthy third member in this series of fillers and travel games.

Posted on January 30, 2016, in Board Game and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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